With the plethora of apps for mobile phones it is often portrayed to the public that a mobile app will be available for just about everything soon. This same expectation has spread its way into fuel management systems and inevitably we get asked about using an app for the SmartFill GEN 2 product.
The reality is that apps have been about for a very long time now, ten years plus, and with an already cloud based system like SmartFill Gen 2 we can quite easily produce an app if required. There are many reasons why this has not been a priority to date.
In the last four to five years, one of the key aims of Fluid Management Technology has been to make fuel management systems as easy to install and operate as possible. Indeed, making them fool proof. This was one of the key reasons for having direct connectivity from the unit to the internet and going to the cloud for all operations. Having a PC base software system always caused major issues as, every computer is set up slightly differently and every user has different experience in using their computer. Therefore, by being a cloud based fuel management system we have taken all the clients hardware and software out of the equation to increase reliability and usability overall.
Relying on individual users and their mobile phones is going backwards from the achievements of the cloud system. Yes, everyone has a mobile phone, though not every user is the same. Each phone has a slightly different set up and every user a different level of expertise. If we rely totally on a mobile phone and its Bluetooth connection to access the fuel management unit, then we introduce several risk factors that are out of the control of Fluid Management Technology and indeed the company using the system. These include:
- The company has to pay contributions to the cost of the phone or at least data usage on the phone. A low-cost key or code is now replaced by a relatively expensive phone and data plan.
- If the driver / user loses their phone they can’t refuel and operations stop.
- If the phone runs out of charge they can’t refuel and operations stop.
- If the phone breaks they can’t refuel and operations stop.
- If the phone software isn't kept up to date they can't refuel and opertions stop.
- If the app software isn't kept up to date they can’t refuel and operations stop.
- If the Bluetooth on the phone fails or they simply can’t work out how to connect then they can’t refuel and operations stop.
- If the user forgets their phone they can’t refuel and operations stop.
- If the user gets the phone wet they can’t refuel and operations stop.
- If the user changes phones (and the average phone life is 13 months) they can’t refuel and operations stop.
There are also many reasons why you should not be using your mobile phone whilst refuelling, with some work health and safety standards advising against the practice.
Different users have different needs.
There are several reasons why a mobile app is not practical even if it is working correctly. Fuel management systems are used in many different circumstances and by a wide variety of people. Sometimes the system tracks vehicles and at other times it tracks drivers or users. Sometimes that user is a regular user and other times it is a part time employee or contractor. Therefore, how the system will be accessed becomes very important.
Many methods of access are available, such as PIN codes, swipe cards or near field communication devices such as the key fob or card. Ideally, to suit your business as well as possible, a system that incorporates a combination of these systems is often most appropriate. For instance, a regular driver might have a swipe card or fob key but an infrequent or one-off user might simply be given a PIN code to use the machine.
If casual employees or contactors are given access and have to download the app, get administrative access to the system (by your admin staff) to fill up one tank of diesel, they then have to be removed from the system so they do not get access to the fuel in the future. This becomes an administrative nightmare. Giving that person a one-off PIN code is much more practical.
The SmartFill GEN 2 system is free for ongoing use.
All apps however will have an ongoing monthly fee per user and will generally cost you $30 per site or similar. With even a small number of sites this cost can become oppressive. The typical fuel management system will be in the field for 10 years plus. $30 per user per month for 10 years is more than a significant cost for most businesses.
Additionally, purpose built hardware specially designed to capture and transmit fuel data reliably is more prefereable, as each user's phone is a potential point of failure that may require technical support assistance when things fail to work, or the user doesn't understand how they should work. These potential points of failure incrase the overall cost of support and therefore the overall cost of the system.
Fluid Management Technology has resisted client requests to develop a mobile app solution. From our knowledge and experience in the market, an app is limited, difficult to administer, unreliable and costly.