Crystal Ball: Is this it?

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Is the dealer community stuck in a deepening rut of commodotised airtime sales? Or is there something else that can see it return to good times. Crystal Ball says its tracking product can deliver new sales and new cheer

Tracking service provider Crystal Ball reckons the sleepy mobile dealer fraternity can in an instant tear into the tracking industry and gain handsome new revenue streams; more even than it does now from selling handsets and airtime. But it must stretch itself first, and learn to ‘sell’ again.

Managing director Raj Singh suggests Crystal Ball’s new mobile tracking system can open a new market for the mobile sales channel, one that requires the cover of  handset and airtime know-how to gain entry in the first place.

“Mobile dealers could go out tomorrow and completely destroy the vehicle tracking industry,” says Singh.

“The mobile fraternity has been latent, and unfocused. This is a huge and untapped opportunity. As soon as dealers get it together, they will get lift-off. But they have to take the initiative.”

Of course, Singh is pitching for reseller business. But he has a compelling point to make, and a smart product offering. He also knows intimately the dealer market of which he speaks.

Vehicle and staff tracking
But let us deal first with the Crystal Ball product itself, a downloadable smartphone application for Symbian, Windows and BlackBerry devices that packs in three linked GPS tracking tools for businesses.

The sense of it is employers can take management reports of handset activity on the road, in either Excel, PDF or email format, and have a way to drive efficiencies and adhere to toughening duty-of-care obligations.

In the first instance, its Mobile Track product is a decent alternative to conventional vehicle tracking, and installation of ‘black boxes’, giving employers some engine information and fair detail of staff productivity on the road. Customers can retrieve from it real-time reports of the whereabouts and activity of staff handsets, and so also gauge vehicle activity.

There are certain drawbacks. Clearly a mobile application using a handset’s GPS signal to record movement cannot achieve quite so much in terms of engine information as a box wired into the ignition. It cannot, for instance, provide data about true ignition on/off or true idling; just supposition based upon whether a vehicle is stationary or in transit.

This is important, perhaps, in certain fleet industries. Bus and truck firms that wish to know their drivers are using the smoking shed when they are pulled up, say, and are not toasty inside the cab with the heaters on, can only get proper sight of fuel consumption with a hard-wired system.

Clients might also suggest interventionist issues with a mobile system compared to a box wired into an engine, insofar as users can turn off a mobile phone when they prefer to go unnoticed. And mobile batteries run down of course – and fairly quickly with heavy usage – if they are not put on charge in vehicles.

But there is not much else an installed vehicle tracking unit has on a mobile one – location, speed, distance, job despatch; reports can be generated on each aspect of vehicle behaviour. And, anyway, there is a trade-off that makes the mobile solution appeal to a much broader market, reckons Singh. A serious tracking system on a smartphone has much it can offer besides, by virtue of its mobility.

Singh explains: “The fact this isn’t hardwired doesn’t mean I don’t get vehicle tracking; I do. My phone has a modem, a SIM card, a GPS receiver; same as an installed unit. The difference is I don’t get true ignition on/off and I don’t get true idling.

“But with an installed unit, as soon as I walk away from the vehicle, that’s it. No more tracking. With this, if I leave the vehicle, I am still tracked. It provides all the journey details after the vehicle has parked up. And beyond that, it gives me lone worker information.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 471 (August 30, 2010).

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