Pictured Above: Kunau Implement has been using Fleetmatics for about 18 months now. The GPS program has improved their efficiencies on the road and allows the dispatcher to give customers more accurate times for when a tech will arrive.

Improving efficiencies and productivity in the service department is a goal of all farm equipment dealers. After all, a more efficient service department generally translates to a higher absorption rate and improved bottom line. Technology is now aiding in improving those efficiencies by helping to reduce redundancy and allowing technicians to complete tasks from their workstations in the shop. And, technology is also increasing shop efficiency with scheduling and communicating with road techs.

Digitizing the Job Board

A white board in the shop that serves as a job board is a common sight at equipment dealerships. Technology is now helping to modernize the job board. At Valley Implement in Preston, Idaho, a monitor is now used to track jobs. Fred Titensor, general manager, says they’ve been using Google Docs to track jobs for a few years now. Technicians, service managers and the parts department all have access to the documents and can be working in them simultaneously.

“They are live working documents that everyone updates, and people can see everything in real time and know when a job is complete,” Titensor says. “They can inform the service manager that a job is complete, additional jobs can be added and so on. There are definitely some efficiencies in terms of the collaboration of data.”

The job board document can be viewed by techs on their laptops at their workstation as well as on a big screen TV in the shop. The real-time document helps keep work flowing and limits down time. “If a tech gets done with a job and the service manager hasn’t dispatched them to a new job yet or is tied up, the tech can look at the job board and see what is next on the priority list and move on to that job,” he says.

Stotz Equipment, a 22-store John Deere dealership based out of Avondale, Ariz., has also replaced the traditional whiteboard with a monitor at some of its stores. The monitor lists the open jobs and shows their status. “It’s easy for a technician to walk in and see there are other jobs that are out there and ready to be started once they wrap up the job they are currently on,” says Kim Kistler, corporate aftermarket manager for Stotz.

Google Glass

The next evolution of the service department will be using Google Glass in the field to help techs communicate and get advice from the dealership, according to Frank Titensor, general manager of Valley Implement in Preston, Idaho.

Photo Courtesy of MyAgcentral

Stotz’s internal programmers developed an application that pulls data from the dealership’s business system and generates the job report that displays on the monitor, explains Kistler. With the program, when a technician signs off on a job, the master list that is up on the monitor is automatically updated.

Improving service efficiencies aren’t limited to the work that happens in the shop. New technologies are also helping to make the job of field technicians more productive.

Efficiency on the Road

Kunau Implement, a 2-store Case IH dealership in Iowa, started using a GPS program a little over a year ago to help improve their road service. “Basically, we’re keeping track of our assets and doing it efficiently and doing it with minimum intrusion on the technician’s work and with maximum benefit to the customer,” says owner Todd Kunau.

Using a combination of Garmin GPS units and Fleetmatics software, Kunau is able to track and communicate with its service techs on the road. The software allows a dispatcher to see which trucks are on the road and where they are at any given time. When a customer calls, the job can be given to the tech that is closest, regardless of which store they call home base. “The last thing you want is technicians meeting each other on the road,” Kunau says.

Tech Savvy Dealer Takeaways

Johnson Tractor, a Case IH dealer with 4 stores in Wisconsin and Illinois, is also using GPS software to track its service and delivery vehicles. The dealership uses the software to monitor and manage its fleet. All four stores are managed through the same system, so the technician who is closest when a service call comes in can be sent. The efficiency and time savings is particularly noticeable in the spring and fall when tech’s are busier during planting and harvest, Leo Johnson, partner, says. “Before this system was installed, we could end up with service techs from 3 of our stores all working in the same neighborhood on 3 different customer’s equipment. Hopefully, now the service managers at each store know where the other store’s techs are working. Our overall customer service should improve,” Johnson says.

Valley Implement is also using GPS guidance on its service and delivery vehicles. Titensor says they have been using Engenx for about a year, but are only using the GPS functions and not the messaging features available.

Kunau Implement, however, is using the communication functions Fleetmatics offers. Now, communication between the service manager and the techs is done through text messaging that is delivered to the tech’s GPS unit in his truck, rather than calling him to ask if he’s done yet and how much longer he expects the job to take. “Then you’re taking him off the job and it takes longer,” Kunau says. “This way you can see where he is, and you know when he gets done there’s a text message on the screen of his Garmin when he gets back to the tuck.”

The text messaging feature means the tech doesn’t need to call back to find out, for example, that the order of his stops has been changed. Kunau says there are preset answers to choose from on the Garmin or they can type in a response. “It basically lets them look and see their whole day,” he says.

Software Links Mobile, Scheduling & Back-Office Capabilities

It takes more than good techs working hard for a service department to run smoothly and efficiently. Software that can integrate mobile applications, scheduling and back-office tasks like service contracts, warranties, serial numbers, etc., can help the department become more productive. And that’s exactly what MSI Data’s (www.msidata.com) ServicePro is designed to do, says Mike Pandl, vice president of marketing for MSI.

