For many radio managers, fleet management can be a stressful mess of spreadsheets and manual updates. In our latest podcast, Software Product Manager, Dan Manton, talks EnableFleet with Evan Forester. Dan has spent years working with EnableFleet, and has some fascinating insights about the operation of the software today, and where it will go in the future. Throughout their discussion, Dan analyses the following aspects of the EnableFleet software:
- Why Tait developed EnableFleet
- How EnableFleet solves the problems associated with managing a radio fleet
- The importance of Fleet Management
- The history and status of Over The Air Programming (OTAP)
- Future developments
Listen to the podcast in full below, or subscribe to it (iTunes link) today . If you have any questions about EnableFleet, please get in touch with us either by leaving a comment below or through our Contact page.
If you choose, you can read the full transcript below the podcast.
Evan: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Tait Podcast. My name is Evan and I’m here with Dan Manton. He’s our Software Product Manager. And he’s gonna tell us about something that is called Enable Fleet. And Dan has been telling me over the last year, year and a half, how exciting Enable Fleet is, and I just said, “Dan, I’d like you to share this with others.” So, Dan, will you tell us a little bit about Enable Fleet?
Dan: Thank you, Evan, sure. Simply put, Enable Fleet is a software product that configures and manages your radio fleet from a single point of control. It’s based on a server or a cloud, and it uses bang up to date secure technology to present the appropriate information and controls to those guys managing and operating radios.
Evan: Okay, so that’s a quick overview. Why did Tait develop Enable Fleet? What’s the problem out there that we’re trying to solve with this?
Dan: Yeah, I think there’s two kinds of people in the radio world: people that understand the pain of keeping radios up to date in a fleet with them and those that don’t. And for those that do, bear with me, and for those that don’t, here’s a story. In the beginning, all radios in a fleet were the same. So what we’re solving is an enduring problem. In the beginning, radios were the same. They had the same frequencies, they were on the same channel dot on the knob, and you could have a single file and you could spread that amongst the whole fleet of radios. Suddenly, technology moved along and suddenly every radio had to be individually identified. So that meant a different file for each radio. So if you had a thousand radios, from going from one file you suddenly go to a thousand different files. And the problem with getting the right file to the right radio… yeah, it hurts.
Evan: It’s a pretty complex task, very administrative-heavy, isn’t it?
Dan: Absolutely. And soon as you’ve got individual IDs, you’ve got the opportunity for all kinds of errors, not least of which is giving different radios the same ID. Modern radio systems don’t like two radios with the same ID. It has knock-on effects like… well, they’ll challenge you and say, “Actually, am I allowed to have two radios with the same ID?” Or it will confuse things like vehicle tracking systems and say, “Well, which person is that? How can they be in two places at once?” There’s all kinds of bizarre fall-through from this.
Evan: Yes, so how does a lot of that management take place? I mean, people don’t have just a thousand numbers and names in their head, so what are radio managers doing today to solve that issue?
Dan: So, yeah, this is the enduring problem, and invariably we went around and asked various organizations, radio managers, how they do this. And what we were confronted with was spreadsheets, and files, and email, and some very effective systems of programming and organizing these files and these radio systems. But just typically complex and paper-heavy and not very well controlled. And if you’d ask any of those radio managers, hand on heart, to say, “Do I know how my radio fleet is configured?” they wouldn’t be able to say yes.
Evan: So obviously managing everything through a spreadsheet, aside from it being somewhat cumbersome, can create some issues. What are some examples of the actual problems, specific examples that radio managers are running into with this set-up?
Dan: Yeah, as I just said, having two radios with the same IDs is bad news, albeit…
Dan: …DMR and P25 system. But there’s also the other things. Modern radios need IP addresses to go and talk to certain servers like vehicle location servers. And then, beyond the IDs, there’s the usability controls. If you have a radio that’s been programmed to channel one, it’s a certain thing. And you go to another radio, you pick it out of the pool and it isn’t channel one at all. It’s channel two or buttons have been reassigned. You can end up in a real mess. Just basic usability stuff like that so it’s enormously important. And what most radio managers tend to do is try and tighten down the configuration files to try and remove that complexity, but you can still get it wrong in spectacular ways.
