According to the freight intelligence unit Truckpol, lorry crime incidents have almost doubled from 2,284 in 2007 to 4,171 in 2008, with a cost to the economy of over £100m. Cases can range from opportunistic thefts from vehicles, to hijackings and assaults on drivers. Whatever the reasons for this increase, it is a problem businesses and the authorities are attempting to address, writes David Perry, director at Cognito.
Police already place warnings in particularly dangerous areas. In addition, investigations can help track down perpetrators. Companies can also educate their drivers on how to avoid thefts and react during and after an incident. Yet there is still more that can be done. Organisations need to use all the tools at their disposal, and this gives IT departments a great opportunity to contribute their expertise.
When a theft occurs, tracking and identification technology can make it easier to trace, identify and recover stolen goods and vehicles. If this tracking is seamlessly integrated into back-office IT systems, organisations can also use route mapping to determine the likely range of any stolen vehicle and possible escape routes - in real-time.
By compiling all the data it receives, whether from in-vehicle technology, back-office systems or simple written schedules, the IT department can ensure that in the event of a theft, the authorities are notified and passed all useful information, as soon as possible.
Recovering stolen items is important, but it comes second to ensuring driver safety in the event of a theft. As well as being physically secure, drivers must have constant contact with head office in case of incidents. Simply providing drivers with voice or email communication is insufficient; a hijacking isn't the best time to subtly compose a message.
Devices, whether in-cab or handheld, must be constantly monitored over the back-end network, with automatic alerts if the vehicle is stopped or incommunicado for an unusual amount of time or is in a known danger area.
Drivers should also have a "panic button" or "dead man's switch" to raise the alarm either through action or inaction. In any case, this again requires the IT department to make sure this technology is fully integrated and the applications used are 'fit for purpose.'
As always, prevention is far better than a cure. This is where IT is best placed to help. Managing a vast fleet of vehicles is by no means an easy task. However, by integrating vehicle tracking and onboard computers with back-office mapping and scheduling systems, organisations can make sure that their routes avoid known danger areas whenever possible.
Schedules and routes can also easily be randomised and updated on the fly, making it far more difficult for criminals to plan thefts based on prior knowledge of a vehicle's location. Drivers can be updated live with all relevant information, allowing them to more effectively avoid trouble. Yet again, the IT department is best placed to coordinate all the technology within these highly diverse working cultures.
IT has a valuable role in reacting to, noticing and, most importantly, preventing theft of company goods, and should take any chance to fulfill it. CIOs must have the confidence and the opportunity to push their case for greater integration of and control over IT operations, whether in the office or out on the road. This may result in conflict with other departments that resent intrusion into their domain, but protecting company property and employees must come before political concerns.