| December 05, 2010
Fleet management software
By Tom Jackson
Not every contractor needs a fully featured software product to help with equipment maintenance and management. But if you’re trying to manage a dozen or more pieces of yellow iron, an investment in – or upgrade to – a maintenance-management software system can offer an impressive range of dollar- and time-saving benefits.
There are numerous equipment and fleet management software programs available today. Dave Bennett, product manager at Maxwell Systems, puts these in three categories:
• Manual systems such as spreadsheets
• Stand-alone systems that reside on a single computer, and
• Integrated systems that run on a network that multiple users – including not only the shop, but accounting, senior management and others – can access.
In this article we’re going to focus primarily on the benefits of this last category of integrated programs that accept data flows from all levels of your organization.
How it works
Like a spreadsheet, equipment maintenance-management software programs allow you to keep equipment records on a computer, but unlike simple spreadsheets the more robust programs give you a vast array of tools with which to index, cross reference, study, search, set up alerts and compare information on these assets. According to Charles Arsenault, CEO of Arsenault Associates, these software programs can:
• give you to-the-penny accurate costs
• notify you when PMs are coming due
• generate repair orders
• track tires and inventory
• generate restock orders
• monitor warranty periods
• track labor costs fuel usage
• record fuel use
• manage workflow
• identify under-used or under-performing assets
• create reports for OSHA and DOT requirements.
There are numerous reasons to improve your fleet management with software, but perhaps none more important than knowing your cost per hour for running the equipment. “Most people who aren’t running software haven’t a clue,” says Arsenault, “What software does is put you in the know.”
Steve McGough, COO of HCSS, sees the operating cost savings coming from three areas. “First and foremost, you decrease unscheduled downtime.” The software prompts you to schedule PMs and can be used to predict when repairs will be needed, greatly reducing breakdowns in the field. Two: you increase equipment uptime and utilization and extend the useful lifespan of that equipment through better maintenance. Third: you can track your repairs, and as time goes by it helps you make intelligent buy-sell decisions based on those facts rather than gut feelings.
Historically, that information has been in filing cabinets, on pen and paper, and difficult to compile or calculate accurately, McGough says. With the better software programs you get to-the-penny results in seconds.
Another selling point for equipment software is that it enables you to compile complete information over the lifecycle of every piece of equipment. “You have a complete cost history and complete revenue history,” says Brad Mathews, vice president of marketing for Dexter + Chaney. “That’s a profit and loss statement on each piece of equipment. There’s a tendency without software, to be a bit seat of the pants about costs, but the reality is it’s a contractor’s biggest financial investment, their biggest asset. They need to track that asset very carefully over its lifetime.”
And having that information, says Arsenault, allows you to compare the profitability of different brands of machine. Take that information to the dealer when it comes time to trade or buy new equipment and that knowledge gives you considerable negotiating power, he says.
Today’s top of the line integrated programs reside on a computer network or website and allow multiple users from different parts of the company to share and feed information into the program.
“Equipment isn’t managed in a vacuum,” Mathews says. “It relates to jobs, accounting, parts, fuel, repairs and payroll. Integration means that the information flows to and from these multiple sources and that data becomes part of a larger record that everybody can use. People all over the company enter little pieces of information and it all ends up in your equipment database. So integration is a time saver for all these different people, but a huge timesaver for the equipment staff.”
“Shops sometimes see themselves as a separate entity,” Bennett says. “But equipment managers can realize big benefits by getting integration with accounting and payroll. There’s a lot of double entry that goes on with a stand-alone system.”
Integrated programs also automate a lot of functions that would otherwise require multiple actions by different departments. “A stand-alone system will trigger an alert for a PM, but an integrated system will check the inventory ahead of time to see if you have the parts you need for the PM. It will generate a purchase order ahead of time if you don’t have the part and a restock order if you use the part, and it will schedule your mechanics,” Bennett says.
If you’re in the market for integrated software there are several attributes you should look for, including:
• Ease of use. “It has to be easy to enter and look up information,” Mathews says. The operators should find that it makes their job easier and more productive instead of making it a chore. If a program creates a lot of extra data entry then something is wrong.”
• Scalable. “A good program should be able to work as easily with one unit as it does with 40,000 units,” Arsenault says. You don’t want any degradation in your operating speeds. This can get to be a problem as your fleet grows. If you start with 25 pieces of equipment and grow to 125 pieces will your software handle that comfortably without crashing the database? Scalability also relates to the number of users on the system. And is it easily deployed at many locations as it is at one location?
• Support. “If you’re buying a canned program, what you see is what you get,” McGough says. “One thing you get with a higher end system is a team of programmers and a 24-hour customer support and helpline where you can talk to someone who knows the system.”
• Testimonials. “User references are critical,” Arsenault says. “Is the company paying attention to customers? How often are they contacted proactively? Do they get calls about new features, updates or new additions? You want to find out if the company is good, not just the software.”
• Telematics capable. Some software vendors also offer telematics hardware. But if you already have a telematics system you’ll want software that can import the data from these or other third – party devices.
When you’re paying for a top dollar software program you’re going to get as much training as you need or request. Three days of training is commonly cited but this depends on the number of users, the existence of other accounting or back office software, the number of assets that you’re going to track and the level of detail you choose.
And the training doesn’t stop after the initial installation. Many of the top software vendors also conduct annual user conferences where their customers come together for a few days to learn more and share experiences.
“We bring in hundreds of users and spend time training them,” Mathews says. And we also spend time listening. We have formal sessions where we gather their feedback and we take that information back and put it into our development cycle and that helps us make the software better.” EW
DIGITAL RESOURCES EXCLUSIVE
To find out more about the integrated software programs offered by the companies cited in this article go to the digital edition of this magazine at: www.equipmentworlddigital.com. There you’ll find links to manufacturers websites, testimonials, tutorials and other resources to help you learn more about this facet of equipment management.