SAM Inc. uses the telematics system to monitor 178 assets nationwide.

Effective fleet management allows surveying and mapping firms to be safer, more productive and more profitable.

The land surveying profession has benefited extensively from the advance of geospatial technologies over the past decade. Surveying And Mapping Inc. (SAM Inc.), headquartered in Austin, Texas, has quickly adopted many of these advances to become a technology leader in providing geospatial solutions. In addition to traditional surveying services, SAM Inc. has grown to offer digital aerial mapping (photogrammetry), airborne, mobile and terrestrial LiDAR services, subservice utility engineering (SUE), utility coordination and geographic information systems (GIS).

“Bringing our multidisciplinary expertise to bear across a range of geospatial solutions is one of our biggest strengths,” says Sam Hanna, president of SAM Inc. “Not only do we maximize our value to clients with diverse capabilities, but our cross-disciplinary integration allows us to provide more knowledgeable solutions.”

To help manage its extensive fleet of vehicles and assets, SAM Inc. relies on advanced location intelligence technology. With Telogis Fleet, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) fleet management application from Telogis, SAM Inc. has the ability to monitor all assets in a single view and make important business decisions based on real-time, actionable data. This has helped the company reduce idling by 30 to 40 percent, reduce fuel consumption, improve productivity and billing, better manage crews and personnel, improve safety, recover stolen equipment and improve asset utilization across its entire fleet.

“We surround ourselves with the proper technology and the best equipment to go out and do our jobs on a daily basis,” says Ken Utley, field operations manager for SAM Inc. “This is one of those tools. In what we do on a daily basis, it allows us to be able to set our crews up more efficiently.”

SAM Inc. works throughout North America, offering surveying services for industries such as transportation, electric transmission and distribution, oil and gas, rail and other infrastructure providers. This involves a fleet of trucks, utility vehicles (UTVs), compressors/generators, boats and trailers. While the company has offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Denver and Salt Lake City, much of the work is often carried out for extended periods of time away from those locations. Altogether, SAM Inc. has 178 assets spread across a variety of jobs at any given time. Of those, 155 are work trucks. The firm implemented a comprehensive fleet management solution to help centralize all of the information on those assets, as well as improve a number of factors relating to asset utilization, safety and employee performance.

Since SAM crews often work in wide-open rural spaces where they encounter everything from dense forests to rivers and treacherous terrain, the company worked with Telogis to add a satellite view to Telogis Fleet. This tool gives surveyors an accurate aerial view of what they will encounter when they arrive at a site, as well as insights on the best way to traverse the site and the best place to stage their vehicles and people for optimal efficiency and fuel use.

SAM Inc. Field Operations Manager Ken Utley monitors the feed from the company’s telematics system in their Austin headquarters.

“The topography of the land is very important to what we do,” says Utley. “It saves us money on the back end and allows us to formulate a plan on how to attack the job. It’ll get down to ground zero, and it shows you buildings, actual road intersections, if there are trees, if it’s open land. That’s very beneficial. Without the use of this map, [crews] may think ‘let’s come in from the north because we think that’s the best way.’ But we actually look at the overlay, and it may be surrounded by trees and that it’s better to come at it from another angle.”

That topography also helps the company determine the best equipment for the job. Much of the surveying may require gaining access to the area with UTVs rather than trucks. Having that birds-eye view to identify areas that are impassable or may require a different method of transportation before crews set foot on the site helps determine the best allocation of resources.

“There are areas where you can’t take a full-size vehicle,” Utley says, “narrow corridors where we can carry and transport via UTV versus footing it in.”

One of the primary reasons mobile companies enact a fleet management system is to curb engine idling, a practice that can lead to excessive fuel use and unnecessary engine hours that can shorten the life of the vehicle. “It can get hot down here in Texas, and the air conditioners run a lot,” says Utley. “Some guys will want to run their vehicles all day long. With this, we can track it [to] see if anybody is abusing that. If you’re not in the truck, the truck doesn’t need to sit idle unoccupied. I would say it has probably reduced idling by 30 to 40 percent. Now you can actually visit with the individual, show them the specific report from the vehicle they drive and address it.”

According to Utley, the benefits are twofold. “It’s more about the fuel savings,” says Utley, “but it’s not good for engines to idle for long periods of time. It puts stress on them. In the end, we’ll probably get more longevity out of our fleet vehicles because of that. It’s a byproduct of what we’re trying to accomplish with the system.”

The system also improves productivity. One of the benefits of being able to know where a vehicle is at all times is the ability to verify and justify billings and have a better understanding of what employees do while in the field. SAM Inc. crosschecks location information gathered by the vehicle through Telogis Fleet with the work documented throughout the day to better understand work patterns and productivity levels. For instance, on paper, it may look as if a crew recorded fewer shots than they should have throughout the day, but reviewing the land with the satellite view in Telogis Fleet may show particularly treacherous terrain that explains the lower levels of production that day.

“Productivity, for us, is measured in how many shots you get during a given day,” says Utley. “If you’re doing static, you may theoretically be sitting on two points all day long. If you’re doing a wide-open topographic survey, you may get 2,000 points. You have a level of expectation, and you can track that over the course of the day. [Through the telematics system] you know the guy started here, you know he stopped here, this is how many hours he should have been charging. Why did he only get this many shots? There’s a lot of cross referencing that is done on a daily basis--it’s checks and balances.”