Evan: What are ways that Tait believes we can actually make a difference here?
Dan: When we went out there and we looked at the problem, I think we saw maybe five areas we could make a difference. And if I talked to this, then maybe you can ask me some other questions. So there’s five ways we saw we could make a difference. The first one, as I’ve mentioned, is providing an accurate picture of how a radio is programmed at any particular time, and keeping that accurate picture . . .
Dan: …historically on record. Another way would be making changes to a radio as simple as possible for a radio manager. A third one would be eliminating the human error. Even if you create these files and you flip them around via email to the guys in the field that have to go and touch the radios, getting the right file into the right radio, it’s prone to human error.
Dan: As is reporting back that “I did it” or “I didn’t do it” or it’s “This radio has this ID”. And, again, there’s the problem there that very often your radio experts end up in the field programming radios and perhaps they’re better off with the radio system back at base. Sending people around to touch radios is expensive compared to programming over the air. We’ll talk about OTAP later.
Dan: And I think the final one’s security. And radio managers need to know that radios haven’t magically been reprogrammed behind their back without their knowing, and at Tait we’ve got a solution for that too.
Evan: Yeah. Yeah, something you’ve said to me a few times before is that it’s a way for radio managers to cover their backside, where…
Evan: If something goes wrong, they’ve got a clear history and a centralized database where they can say, “Hey, I’ve updated this radio. That’s not the issue,” or even when there is an issue you can figure out when that issue was created.
Dan: Yeah, absolutely. It’s about confidence and control and simplicity. Knowing how your fleet’s actually configured, having the confidence that you know your radio fleet will perform like you designed it to, and confidence that the data you’re getting back, that that radio was actually updated, is huge. And that’s data integrity. There’s no human intervention on that. You can be trusted with that. You can share that with the organization and your existing systems and you can get efficiency from asset management. We can get operational decisions based upon it like, for instance, that that radio ID that shows up on a map, in your AVR system, actually is that car or that person.
Evan: So you mentioned OTAP there, and you wanted to talk a little bit more about that. What’s the scoop on OTAP?
Dan: I think conventional wisdom is OTAP saves somebody a journey to a radio. And that’s absolutely correct. If a radio is three hours’ travel away, that’s six hours’ travel back to base, that’s someone’s job for a day to go out and touch that radio and program it.
Dan: If you can program that over the air, that’s a huge saving. I guess what we saw at Tait is that OTAP is just a small part of the problem. You can still put bad information out.
Dan: For instance, it still doesn’t leave you with any the wiser as to having the power to know how all your radios are configured. And I suppose this leads into one of the big advantages, I believe, that Tait has is that we, in our OTAP solution, we only send the difference information to that radio.
Dan: So this is a key point, and it’s all from the fact that we know tightly how each radio is configured. Because we know that, we can send with confidence just those bits of change information over, so what may have been a 20-minute OTAP session can be a 2-minute OTAP session.
Evan: Sure. Because OTAP has been around for a while, and I know some people have tried it and weren’t happy with it and I think what Tait’s done here is really solving a lot of those issues because of the other features of EnableFleet. You’re guaranteeing that you’re sending the correct information, you’re reducing the information that has to be sent, it can happen at a time you designate, and so it’s really giving you the management system to take advantage of OTAP.
Dan: Absolutely right. And I think the other thing that we’ve done really, really well with EnableFleet is that we say, “We don’t care if you’re updating it with a laptop or over the air.”
Evan: Okay, yeah, so you can update with both.
Dan: Yeah, and…
Evan: You can plug a radio straight into your computer…
Evan: Okay. So where are we today, Dan?
