Michigan CAT Case Study

By Mike DeMuro

Michigan CAT is one of 220 Caterpillar dealers worldwide.It operates 1,840 branch locations and 1,100 CAT Dealer Rental outlets.Michigan CAT is leading the way among Caterpillar dealers in streamlining workflow and simplifying information access.

The Challenge: Streamlining Paper
CAT Loader G-series.Source: Michigan CAT

Caterpillar's process for scheduling and gathering information for service calls was time consuming and error-prone.Service technicians picked up work orders from the dispatch office in paper form at the beginning of the week.During the week, technicians entered service information into their laptops after each call.Back at the office, they filled out time cards and printed service reports.If information for ordering parts or invoicing customers was omitted, this delayed closing the work order and billing the customer.

"Many times a work order was given verbally to a service technician," said Mike DeMuro, Product Support Manager for Michigan CAT."On Monday morning, technicians were often filling out paperwork from the previous week before heading out to the field."

To streamline operations, DeMuro was asked to create a statewide, centralized dispatch system.During this process, he looked for technologies that combined tracking and messaging systems to streamline paper flow and keep technicians productive.Systems that used cellular coverage alone were not sufficient because they did not reach rural Michigan, while systems using satellite coverage alone were costly. After reviewing more than 50 GPS tracking systems, he chose Air-Trak's Cloudberry because it provided enterprise data integration and incorporated both cellular and satellite communications for complete, yet affordable coverage.

Service technician uses laptop.Source: Michigan CAT

Michigan CAT decided to integrate Cloudberry Mobile Resource Management with its Dealer Business System (DBS) to create a true mobile office for its technicians.Cloudberry is a full-featured, easy-to-use GPS tracking and messaging system that enables information and forms generated by Caterpillar's DBS and Service Technician Workbench (STW) software to be transmitted wirelessly between the field operations staff and service vehicles equipped with laptop PCs.This paperless reporting system dramatically accelerates billing cycles while providing more accurate and timely reporting and historical data of receivables and improves cash flow.

Cloudberry supports both cellular and satellite networks using a hybrid approach.This guarantees an all-digital wireless network with 100% coverage, while minimizing airtime costs by using the lowest cost service available.Data gathered from the field can be easily integrated into a back-end system due to Cloudberry's open, XML-based Application Program Interface (API).

Integrating with Microsoft Outlook
During the implementation process, Air-Trak worked closely with Michigan CAT to develop and integrate the message delivery system. Cloudberry already offered messaging via PDA, so it was simple to deliver messaging directly to the service technician's laptops.Then, to create a bridge between their DBS and Cloudberry, Michigan CAT developed an e-mail template in Outlook that included all of the information needed for scheduling and creating work orders.

The integrated system allows for a much smoother workflow.Source: Michigan CAT.(Click for larger image.)

"The Air-Trak team was very attentive and expedient about moving the process forward," stated DeMuro."They worked with us to integrate Cloudberry into our existing processes and made it easy for our staff to use the new system."

A simple extraction program was created to move data from one program to the other.After entering the work order, Michigan CAT personnel simply drag data from the DBS into an e-mail for wireless transmission by Cloudberry.This procedure eliminates duplicate keying of the same information into separate systems.Other dispatchers can access the information to add comments or notes.Service reports from technicians are done in a similar fashion.Final reports and time sheets are sent as an XML attachment to accounting so that invoices can be created without re-typing the information.

Enhancing Service Fleet Productivity
The Michigan CAT-Cloudberry Mobile Office achieves several tangible benefits.
  • Increased productivity and revenue hours - Work orders, location information and instructions are transmitted directly to the technicians' laptops.Technicians spend more time on service calls and less on costly and time-consuming paperwork.
  • Reduced staff time - Scheduling, coordinating, and directing remote activity of the service fleet both from the office and among the fleet vehicles has produced a savings of approximately 100 hours per week in total staff time.
  • Timely parts ordering - Technicians place parts orders directly from their laptops.Using a parts list created in STW, the parts are ordered while the technician is still at the site with no re-keying of information, thus allowing faster job completion and more satisfied customers.
  • Accelerated invoicing - Service reports are transmitted instantly upon completion, allowing for next-day invoicing.This speeds collection of receivables by 3-5 days and improves cash flow.
  • Secure, accurate service information - Because service technicians enter information directly into their laptops, no paperwork is lost or damaged.Information is immediately available to office personnel for further processing.
  • Seamless integration - Cloudberry operates seamlessly with CAT's DBS, and an enhanced Microsoft Outlook scheduling system using familiar forms and procedures.Dispatchers track service technicians and transmit service orders and scheduling wirelessly with Cloudberry.

Published Friday, April 8th, 2005

Written by Mike DeMuro

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