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Upstream Connections

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Upstream Energy Services Fleets Upstream Energy Services Fleets Looking for Integrated, End-to-End Technology Providers

By David Buhl

Seeking to improve the safety, compliance and efficiency of their fleets, many upstream energy service providers have either hand-cobbled an array of individual technology solutions or created their own integrated system to track and manage equipment. Many companies are beginning to recognize that these approaches distract them from their core business and are looking for a technology partner that provides a fully integrated, end-to-end solution, service and support.

The What

In a nutshell, a fully integrated, end-to-end fleet mobility technology solution unites driver activity (in the cab and at customer sites) with the back office. Think of it as a conduit through which a steady flow of electronic information between the right people at the right time in the right way can have a significant positive impact on the key areas of a fleet’s operations, including safety, compliance, efficiency and customer service.

The right people: Efficient communication between driver and dispatch speeds workflow productivity. Automated data communication from the vehicle/driver improves accounting (payroll/billing) efficiency and customer service, and enables more effective safety management.

The right time: Real-time information enables decision making in time to prevent small issues from mushrooming out of control.

The right way: Alerts and reports make it easy to identify safety and compliance hot spots that require management attention.

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The Why

It’s all about technology tools that work in concert to help drivers perform work more safely, quickly, accurately and reliably than ever before in the oilfield, oil shale stage and on the road. More fleets serving the upstream sector are seeking how to automate the way they do business. They want a standardized way of capturing and transmitting accurate data. They recognize that an integrated technology solution can help them meet their toughest challenges: safety, operational efficiency, driver productivity and retention, contract and regulatory compliance and meeting customer service demands for real-time ticket information and expedited billing.

Fleets in this sector are seeking ways to create a safer driving environment for the operator and greater protection for the lone worker at well sites and other risk-laden environments to reassure operators, mitigate exposure to danger and reduce company liability.

Driver productivity is tied to time-to-arrival vs. miles-driven in traditional trucking. Therefore, energy services companies are seeking ways to help drivers arrive at destinations as quickly and safely as possible, so as to adhere to schedules. The lack of easy-to-use, current mapping of oil and gas fields and leased and private roads is an obstacle in determining and following routes, as well as complying with landowner covenants, including speed limits that may not be visibly posted.

In addition to contract compliance, vehicles must comply with safety-related regulations imposed by federal, state and local authorities, including security-related driver credentials, owner-operator classification status, hours of service and anti-idling laws, among others.

For instance, in June 2012, the U.S. Congress adopted a bill designed to eliminate driver fatigue, which is a leading cause of truck accidents resulting in fatalities.  The bill will require owner operators, fleet managers and drivers of commercial motor vehicles to meet criteria established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in its Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate. The legislation requires drivers who must track their hours of service (HOS) to use ELDs.

In March, the FMCSA issued a revised proposal that gives fleets currently using onboard systems four years to comply with the ELD regulation, and those without systems, two years. Therefore, energy services companies want to make it easy for drivers to comply without adding to their workload and detracting from productivity.

While expedited billing is a financial advantage for energy services companies, it is fast becoming a competitive advantage in meeting increasing customer demand for real-time ticket information as well. Therefore, they are seeking to replace paper-based workflow with automated workflow to narrow the gap between when services are performed and when they are billed.

Upstream energy services companies are looking for integrated, end-to-end technology solutions to monitor and manage their fleets. Using GPS-based fleet mobility software, companies can track location and operator behavior to ensure regulatory compliance, customer service and jobsite safety.

Upstream energy services companies are looking for integrated, end-to-end technology solutions to monitor and manage their fleets. Using GPS-based fleet mobility software, companies can track location and operator behavior to ensure regulatory compliance, customer service and jobsite safety.

The How

A fleet mobility platform that integrates GPS and mobile communication technologies with onboard computing and back-office applications (routing, dispatching, accounting) drive immense improvements in:
• Delivering precision routing to shorten time to productivity, improve on-time service, customer retention and competitiveness.
• Streamlining workflow to increase driver efficiency and back-office productivity, expedite billing and improve cash flow.
• Facilitating cost-effective contract and regulatory compliance to eliminate negative impact of non-compliance (financial and
driver retention).

