Tech Turnaround

In my last column, I wrote about the many different kinds of pressure faced by a fleet maintenance manager, and how the stressors in that manager's world have changed over the years.

In that column I gave a few examples of how the workplace has changed over the past few decades, and even though the growing role of technology emerged as a consistent theme, I wrote that technology was not the fundamental change that we face...

Do you have any guesses as to what it really is? Read on...

Let's go back 25 years. I worked for what was, at the time, the most advanced computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) vendor in the fleet business. We provided systems on IBM mainframes and minis. The software packages were massive systems that had people-years of development time behind them (our main frame product had 40 to 50 person-years of development).

These products were expensive and suitable for the elite or best of breed of each industry, and access was restricted. The striking thing about these old maintenance systems was not their primitive interfaces (and, they were primitive to interact with). It was that the algorithms used to look at the data and the level of analysis HAVE NOT CHANGED IN 25 YEARS!

At that point VMRS (Vehicle Maintenance Reporting System) was a teenager (it came out in 1968). We were providing component life analysis, KPI dash boards, graphs and trend charts back then. Of course, the effort levels were through the roof by today's standards. So sophistication of thought is not the change I am referring to.

By necessity, driven by cost and technological infrastructure, our customers were the who's who of the fleet world. As many times as I called on the second-tier fleets, few of them pulled the trigger because of the huge training, IT and software investment.

Here is where the biggest change of the last 30 years and the biggest story is. The change is a simple word that has wide consequences. The word is access.

Twenty-five years ago the technology was available to only a microscopic subset of the employees of even the most sophisticated western companies. In the late 1970s and 1980s you would not see too much advanced technology in the hands of American fleet maintenance managers (and certainly not their Jamaican fleet maintenance manager counterparts). But now the tools are everywhere. And more than that, the best tools are everywhere.

What does this mean? What we've seen is the democratization of technology.

Everyone can afford the "best" programs, so the playing field is flattened. The opportunity for small organizations is greater than it ever has been. Behemoth fleets like Ryder, UPS and others use the same laptops, work processors and spread sheets as Ma and Pa Jones Fleet Services. In fact, Ma and Pa might be more up-to-date since they don't have 100 million dollars of obsolete legacy IT investment to replace.

Of course, the big guys have SAP (large enterprise software package that runs everything) or other Enterprise software. But many would argue that those big packages hurt them when competing with smaller, more nimble competitors.

So the biggest change in the business world is that everyone has the same tools. The winner of the race will no longer be the biggest one but the one who uses the tools the best. Now you have the tools to beat the best at their own game. Use them!