Making service truck inventory management easier was a primary goal of mine back when I used to manage a fleet of service crews. I can’t tell you how my nerves frayed every time a team would call me and say they couldn’t help the client without picking up parts. Parts that were supposed to be on board but, due to negligence, were not.
Some managers might blame the crews for forgetting to restock their trucks, but you and I know that it starts with leadership, not with those following orders, not usually that. So, as responsible managers, it’s up to us to make the service truck inventories shine with our commendable leadership.
But how do we make it easier to manage without wasting time? After years of dealing with this scenario, I devised ways to mitigate the situation. Furthermore, I will introduce you to some of the ways I made my life as a manager of mobile crews easier – with tips from experience. I’ll also reveal one way some companies are going the extra step to save a mile of paperwork and headaches. So, please stick with me, and let’s get your service truck inventory management under control once and for all.
Conducting Regular Inventory Audits
One of the best practices I instituted with my mobile crews was to have the apprentices show up for work and start with a truck inventory check. They verified tools, consumables, and safety items like PPE and completed the daily vehicle walk-around inspection. Simultaneously I met with the lead hands to provide them with their daily work orders.
Regular tool and supply inventory audits are crucial to running mobile crews effectively. It does a lot to improve the work for everyone, but in particular, five things stand out about regular inventory audits:
- They optimize service efficiency. You might wonder how many labor hours I spent with apprentices doing their due diligence regarding service truck tools and consumables inventories. However, when you consider letting a client down by telling them you don’t have the right parts, that’s not good business for anyone.
- Enhanced client satisfaction is a significant factor in providing good services. As I just mentioned, it looks terrible if a service crew is short on standard stock parts, tools, or consumables; it provides enhanced customer satisfaction when your team can finish a repair while on-site rather than having to leave to return at a later date.
- Minimizing operation costs is critical, and if you manage mobile crews, you already know easy it is for costs to skyrocket when operating inefficiently. Operating costs reduce when all your teams are well-prepared for their day’s workload.
- Ensuring compliance and safety is paramount and challenging to manage off-site. However, ensuring that your team completes a safety equipment inventory check before departing for their work is critical to ensuring optimal safety and regulatory compliance.
Utilizing Barcode Scanning and RFID Technology
When a corporation reaches a certain size, manually counting parts becomes too tedious. However, this doesn’t just apply to parts in a distribution sense but also to assets like tools and equipment.
Setting up an automated process digital infrastructure regarding company asset management control is the next step for a growing company. However, it has to justify the cost, doesn’t it?
A simple cost analysis is all it takes to understand whether or not your company should move forward with a digital system. Here’s how to standardize your formula:
- Determine the cost of inventory control using manual techniques. If you’ve been in business for a few years, you should have a pretty good idea of what you spend to keep track of stock. If you don’t know, meet with your team and set up a collaborative tracking board where everyone notes time contributed to inventory control practices.
- Determine the cost of a digital barcode scanning system. This cost should include installation and purchasing of equipment, and also labor expenses to take time to train staff on newly adopted system practices.
- Compare the cost of manual inventory controls to a barcode scanner system. If the price of the system is lower than the manual cost, then it’s time to consider implementation.
A digital inventory control system has many advantages over manual methods. However, you might be concerned about adopting yet another platform and how you can make it function with your existing systems. These are legitimate concerns, so I would opt for a flexible system that I can use for all of my company’s needs. More on that later.
Standardizing and Organizing Inventory Storage
I’ve mentioned the utilization of technology for controlling inventory. However, technology is only as good as the practices undertaken to use it. There’s no better way than to standardize and organize how you control inventory storage.
Inventory storage and organization are critical for effective and efficient inventory replenishment practices. You don’t want crews waiting around, or driving to distributors, wasting half their day picking up products instead of making the company money. It’s about being effective and efficient, and disorganization is not the means to the end here.
When you read statistics like the fact that the US has about $1.1 trillion worth of inventory tied up in company warehouses and workplaces means that even a fraction of disorganization can have massive economic consequences.1
What I found worked well in service trucks was customizing compartments and maintaining a balance between organization and utilization. For example, keeping tools in one part of a truck and components in another while organizing each so the most required parts and tools are the most readily available is an art unto itself. However, organizing things properly upon setup will save countless hours in the long run.
Training and Empowering Service Technicians
It is frightening how many businesses don’t take training seriously. With just shy of 59% of employees stating a lack of training and self-taught skills being predominant, it’s a wonder our buildings aren’t crashing to the ground.3
Mobile crews need technicians’ buy-in to maintain accurate inventory records. Whether it’s manually attached to work order information or controlled electronically, maintaining what goes in and out of service vehicles is imperative. Without it, you’re operating blind.
That’s why training is essential. Implement inventory control procedures, and ensure everyone understands their responsibilities. Everyone must have total buy-in for your company to excel; only adequately trained teams can make that happen.
