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7/27/2007
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Eric Ogren
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Case Study: Field Force Automation Saves The Day For Mac-Gray

Welcome to Over The Air's first Friday case study. We'd like to make case studies a regular part of the blog and we're kicking things off with a look at how Mac-Gray's coin collectors used standard field force gear to reduce expenses, reduce wear and tear on its fleet and boost worker productivity.

Welcome to Over The Air's first Friday case study. We'd like to make case studies a regular part of the blog and we're kicking things off with a look at how Mac-Gray's coin collectors used standard field force gear to reduce expenses, reduce wear and tear on its fleet and boost worker productivity.(This is the first in what we hope will be many case studies presented by Over The Air on Fridays. If you have a mobile-based case study that you'd like us to consider writing up in the blog, please feel free email it to Stephen or me.)

Any company that manages a fleet of vans and drivers knows that cutting down the time and mileage between appointments is a critical part of controlling expenses and enhancing productivity. While GPS systems are certainly one way to make sure drivers are taking the quickest or shortest route between jobs (and not stopping to run errands along the way), it can foster ill-will in the workforce. Mac-Gray didn't want to go quite that far with its fleet of technicians and coin collectors, but it knew it needed to take action to save some green.

Mac-Gray operates some 58,000 laundry facilities in multi-dwelling units, be they apartment buildings or college dormitories. It uses 260 technicians to install and service the laundry machines, and another 110 coin collectors to pick up the money deposited into the machines. Each is using slightly different solutions to help them perform their jobs more efficiently.

Vetting Vettro

The technicians used to rely on two-way radios and a central dispatch office to determine their daily work flow. Since they were also armed with Motorola iDEN walkie-talkie phones, Mac-Gray decided to explore the possibility of using a dispatching and inventory control program on the phones. "We were looking for a solution that would run on the same mobile phones because we didn't want the techs using multiple devices or hardwired GPS," said Mike Lento, Mac-Gray's VP of operations. "We ended up going with Vettro."

It is using Vettro's TechLinx program on the phones and now each technician is automatically dispatched to the next appointment and can control his own inventory. "We were able to eliminate 6 dispatchers, so that saved us 6 man-years right off the bat. The techs can also track the inventory in their truck, mark which parts have been used at any particular job, and always be equipped. This added about an hour of productivity to each tech's day," said Lento.

Once it squared away the technicians, Mac-Gray focused attention on its coin collectors. Mac-Gray has 24 branches that cover a 43-state region. Each branch has its own set of collectors, who bring the coins back at the end of their day. With its old system, some collectors were working 6-hour days, while others were working 12-hour days because the work load wasn't properly balanced. Those poor guys putting in 12 hours contributed to a lot of overtime expenses. Since Mac-Gray had some success with the TechLinx program, it turned to Vettro again, and chose its CollectorLinx program.

"CollectorLinkx takes the number of stops that the collectors have to do each day and optimizes the number it, balances the territory and estimates the amount of work that can be done in an 8-hour work day," said Lento. "It also assigns specific tasks and parts of each task. The collectors hit a couple of buttons and report in on what they've been doing at each step of the process and all that information comes back to our database."

Mac-Gray is making use of the GPS chips in the phones and ties that data to the Vettro applications. With the time and location stamps that occur when each action is complete, Mac-Gray can watch the transactions and determine whether or not the techs were doing what they were asked to do.

"We put them in control of their day," said Lento. "When a collector logs in in the morning, we get a time stamp and GPS coordinates. Then he sees what he is supposed to do that day, and the sequence he is supposed to do it in. Every time he presses a button, we know what happens where."

Mac-Gray says it is not using the application in a Big Brother sort of way. "Initially, there were a lot of nay sayers," said Lento. "People thought we were watching them. A lot of the gripes were because they feared the unknown. But we put them in the corporate training program and showed them that it is relatively easy to use. We pithed that it is no harder than to use the remote on their TV. There are only 4 buttons to click and choose over and over again. "After we showed it to them, slowly but surely, they just started using it."

What about ROI?

Mac-Gray is rolling the coin collector program out slowly to its branches. The first 10 of 24 are already up and running. But what sort of benefit is Mac-Gray seeing from these field force systems?

"Miles. It's all about saving miles, gas, and wear and tear on the vans," said Lento. In fact, Mac-Gray is seeing 12% to 15% savings on the number of miles for each of its collectors using the solution. It has also balanced out the work days for its collectors, eliminated overtime expenses and boosted each collector's productivity by 20%. More importantly, it has seen a 70% drop in time to resolution per ticket. That makes for happier customers.

Mac-Gray recouped its initial investment in 18 months. "As we tripled in size, the benefits compounded themselves. We've definitely taken advantage of it. For us, it was a very good investment, and Vettro has been able to adapt their applications for us quite easily."

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