Should you create a custom GPS vehicle tracking system?
When it comes to getting fleet management software for your company, there are few important options to consider. However, before you get too far into your research you need to decide what kind of software you’re looking for. You can either buy an off-the-shelf solution from a third-party vendor or develop a custom tool. While buying a ready product is “hassle-free” and cheaper, building a tracking system from scratch might be preferable to truly fit your needs. Here are some reasons to decide in favor of custom development.
Reason #1. You can choose the features to include
Anyone who has ever purchased an off-the-shelf solution knows that such products often have abundant features. There’s always a risk that your system will include a stack of features neither you nor your drivers will end up using.
Such an abundance not only makes GPS tracking software more challenging to use - it’s important to keep in mind that these advanced features also pile up on the software’s costs.
With custom software development, you’re able to choose the features that will make it to the final product. It can be a basic system with nothing but real-time tracking, or it can be enhanced with a fuel tracker, geo-fencing, vehicle location detection, and many more options.
Reason #2. A custom solution is free of security issues
A GPS vehicle tracking system normally deals with a ton of sensitive data - location, personal information, etc. When working with a third-party application, you can never fully know how the vendor processes and stores your data.
With a custom solution, data security is no longer a problem for your company. You’ll be storing all the information on a server that no one has access to except you and trusted specialists.
Reason #3. Advanced solutions on the market are expensive
If you run a big business with dozens of vehicles to track on a daily basis, then you’ll need a top-notch vehicle GPS tracking system. While there certainly are such offers in the market, their cost is way above average. For instance, AT&T In-cab ELD, EPTT, and tracking bundle costs $59 per truck per month.
When this level of quality is required, companies with dozens if not hundreds of trucks can expect to pay a hefty price for software every month regardless of the route they take. But the main difference appears when thinking further down the line.
Initially, developing a custom software solution requires an investment in both development and server maintenance. However, in the long run, it will be cheaper than using a similar third-party solution.
Reason #4. Most existing solutions have poor mobile clients
A good vehicle tracking software consists of several apps:
- A client for a business manager (an app or web-based)
- A client for a driver (a separate app accessed via smartphone where a driver can see orders on the map, log completed tasks, and view new ones)
- A database used both by business owners as well as drivers
Apart from the above, it’s convenient for a business manager to have a mobile version of the dashboard. Unfortunately, only a few existing solutions provide such a possibility.
With a custom solution, one can concentrate on what’s important to their specific business. Thus, if an outstanding mobile performance is a goal, you can focus on this and create a top-notch app like no other on the market.
Examining the GPS market
It never hurts to see what’s happening in the GPS tracking market at the moment. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of great solutions available to use. Let’s analyze the options that are generally considered to be “top-notch”.
This is one of the solid off-the-shelf solutions for vehicle tracking. One of the features that sets it apart is its advanced reporting. Using Teletrac Navman, drivers are able to get vehicle inspection reports as well as maintenance logs.
Teletrac Navman is officially registered by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The app allows business managers to asses drivers’ performance, preventing dangerous incidents by tracking the situation in real time.
All things considered, Teletrac Navman is a highly-performing solution, all the features needed for comfortable and safe fleet management. However, it still has its own advantages and drawbacks.
- a lot of features available (real-time tracking, asset tracking, vehicle analytics, driver messaging, geo-fencing, etc.)
- free installation
- ongoing customer support
- a long-term three-year contract
- minimum vehicle requirement
Pricing: $33 per vehicle per month.
The contract duration is 33 months.
Verizon Connect is an agile solution for fleet management. For one, it offers access-based maps that can be viewed from any device with an internet connection. A business manager can use a dashboard to visualize a fleet’s performance.
Verizon Connect offers education tools for drivers as well. For instance, a business manager can have a leaderboard for his drivers to motivate them to drive safely and cost-efficiently. Here’s a short summary of what the solution has to offer.
- different hardware offers (starting with a simple plug-and-play to more technically advanced solutions)
- integration with Google Maps
- a large number of tools
- different ways to get support (via email, live chat, or phone call)
- no way to display the current mileage
- reportedly lousy customer support agents
- it requires additional training to get used to
- trailer tracking needs to be improved
Pricing: Not listed online.
Quartix offers a fleet management solution that allows business owners or logistics department managers to track vehicles, monitor fuel usage, get driver training insights, and more. The solution can even prevent fuel theft, notifying a driver when there is a potential theft incident.
Describing the app, Quartix says businesses can finally “say farewell to spreadsheets.” Indeed, it has a comfortable database with all the data stored in one easy to navigate place.
- increased safety - you’ll get advanced reports on the vehicle status as well as drivers’ behaviors
- alert system - get notified whenever something out of the ordinary happens
- easy to learn clean interface
- no vehicle minimum required
- a limited one-year contract
- customer support service complaints
- two-minute refresh rate
Pricing: (Costs are stated per vehicle)
- Info point - $14.99 per month
- Info plus - $18.99 per month
- Info plus & driver ID - $22.99 per month
GeoTab is a web-based fleet management system. One of the benefits of the app is that it has a lot of room for scaling. The included SDK can be used to leverage data in new ways.
GeoTab provides the option to control fleets of all sizes. The app offers all the necessary features for fleet management: you can find out how much time a driver spends on the road, track their habits, and monitor fuel consumption.
All the data will be adapted to the measurement system used at a given location - US gallons, liters, etc.
- large range of numbers of vehicles
- many options of plug-and-play tracking hardware available
- integration with Google Maps
- daily logs delivered via email
- customer service is provided by third-party contractors
- no fixed pricing - it depends on retail resellers
Pricing: The rates for a solution are not published online. However, according to third-party sources, the price of GeoTab ranges from $79 to $199 per month.
