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Use It or Lose It

Acurious thing distinguished winners from losers at the national diesel troubleshooting competition in Austin, Texas last year. Winning competitors made extensive use of the Search function in Tractor...

Acurious thing distinguished winners from losers at the national diesel troubleshooting competition in Austin, Texas last year. Winning competitors made extensive use of the Search function in, a Web-based service, repair and diagnostic information system at the service information workstation, whereas other competitors seldom did.

While watching the country’s top technicians compete, Dave Costantino noticed that the technicians who used the search feature were able to answer the questions within the rigorous time limit, while those who didn’t use it typically failed to complete the test.

Costantino serves as director of product and market development for the commercial vehicle group at California-based Mitchell 1, which developed “With the Search function positioned at the top of the screen, it seemed odd that some techs just ignored it,” he recalls.

Odd indeed, but four maintenance software vendors Motortruck Fleet Executive contacted all confirmed that many of their clients do not use some of the most basic (never mind the esoteric) functionalities, that is, tools, in their maintenance programs. If their examples are any guide, fleets are passing up staggering amounts of raw profit every year.

Take warranty claims, a favourite among the vendors. Glenn Bryan is the vice president of software operations with the Calgary-based Richer Systems Group, maker of enrich. “I think the biggest piece of low-hanging fruit is the warranty system inside of enrich … A lot of customers are not taking advantage of huge savings for after market part warranties,” he says.

Why? Bryan speculates that inventory managers simply do not realise that this can be done, and that they already have too much to do. “I think that people who manage the inventory are not defining the VMRS codes so the warranty is triggered, and they already have too much on their plates… no time or energy to enter in the definition of the warranty. It is a big task to look at the parts list and make the choices, but people look at the elephant and want to gulp it all at once. It is a huge waste of money not to do it.”

Bryan counsels: “Sit down and think about what is the best value. A warranty manager is going to have an idea what parts areas should be the focus. For example, it is easy to go in and say we have 52 part numbers for starters that have a one-year warranty but we never claim them. Define a warranty for those 52 parts and let enrich do it. There is an instant benefit to repairs done tomorrow. There can be an instant payback.”

Bryan has other favourite forgotten functionalities: “Our customers do not do a good job of defining repeat repair thresholds, which stops people from repairing the same thing [several times] when the problem may actually be elsewhere.” As for the min/max tool for parts, he says, “People do not use it. They create the purchase orders manually. It is a tool right in the heart of what they are doing every day.” It is the same story for on-time campaigns for recalls, which, Bryan says, his customers tend to do manually. “By setting up this one-time campaign inside enrich you can see the progress every day; for example, 30% of the vehicles done, 80% of the vehicles done… It tells you where to push.”

Ric Bedard, president of Toronto-based Cetaris, maker of Fleet Assistant, says, “There are reports that 50% of all warranty claims are not filed. [Fleet Assistant] is set up to detect warranty claims, based on the mileage for that asset and the type of repairs done. We had a customer who, by putting in place the steps for [making] warranty claims, had a 25% increase in warranty claims, year over year. In all the implementations we have seen and done, warranties give us the biggest ROI.”

A more profound problem, Bedard believes, are inaccurate meter readings. “The number one complaint I hear is that meter readings are not accurate. They are manually keyed in for many things, but no one is auditing these entries. If they are not entered correctly and monitored, how do you tell what your costs are? You may be out 2% to 3%. What are the margins in your business?”

Correct meter readings are not only foundation data for well-executed maintenance, but also for boardroom strategies. “Senior management are doing very detailed analyses based on meter readings to come up with cost/mile presentations… with a breakdown of all costs associated with the life cycle of an asset, you can get a true picture of who is building the best product,” Bedard points out. Going back for another kick at the warranty can, he notes, “By making warranty claims, you are getting a clear picture of the life cycle cost of the asset.”

Some fleets do not buy the technology that lets Fleet Assistant do its job of automatically capturing meter readings. To those pleading poverty, Bedard would say, “With the right technology the number of fields the technician must key in plummets [as do errors]. If you talk about applications for fleets that save money, you are talking about a couple of simple technologies that will make life easier. From our perspective, using technology to drive the business to a higher level of accuracy just makes sense.”

Charles Arsenault is the CEO of New Jersey-based Arsenault Associates, which makes Dossier fleet maintenance management software. He tells the following anecdote: “We performed a post-implementation audit for a customer with about 300 installations. We pointed out that they were not using the “obsolete parts” reports. We ran an obsolete parts report for items that haven’t been used within the last 12 months and in one facility we came up with over US$200,000 worth, in another, US$40,000 worth. These numbers are not uncommon if you don’t stay close to your parts inventory. Obsolete parts and parts inventory turn reports are some of the typical underused functionalities. It is a purse full of cash waiting for you.”

In a variation on the unused-functionalities theme, Arsenault mentions that he frequently sees an under-utilization of the data that Dossier already collects. “What data does the program collect that is not being used? Can it be used in other ways? We’ve found that unused data can be a gold mine.” He then drives home the point: “One of our fleet customers was able to convince his primary parts vendor to buy back all his current parts and to carry the inventory for him on a consignment basis on his shelves, and just pay on an as-used basis. He was able to do this because he [had the data with which he] could document that he had good control of his parts inventory.”

Or, as a valued fleet parts customer, data can be used to put your parts sales representative in the hot seat. “Parts salesmen control a lot of the pricing. One of our customers got an 11% reduction in price across the board because he had his purchase history report [and price comparisons] in hand that the salesman didn’t.”

What can fleets do to get in the swing of using basic functionalities that they are not using, or not using well? Find and re-read the user’s manual. If time is really tight, just printing out a product brochure from the vendor’s Web site and reading the bulleted list of the software’s main features can be inspiring. Ask your software vendor for advanced program training and a sample of each report that the program can produce. If your vendor has spawned a user’s group, join it. The Dossier Users Group, for example, is 20 years old and independent of the vendor. Its approximately 100 user members meet each year.

“Customers talk of how they use the software which sparks a lot of audience participation,” Arsenault says. “They share how they use different functionalities and what results they get from it. This is ideal because you are learning how your peers use their software.”

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