Monitoring has a whole new meaning in the propane industry

September 10, 2013 By    

So, I’ve been following (I’m sure you have also) the ongoing story of National Security Agency (NSA)/FBI surveillance and all of the drama that continues to unfold.

Truth be known, though, I’ve been a big fan of “monitoring” for about a decade now – though of a slightly different flavor than that preferred by our government.

I’m not saying NSA monitoring should be mainstream, but I am saying that it is 2013 and you should be thinking about monitoring in terms of fine-tuning your operations.

Monitoring, in my opinion, falls into two broad categories, namely: monitoring actual usage data from remote tank monitors and monitoring of product delivery data, such as actual gallons, truck available inventory and geographic position.

Let’s take a closer look at this aspect of monitoring and the impact.

Monitoring actual propane usage at the residential or commercial point of use has been with us for a decade or more now, but historically plagued by cost, reliability, installation issues, poor battery life, lack of cellular coverage and (in some cases) even having to rely on a communication device inside your customers’ home.

Consequently, compared to other countries, the U.S. is quite early and slow in the adoption of this technology. The situation is changing rapidly, though, and the European propane industry is leading the way with widespread adoption of remote usage monitoring and is now an immoveable part of its delivery operations.

Driving this change are much more reliable measuring technology, much improved battery technology, widespread availability of both CDMA and GPRS cellular communication networks and simple installation. These drivers are now in the United States and should encourage a more widespread adoption of this important technology.

The benefits of “rightsizing” your operations to the actual demand of your customer base is the end point of this. For example, imagine a remote tank monitor triggering a delivery need and dynamic monitoring/scheduling software immediately creating a ticket and wirelessly sending it to the best-positioned bobtail (based on location, inventory and time) to instantly replenish the tank. Or, in the worst case, automatically scheduling a delivery in the next day.

However, mass deployment of remote tank monitors requires much tighter integration with your back-office system – with the current “email alerting” system rapidly becoming untenable based on the sheer volume of alerts. The combination of live tank monitoring with live/dynamic mobile logistics has the potential to truly drive consistently hyper-efficient fleets – completely right-sized for the actual consumer demand.

Monitoring actual delivery data takes “surveillance” to a whole new level of increasingly proven value. There is a rapidly increasing wave in deployment of live mobile logistics solutions – cost-effective mobile devices comprising dynamic scheduling and routing, navigation, truck and inventory tracking, pricing and invoicing, electronic register connectivity, live update to the back office, etc. – but all in a real-time environment using the wireless Internet.

The wireless infrastructure in the United States and Canada is now widespread and secure enough to warrant this innovation. Live mobile allows you to monitor, in real time, the actual delivery information from the point of propane delivery, allowing you to make decisions on adding more deliveries throughout the day depending on onboard inventory, time and location. I know of many fleets now that demand that each truck comes back empty of gas – proactively managing deliveries throughout the day.

My theme here is that unlike the NSA/FBI version, your monitoring options have a proven place in your operations with an increasing set of tangible possibilities and benefits. Don’t look over your shoulder or up to the sky to see who might be monitoring you – rather, start exploring and discussing how to leverage true monitoring into your own operations.

Vinny Mullineaux is the CEO of Vertrax, a provider of back office and mobile technology. He can be reached at or 203-952-7666.

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