Onfleet is a shared web-based GPS tracking system that allows tracking all delivery operations via one dashboard. With Onfleet, businesses can not only track existing deliveries but optimize routes as well. In order to plan a route for delivery, one can monitor traffic, capacity, and location.
Onfleet offers solutions to onboard new drivers in a few clicks. There are dozens of metrics to measure driver performance.
The solution is integrated with Google and Apple Maps as well as Waze.
- reports can be downloaded as CSV files to easily import into a database
- integrations for Zapier, Google Sheets, and Shopify
- 14-day free trial
- lack of mobile support for dispatchers
- the app requires powerful software and can slow down older devices
- at times, the tracker of a driver can disappear off the map
- doesn’t sync the driver with the app when he doesn’t have the signal
- Starter - $149 per year
- Basic - $349 per year
- Premium - $799 per year
- Professional - $1,999 per year
GPS Vehicle Tracking system development tips
As we covered before, developing a GPS tracking device for trucks and cars is a technically complex task. In order to make sure your navigation and GPS software development will run smoothly, here are a few tips you should follow.
Tip #1. Define the scope of the solution clearly
Before any actual development takes place, it’s important to have all your goals outlined. Why do you need GPS vehicle tracking software? To prevent car theft? Control driver productivity? Plan your schedule?
Answering these questions usually helps developers understand which features have the utmost priority in the future system.
Tip #2. Choosing the right programming language
When you’re building a fleet management system, it’s important to put some consideration into choosing the programming language for the project. Keep in mind that GPS solutions provide data in the NMEA format. As this data is transmitted over a serial port, a developer needs a language that enables an easy COM connection.
Most popular languages used for car monitoring system development are:
- Perl (a strong scripting language to analyze NMEA)
Tip #3. Figure out the budget
When it comes to custom development, there isn’t a single figure to estimate the development cost. You might be looking at a few thousand or up to six-figures.
When you look forward at developing your business app, there are dozens of features to consider. However, the more tweaks you put into the system, the longer the paycheck will be.
It’s extremely helpful for the management to sit down with developers and calculate the cost of every feature.
Tip #4. Choose the right IoT-connectivity
It’s crucial for a GPS tracking system to deliver real-time location data. Depending on the geographical span of your solution, you can either choose a 4G or 5G connection or try newer IoT (Internet of Things) technologies.
Brilliant low-power performance is, without a doubt, a perk of NB-IoT or LTE-M technologies.
Tip #5. Add a few advanced features to truck tracking
A common question asked by business owners and developers is whether there are differences between a regular car tracking system and a truck GPS-tracker. In a nutshell, they run on the same principles and require similar solutions - a dashboard for a business owner, a client for a driver to access the map, plans for future tasks, and a database where the vehicle information is stored.
However, when it comes to truck tracking, you can add a few advanced features for these vehicles in particular.
- Hazard monitoring. This feature allows drivers to transport gas and petroleum safely and be informed about the potential risks of hazards.
- Cargo monitoring. If a driver is transporting refrigerated products, the feature will allow them to monitor the temperature in real-time.
- Container visibility. With this feature, drivers can know the location of a container as well as the amount of time a container was left at the customer’s site.
GPS Tracking System Challenges For Developers
While creating GPS tracker software, developers have to deal with various challenges. Let’s go over the ones that raise the most concern.
1. Data optimization
GPS solutions require regular data updates, which is why the driver’s smartphone (used as a tracking device) has to constantly send the data to the server. This increases the maintenance cost for the solution and challenges developers to come up with data optimization solutions.
A good size for a GPS position with 4-5 attributes would be 2-3 bytes. In order to achieve it, here are some tips developers use:
- Avoid using XML
- Use data compression software
2. Tracking multiple vehicles
If a developer is working on a solution that’s supposed to track the coordinates of more than one vehicle, they’ll be confronted with the challenge of developing a web-based system. That means designing a web client (a dashboard where the vehicles are to be tracked), a separate mobile app for a driver (where one can access recent orders, routes, safety tips, etc.), and a database to store all the vehicle data.
3. GPS drift
When fleet management programs are developed, they’re subject to GPS drift - a condition where a satellite can’t find the location of the object. In the worst cases, a driver’s tracker might move even when the driver isn’t.
There are a few explanations as to why it might be happening, but the most common are:
- Stellation patterns change
- GPS signals are weak
In order to make sure the drift is minimal, developers have to pay extreme attention to the accuracy of the connectivity source. Having said that, there’s a lot that depends on the user themself. The faster they notice the GPS drift, the easier fixing it will be.
GPS Tracking System Server Recommendations
In order to develop fleet tracker software, you need a server that runs smoothly. There are dozens of solutions to choose from. However, there are a few things to specifically look for when selecting a server. Here are a few clues that will help you know which server is worth using.
1. Technical support
When it comes to choosing a server for permanent data processing and storage, having ongoing customer support is crucial. Before you sign a contract with a provider, make sure the support service is reliable and can be accessed by different means - phone, email, etc.
2. Variety of plans
A good server should work well on both a small scale (for personal use) and a global one. A flexible contract is important - you should be able to scale up as your tracking solution acquires a larger database.
3. Data center security
When choosing a server, it’s important to not underestimate security matters. Here are the questions you should certainly ask while visiting data centers:
- What is the power supply of the center? What happens in case of an outage?
- Is the data secure if the server has failed? How so?
- Is there any proof of data protection?
- Who has access to the data center? Can an unauthorized person walk in?