Warranty claims processing software has been around long enough for pioneering manufacturing companies to now be looking for their second platform purchase. Kubota Tractor Corp., the U.S. sales arm of the Japanese company Kubota Corp. based in Grapevine, TX, just signed a deal with Tavant Technologies for a cloud-based warranty platform.
Cristoph Nathan is the service director of Kubota. He takes care of warranty claims from dealers as well as warranty recovery from suppliers, plus quality assurance and technical support. He said that Kubota has been using a 4C Solutions-based warranty claims processing system for about 13 years, but gradually realized that its platform wasn't able to keep up with the company's increasing size.
“We just outgrew our old system,” Nathan said. “In that time, our claims volume went up by about 150%,” he noted, “and just the complexity of the machinery has grown as well.”
For instance, diesel engine emission standards and electronic controls have changed. “That was a big technology challenge for our company to implement,” he added. “And the more complex it is, the harder it is to write-up claims, and what failed on the machine.”
Kubota manufactures tractors, mowers, construction and farm equipment. The U.S. operation accounts for about a third of global sales. Warranty support is provided through a network of 1,100 authorized Kubota dealers. Extended warranties through the Kubota Orange Protection Program are also available.
Nathan said there was a growing need for connectivity to Kubota's dealers, deeper integration with Kubota's other internal business systems, and the growing use of both cloud computing and smartphones for data communications. But the software wasn't being upgraded after 4CS was sold to PTC in 2011. So it was time for a change of platforms.
Grade Point Average
Nathan said the company began looking for alternatives, researching and testing the offerings of several top vendors, grading them on 350 different metrics and features. For instance, he said, the systems were graded on how easy it was to perform flat-rate lookups on items such as part numbers. “We graded it on the number of clicks and how intuitive the system was in selecting the correct flat rate,” he explained.
“We whittled it down to four systems: SAP, Oracle, Tavant and Mize,” Nathan said. The latter company, also a longtime Warranty Week sponsor, had been maintaining the 4CS system for five years, ever since PTC stopped supporting it. But eventually, Tavant Warranty on Demand won out.
“We chose Tavant for three key reasons: First, it was cloud computing, so the connectivity was there, it could connect to dealer business systems, and it could connect to our own internal business systems. Two, we felt the technology was there. The AI they've got in the background is world class. And three, we felt Tavant was an industry insider, meaning they knew the warranty business and we felt that they would support us the best.”
With SAP, the grades came back very low in terms of ease of use. With Oracle, the depth of their experience in the warranty business was found to be lacking. Kubota already uses an SAP system for warranty back-end processing and an Oracle system for customer support. So just in terms of familiarity, either vendor would have been a natural choice.
“It's really a hard thing to do, especially with people that aren't so much into the technology that's behind it, to say 'Why don't we go with yet another supplier?' But one thing you need to know about Kubota is that management gives us the flexibility to pick what we feel is the best supplier for each of our projects,” Nathan said.
Roshan Pinto, the senior director of Tavant's aftermarket practice, said he first met the people from Kubota at the Warranty Chain Management Conference. “Hopefully, our reputation preceded us,” he said.
Pinto noted that Tavant has developed quite a bit of industry know-how, having worked with numerous other construction, farm, and heavy equipment manufacturers over the years, including Ingersoll Rand, the Bobcat unit of the Doosan Group, Excel Industries and AGCO Corp. “It gives us a lot more insight into what needs to be done,” he said. “That entire ecosystem is very similar. But each customer has its own unique set of requirements.”
Pinto said the discussion with Kubota was not only about features and functions, but also how Tavant would provide customer support, if selected. “They were very thorough in terms of their questions, and the level of detail they wanted to get into,” he said. “So we worked very closely with them over the last couple of months to get a better understanding of where their challenges are and what are the main areas of pain from what they have in place today.”
“It's like the choice between going to a general practitioner or a specialist,” Pinto suggested. “Your general practitioner can help you detect what is going on and give you some generic options. But your specialist helps you solve what is happening.”
What was different in this case is that the customer had already been with a specialist, and was looking for a new doctor after the old one retired. Many times prospective customers are still using a homegrown legacy system for warranty or something built around spreadsheets -- folk medicine, if you will -- so they don't know what's in their best interests.
Another advantage Nathan cited was the strength of the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that Tavant uses to ease the integration of Warranty on Demand and other business systems, both internal and external. “We have six preferred dealer management systems or dealer business systems that we work with,” he said, and Tavant scored highest on connectivity and past integrations (for the dealers of previous customers).
Internally, those APIs are expected to smooth the transfer of data from the warranty system to other business systems. “That was another reason we thought Tavant was a good choice,” he said. “It makes it a lot easier to take our data, and pull it into a system, and then use that for advanced analytics.”
Again, Pinto cited a long list of clients for which Tavant has linked into existing internal and external business systems. “We have integrated with dealer systems for a lot of other manufacturers,” Pinto said. “And we continue to bring in a lot more from a data integration standpoint.”
Nathan said he thinks one of the biggest improvement in the new system will come in the area of workflow management for the dealers. For instance, dealers will be able to initiate a work order and then later change it into a warranty claim, without having to re-enter all the data.
“In the past, it was copy-paste,” he said. “Now, it's a click of a button and it goes over to the warranty system.” This streamlining improves the accuracy of the data and reduces time spent. “For dealers, it's all about time.”
Dealers will have access to a dashboard view of their own metrics. And then Kubota expects to gain a better understanding of what's happening out in the field through better connectivity and more accurate data, combined with an improved report generation ability.
Over the next several years, additional connectivity to telematics systems on board the equipment itself will bring additional data into the company for reporting and analysis. “It will be our jump into the Big Data lake,” Nathan said.
Kubota plans to begin user testing in December, and if all goes well, they plan to launch the new warranty system with its U.S.-based dealers in early March. Nathan said the winter is a good time for the company to upgrade, because construction and lawn care activities are at their annual minimum, so claim volume is low as well. And then by summer the dealers should all be proficient in Tavant Warranty on Demand.