Dan: Yes, let’s just dig in a little bit. EnableFleet is all about empowering your radio experts and your radio system managers. They’re back at base and what they do is complex, and what we’re saying is, “Well, that complexity belongs to those guys.” And EnableFleet, I’d say, empowers them to make all the choices about all the radios in their fleet. And then we have radio programmers, the guys that go out into the field and touch those radios. We’ve made both jobs simpler. If you’re a radio manager, you would still have to create 2000 files. If you had a radio system with 2000 radios, you would have to create 2000 different files. With Enable Fleet, what we do is we say, “Well, let’s group these radios together,” and then we say, “And these are the things that are different about those radios as individuals.” So that’d be ID, maybe something to do with the ABL, maybe some start-up text.
But apart from that, all those radios are configured the same. After the first time through a system, you set up that group to update all the radios in that group, and that group could be up to 15,000 radios is the limit on EnableFleet. You could drop a single configuration file in that and those thousands of files would be created. So what may have taken you, as a radio manager, a month or more, at one stage, to accurately create each individual file, your radio manager now can just say, “There’s the base file. I’ll throw that into that group,” and the rest of it spawns out.
Dan: So there’s this huge ongoing benefit in the back office.
Dan: And apart from the control and understanding what’s going on is that out in the field, the radio programmer, his life’s changed. These people generally have to do quite complex things with vehicles or installation systems. They’ve got to do wiring, they’ve got to look at other bits and bobs, stuff I don’t really understand. I understand radios. All we’re enabling them, just with the laptops solution, is for them to present this laptop to the radio, use a simple user interface, and update that radio, and eliminate all the human error from that. So, couple of button clicks, and the right file goes to the right radio. We’ve also added to that if, for instance, you wanted to prove that you’d done your job well or just for historical’s sake, you can take a photograph, attach that to the record of the programming action you’ve taken . . .
Dan: And that will fly back to the EnableFleet server. I think another thing that we’ve done to make the guys that are touching the radios lives easier is that even though this is a big piece of web-based technology, those radio guys installing these radios don’t have to be connected to the Internet when they do it.
Dan: So let’s go for a typical day for somebody who’s going around a drive around and maybe upgrading radios. You may wake up in a hotel room, say it’s out in the boonies, somewhere where there’s no 3G or 4G coverage, no internet. So you use the hotel. Hotel has Internet. Logs into his laptop in the morning. That syncs back to his EnableFleet server. It grabs any data or any changes to data, the whole of the radio fleet.
Dan: He can then disconnect that laptop from the internet, take it out into the field, and it will hold the information for all the radios in the fleet.
Dan: So he can upgrade all of those radios. Obviously, there’d be a plan. He probably has a good idea which radios he’s going to program. But very often what we hear is these guys, “Oh. There was a radio there we weren’t expecting to be there.” EnableFleet can still search that radio. It’s like, “Oh, it’s that radio.” Well, it’s actually it’s the laptop that would do it. When he goes back to the hotel in the evening, he can plug it into the internet, it will resync to EnableFleet, and then the radio manager will get the information of exactly which radio’s been updated.
Evan: And that’s, I mean, I think that’s one of the huge benefits. You’ve got this centrally controlled database where there’s a single point of truth because one of the issues with spreadsheets, I imagine, is you’ve got the original file, and then someone goes and edits it, and then at the same time someone else is editing the same copy of the spreadsheet, and then you end up having six versions of spreadsheets that may or may not be up to date.
Dan: Absolutely. You know, we…
Evan: It just solves that completely.
Dan: There’s the human error when you’re trying to get files into radios in the right order and with the right IDs. There’s the human error of reporting back what you’ve done. And then there’s the human error of putting that into a database. And all that’s gone.
Evan: Okay. So let’s talk about the radio life cycle. Radios get purchased, installed, assigned, reassigned, moved to other vehicles, district systems. When is the ideal time to be using EnableFleet?
