This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that documents the journey of a large electric utility in its quest to optimizing its extensive inventory of measuring and test equipment (M&TE). In the first three posts we talked about identifying the problem and finding a solution provider.
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that documents the journey of a large electric utility in its quest to optimizing its extensive inventory of measuring and test equipment (M&TE). In the first three blog posts we talked about identifying the problem, finding a solution provider, and contracting and setting up the project.
With a contract in place, and all our IT department’s questions quickly addressed, we were eager to start using the software and obtaining some results. As with all other aspects of the project, Invistics had a proposed plan for how to best prepare us to get the maximum benefit from the software through a systematic approach to training.
The training consisted of essentially 3 simple phases; software familiarization, data manipulation and analysis, and process optimization. With each phase Invistics guided us through the process using written instructions, demonstrations, hands-on exercises, and focused coaching.
The first step was to help us become familiar with the software’s features in which we were primarily interested (i.e. Inventory Advisor and Report Manager) and how to submit data for up-load and pre-processing. This focus was important as the Flowlytics software suite has extensive capabilities, and while all were available to us, we were primarily interested in the Inventory Advisor analytics and reporting features. Based on our initial cost benefit analysis, use of these modules alone should more than justify the subscription cost.
The training started with written guidance from Invistics that included step-by-step instructions on how to perform the basics of accessing the on-line software and uploading and viewing the data. These instructions were accompanied by a series of webex meetings that Invistics set up. The project manager and the lead technical specialist assigned to our project conducted the webex meetings and demonstrated what they had described in the written instructions and then let us practice on-line while they monitored our progress. Their technique in coaching was effective as they didn’t just jump in and correct us when we went down the wrong path. Instead they asked guiding questions related to what we were experiencing versus our expectations, which helped us figure out on our own how we could get back on track.
The software was intuitive, but as when using any new product, even with clear instructions, there are inevitably questions. This is where Invistics customer support really shined. Any time we had a question they were never more than and e-mail or phone call away. And it wasn’t the typical “help” line many of us have experienced in the past. This was direct contact with the project manager or the technical specialist assigned to our project. Phone calls were answered in person and e-mails were responded to promptly (typically within a few hours if not in minutes). It almost felt like we were their only customer.
The next phase involved becoming proficient in data manipulation and analysis. For this phase the training was on-site at our facility. We were a little surprised to see that Invistics not only had the project manager and technical specialist support the training, but also the president of Invistics and the sales representative we had worked with during the initial request for quote and contract phase. What we found was having these others in the training proved to be very valuable and was very much a part of Invistics’ customer focused approach to support.
During the on-site training the technical specialist led us step-by-step through how to manipulate the data and get different reports and graphical outputs. Going in we felt we knew exactly what we wanted from the software, but it quickly became apparent that we had not fully anticipated its flexibility or ability to parse and analyze the data. This is where having the others from Invistics present was helpful. They were able to give us insights into how others had leveraged the software and make suggestions on different ways we might want to look at the data. One suggestion in particular stood out. We were planning on analyzing M&TE based strictly on unique manufacturer/model numbers. The president of Invistics posed the questions regarding items that had the same functionality, yet had different manufacturer/model numbers and if we had thought about analyzing them collectively (e.g. one inch micrometers made by different companies – functionally the same, but under our method would be analyzed discretely). The solution he helped us discover was based on Invistics’ extensive experience in other industries and involved creating functional “SKUs” that could be applied to similar M&TE.
The other benefit from this intensive on-site training, where we worked through actual scenarios using our own data was, at the end of the day, we had identified specific M&TE where we could reduce inventory and start implementing savings immediately. Again, this is where Invistics proved to be more than a provider of software. They were a solution provider. They not only helped us get meaningful results in the short term, they also challenged us to establish specific measurable milestones to ensure we continued to obtain meaningful savings. At the end of the on-site training we felt fully prepared to start tackling additional manufacturer/models (and combined SKUs).
The following week, as we started identifying additional items for analysis, we realized that the data in our database was not as clean as it should be. We had differing spellings, descriptions, and model numbers for identical items. While some clean up was inevitable, a complete scrub of the data up-front would slow down our progress considerably. When we explained our situation to Invistics they showed us how their pre-processing routines for data was robust enough to deal with much of the minor discrepancies and how we could easily address other items so as not to slow down our progress.
With these issues resolved we quickly went back to uploading data and pulling results. During each of these initial uploads the technical special at Invistics was monitoring and providing suggestions on how we might simplify work on our end by leveraging the capabilities of their software. Any questions we had were immediately responded to as we worked as a team to streamline the process. After a couple of additional iterations we became very comfortable uploading data, using the analytics, outputting graphic and tabular data, and utilizing the results to make preliminary decisions on specific adjustments to the inventory. It quickly became apparent that the savings we were identifying, just during the training phase, would more than justify the subscription cost.
In part V of this blog we will share how the Invistics software allowed us to communicate clearly with our customers and provide them with information in a format that they could relate to, and made it easy for them to embrace the proposed solutions.