Leveraging Mobile Apps for Inventory Management
Everyone has a smartphone. You can’t walk down the street without seeing someone on their device. In fact, 67% of warehouses use mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, for inventory management.2
How can you use this technology? With QR code readers just a download away, a more straightforward system is undoubtedly on the horizon.
Implementing a Replenishment System
Timely replenishment of tools and equipment, or in many cases, the consumables that go with the work, is critical, as you know. That’s why it’s equally essential to implement a replenishment system.
Depending on how your company operates, there are several ways to attack this issue. Some operations include consumables inventory controls in their work orders or attached to their work orders. However, you must still instruct teams to follow replenishment protocol, or merely connecting the information to daily paperwork wastes time. Unless you have another asset, manage the inventory noted on said paperwork.
One of the things that I found helpful was using the 1st Reporting app (available on Google Play and The Apple App Store). I created work orders in the app, and using the customization features in the form builder, I dynamically attached work orders to part replenishment tickets. When a team member in the field completed a work order, a replenishment ticket request via notification was instantly communicated with home base staff. So, a bin of consumables for replenishment would be ready and waiting for the service team upon their return to base.
Utilizing GPS Tracking for Tool Security
There are a few different ways that you can take advantage of GPS tracking to ensure greater tool security onboard your service trucks. First, you can pick up GPS tracking tabs and attach them to each tool. However, I found this system quickly fell short of useful, as tags would go missing as technicians worked with their tools in the field.
One of the better ways of taking advantage of GPS technology is by using an app like 1st Reporting to have your crews complete work orders, vehicle inspections, site condition audits, and other typical paperwork. Using the 1st Reporting app for your documents in the field automatically logs the location via GPS. So, when a crew calls in and says they forgot a tool on a job site, you can see the location of their reports right on your 1st Reporting dashboard. The customizable map view makes it extremely easy to manage your crews and see where they completed reports, including where they used company tools and equipment.
Establishing Clear Inventory Policies and Procedures
Another essential procedure that benefits many operations is a well-defined tool control system. For example, service trucks will maintain their standard fare of tools, but I used to keep them locked up for those particular tools. When a crew needed one of the more specialized (and often more expensive) specialty tools, they had to sign it out on a clipboard.
Of course, I would never use a clipboard sign-out system again because it, too, had its issues. For instance, I’ve seen it all: poor penmanship, forgetting to write the date or forgetting to include their own name. Now, I use a simple and effective system setup on 1st Reporting’s app. By defining forced fields, crews can no longer skip past some aspects of the sign-out process. Furthermore, there is never a risk of poor penmanship, and given that the teams complete the form on their device, there’s no risk of missing who filled out the form as it is automatically populated.
I set my forms up using the dynamic form builder. With this feature, I have dynamically linked the sign-out form to the following sign-in form for tool returns. And the custom notification I set up means I know who is signing out what in real-time, even if it’s the weekend and I’m on the boat.
It’s the accountability solution I like most about my setup for signing out tools or equipment using the 1st Reporting app. Don’t knock it ’till you try it, folks. Seriously, save your headaches for more significant problems; the simple tool sign-in-out process should be smooth as silk, not a pain.
Implementing a Digital Inventory Management System
You must have realized I’ve moved on from the mundane paper-based report systems by this point. We still have the odd paper report for whatever government agency still works in the stone age, but a digital solution is a way to go for everything else.
Implementing a digital inventory management system isn’t as complicated as you think. With a bit of intelligent planning, you can have the transition done quickly; the benefits are exponentially worth it.
Digital systems streamline the inventory tracking process. Furthermore, features like real-time automated notifications are a blessing compared to the lack of features with paper inventory controls.
Integrating Inventory Management with Work Order Systems
A few systems allow you to use dynamic linking to integrate inventory management with work orders or similar project-oriented documents. 1st Reporting is one such application that provides dynamic link functionality.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say you are a utility service company and have a call on the weekend for emergency service. Your on-call scheduled crew heads out in their service truck to attend the call.
Aside from the truck safety walk-around report the crew completed before leaving base with their service truck, they completed a work order while on site. The work order lists parts and consumables used to get the job done. The link order is dynamically linked to a Replenishment Request form that populates the parts input on the work order and sends a notification to the warehouse along with the Replenishment request. So, by the time the next workday comes around, your team at the base has the parts ready and waiting for the service crew.
Of course, this is just one of many possible examples of how you could integrate service truck inventory controls with your work orders on a platform that makes it so easy to do that you’ll wonder why you never made the switch before.
Let’s face it, with a few minutes of setup, and the automation could save your company thousands of dollars in labor costs just by adding some intelligent systems. That, in my opinion, is good business.
1., 2. Capterra – Inventory Management Stats