Another primary reason SAM Inc. implemented Telogis Fleet is to improve safety. The company is able to monitor data related to speeding versus the posted speed limit, harsh acceleration and harsh deceleration. In addition to providing a historical perspective, the software also issues InSight Alerts sent directly to management to alert them when drivers are exceeding posted speed limits. Having those alerts allows the company to take action and turn those incidents into teachable moments before costly accidents or violations take place.

The web-based telematics system allows personnel to log in from any computer, simplifying IT and providing greater access.

“If we have somebody that is going over that number on a consistent basis, we can bring them in and have a discussion with them to adhere to posted speed limits,” Utley says.

Another safety element particularly applicable to crews that work in remote environments is the ability to always know where a vehicle is. If a worker needs help, the system can pinpoint the vehicle’s location and determine the best way to dispatch assistance.

“Our projects are vast in nature,” says Utley, “and we don’t have our crews in one place over a several-hundred-mile-long project. There are a lot of things that can create a dangerous environment, and we know if we get a phone call here at the office, we can quickly go to the system, look at that satellite overlay, look at the terrain and instruct other drivers in the vicinity the best route to take to get there to render aid. Whereas, if you’re doing it blind, in some of the terrain and roadways, if you don’t have the ability to see it, you could be driving around and by then it’s too late.”

Once a job has begun, it’s not uncommon to find that every vehicle or UTV allocated to a job is not being used to its full potential. As new jobs come up, having an understanding of how each mobile asset is used and what may be available for the new job assists in deployment and gives the company the information needed to make (or not make) purchases or rentals--ultimately improving investment decisions.  

“If I have a vehicle that’s been on one of my remote job sites and it hasn’t moved for ten days,” says Utley, “that’s telling me that they are not using it and I can get that asset back here versus going out and paying another $30,000 for a brand new vehicle that I don’t necessarily need to be spending money on.”  

It’s also helped improve actual vehicle management and maintenance practices. Rather than relying on paper records and phone calls to crews in the field, management is better able to monitor vehicle service intervals via the fleet management system.

“I used to keep a spreadsheet, and you can only put so much on a given spreadsheet line,” says Utley. “And just like idling and speeding, you can actually set it up for alerts on [maintenance items such as] oil changes. It will actually tell us when truck No. 30 is due for an oil change. It allows us to be more efficient in our duties because if it’s in the shop, it’s costing our company money.”

Being able to verify a vehicle’s location can also help firms limit liability pertaining to damages caused by the operation of those vehicle assets. Telogis Fleet allows SAM Inc. to pull up vehicle histories and match vehicle location with the time and location of the purported offense. This either confirms the complaint or proves that crews were not in the area. SAM Inc. has used this functionality in one case to confirm that its vehicles were not in operation near an area where a brush fire started, and in another incident that they were not responsible for damage caused to a vehicle by a tool that had allegedly fallen off of one of its trucks. In proving that its vehicles were not responsible, this functionality has helped reduce costs associated with damages that were ultimately caused by someone else.

“We’ve been able to utilize the system to go back and trace our vehicles’ account of whether it was in proximity to where these things started to begin with,” Utley says, “and we’ve been able to prove that we were nowhere near the area in question.”

For SAM Inc., the generators/compressors and UTVs the company relies on are particularly attractive to would-be-thieves. The company is able to set up a geofence around each “field office” to alert them to an asset leaving the area. As soon as Utley is made aware that an asset is missing, they can immediately track it and notify the local authorities as necessary.

“If I can recover a $10,000 device (the UTV and trailer), that’s money that we’re not going to have to go out (and spend),” says Utley, “plus the downtime of not having that piece of equipment while we’re having to reorder it.”

For the information provided by a fleet management system to be useful, it must be easily viewed and understood. With Telogis Fleet, SAM Inc. has an enterprise dashboard that brings all pertinent information into a single view and tailors it to meet their needs. “You can set it up and tailor it to where it’s more useful for you,” Utley says. “And as far as extraction, if you need to extract (the data) and make hard copies to present to somebody, it’s very easily done.”

As a SaaS solution, Telogis Fleet is completely web-based and therefore doesn’t require an extensive investment in IT infrastructure. Personnel can log in from computers at any of the regional offices or from their smartphones in the field and review the information they need. At SAM Inc., this capability has helped engage more of the team and create a better understanding of the fleet as a whole. “We have tried to delegate some of the management responsibility to the project managers of the individual crews,” says Utley. “That way, they can be more involved with their own projects. If they have a question about someone’s productivity, they can go in and see for themselves. That’s how user-friendly the product is.”

This accessibility is also helpful if an important alert comes across while a project manager is away from the office. “We had one theft recovery that happened on a weekend and I was at home,” says Utley. “I could get on my personal computer and get information from there. I don’t have to drive all the way to the office in Austin, which takes an hour for me. I can get on and guide my supervisors on what they need to do next. We also have offices in Dallas and Houston and Denver, and those individuals can log in where they are to track their own assets for their respective offices and not have to depend solely on the Austin office to be able to do so.”

Utley believes the technology has made SAM Inc. even more prepared to handle the wide variety of challenges facing the firm’s mobile fleet of vehicles and assets. Each works toward improving service and their own bottom line--two of the most important factors for any business.

“We have the ability to get there and rapidly deploy a large number of people and resources,” Utley says, “and focus on the work we do best: surveying.”

For more information about SAM Inc., visit