In Focus: Maintenance software

As equipment and maintenance costs continue to rise, maintenance managers face intense pressure to reduce and offset these expenses. This pressure, amid a shortage of diesel technicians, continues to drive the number of fleets that outsource some – even all – of their work.

Many fleets are beginning to counter this trend – and even capitalize on it – by opening their maintenance and repair facilities to outside customers. This trend is helping carriers offset maintenance costs and, in some cases, actually turn a profit in the shop.

Executives from fleet maintenance and management software providers all say this trend is prompting new software development. Mark Ashdown, vice president of sales for TMT Software, estimates that over the past two years, TMT’s fleet customers offering commercial maintenance have increased by 10 to 35 percent.

“That’s where we are focusing a lot of development right now,” Ashdown says.

Charles Arsenault, president of Arsenault Associates, says that before fleet managers market their shops to outside parties, they must carefully analyze factors such as service levels, liability risks and shop capacity, including floor space and labor.

Assuming those factors check out, new tools from maintenance software providers can play an integral role in helping maintenance-for-profit operations succeed. After all, a fleet shop’s customers – including its own fleet executives – may turn to other outsource providers if service levels fall short due to poor planning, miscalculations and other information-related problems.

Arsenault Associates recently added an optional customer management (CM) module to its Dossier fleet maintenance management system. A new feature in the CM module allows users to set individual rates for labor, parts pricing and payment terms for each account. With one mouse click, a user can send quotes, repair orders and invoices via e-mail or fax. CM also features new accounts receivable functions for collecting unpaid invoices, Arsenault says.

New customer service tools from software companies include online access for customers to view repair status and account summaries. In Richer Systems’ Enrich maintenance management system, this feature comes standard, says company President Eric Richer.

A fleet can provide its “customers,” including internal ones such as a dispatcher or fleet manager, with online access to view or download invoices, vehicle repair histories and charges from work orders for each vehicle in real time, Richer says.

When a fleet’s customers sign on to the Enrich system, they can view their accounts in multiple views and dimensions. For example, customers could see repairs for vehicles domiciled at each of their branches or cost centers, instead of according to how the maintenance provider assigns its repair orders – typically by the location where the service was performed. They also could view their cumulative costs for a specific type of maintenance service, such as brakes, or view services performed that were not covered by their fixed maintenance agreement.

“[The software] has the ability to allow the customer to see information the way the customer wants,” Richer says.

Dossier users also can offer online access to customers, such as viewing progress on repair orders and PM schedules, if they deploy Dossier as an application service provider (ASP) model. The company offers its Dossier software as an ASP version called 24/7 FleetOnline.

“We’re getting numerous inquiries about people who want to do this,” Arsenault says.

Wireless communications also are beginning to play a key role in customer service for fleets that offer mobile repair services – either for their own fleet or for customers. Using a mobile handset, a technician or other fleet representative could pull up a vehicle’s PM schedule, view repair order histories or open a new repair order while visiting a customer. The technician also could look up a part to see if one is in inventory.

Arsenault’s Pocket Dossier is one such technology: The application runs on mobile devices, including cell phones, and uses wireless networks to have a live connection with Dossier or the 24/7 FleetOnline database, Arsenault says.

Technology also can help solve a major business challenge of operating a maintenance-for-profit shop – working on equipment with different specs than the fleet uses. Technicians may lack the knowledge to repair equipment and components from different brands, but recent technologies can offer quick access to repair information on the shop floor.

Mitchell 1 recently launched Tractor-trailer.net, a Web-based heavy-duty vehicle service and repair information database. Through any browser, a technician can use the system to get detailed procedural information, illustrations, diagnostics and wiring diagrams for any Class 8 tractor, trailer and reefer spec, the company says.

In 2004, the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations launched TMC FleetPortal, an Internet-based technical library that contains all OEM and supplier parts and maintenance information.

With these recent advances in fleet maintenance management technology, the return-on-investment for new software and information systems goes beyond reducing maintenance costs: It also may help you bring more revenue in the door.