Case study: Driving technology forward

10 Oct 2005

Many small firms have benefited from the explosion in mobile technology but few have embraced its cutting-edge possibilities with as much vigour as an Irish chauffeur company. ProBus and Car Luxury Touring prides itself on providing a razor-sharp service for VIP customers and is quick to credit mobile solutions for helping maintain its high standards.

The head office is in Kenmare, County Kerry, but the technology really comes into its own in the business it operates out of the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin. “When we won the contract to run its airport-transfer service we had to guarantee that we could notify the hotel when we had the guest 10 minutes from the hotel,” explains company owner Bruno Schmidt. The solution they came up with uses telemetry, the science of gathering data remotely.

Every car has an Hewlett-Packard iPaq occupying the space usually used for a mobile phone. A Bluetooth model, it connects wirelessly to a Fleetmatic box hidden in the guts of the car. This automatically relays the precise location, speed and direction the vehicle is traveling over the Vodafone network.

“We also have a piece of software that our dispatcher uses to programme hotel arrival times for any given day,” explains Schmidt. “We then code the car into that programme, marrying a name to it. On the day of the pick-up, when the car is 10 minutes from the hotel it triggers an alarm that sends an automatic email, which the duty manager receives on a Vodafone BlackBerry.”

Not a company to stand still, the firm is just about to launch an additional service whereby the driver hands the passenger the iPaq to tick off what he or she requires from the room service menu. This is mailed back to the hotel and the meal is waiting when the guest arrives.

In the ProBus side of his business, the technology is also helping out, as Schmidt explains: “We’ve been taking over routes from Aircoach and one of the things we’re going to be doing is introducing a text messaging service to let people know when the next bus is coming.” But there are also big benefits for the running of business as well as the customer. There is now a Fleetmatic service site that ProBus uses to track and maintain its cars and buses. Automatic emails are triggered when a vehicle hits a certain mileage and needs a service or part replacement.

Not all of the benefits, however, are automated. Depending on the season the firm employs around 40 drivers that are expected to use the technology in other ways. “We have built up a central database of what the drivers have learnt as they travel around the country, things that will be good to know for our customers,” he explains. “If they see something new that they feel is beneficial, such as a new restaurant, they get out the iPaq and feed it into the system. So we have built up a database of useful information that all the drivers can access.”

Schmidt is clearly a fan when it comes to technology, talking enthusiastically about what it can do but he makes no bones about its importance to his company: it gives him competitive advantage. “One of the biggest problems we have in this business is that people want to copy you or undercut you,” he says. “When it comes to telemetry we’re out there on our own.”

By Ian Campbell