|According to Lee Thompson, Advantech’s general manager, efficiencies the company has put in place have contributed to its best-ever first four months of the year. Among these has been the ability to view live inventory company-wide, including what’s stocked in technicians’ trucks, which the company refers to as their mobile warehouses. PHOTO COURTESY OF ADVANTECH|
With projected January-to-April revenues up 42 percent this year over last, 2014 is shaping up to be a banner year for systems integrator Advantech Inc., based in Dover, Del. Efficiency and a greater level of teamwork between the company’s sales, installation and service employees have had a lot to do with that.
Founded in 1990, Advantech has been recognized as a Honeywell Platinum Certified Integrator. Advantech has been awarded Honeywell’s Mid-Atlantic Dealer of the Year every year since 2004, and was its National Dealer of the Year each year from 2008 to 2012.
Lee Thompson, General Manager of Advantech, says the biggest key to the company’s success has been a number of operational efficiencies the company has implemented.
One particular strategy that paid off was for management to take the time to get to know how every department ran. This process involved literally walking through a project from start to finish by meeting with members of each department to gain a deeper understanding of their day-to-day actions, policies and best practices. From there, the next step was to determine how Advantech’s financial management software, SedonaOffice, which it implemented in 2012, could help streamline operations and make them easier for each department.
“We went through the life of a folder — from sale to installation — to learn how we could help modify and improve efficiency. We went in and said, ‘Show me what you do on a daily basis.’ There have been a lot of advantages and a lot of positives with it,” Thompson says. “Processes that used to take weeks, we can now do in a few business days.”
That’s because all the documents associated with a sale and installation, including the contract, CAD drawings, equipment lists and even manuals, can be accessed from anywhere via the Internet through SedonaDocs. This is a big upgrade from the ubiquitous folders that held hard copies of all those things, although those folders do still exist.
“We’re not always looking for the folder, then trying to figure out who had it last and spending the time physically looking for it. If the installer forgot to take the folder with him, he can log in and know everything that would be in the physical folder,” Thompson says. “The best part is that it’s there forever, so if we have to go back, we know exactly we how ran wire, where every piece of equipment is, etc.”
SedonaOffice also allows Advantech to view live inventory in both its main warehouses and technicians’ vans (also called “mobile warehouses”). This has helped make basic operations, such as getting the right part to the right location at the right time, much less complicated and time-consuming.
“If a customer calls with an issue and needs a specific part, the first thing we ask is, ‘Is it in the warehouse?’ With our previous system, I had to get up and go check,” Thompson says. “Now if it’s not in the warehouse, I can search all the mobile warehouses and find out which vans have this equipment. If it’s an emergency he can send the technician who is geographically closest to the customer to the job site.”
This has made technicians’ presence in the office less common. Whereas in the past, they would come in each morning to drop off the previous day’s service tickets and pick up that day’s scheduled tickets and equipment, they now receive an email every evening listing the next day’s tickets. The only times they make an appearance these days is when they need to replenish the stock in their mobile warehouse or pick up a unique part that is not normally stocked.
Through SedonaOffice, Advantech provides online payment options via its website, where customers can also view their current and previous invoices. Many have taken advantage of this new feature and regularly make their payment for their service ticket invoices online. Another added benefit to customers is the email notification of the next day’s service requests, complete with a photo of the technician who will be performing the service.
“Exceeding the expectations of our customers is our No. 1 goal and we ensure this by providing superior customer service,” Thompson says. “The ability for our customers to pay invoices online and have a photo of the technician prior to their arrival has overwhelmingly been one of our clients’ favorite features since our go-live date with SedonaOffice.”
In addition to making Advantech more efficient, SedonaOffice has also opened the lines of communication between departments. For example, because the software allows an installer to see his schedule two weeks out, he can set up a meeting with the sales rep for a project. The best part is that they can meet over the phone, while both are looking at the relevant documents.
“There are three legs that support our business: sales, installation and service. If one of those legs fails, then we fail the customer,” Thompson says. “It’s a team effort and we are fortunate to have extremely talented and dedicated employees throughout our company. The software makes us more productive because we have the information at our fingertips, which makes our service more efficient — and it’s much easier to sell to someone when you have a winning recipe like what SedonaOffice has helped us put together.