Case in Point

Fleets like MBI Energy Services (MBI) that have to keep up with explosive growth in oil shale fracturing are leading the industry in transforming how energy services companies view technology. MBI is forging an integrated, end-to-end technology solution into the watermark for winning business by achieving new standards in driver productivity, customer service, safety and compliance with:
• Automated workflow and the massive volume of driver workload, in-cab calculations and customized run tickets.
• Elimination of printed run tickets and paper deluge.
• Expedited customer reporting, from two weeks down to 24 hours.
• Dramatic reduction in time to invoicing to meet customer demand.
• Streamlined communications with real-time, reliable driver/dispatcher messaging over satellite-cellular networks.
• Customer access to vehicle activity for significant reduction in inquiries.
• Electronic logs to comply with hours of service regulations.

MBI’s integrated dispatch project manager Dave Guthmiller talks about how integrated technology from a single provider has made a huge difference in how MBI operates and how much more productive its fleet is.

“We need to move data quickly, reliably and efficiently,” he says. “That called for a total solution that would help unburden our operation from the paper glut that was restricting driver efficiency and overall productivity, just as it does for most energy services companies. Our initial priorities were automating delivery of information to and from the truck, customer reporting and invoicing.”
MBI can respond to its oilfield customers’ demand for expedited billing, so in turn those companies can then bill their customers, Guthmiller says. Load data is automatically downloaded into MBI’s accounting system, which he says has dramatically reduced the time needed for invoicing.

“We are more competitive with a safer, more efficient fleet and a higher level of customer service,” he continues. “The integration between our workflow application and our dispatch system has automated driver-dispatch communication and skyrocketed driver efficiency. Drivers receive and send updated load information about pickups and deliveries electronically in real time.”

Technology has helped MBI take a fair amount of pressure off their drivers, ease their workload, and enable them to be much more efficient, all of which helps driver retention.

MBI provides customers immediate access to real-time, critical data on several fronts. Instead of having to call and inquire about their load, they can log in and see online — using GPS tracking — where their loads are and when their loads have been dropped off and picked up.

Customers measure service based on how quickly they can get reliable data. Timely customer reporting is essential for helping them market to their customers. Technology has enabled MBI to get run ticket information to customers in 24 hours. That’s down from the two weeks it used to take.

Electronic logs help MBI’s fleet comply with HOS regulations and improve safety. Drivers have come to count on it to save them the time they used to spend filling out paper logs. The 30-minute pre-break alert helps them comply with HOS regulations, and the application issues safety reminders throughout the day.

MBI continues to explore additional opportunities to integrate technology into its processes. The company is currently testing a navigation application with the only oilfield mapping available in North America that includes leased roads. It also is looking forward to additional benefits from engine data and fault codes to support preventive maintenance.

Critical Considerations

Oil and gas companies looking for end-to-end fleet mobility technology that allows them to focus on their core business should seek a proven provider with an open platform that can be easily integrated with back-office systems. Here are some specific critical capabilities to consider:
Contract/Regulatory Compliance
• Web-based oil and gas field mapping and navigation that includes leased and private roads.
• Speed monitoring with detailed times and locations for managing high-risk behaviors.
• Driver and asset scorecards that identify best and worst driver performance.
• Electronic driver logs that monitor and comply with hours of service regulations.
Driver Safety/Efficiency
• Out-of-truck notification that automatically alerts when an operator does not return to the vehicle within specified amount of time.
• In-cab navigation for safe and efficient access to off-road locations.
• Real-time, reliable communication between driver and dispatcher.
• Single-push PERF button to disable RF devices, preventing potential accidents.
Efficient Asset Management
• GPS tracking and well site geo-fencing for asset management and monitoring.
• Route optimization, mapping and in-cab navigation.
• Customized, automated workflow that enables accurate in-cab calculations and printing of standard and customizable run tickets.
• Automated fuel tax reporting to eliminate manually logging miles.
• Idle and operational time reporting.

In addition to a dual satellite-cellular model that provides cost-effective, consistent voice-data communications, the provider should offer customized asset management and process improvement solutions through a robust model of customer support that delivers an exceptional return on technology investment.

In Summary

Mapping, routing, electronic driver logs and fuel tax reporting applications each offer standalone capabilities that facilitate back-office efficiency. However, integration with GPS-based mobile communications and back-office software drives a paperless environment that eliminates paper handling voice communications to streamline workflow and ensure data accuracy; improves productivity, safety and compliance; and reduces fleet operating costs.

David Buhl is director of PeopleNet Energy Services, an onboard computing and carrier fleet communications provider.

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