A combination of business management software and custom functionality can increase profits and customer satisfaction.
What happens when a group of material handling distributors collaborate with manufacturers on the design and development of “universal” and custom software to meet ever-changing business needs and technological advancements? Such a group was formed over 20 years ago to see what the answers to those questions could be.
In 1984, a committee of Hyster dealers and Hyster Company representatives determined that a collaborative partnership would best utilize the benefits of technology to help them increase profits. Their primary focus was to make it easier for distributors to do business with their suppliers and their customers. The group wanted to ensure that the manufacturer’s product data would be available within the technological system at the users’ fingertips.
That experience provided a lot of insight into working together. When developing a system with suppliers, user productivity gain is always a key factor, and the committee recognized that all features should deliver benefits in improved efficiency and information accuracy. Virtually every opportunity to eliminate errors and redundant entry through interfaces should be a priority. In addition to operational functions, the system should include management as well as sales and marketing tools.
Inbound and Outbound Communications
The proprietary system for Hyster Company and its distributors points to a well-developed program that helps both sides better deliver solutions to end-users. This article highlights some of those advantages.
The system uses a communications network supporting batch delivery of transaction and data files and documents. Interactive access by the distributor to status information and transaction follow-up in the factory is critical.
Interface programming utilizes data already entered by the distributor into the business system during the normal work processes, combining it with entry capability and custom edits of any additional information, into proprietary formats for immediate transmission and processing at the factory.
A good system should have several components that encompass data delivery from the distributor’s location to the manufacturer, and vice versa.
Outbound data from the distributor’s location should include:
- Daily and weekly parts orders
- Warranty claims
- Surplus parts returns
- Excess parts inventory file.
Inbound data from the manufacturer to the distributor should be accomplished easily and efficiently. Printer/report routing can be defined by document type and destination branch/ location. Documents can be printed “hot” to the appropriate building/department or deposited into a report queue. User review and reprint capabilities are nice features. Inbound files should be processed continuously and “unattended,” i.e., no action is required by the dealer.
These inbound files could include:
- Truck order acknowledgements
- Truck invoices
- Truck option availability
- Truck shipment notification
- Special engineering quotes
- Sales discount messages
- Warranty information documents (claim status, parts return requests, payment notification, etc.)
- Parts invoices and A/R statements
- Product data files (to facilitate interfaces and easy reference in serving customer needs).
The manufacturer should support various business processes within the distributor’s system, including:
- Parts Support: Pricing, status, super cession, cross-reference, program and other descriptive data.
- Warranty labor and diagnostic codes, “standards” information to streamline entry and ensure accuracy.
- Parts pull lists and labor guidelines for quoting service jobs on the manufacturer’s and other competitive products.
Another interface that would prove helpful to both distributor and manufacturer is a function to extract work order, customer and technician data from the business system into a fleet management/service history program.
Another is a parts information flow to maximize supply chain utilization and automation of the distributor’s parts inventory management. Improvements then can be projected in the distributor’s most significant inventory management measurement criteria, including customer service levels. A real-time parts interface to strategic parts supply partners and factory systems would provide immediate price and availability.
Using the best of technology, material handling distributors and manufacturers can make incremental changes to their business processes, improving their efficiency, speed-to-market and, ultimately, end-user satisfaction.
|Meet the Author
Wes Alt (far left) is manager of dealer business systems at Hyster Company, located in Greenville, North Carolina, and Rick Liley is VP NDS Sales/National Accounts for DIS Corporation, located in Bellingham, Washington.