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m.logistics Magazine | On Track & On Target | Getting a steer on the right mobility solution

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30 December 2014

Getting a steer on the right mobility solution

A switch from paper to tablet computers is enabling mobile wheel alignment company Steertrak both to streamline its own operations and to improve the service it delivers to customer.


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One of the most important requirements in any mobile field service operation is ensuring that mobile engineers are provided with all the right information to complete each job. That might include customer history, schematics and so on, plus information relating to the vehicle and its operation.

In short, it must be possible for the engineer to get the job finished and report back to the office when it is, so that the company can collate data from all its engineers and schedule future jobs. 

All this can be done with paper and pen, of course, but more and more forward-thinking SME companies are swapping these for tablets and apps. 

One such business is mobile service company Steertrak, whose speciality is a mobile wheel-alignment services for commercial vehicles, buses and vans. 

Commercial vehicles often travel many thousands of miles a year, and when wheels become misaligned (through kerbing, for example) the consequences can be costly in terms of increased fuel consumption and excessive and uneven tyre wear. 

To prevent this, many fleet operators have the axle and wheel alignment checked on their vehicles regularly. Mobile alignment services are popular because they are done on site, so the vehicle is off the road for as short a time as possible. After all, a parked vehicle is an unproductive vehicle.  

Paper everywhere 

In the past, Steertrak engineers used handwritten sheets to record customer details, manually entering alignment corrections. Reports were faxed to the office when possible or handed in on the next visit to the office. 

Administrative staff then input the data from the reports into Steertrak’s service management system, creating reports that were forwarded to customers. 

"The old paper-and-pen system created a mountain of paperwork," says managing director Andy Cornish, "and this was all too easily misplaced – by engineers, admin staff and customers. 

"Data had to be entered manually, posing the risk of errors. There could be a delay of a week or more before alignment reports reached the office, and up to three weeks between a vehicle being checked and the report reaching the customer." 

Taking the tablet 

Steertrak has now equipped its mobile wheel alignment engineers with tablet computers running an app specially developed for wheel alignment checks and calculations. The app automatically performs the geometry calculations that engineers previously had to do by hand. At the end of each job, the software produces a technical report for customers, with a report on the state of each wheel and axle and the work done. 

Steertrak worked with software specialists TAAP to develop the bespoke app for its engineers. "We don’t have the resources to develop and manage our software," says Cornish. "TAAP helped us create a customised application on pre-built components, which made it both affordable and easy to implement." 

The app has developed for Windows 8.1, so is compatible with Steertrak’s existing Microsoft back-office systems. It is simply downloaded from the Microsoft Windows app store to the tablet computer. 

"The TAAP Web interfaces make it easy to send data to and fro," Cornish says. Steertrak started out using the app on smartphones, but later decided engineers might struggle to read some of the more complicated diagrams on a tiny screen, and to enter alignment readings accurately; hence the switch to tablets. 

Unlike some web-based apps, the Steertrak app is downloaded and saved locally on the tablets, so engineers don’t need an internet connection in order to use it. This is useful in locations where internet connectivity may be poor; engineers can still get on with the job. 

Once the engineer hits the "job complete" button, a report is automatically sent back to Steertrak’s offices via a web interface. If there is no internet connection at that point, the software simply saves the report and sends it automatically whenever it next does get a connection. The engineer doesn’t have to remember to do this, and can focus on the next job. 

The app integrates with Steertrak’s customer reporting package, creating an automatic link between jobs and accounts, and largely eliminating the need to chase paperwork. Customers are automatically billed for work done once the job is complete.

Analyse that 

Steertrak believes its new recording and reporting system will be especially beneficial in multi-depot fleets and for identifying any trends. "Managers will know exactly when each vehicle check was done and what the result was," says Andy Cornish. 

"Once you start recording the alignment data electronically, you find it becomes much easier to analyse. You can detect trends at particular depots, or on certain vehicles or operations. It’s easier to identify what the most appropriate parameters should be."

 

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