What IT solutions for logistics are available and worth investing?
Tools for managing internal processes
ERP and MRP systems significantly improve the quality of service, increase efficiency and control over the processes occurring in a logistics company. The solutions that support the centralization of all processes occurring in the logistics park, to optimize car traffic in the park, as well as systems aimed at increasing the satisfaction of tenants are becoming more and more popular. These solutions are so innovative that their implementation is most often decided by highly-conscious clients and parks that focus on the innovation of their company.
The CAFM (Computer-Aided Facility Management) systems, whose task is to support processes taking place in the operation, use and management of a logistics park, are already available on the market. The implementation of one platform allows you to optimize the costs associated with ongoing maintenance, control of external companies and, above all, transparency of services. Park owner, property manager, facility management and cleaning company, security, external service partners (including a general contractor) and tenants – these are the entities interested in the functioning of the centre. The task of CAFM systems is to provide functional capabilities so that each of the above groups benefits from it. This is one of the few IT solutions in which the number of users increases the value of the system, and, in the same way, it collects the data entered by them and uses it to keep statistics and analyses. Information is currently one of the most immeasurable and rarely priced and at the same time one of the most important resources available to the company.
Basic possibilities of CAFM
- reactive maintenance (current, unforeseen events handling)
- preventive maintenance (inspection planning)
- DMS (document management)
- media usage recording and optimization
- asset management (installation and device inventory)
- cost and budget control
Each of the above tasks can be implemented with a separate tool. There are many applications on the market, even free ones, which are used for ongoing service of the facility. These are simple helpdesk systems whose main task is to record the event and then verify its implementation. We can also find programs to generate a schedule of inspections and to track the progress of their execution. There are also DMS systems, so largely available on the market that each company will find an interesting product: from the ability to store scanned documents, to advanced tools, enabling versioning of documents, monitoring their validity and connecting with each other. In Poland, we also have a wide range of inventory systems: from simple tools that allow you to store information about devices and installations, to advanced tools, calculating depreciation and indicating the degree of wear of the device. In inventory, an important role can be played by bar codes, which are glued directly to the device and identify it unmistakably. The question of optimizing the use of utilities looks slightly different. The most often implemented are BMS systems whose task is to collect current consumption data directly from the meters and generate an individual or collective report for the entire facility. The possibility of cost control and budgeting most often provide separate modules for existing systems because costs are always associated with specific events, such as inspections, current defects or real estate maintenance costs.
The biggest advantage of the CAFM system over separate tools is most often combining all the above functionalities in one tool. The individual modules are integrated with each other, and the overriding value is the ability to use the data that the application has collected (mentioned above and broadly understood information). One tool, which is the CAFM system, allows for comprehensive management of faults and tasks, along with the settlement of the costs of the equipment concerned and delegating tasks to subcontractors. It also allows you to create schedules for inspections and rounds, as well as cleaning plans. The CAFM system should also have a built-in DMS mechanism, and documentation should cover every place in the application: contract management, DTR documents, warranties, building documentation, etc. Good CAFM systems also allow for recording the level of media use, and the best notify about anomalies related with incorrect consumption. Each CAFM system should provide the possibility of carrying out an inventory on the site, and then track the consumption of individual devices and their subassemblies. Cost control and budgeting should result from real data that the application collects, and then verify and notify about, for example, exceeding the planned budget.
The functionality of CAFM systems is huge. They contain tools that allow you to manage the entire logistics facility. A good CAFM system can be recognized not only by its capabilities but also by the ease of use. The CAFM system should be made available to tenants and offer opportunities similar to the portal, where the tenant can report a defect on his surface, check how its media consumption looks like, manage access cards and communicate with a property manager or a facility management company.
Other tools, whose possibilities are recognized by logistic park owners, are systems for the optimization of park area entries and exits. These are tools for the broadly understood management of guests, temporary workers, people visiting the park regularly, but not its employees (so-called visitors) and all suppliers. The task of such a system is to check the entrances, register every visitor to the park and improve the capacity at the guardhouses. These systems are integrated with CCTV monitoring which allows for unambiguous identification of the arriving vehicle but also, for example, for reading the RFID tag affixed to the vehicle and automatically raising the barrier after recognizing the vehicle.
The next option is to install beacon markers in the park. These are small radio transmitters integrated with a properly prepared mobile application that allows you to register the position of an object or human near the transmitter. With the help of beacons, you can easily find an object or register a route of security guards passing through the facility, even without the user's participation.
The solutions such as carpooling are becoming more and more popular in logistics parks. These are closed systems, available only for one centre, allowing employees to communicate with each other and share commuting.
The logistics park is a place where facility management service use cars. It is such a vast area that even one round can take a big chunk of working day. This is the assumption of the software producers who more and more often provide mobile versions of their systems. These can be CAFM tools used to record an event in the field – take a photo or pinpoint the event location on the plan using a mobile phone. They also allow registering how the inspection work was carried out with the help of an interactive checklist with tasks. It is worth noting whether the mobile application works in off-line mode. Only when it’s possible to register data without access to the Internet, we can talk about the actual mobility of the application.
An investment is understood as a long-term and risk-prone allocation of funds that will allow future benefits to be achieved. Indeed, investing in software can be risky. Firstly, because we are not able to fully understand the system before implementation, but also because we do not know how the environment and people who would use it will react to change. The possibilities offered by CAFM tools, integrated entry and exit systems, carpooling systems, beacons and mobile applications are invaluable and are increasingly used in the logistics industry both in Poland and worldwide. The legitimacy of their implementation verifies whether and with what problems the centre is struggling. If the owner, property manager, facility management company can answer this question, they can also find a system that will be able to solve it. We should remember that software implementation is most often associated with the change of processes that take place in the park, so the company should adapt to the system (know-how embedded in the application), and not vice versa. The above-mentioned change, or system implementation, should take place slowly, with full awareness of people who will use the system. Only then it is possible to implement new standards which should be introduced due to the already defined need to implement the software.
In addition, the selection of the supplier is a very important part. It is worth checking the existing references, which would significantly reduce the risk related to the inability to test the system in the natural environment, before its implementation, and to prepare a good specification, based on the real capabilities of systems available on the market. If any supplier says that "everything can be done", it means that he does not tell the truth. Not everything can be done, and the more doubts and suggestions a system manufacturer has, the better. This means that he understands the topic and in case of doubt he will be able to prove why "it’s not worth it". One of the questions should also be about the number of unsuccessful implementations. The answer that 100% of them are successful is not a good answer because it is impossible. The supplier should provide us with reliable information to anticipate possible difficulties.
Another important element in the selection of a company and system is whether it offers the possibility to extend its functionalities in the future. The fact that we only need the helpdesk tool at the moment does not mean that we will not want to implement beacons in a year. If the system is closed in one or several modules, and the possibility of its extension is provided by development facilities located, for example, in Germany, it should give us a signal that the costs of possible integration with other tools or the costs of expansion can significantly exceed the initial cost. In addition, if we choose a smaller company, we can be confident it will look after us perfectly.
The essence of investment, especially in IT, lies in the fact that beyond its potential risk, it brings many benefits. If we choose the company we want to cooperate with and the tool it offers wisely, the return on investment will come in a measurable, specific time.
The article was published in issue 5/2016 of "Logistyka" magazine. The Polish version is available here:
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