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Monday, June 24, 2013

Vehicle tracking systems - Hosted Services vs. Enterprise

If you have a moderate or large fleet of vehicles that you are looking to track, or if you have special security needs for your fleet location data; then you may want to consider an enterprise system over a hosted tracking system (also referred to as a SaaS or a Cloud Computing system).

Early vehicle tracking systems were all developed as enterprise systems. These systems were usually very expensive and tailored to the organization that was implementing them as a custom designed system. As the integration of wireless internet and GPS came together, fairly large systems could be setup to run over the Internet so that smaller clients could take advantage of the technology.  This lead to a 'boom' in hosted tracking systems during the dot-com bubble period around 2000.

Hosted systems are well suited for clients in the range of 1-500 units, but as the size of the fleet approaches 1,000 units, economies of scale start to favor an in-house or enterprise GPS tracking system.  Fleet sizes above 3,000 units with an in-house IT department and NOC facilities should strongly consider an enterprise tracking system as the costs and control of a hosted system can quickly exceed those of an enterprise system.

Hosted system services are generally paid for monthly, bi-yearly, or yearly; or over multiple years if a contract for the services is entered into.  Enterprise systems are usually paid for once for the life of the software or system.  For public safety entities, the life of the service may be 10-15 years.  This initial payment may also include system customization for the customer.  Enterprise systems generally do not include ongoing updates to the software unless specific changes are outlined at the time of purchase, or if an additional yearly software maintenance agreement is included.  Hosted systems generally include ongoing software and service updates; though the system provider is generally in control of the release dates for any updates.

System redundancy and future expansion is a consideration in the initial deployment of an enterprise system.  Consideration should be given to how the system will continue to operate under 24x7 conditions when the system needs to be upgraded - so multi-server systems with automated or manual fail-over should also be a consideration in the overall system design.  Also, there should be a design path forward if the number of vehicles to be supported may exceed 10% of the original design.  These considerations are less of an issue for most hosted systems, as the services provider handles these IT maintenance, and design aspects of the system for the client. 

Enterprise systems usually are limited to 'run-time' system software (compiled 'object code') hosted on the clients system, and are designed specifically for the number of devices and users the system needs to host; and setup so that the client's IT staff can maintain the system adequately.  In some cases, enterprise systems can include access to source code for the system - but this is rare as the cost of the source code licence can double or triple the cost of a typical run-time enterprise system; however in critical system operations that have their own development or software engineering team(s), it can be a contract requirement - usually granted under the auspices of a non-competing entity in a specific geographical marketplace.

Another reason enterprise systems are sought out can be for the need to secure the software tracking system on the clients network, or to be hosted as an Intranet application for the client.  Economies of scale may not be the overriding consideration for these types of systems, and systems can be implemented for customers that have fewer than 500 vehicles to track.

When considering an enterprise system, also be sure to ask how many IT staff members will be required to manage the system;  the smaller the staff requirements, the more automated and stable the system is likely to be.

Lastly, ask about what kinds of intellectual property protection the system provider can afford the client, as well as how far back the 'prior art' of the system goes.  The longer the technology has been in place, the older the prior art, and the stronger the protection for the IP in the marketplace.