GPS device on a BMW R1200RT Motorcycle.Credit: Photo by Moribunt (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.)

The fact that majority of portable computing devices and smart phones these days have built in Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities prove just how pervasive the technology has become.

The technology was originally developed in the early 70s by the US Department of Defense in order to overcome the limitations of conventional navigation systems, and matured around 1994, with 24 satellites serving as the backbone. Nowadays, the technology is still being maintained by the US government, but has been made available to just about anyone who has access to a GPS receiver. The public then took the technology and ran with it, developing applications for conventional navigation (what it was originally made for), security, and in what seems like its most practical use: fleet management for courier businesses.

What Did Courier Businesses Use Before GPS?

Before we can answer this question, we first need to outline the various ways GPS technology is used in a courier business. There are basically three different applications: navigation, tracking, and management. 

1. Navigation - this is the original purpose of GPS technology (besides spying and intelligence gathering). Instead of relying on paper maps, compasses, and celestial bodies, couriers can just rely on a GPS receiver.

2. Tracking - without GPS tracking devices, managers would have to rely on constant voice calls in order to get updates on the status and location of the delivery vehicles, which is not only time-consuming but also inefficient. It also doesn't prevent employees from slacking off and making excuses over the phone.

3. Fleet Management - in the days before global positioning systems made fleet managers' jobs easier, the actual job of scheduling deliveries and planning routes is more of a reactive task than an active one. Managers are rarely able to make adjustments to routes and deploy replacement vehicles in real time, as they are usually only notified of problems after the fact.

Then Came the GPS

When GPS became available for courier use, it turned the whole industry upside down (in a good way.) Navigation, tracking, and fleet management were all improved and made easier, now that businesses have real time and on demand access to the location, speed, availability, and route of their vehicles without even requiring a phone call.


Unlike maps, the data that GPS devices receive are updated up to the second. Even the newest paper maps cannot anticipate geographical changes that happen on the same day. Additionally, a GPS receiver also has access to live traffic updates (which means drivers can avoid roads that are congested) and can calculate the fastest routes based on real-time data gathered from the satellites. This is a very important feature, as maps cannot always give you the fastest routes because it can't predict traffic jams, road blocks, and other unavoidable hurdles. Modern GPSes, on the other hand, will accept a coordinate and then compute the route that will get you there fastest (because the shortest route from point A to B is not always the fastest, particularly when mitigating factors like traffic jams, blockages, and mandatory speed limits come into play).


GPS trackers can be installed on the company vehicles, so that managers can regularly check the status of the deliveries just by checking the location, the speed, or if the vehicle is actually moving. This means employees can no longer take frequent rest stops or make personal visits on company time without someone from the head office knowing. Provided that the employees are properly oriented and made aware of the tracking going on, it may even work as a deterrent for laziness, since there are people who would have under performed if they didn't know that they are being monitored.

Another aspect of tracking that is useful is the more serious case of theft. Stolen or lost vehicles are no longer a problem as it's easy for the company or law enforcement agents to track the vehicle's location using the GPS tracker. There are even models of GPS trackers that can be activated remotely, so even if they were turned off by thieves, law enforcement officials can easily reactivate them and start tracking without the perpetrators even knowing.

Fleet Management

Now that managers can see the status of the vehicles in real time, the entire operation is made more efficient and flexible, as any problem encountered on the road is seen by supervisors as they happen, so arrangements can be made immediately. These include sending relievers, deploying additional couriers, or even instructing drivers to avoid specific routes or prioritize certain deliveries in case the current one will be delayed no matter what.

A lot of companies even take advantage of GPS' ability to make fleet management more active instead of reactive, by passing over delivery status information to the customers or recipients. This drastically cuts down on complaints and customer support coming from people who are anxious over the status of their items, as they can just check on their own.