Pandl says, at the highest level, ServicePro is a field service management tool. The four primary applications dealers use the software for, he says, are equipment installations, equipment maintenance, preventative maintenance and repair. The mobile app, which is available for all Android and iOS smart phones or tablets, allows field techs to complete work orders and inspections away from the shop. The app then communicates with the scheduling component, Pandl explains.

“The software allows you to create a work order and link that to incoming and outgoing calls. With the work order, there are a variety of capabilities that can be tracked in the back office and flow all the way down from the mobile application to the tech. The service app tracks tech labor time, parts and the actual equipment asset itself, which is likely to have a service contract associated with it. “If it’s a complex piece of equipment, it likely has several components with their own warranties, so it tracks the warranties and serial numbers of the component as well. Additionally, it tracks inspections and service history,” says Pandl. “There are a variety of back office capabilities, whether it’s preventative maintenance or a break-fix repair.”

The data from the program can be fed back into a dealer’s existing CRM (customer relationship management) system or ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. “Companies that are looking for field service management software are putting extremely high priority on integration of the field service system with the other systems they already have,” Pandl says. “In some cases, that’s the accounting system. In other cases, it’s the CRM system. We have found that equipment dealers typically want integration with their ERP or accounting system first because, typically, if they’re tracking inventory on a daily basis or they’re doing accounting or invoicing out of an ERP system, that’s the highest priority for them in terms of how they want the systems to talk to each other.”

Cost of the software is dependent on how many users there will be at a dealership, so a smaller location may only need 10 licenses for 10 employees while a larger, multi-store dealership might need 100, Pandl says.

“What we do is subscription based licensing based on a per-user, per-month fee, so where as 5 or 10 years ago a company would have to pay thousands of dollars up front, now they can get started on just as capable of a system on a subscription basis for far less,” he says.

A nice benefit of the system is it allows a dealer to pinpoint exactly where a customer is. “Through Google Earth you can pinpoint exactly, so you know where on the farm the customer is located. For example, you can go back in the field and say, ‘See the oak tree?’ and then direct the tech from there to where the job is on the farm. The Garmin will lead him exactly to it rather than the 911 address. You can pinpoint the job and see where it is in relation to your closest tech. And now, we’re saving time and fuel,” because the tech isn’t out driving around looking for the exact location, Kunau says.

Satisfied Customers

Kunau says customers are happier now because the dealership can give them precise answers as to where the tech is and when they can expect him to arrive. The system has also made billing more accurate. “Now we can create a precise on-location time. We can create a record of exactly how many minutes or hours the tech was on location, which is particularly helpful if the customer is a CNH warranty customer because CNH won’t pay for travel time,” he says. “So now we can say we have a time stamp report showing we were on location for an hour and 22 minutes and that’s what we submit to CNH. It’s a way to prove that we were on location.”

Safety First

An added benefit of the tracking program is its safety features. “From a safety standpoint, the program alerts you if they are driving unsafely,” Johnson says. “It measures how many times they exceed the speed limit and the like. I don’t spend a lot of time looking at it, but we use it to monitor and manage our fleets.”

In addition to reports on speeding and other traffic laws, the system keeps drivers from being distracted, Kunau says. Since messages are sent straight to the GPS, techs don’t have to fumble with a cell phone and can respond once they arrive at their destination.

‘Big Brother’ Concerns

After implementing the GPS system, there were a few concerns from techs and salespeople at both Kunau and Johnson Tractor that management would be watching their every move. Once techs realized there wasn’t someone sitting back at the dealership keeping a constant eye on them, the concern went away, Kunau says. “This is something we were first worried about — big brother, they’re watching and know everything. It went away almost immediately from ‘Oh let me tell you where it is,’ to ‘Just send it to my Garmin’ as they are walking out the door. They don’t need it on a post it note or scratch paper,” he says.

Overall the system has made all parties involved — techs, customers, accounting and management — happier, Kunau says.

The Next Evolution

Titensor already has his eye on what the next evolution of his service department will be. In the next 5 years, he thinks technicians will be using Google Glass, a hands-free headset or glasses that allow the user to capture images or video of what they are looking at and upload data to a cloud-based system.

Titensor sees a couple of uses for the technology. First, a technician out in the field can use them to show someone back in the shop what he’s looking at and get a second opinion. They could also be used to turn your top technician, who can’t be everywhere all the time, into a manager of sorts. With Google Glass he can work with other techs to give advice on problems and answer questions that come up while they are out in the field.

“I’m on the waiting list for a pair of Google Glasses right now for that very reason,” he says. “We can all chuckle about it, but I can tell you in the next 5 years of my career we will have technicians out there with Google Glass.”