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Originally published Monday, January 3, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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GPS devices can help track work goof-offs

Customers and nosy neighbors sometimes accuse house painters at Neubert Painting Contractors in Cleveland of leaving work too early. It used to be the workers' words against their...

Newhouse News Service

Customers and nosy neighbors sometimes accuse house painters at Neubert Painting Contractors in Cleveland of leaving work too early.

It used to be the workers' words against their accusers'. But now the company trusts a printout. Global-positioning transmitters in the company's trucks log how long the vehicles are at a location.

"When I tell them I have this documented, it sort of takes the wind out of their sails," company President John Neubert said.

Global Positioning System (GPS) devices don't just tell you where you're going anymore. Businesses are starting to use information compiled by the technology to boost efficiency. GPS can warn businesses when employees are speeding, time how long vehicles sit at one location and tell whether it's time to change the oil.

"People have to manage their mobile work force better," said David Lowman, the chief financial officer at SageQuest, a Beachwood, Ohio, startup that sells GPS services to company fleets.

At first, SageQuest's service showed only a vehicle's location based on longitude and latitude. Later, it incorporated street addresses and vehicle locations on digital maps.

Now, the company processes and distributes location-related information from its GPS devices: boxes typically stored under the dashboard. Thanks to a handful of software programs, it can display whether a vehicle is running, how long it's been at its location and how fast it travels.

Managers also can get alerts on their mobile phones if a truck starts to roll during off hours. SageQuest compiles and sorts data, including the average time of a stop and which employees take the longest on jobs.

Most of SageQuest's customers are in Ohio and Florida, but the company plans a rapid expansion focusing primarily on the East Coast and South. In the firm's boardroom, a map is pricked full of multicolored pushpins representing customers, pending deals and new markets.

"Technology and the market have made this the right time," said Dennis Abrahams, SageQuest's chief executive.

Firms have only recently been able to justify the cost of GPS devices, in part because they can now be used to record so many things, said Kalle Lyytinen, a professor of information systems at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

"We are in the early phases of how to use these devices," Lyytinen said. "In the next three to five years, we'll see an uptick in these kinds of location-based information services."


Businesses initially get GPS technology to keep a closer eye on workers who are on the road.

"Anyone who runs a service business has had people who sit in the park and do nothing," Neubert said.

But a handful of other advantages has helped increased efficiency.

Tracking trucks allows dispatchers to guide lost drivers or send the closest vehicle to an important call. Stolen trucks are more likely to be recovered.

Workers don't always welcome GPS technology. Many companies said employees consider it a "Big Brother" tactic. Neubert said some employees have tampered with the devices to shut them down.

Chris Seper is a reporter for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.

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