Shops need to improve business processes

While maintenance and service shops have done a good job keeping up with increasingly complex trucks, equipment and service tools, they haven’t done as well in running their businesses. Shops must improve efficiency and lower costs.

That was the message delivered by Mike Delaney, president and CEO of the WheelTime Network, in his address to the awards luncheon at the recent TMCSuperTech2011 - an industry-wide competition to find the best commercial vehicle technicians.

WheelTime is a professional truck care and service network that offers support through its WheelTime Quality Truck Care Network with more than 30 training facilities and nearly 200 service centers located across the U.S. and Canada.

“In spite of all the new technology to master, we’re doing pretty well on the repair process itself,” he said. “Improved diagnostic tools, better shop layouts, lots of training, and as always, strong technicians at the heart of it. We can’t automate a turbo repair, or do it over the internet.”

But the transaction interfaces around the repair, the way fleets work with service suppliers, still needs a lot of improvement, he said. Slow problem assessments, lengthy approval processes, scheduling delays, billing complexities, poor communications and outdated business processes slow things down and cost shops and fleets money.

Nowadays, reducing down-days to a bare minimum by getting vehicles back in service faster is paramount, stressed Delaney.

Business friction

“There are millions of dollars being wasted every year because of the ‘friction’ in the way fleets and service providers interact,” said Delaney. “Systems don’t talk to each other. Phone calls don’t create a data trail.

“A lack of information creates delays in getting trucks moving, and a lack of trust means too many people spend their days double checking invoices, or re-negotiating them. It’s not optimal as a means to maximize uptime.

Maybe that’s why only 25 percent of the 36 billion dollars spent annually on parts service is spent with outside service vendors, he opined. “Often, current processes don’t seem like a system as much as a set of piecemeal solutions which have evolved from a long series of bad experiences.”

However, the technology now exists to change much of this, he told the luncheon attendees. Some fleets are quietly working with suppliers to create processes that link in-house shops and outside vendors through a seamless, transparent service system that reduces cost, stress and downtime.

“To make it work, suppliers are being asked to comply with specifically defined repair, communication and billing protocols for moving trucks through the repair process quickly, and data smoothly between computers. The goal: Reduce backroom congestion, eliminate re-work, and shorten vehicle time out of service.  

“Benchmarking reveals a rapidly widening maintenance cost gap between fleets already - as much as 15 cents per mile within similar applications. These types of innovations in maintenance practices will only widen it.”

Working together

“It is possible today to push a request to a service provider electronically and get a reliable response in minutes,” observed Delaney. “That request can be accompanied by a wide variety of data, including warranty information, truck specifications and fault codes, that will begin to set up a repair order even before the truck arrives.

“Pre-defined maintenance operations times and pricing terms can ensure 100 percent invoice compliance with upfront approvals, and communications throughout the process can be documented, time stamped, combined with pictures and technical information, and archived by unit number for quick reference. At the end of the process, measures of service efficiency, along with complete VMRS coding, can be transmitted directly into the customers system.”  

Linking suppliers and fleet systems together like this drives out costs for everyone, he pointed out. “In the end, it’s still about people trusting people to be reliable, but adding a trust in systems adds an additional layer of efficiency and speed unachievable in any other way.”

Service consistency

“To move faster, we have to know, not think, that partners will perform in pre-agreed ways; that the service experience will be predictable, positive and consistent, Delaney said. “When we pass a McDonalds on the highway, we already know what’s on the menu. Why should we have to wonder what’s on the menu from one truck service provider to the next?

“This is where the industry is going now - has to go - for us to keep up with the increasing demands of trucking today, and an economy that won’t give us a break,” Delaney said in concluding his remarks.

“When we openly share information with a mutual goal of optimizing the efficiency of all parties, we open the door for quantum leaps in productivity for everyone. Super service as a whole that compliments the capabilities of the service technicians make it all possible.”