BY JOSEPH A. MANN JR.
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD
How can businesses keep track of their employees and vehicles — wherever they are? Here’s how one customer of Doral-based Skypatrol used its electronic-tracking services to catch an employee goofing off:
The customer, the owner of a company in New Jersey that makes electric generators, had sent a technician to Tampa to install one. But Skypatrol’s tracking system showed the vehicle was in Miami Beach, not Tampa. The customer then called his driver to find out what was going on. We’re making progress in Tampa, the driver replied.
After calling Skypatrol to ask about the discrepancy, the New Jersey business owner learned that the company truck and employee were indeed in Miami Beach. He called his driver again, who finally confessed.
“This is an example of how Skypatrol can help clients keep track of vehicles anywhere in the country and find out if their employees are working efficiently,” said Robert Rubin, who took over as Skypatrol’s CEO in 2004. In this case, Skypatrol helped expose an employee who was acting dishonestly, misusing a company vehicle and dragging out the time required to complete a job.
Skypatrol started out as a manufacturer of tracking devices for vehicle fleets in the early 2000s. Tracking devices still account for much of the company’s success — it has been profitable since 2006. But over the years, the company has added more tools to help companies that manage fleets of commercial vehicles; automotive finance companies; law enforcement; and individual vehicle owners. Its sales to companies that finance autos have accounted for a spurt in the firm’s revenues, which grew by 20 percent in 2013 and are on track to increase by 40 percent this year.
As its services have increased, so has its client base, which now also includes wholesale electronics businesses, companies with fleets of trucks and construction equipment, police departments, and oil and mining operations
“We don’t make a lot of different devices. We provide a lot of solutions to business,” said Rubin, a Miami native with a law degree from the University of Miami. “We provide a platform for companies to solve their problems and help them manage their businesses more efficiently.”
Verizon Wireless recently signed an agreement to supply Skypatrol customers all over the United States with advanced GPS tracking technology. The contract, which Verizon described as a “multiyear, multimillion dollar deal,” will connect tens of thousands of Skypatrol’s machine-to-machine tracking and security devices using Verizon’s high-speed wireless network. It will “strengthen our nationwide infrastructure and increase reliability,” Rubin said.
Central to Skypatrol’s success is its proprietary hardware, which includes a variety of electronic tracking and monitoring devices. These devices connect customers to hundreds or thousands of their vehicles — cars, trucks, motorcycles and heavy construction equipment — either by cellphone networks or by global positioning satellites. Its software can tell a fleet manager about down time vs. work time for each car; track fuel efficiency; and count how many stops drivers make on their routes. It can also help auto dealers keep track of their inventory and send payment-due reminders to car buyers; tell auto finance firms where to pick up a car to be repossessed; and track a stolen vehicle.
Customers also have access to a Skypatrol website that shows constantly updated information about their vehicles, other physical assets and employee performance.
“We are looking at ‘exceptions’ in the location information and using these as management tools to improve an organization,” Rubin said. “For example, determining how many stops a technician should make and how long he should stay at each location. Is the asset — in many cases, a vehicle — being maintained appropriately to extends its life?” If an asset — like expensive equipment used in mining or oil production — is not supposed to move, why is it moving? Are trailers being used properly, or are they parked by the side of the road? These elements can add unnecessary costs and lower efficiency at a company, he said.
Skypatrol designs the tracking devices in-house and uses components made in China, Switzerland, Malaysia and the United States; it develops its own software in Doral, Colombia, Silicon Valley and Vietnam.
Skypatrol’s tracking devices differ from other anti-theft devices, which use a radio transceiver hidden in cars, trucks and other equipment. When a vehicle equipped with this type of device is stolen, the owner must file a report with police, who then activate the tracking device and go after it. Rubin said that with Skypatrol, the owner can track a stolen vehicle and then report its location to the police, and try to retrieve it himself or use repo companies. Moreover, other devices operate only within certain geographical areas, while Skypatrol tracking works even in isolated rural areas and overseas.
Skypatrol products also include a “geofencing” feature, which alerts a customer when a vehicle leaves a specific area. It can also disable the vehicle electronically. And the company also offers ways to help auto dealers keep better track of large fleets: When there are hundreds of cars on a lot, dealers sometimes don’t know where a particular model is. “When a customer asks for a specific vehicle, our system tells them where it is on the lot,” Rubin said. Skypatrol can even give dealers full reports on which car batteries are dead.
Wholesalers of electronic devices represent another market for Skypatrol. Mini Gadgets in Atlanta sells security and spy equipment in the United States and overseas. “Skypatrol supplies GPS tracking units mostly for cars and trucks, but also for asset management — boats and heavy equipment,” said Andrea Williams, Mini Gadgets’ sales manager.
Mini Gadgets sells to retail spy shops and electronics stores, and they in turn sell to people tracking their personal vehicles and to companies tracking fleets. “Their tracking units are very popular and are one of our top sellers,” Williams said. “We’ve been in that market for awhile and what we like is that Skypatrol units are very easy to activate and use, and they have a good price point. And most important, they offer great customer service.”
One of Skypatrol’s clients is Automax, a dealership in Arlington, Texas, that sells used cars and trucks, mostly to customers with bad credit, and finances all its vehicles in-house. It has been using GPS devices for about 10 years to recover vehicles from owners who stop paying. But Automax started working with Skypatrol about two years ago. “Their devices are much more reliable — some of the machines I used in the past didn’t work properly,” Automax owner Sam Mahrouq said. “They offer the best prices and customer service … that’s why I moved to them.”
The Skypatrol tracking machines are attached to vehicles and cannot be deactivated by owners. “We sell about 300 vehicles a month and we have a repo rate of about 40 percent,” Mahrouq said. “We finance our cars and these GPS devices are designed to get the car back, so that reduces our losses.
“In the past, people didn’t pay and you couldn’t find the car,” he said. “Thanks to these machines, we can recover our cars and make a lot more loans. This benefits people who need a car to go to work and can’t get a bank loan.”
The cost of Skypatrol tracking devices and software varies according to the range of services provided and volume. For example, a tracking unit sold at a retail outlet for a private vehicle, including one year of service, costs $499. Large customers, such as auto dealers, may pay $89.95 per unit.
In February, Skypatrol won an award for one of its software designs at the M2M Evolution, a high-tech trade show held in Miami Beach. The company won the “Best Vertical Platform Award” for its vehicle-theft recovery product. M2M refers to “machine-to-machine,” which means that a wireless tracking device can communicate information over a network to a computer that uses software to analyze the data.
“Skypatrol won the award because they have the ability to communicate information in real time, which allows people and businesses to make good decisions quickly,” said Carl Ford, CEO of Crossfire Media, which organizes trade shows and conferences on new technology developments and who set up the Miami Beach event. In the past, he said, people had to wait for a system to produce a report and make a decision. “Now, we can see data in real time. Skypatrol is one of the leading developers in this space.”
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