Efficiency equation 06 August 2014
Modern workshop management systems promise to transform workshop efficiency and flexibility, as well as technician quality and productivity – but what should you look for? Toby Clark reports
In a complex fleet operation, order is vital: timely inspection, maintenance and repairs are key to compliance and efficiency. Workshop management systems (WMS) promise to make things easier and to improve performance, while perhaps lowering costs.
These systems vary in character: many are simply workshop systems, while some are components of dealer management systems (DMS), fleet management or asset management packages. But whatever the approach, the package has to work with your other systems: accounting software; scheduling or diary systems, such as Outlook; external databases of parts, vehicles and customers; and, in some cases, telematics and diagnostics systems.
Scheduling inspections and servicing can be complex: as Neil Stewart, managing director of Garage Data Systems (GDS), puts it: "Reminders are quite critical. Our system understands the difference between a truck and a trailer – and a trailer could be a box, a flatbed, a fridge or anything."
GDS also features LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998) scheduling and vehicle registration lookup, but, like other systems, it also lets the operator set criteria to define service and inspection intervals. It then sends diary reminders or emails to let operators and drivers know when vehicles need attention.
Some suppliers also suggest that evidence- and condition-based monitoring systems – assessed using telematics and diagnostic information – are on their way.
WMSs often feature asset management – or at least stock control for parts and consumables. Some can import an electronic parts file (EPF) from a manufacturer or supplier, and may automatically create and email purchase orders. Others now have links to insurance tools, such as Audatex, to send and approve estimates automatically. As Paul Clarke, director of Truckfile, says: "E-procurement is going to be huge, with automatic authorisation directly from the workshop."
Some systems are locally-based, installed on the operator's own PC server: examples include GDS and TRACE. Renault Trucks' DMS is also server-based – 'a decentralised system', as the OEM describes it. Understandably, Renault's 40 UK dealerships are often competitors, so are wary of data being leaked or benchmarked.
Others WMSs are web-based: Truckfile, for instance, is internet-based, 'guaranteed available 24/7. "Software as a Service [SaaS] systems are the future, but have to be completely secure," warns Clarke. A halfway house is also possible: having the package hosted by the software provider or a third party on a dedicated or virtual server. GDS includes a backup service with the package, so that data is automatically copied from the operator's server to a remote location.
Costs vary widely: GDS typically charges £1,500 for setup plus a £90 per month for a four-user system, while a full-blown DMS can start at £50,000. Rental is another option, with Distinctive Systems' Vehicle Maintenance System starting at £97.50 per month.
Whatever the system, change management is vital. "We don't impose; we migrate," comments Clarke. "Our system is designed so the transition from paper or a legacy system is easy. Using a touchscreen, PC or tablet, it presents the job in a familiar jobsheet style. The difference is all the work is legible, everything has to be completed, and it can be timed from start to finish."
And he adds: "The system can automate workflow: a driver can report a defect on the walk-round check that travels through the process, automatically creating a job sheet. This is becoming essential as compliance regulation pushes towards proof of defect rectification." Some packages use PDAs or apps to simplify this aspect, verifying and transmitting information automatically.
WMSs' reporting functions can also be used to rank technicians, in terms of average job length or other criteria, but Kyle Testo, of United Biscuits, warns that automated 'efficiency' calculations can be misleading. "That doesn't work for our organisation [where technicians are responsible both for inspection and rectification], but it would for a larger outfit, where jobs can be split."
At the end of the day, as Truckfile's Clarke says: "It's not the technology that makes the money: it's making the guy with the spanner in his hand more effective that makes the money."
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PYE Commercials (Preston)
PYE Commercials (Preston) is a CV repairer and MOT centre. Managing director David Rogerson is convinced that a WMS – in his case, Garage Data Systems' GDS – has improved productivity and made documentation easier. Originally, PYE used a Sage accounting package, but added GDS a couple of years ago. "It's quite comprehensive," he says. "It deals with technicians' times, and it produces job sheets, updates your stock and produces a sales invoice. It keeps a good track on everything."
Rogerson finds scheduling particularly useful. "You can put in five or six criteria, so you can take a customer's vehicle and predict all future inspections, servicing and MOTs, and there's a booking-in system so you know which vehicles are in the garage at any one time, and how long they've been there."
The system has other ways to assess productivity, too. "You can see how a technician's time has been allocated, and how much has been charged to each technician. And you can check stock levels and monitor the mark-ups on your purchases."
GDS is connected directly to Sage, avoiding duplication, and Rogerson says it was reasonably straightforward to get up and running. "As with any system, there's a planning stage and all the work in setting up, but we had the invoicing and jobsheets ready in two or three weeks. Stock control can take a while — you've got to plan that, to get the categories right — so there was a couple of months getting that ready."
United Biscuits Distribution Services
Kyle Testo is vehicle maintenance unit manager for United Biscuits Distribution Services, in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, with a workshop of six technicians and an administrator to take care of 50 tractors and around 150 trailers. As he puts it: "We do a hell of a lot of work to a high standard."
Testo uses Truckfile and comments: "It takes a lot of time but it saves you time in other areas." He says implementation can be done step by step. "You can start using it in the first week and build on that." He lists the stages as: putting vehicles into the system; transferring the paper maintenance schedule; inputting parts; and adding technicians ("a five-minute job"). Parts entry was manual: "We already had the information and, because we use various suppliers, we can delete and amend our own parts."
Once those stages are complete, the system can generate a maintenance schedule. Testo works on a weekly cycle: "You could do it for the whole year, but that would give each technician too many jobs to choose from." Technicians then access the system through two touchscreen PCs in the workshop. "I really like it being a cloud-based system. I'm in meetings all day, but I can log on and see what needs to be done."
Testo agrees you could get a WMS just to become paperless, but adds that using it for cost data, too, make sense. "There are a lot of systems that just replace job cards, whereas this has the potential to replace financial systems. We've developed a cost-centre model: you put labour rates in – internal or external – and, once the technician logs on, that sets the time going. Any parts booked out generate a cost.
"Everything goes through Truckfile. We've fine-tuned it to produce reports. It makes things a lot easier at period end. At the click of a button you've got full cost or vehicle history reporting. I wouldn't say it's a labour-saving tool, but it gives you ultimate visibility, and in this day and age that's important, in terms of compliance."
Garage Data Systems Ltd
Renault Trucks UK Ltd
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