Magazine Article | January 23, 2008

Don't Tolerate Field Service Inefficiencies

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

This $1.2 billion manufacturer increased productivity of its 50 field engineers by implementing a new service scheduling application.

Integrated Solutions, February 2008

Chris von Ohain (left), IT manager, and Josh Davidson, project specialist, of Makino Milling Machine Co.In the 24/7 world of manufacturing, machine tool uptime can mean the difference between meeting customers' JIT (just in time) manufacturing requirements and costly delays — delays that can lead to a potential loss of customers. One company that is an expert on the subject is Makino Milling Machine Co., a $1.2 billion manufacturer with locations around the globe. Makino's U.S. headquarters in Cincinnati provides sales and service support for North and South America. The company has a team of 50 field service engineers responsible for servicing more than 10,000 machines in all types of manufacturing environments. To manage those 50 engineers, Makino implemented a suite of service management software from Metrix (see sidebar on page 12). The road to completion of this project carries with it some valuable lessons for other companies contemplating this move.
Thirteen years ago, Makino implemented a basic field service application to manage its field force. As the company grew to 50 field service engineers, that application was becoming a bottleneck for scheduling resources efficiently — costing Makino money. Chris von Ohain, IT manager for Makino, explains, "The old system didn't have an integrated scheduling process with any of our business applications. Service scheduling was performed in a fancy spreadsheet application. There was a lot of duplication of data entry."
In addition, the legacy software was no longer supported by the vendor, so problems had to be diagnosed and corrected in-house. "We didn't have the source code," says von Ohain. "Therefore we couldn't make the necessary changes needed to adapt the software to our operations. There was no GUI [graphical user interface] for our field engineers. They could record what they did on jobs and upload it back to Makino, but they had to use different applications to record time and expenses." Much of the data entry work was performed by the field engineers on Saturdays, so Makino was paying the engineers overtime to perform data entry tasks for completed jobs. Once the data batches were received at Makino, the accounting department would have to manually enter the engineers' data into the financial system. In addition, Makino's engineers could not combine parts and services on a single invoice. "Billing for each was done separately. Our customers wanted to see everything on one invoice — not two," adds von Ohain.

Sell The Field Software Business Case To Upper Management
Many times, projects of this nature are initiated by the leadership within the service organization, and IT is brought in for its approval. Surprisingly, von Ohain and his IT team were the primary drivers for a new service solution. "We looked at this from many different perspectives," says von Ohain. "We knew we had legacy software and hardware that was no longer supported. We also knew that we could be more efficient as a company by integrating our service software with our SAP ERP [enterprise resource planning] and SalesLogix CRM [customer relationship management] applications."
It took several months for von Ohain and his team to build the business case on how much the company could save by introducing new service management software. "We had to come up with statistics on how much we were wasting with our current systems," he says. "There were tangibles [duplicate data entry time in the field and in-house] and intangibles [time required to keep old hardware and software running] to include in our calculations. In the end, our analysis showed that we could save approximately $250,000 per year in just the tangibles." Nothing gets upper management's attention like saving money. Approval to move forward — granted.
 "We still didn't know how much the whole project would cost," von Ohain says. "We got the commitment from management and formed a selection team to develop an RFP to get some proposals." That team consisted of eight people, with von Ohain serving as the project leader and IT facilitator. He included a programmer and an SAP business analyst from IT. The balance of the team was a representative from accounting, the team leader of the service call center, an inside service engineer, a field service engineer, and a call center routing coordinator. "The makeup of that team had a lot to do with the success of the project," explains von Ohain. "Without representation from each of the entities involved, we may have missed an important component."
To shorten the evaluation process, von Ohain narrowed the field to three vendors: Astea, Metrix, and SAP. Metrix and SAP were chosen due to von Ohain's experience with each product at Makino. Astea was included because of its reputation in field service software.

Don't Accept Software Demos At Face Value — Dig Deeper
All three vendors visited Makino headquarters to perform demos. This is where many inexperienced IT managers can make big mistakes. "It's important to look past the polished nature of software demos and remember what your core objectives are," advises von Ohain. "Many members of our team were sold on one of the products just because the demo was great. Fortunately, we had been down that road before, so we dug a little deeper."
By doing some research, von Ohain found that the initial vendor of choice would require a lot of unexpected integration with Makino's current software applications. More importantly, that vendor did not have a single applicable reference for the version of the software it had demonstrated to Makino. "That was a big red flag to me," stresses von Ohain. "I perceived this product as very high risk for the company." After more meetings with the selection team and another detailed round of product demos, it was the Metrix application that came closest to meeting Makino's objectives for the project. Having successfully built a consensus, von Ohain and his team selected Metrix.

Configure, Integrate To Match Your Business Model
How many times have you heard of a company that was so enamored with its software purchase that it actually changed business processes to fit with the application? Big mistake. After all, how many successful services businesses do you see built around a software application? In the case of Makino, von Ohain's team customized the user interface of the Metrix application to fit the company's business processes. For instance, he modified the Web-based interface and security settings so that certain fields were required and other fields could not be seen by all users — all designed with service scheduling efficiency in mind. Required fields eliminate missing data, saving both the engineers and the accounting department time in reconciliation.
On the back end, Makino's programmers integrated the Metrix applications with the SAP accounting module, eliminating the duplicate data entry by the field engineers discussed earlier. In addition, the developers integrated Metrix with SalesLogix. "Our salespeople have an interest in knowing exactly what's happening at each account," explains von Ohain. "Metrix is the central database to track service on all machines in the field. The Metrix integration with SalesLogix provides our sales force with features such as pop-up screens that show customers' open tickets for service. The Metrix software feeds detailed information such as machine model numbers and specific service date information to the SalesLogix screens."
The integration of Metrix with SAP and SalesLogix was completed in May 2007, ending what von Ohain refers to as phase one of this project. Phase one solved field service and accounting challenges such as the use of multiple applications, duplication of data entry, field scheduling inefficiencies, and accounting errors. Makino has increased field service management efficiencies to the point that the project will pay for itself in just under two years.
"We would have finished earlier if we could have dedicated 100% of our time to this project," he quips. We all know that finding the time and the right resources often derails large projects before they even get started. By actively involving his team members in the decision-making processes, von Ohain got buy-in from his team members early in the process —  keeping their interest with a sense of project ownership.
What does the future look like for Makino's service organization? In phase two of the project, Makino will offer Metrix in a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform to existing and new service contractors. This will allow the manufacturer to capture the same types of service data from those contractors as it does from its employees. When complete, third-party partners will be able to access a secure portal that will automatically update Makino's service system. That process is currently performed on paper and requires resources to manually enter the data.
Makino's experience with Metrix shows us that today's IT projects have to be driven by strong business cases. It's not enough that your software and hardware are obsolete and  unsupported, or that you think service could be more efficient with new software. It's up to you to put solid numbers on the project and show the brass just how much money you can save — and how committed you are to getting it done. Imagine your next salary review after you've saved your company a quarter of a million dollars per year.