Summary

As the family fleet manager, I need a little help. SquareTag to the rescue!

Family Vacation about 1969

It sneaks up on you. You graduate from high school, go to college, get married, have kids, and they grow up and become teenagers. Then one day you realize, "Wow! I've got a lot of cars!" If your kids are all young this might not have hit you yet, but as your toddlers become teenagers and start driving, you start accumulating vehicles. Personally I'm responsible for five cars; four that belong to me and one for my mom. They have to be serviced, maintained, insured and registered. After the house, they represent the biggest portion of our family's assets and operating costs.

I have a pretty good idea what state my truck is in because I drive it every day. I drive my wife's car occasionally, but I never drive the other three. I ask the kids about them from time to time, but other than that, I'm largely clueless about what shape they're in. This is a problem.

My friend Nick Katsivelos introduced me to a concept he calls the "family CTO." If you're technically competent, chances are you are your family's CTO. Nick describes his job as the family CTO:

In the fall of 1987, by advising my father on the purchase of an IBM-compatible machine from PCs Limited, I had unwittingly accepted a lifelong shadow career. From that moment on, I was the Family CTO. Some 25 years later, I now manage a complex infrastructure in five locations. The devices supported went from a couple of PCs to networks of connected devices tied to the cloud via broadband internet connections provided by cable operators and cell phone providers.

As Family CTO I support seven users who range in age from 4 to 87.  In this thankless job I have to worry about a lot of things, but security is now Job One.

From R/GA Techblog » The Family CTO
Referenced Tue Aug 20 2013 10:00:02 GMT-0600 (MDT)

When Nick first told me about this at IIW last May, my reactions were "I can relate to this" and "there aren't enough good tools for managing home technology." As I contemplated the situation with my cars, I realized that not only am I the family CTO, I'm also the family fleet manager and boy could I use some tools to help with the job.

Fleet Management

Companies use fleet management to reduce expenses and abuse. Sounds like the same kind of thing I'd like to do. Here's a list of features I'd like to have my family fleet management application to have:

  • Periodic vehicle reports
  • Vehicle usage
  • Vehicle location
  • Scheduled maintenance and registration due
  • Maintenance tracking and history including auto shop name, costs, outcomes
  • Trip records and trip classification
  • Exception-based reporting of driver behavior, including location (geofencing), excessive idling, and speeding
  • Diagnostic trouble code (DTC) reporting and interpretation for condition-based service
  • Fuel costs and fuel economy trends

Some cars do a better job of showing this kind of data to their drivers, but none of them provide a single place where you can track the performance of your fleet. That's where SquareTag comes in.

SquareTag

We built SquareTag to be a social product platform. And fleet management is a collection of functions that fit very nicely with the idea of social products. If my cars can talk to me, then software can start to interpret what they're saying and help me manage them.

First of all, SquareTag is an aggregator that can take messages from all my cars and put them in one place where I can see all of them.

Second, SquareTag is a software platform, so programs can operate on the data my cars are sending to SquareTag and tie into other APIs to put all those messages in context and automate some of the responses.

Third, SquareTag is built with privacy in mind. SquareTag is your place for your data. If you want to share it with your auto shop, insurer, or friends, you can, but the decision is up to you.

We've been playing around with this idea and I'm quite excited by the results. We're using Carvoyant OBD II devices and their API to get data from the vehicle. For example, here's a daily vehicle report my truck sent to SquareTag last night. It showed up on my SquareTag timeline.

LiveCar Daily Report

Other apps in SquareTag allow me to track fuel and maintenance. For example, here's the gas mileage for my truck since last March (the big dips in July were when I was pulling a trailer):

Gas Mileage for my Truck

Because SquareTag provides a common data model for the vehicle, those apps have access to the car's data and can act on changes in the car's status (i.e. as events). What I don't yet have is a unified view of all my vehicles, but, as they say, that's just software.

With a little more work SquareTag will be in a position to help me manage my family's fleet and better understand what's happening with my vehicles. I'll keep you posted on how this turns out. After all, we'll eventually need some beta testers.

About the picture: the picture shows my mom and I (with my two little sisters Carol and Sheila in the back) next to our 1962 Ford Country Squire station wagon just before a family vacation from Idaho to Southern California. I think it was in 1969. I inherited that car and drove it all through high school.