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Knowing a truck's location has always been one measure of great customer service. Frank Clemente, president of Clemente Bros., Troy, N.Y., in 1957 urged contractors and producers to use two-way radios to increase efficiency in their daily operations.

Now, 43 years later, managers at Clemente Latham Concrete are facing the same basic communication equipment issue. With the rapidly changing spectrum of technology available, it's not a simple decision.

Industry experts find it surprising that fewer than 35% of ready-mixed concrete producers and fewer than 5% of zero-slump cast product producers have included truck-tracking technology in their batching or dispatching procedures. But as the costs of hardware, installation, and airtime costs decline, many producers are planning on taking a closer look at this technology.

Efficient wire transfer is allowing producers to use external devices that now not only accept credit card payment on the jobsite through a reader connected to the truck's radio but also preapprove the transaction before the concrete is poured. Some dispatching programs even allow drivers to create a ticket on the jobsite from a printer in the truck's cab. Early tests indicate that one device pays for itself within the first month by eliminating the 2 or 3 minutes of idle time spent waiting for the dispatcher to print the ticket and send it down the air tube.

Regardless of the type of product the truck carries, with technology allowing the producer to shift COD payment and credit approval to the jobsite, truck monitoring becomes profit monitoring. To be successful in this new arrangement, producers must use accurate truck tracking.

With more business transactions occurring in the field, dispatchers can act as monitors rather than participants in each delivery. No longer are they being forced to keep an ear on radio chatter. This frees dispatchers to concentrate on problems and makes drivers responsible for their actions.

Just as important, truck-tracking systems provide documentation of each transaction.

Thus, the changing aspects of truck tracking are radically changing the way producers view their business.

Clemente Latham recently installed a new communication system that featured a new radio repeater system, an upgraded dispatching system, and a new-generation driver-activated status system. President Don Fane looked at the upgrades as a way to increase efficiency in a very competitive market. "We have been steadily growing through acquisitions and new sites, and we had to consolidate not only our communications but our data collection," Fane says.

The first step of the program was the installation of a radio repeater system as the signal carrier. Fane's team then looked at how to gather more accurate job travel and customer use data. With his background in dealing with estimators, dispatcher Dan Manley brings a unique insight to the dispatching role and thus knows how to make the system work best. Manley sees his role as that of a data manager.

Clemente Latham isn't finished yet. This winter Fane expects to meet with other sister company managers in several best-management conferences to decide whether to adopt additional communications technology.