Dan: So the ideal time to use EnableFleet is from the very start, from the middle, doesn’t matter.
Evan: The whole life cycle.
Dan: Yeah, what we’ve got in EnableFleet, we’ve got some very specific workflows in there we believe should work for most organizations. So typically, rolling out new radios, say you’ve bought a new system, EnableFleet’s gonna be great for that.
Dan: You can do things a number of ways, you can choose to say that this particular radio in this particular car is gonna have this ID, or you can have it so the installer says, “Ah, this radio is in this vehicle. I can type in the number of the vehicle and it will pick the right file and push it to it.” So that’s the start. And what you can do with that is that you can track daily progress if you’ve got a number of radios, and we’ve got some customers who’ve got 15,000 radios in their fleets.
Dan: And they’re effectively just chewing through this and they can see the progress. So we’ll call that the roll-out of the radio fleet. Then there’s this kind of business as usual phase where radios, trucks get retired, vehicles get changed. We have things such as reassign or decommission, take a radio out of service for a while. And all this history is stored up in EnableFleet, so you can look at it and say, “What happened to my old radio device?” “Oh, it’s been decommissioned somewhere. It’s on a shelf somewhere.” And we can bring that back into service. Or, “I need you to reassign that. I need you to take from that truck to that truck, or from this person to that person.” So we have a number of workflows like that that just really help with the business as usual things. And then I suppose at the end of a radio’s life there’s… no one ever talks about it, but you’ve gotta effectively say, “This radio is gone now, but we need to keep the record of it.”
Dan: Who did it go to? Where did we dispose of this thing? And for some organizations and agencies that’s equally as important.
Evan: Okay. So EnableFleet’s available today if people want to start taking advantage and simplifying their lives. Are there any things coming in? I mean, this is a piece of software. Are there any improvements that you’ve got coming down the pipeline?
Dan: Yes, I suppose the thing I’m really excited about is in September we see OTAP on the 93 and 9400, so that’s our DMR Tier 3, and our P25 systems. This is a huge thing as far as I’m concerned because we’ve finally got the full picture. We’ve got this control and confidence and simplicity, and now we’ve added that last piece, which is you don’t have to send someone to program that radio now. But you still get all the benefits that you used to. That’s huge.
Dan: That’s coming out, as I say, in September. And then towards the beginning of Q1 2016, we’re going to have, I believe, just as an exciting proposition for the market, principally aimed at dealers and people with smaller fleets, and that is a subscription-based service to EnableFleet. So you’ll get a cloud-based system and you can have to up, say 500 radios on that. At the moment, we’re aiming. . . initially, we aimed at the bigger fleets, a thousand sort of plus.
Dan: And now we’ve changed the technology a bit so we can say, “Well, this is actually better for people with smaller fleets.”
Dan: I hope our dealers get excited about this because I’m excited about it. It’s an opportunity for them to become more service-oriented towards their customers. So imagine if you’re selling radios, you can say, “Actually, I’ll take care of the configuration of those things.” And I know a lot of our dealers do offer subscription services and terminals.
Dan: To be able to upgrade those radios and control them that way, I think, will be a huge boom. And we’ll offer it in an attractive way so that it won’t be this big capital investment that, you know . . .
Dan: It will be a subscription. A yearly fee or monthly fee, whatever works.
Dan: But it’s something that I think is really going to make a difference to our channel I would say.
Evan: Well, thank you very much, Dan. We are out of time but if you guys listening would like to learn more about Tait EnableFleet, you can visit taitradio.com/enable and it’s right there at the top of the page. As always, you can subscribe to our podcasts in iTunes, or you can visit our blog at blog.taitcommunications.com for more educational content about what’s going on with Tait in the critical communications space. So thanks, Dan, for joining us.
Dan: Thank you.
Evan: And thank you all for listening.