Sentry’s ‘Pioneering’ ERP System
Remember when living, breathing people would answer the phone when you called a business? Now we have to spend five minutes working through a menu of options. How about service calls? Remember what it was like to call a technician for service and hear, “I’ll be right over.” Now we are told to keep a two-hour window open two weeks down the road, and maybe someone will show up.
When it comes to the servicing and repair of parking equipment, owners and operators know that any unnecessary delay is unacceptable.
When asset management systems are down even for a few hours, owners are losing money. When parkers have difficulty exiting because those lanes are closed due to inoperable payment equipment, owners and operators risk upsetting patrons and losing them to competitors. When sensors and parking operations equipment aren’t functioning properly, owners are losing access to vital data that they need to manage their parking facilities efficiently and cost-effectively.
That was the thinking behind Sentry Control Systems’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The parking technology provider, which sells and services integrated parking solutions, carries a number of well-known technologies, including Frogparking software tools and parking analytics; Indect parking guidance systems; Skidata access and revenue control equipment; and Global Parking Solutions multi-space meters.
“With so many different technology offerings, we needed an ERP system that could help us understand our customers and their unique needs, and respond with properly trained technicians and the right parts,” said Lisa Flanagan, Sentry’s Chief Information Officer. “We rely on our ERP system, our mobile workforce and our GPS tracking system to provide information that allows us to respond in real-time, at the click of a mouse.”
Benefits to Parking Owners, Operators
An ERP system is a software program that permits companies to automate their business processes. Sentry’s system manages all of its field operations, including incident tracking and scheduling for service, and project management, electronic work orders, job costing, warehouse management, accounting and financial reporting.
Its ERP system is engaged throughout the servicing process, starting with tracking inventory when parts are obtained. Part numbers are entered into the system and tracked by regional warehouse and by service truck, so that its Service Advisors can instantly determine the location of those parts.
When mobile repair work orders are generated and parts transacted, those data are synchronized to the ERP system’s server.
What really sets Sentry’s ERP system apart is its mobile capabilities, and the extraordinary customer service benefits they offer, company officials said. Each repair truck is GPS-enabled, which allows its Service Advisors to know where each vehicle is at any given time.
Because of the comprehensive nature of the system’s data collection, they always have access to real-time information about what each technician’s schedule looks like, where the technician is at any given moment, and when the technician is likely to be available to take the next call.
This quick response is made possible by the company’s Service Center, the command center from which all service and repair calls are overseen. Its walls are lined with large monitors that display maps showing where repair trucks are located at any given moment.
Other monitors present departmental schedule boards that show all of the company operations at a glance. When a service request comes in, Service Advisors use this system to visually determine which qualified technician can get the necessary parts to the client most quickly, and then initiate the process.
“Sentry’s ERP program has made a huge difference in keeping our equipment up and running,” said Jackie Rocco, Parking Operations Manager for the city of West Hollywood, CA. “They are able to respond remarkably quickly whenever we have an issue with any of our equipment.
“Because of this system, I don’t have to worry about my parking equipment anymore,” Rocco added. “When maintenance is required, Sentry is on top of it. And when equipment needs to be serviced, they are able to get our equipment working again right away.”
The comprehensive nature of the ERP system’s data collection also provides long-term benefits. It maintains historic data about all of the equipment that Sentry sells and services. This permits the service team to monitor the past performance of equipment and recognize whether it is performing as anticipated. Knowing the performance and service history of an individual piece of equipment is invaluable for ensuring that the equipment is providing peak performance.
“We have a record of every part that’s ever been replaced or adjusted in all of the equipment we sell and service,” Sentry CIO Flanagan said. “The ERP system automatically schedules routine maintenance work orders as part of our maintenance contracts, which can extend the life of equipment by 30% to 50%. It’s always better to avoid breakdowns rather than having to fix them.”
The system also keeps track of service calls that couldn’t be completed because the assigned technician didn’t have the correct part on his or her vehicle. Whenever this happens, an inventory audit is initiated to determine whether this was a one-off occurrence and to ensure that the technician will have all the necessary parts in the future.
While the primary focus of the ERP system is on customer service, it also provides professional development advantages to Sentry and its technicians. The system is essentially a data collection and delivery tool, and one of the sets of data it collects relates to employee performance. Service managers can evaluate how long it takes for technicians to complete certain service tasks, how often their work needs to be re-done or repaired, and how productive each technician is.
“This is invaluable information from a management perspective, because it helps us understand which technicians need help,” said Lester Mascon, VP of Operations. “It lets us be much more targeted in our professional development, and allows us to provide technicians the training and support they need to strengthen their skills in certain areas.”
Sentry’s ERP system took 12 months to fully implement and required a significant investment. However, it was time and money well spent, company officials said.
“We have derived enormous benefits from the ERP system,” Flanagan said. “Our array of products and services, and the way we integrate them, can make inventory control, employee training and scheduling a real challenge. The ERP system greatly simplifies the process, providing performance or inventory data instantly and company-wide access to all of Sentry’s operations. That’s a huge advantage.”
“But ultimately,” said Mascon, “it’s about improving our response and resolution times to make sure our customers’ equipment is operating at full efficiency as quickly as possible. The more quickly our customers’ equipment is up and running, the more money they are making.”
Bill Smith, is a Technical Writer with
Smith Phillips, a public relations and marketing firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.