I recently ran across a powerful video produced by Atlas Copco, the European maker of mining and construction equipment. The video tells the story of a hypothetical fleet manager at a construction company.
During the two-minute video the fleet manager, Bob, interacts with an online platform created by Atlas Copco that performs a variety of fleet and service management functions. The system Atlas Copco is offering to their customers includes several software applications working in combination. What’s so special about this platform? It’s an example of what enterprises can accomplish by implementing an integrated set of cloud tools, each designed to facilitate a particular business operation.
So, FleetLink takes care of fleet management and maintenance orders, Parts Online handles part lookup and parts ordering (using Documoto as the core application interface), and QR Connect keeps a record of all the machines and devices connected to the system and associated data.
As you see in the video, a fleet manager or service technician who logs in to Atlas Copco’s system can see where their machines are located, the machines’ service status and what maintenance items may be required. They can look up and order parts, and view videos that demonstrate repair procedures. They can even take advantage of automated diagnostic tools to further optimize machine uptime and work scheduling.
The right data flows where it’s needed, exactly when it’s needed for employees to efficiently complete their tasks. This is the future of service, and it’s a reality now for Atlas Copco and their customers.
The magic behind Atlas Copco’s system is the ease of integrating modern cloud applications thanks to common standards and protocols. Grizzled IT veterans cringe in horror at the thought of converting and migrating data from older legacy systems, but the software world is finally moving past those terrifying projects.
And the Documoto platform has proven its ability to play a vital role in a fully integrated cloud/SaaS service solution for top tier manufacturers. If you are curious about how your aftermarket service organization might benefit from modern parts management, give Documoto a quick spin by requesting a demo today!
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) devote most of their sales and marketing resources toward selling new units and discovering untapped markets. This is logical, since the majority of their revenues generally come from new equipment sales.
However, it’s a well-known fact that service and parts sales for capital equipment (that is, commercial and industrial machinery with operating lifespans of a decade or longer) are large—and growing—sources of profits for many OEMs.
Because repair and maintenance services—along with replacement parts and supplies—typically boast higher profit margins than new model sales, these revenue streams can contribute greatly to a manufacturer’s top line.
Traditionally, parts were sold by OEMs through one of two channels, either through a dealer network or direct to the equipment owner. Dealers kept printed parts books at the parts counter to help with parts lookup and identification. Owners may have been given a parts list in an Operator’s Manual and a toll-free phone number, at best.
Of course, the Web has blown away the limitations of those old ways of distributing goods and information. Given that disruption, what’s the best way to sell high-margin OEM parts in the Internet age?
#1 Put It Online
Wouldn’t it be great if mechanics, dealers and other part buyers could find a detailed drawing of every single part in a machine and have complete confidence in the accuracy of that information, because it comes from the machine’s maker?
Unfortunately, many companies still manage online sales by providing a generic contact form with a message saying something like, “Let us know what parts you need, your model number and any other information you have.”
This puts a heavy burden on a potential buyer. I doubt if many customers bother to fill out these forms, but likely decide to call the parts department immediately in order to avoid this unfriendly online experience. Or even worse, a buyer in a hurry will simply perform another online search, seeking an easier way to buy.
Only slightly better than a blank form, the most common format for online parts catalogs is the PDF. In general, these PDF files are not searchable or indexed by search engines, either on the Web or on the OEM website. That means they’ll never appear in search results, and users are required to browse through, page by page, in order to find the assembly or part they’re looking for.
What OEM equipment owners, dealers and other buyers need is an online parts catalog with as much specific detail as possible. That means clear images or drawings, expanded part descriptions, a history of superseded part numbers, availability, inventory locations and other data that can only be provided by the manufacturer. Depending on the software used and the business objective, companies may choose to add eCommerce functionality to the parts catalog and enable direct online sales.
#2 Make It Attractive and Easy to Navigate
The shorthand for this principle is “customer experience.” Some companies value their customers’ time so little that they publish industrial parts lists on web pages with no illustrations and very little context. Just three or four columns with part numbers, prices and a brief description that may or may not be helpful in making a positive ID. What kind of customer experience does this type of parts list provide?
Wouldn’t it be better to have a clear illustration, or a 3D representation, or even an augmented reality (AR) app that make parts lookup fast and simple? And users should be able to search by part name, number, description or other criteria as appropriate. The technology is readily available for those who are prepared to take advantage.Car mechanic fixing car with augmented reality application
For companies that do provide highly interactive electronic parts catalogs, the contrast for users is remarkable. While many people think of parts as commodity items—and believe that buying decisions are primarily based on price—this is simply not true. Buyers value speed and convenience in ordering, and they will pay to get it.
#3 Make Sure It’s Accurate
Of course, ease of ordering doesn’t matter if dealers and equipment owners buy the wrong part. Or have to buy multiple parts because they don’t know which one fits.
Digital parts catalogs make it easy to keep part information current
How many aftermarket departments track returns and express shipping costs due to customers ordering incorrect part numbers?
In our experience, it’s a subject most people don’t want to talk about. However, we occasionally hear stories about the extreme costs of express freight shipping when an error is made in a critical parts order. And the thousands of dollars an hour that operators lose when machines can’t be repaired on schedule.
Some people view outrageous shipping costs as the price of great customer service and a necessary component of doing business. Wouldn’t it be much greater customer service to actually send buyers the right part the first time?
Achieving close to 100% accuracy is completely realistic with modern parts catalogs that are dynamically generated from a database. Technical publishers don’t have to wait a year before printing the next edition of an outdated paper catalog, they just quickly change the data in a master database and everyone in the world who opens the digital catalog can see the updates right away.
#4 Add Value with Additional Content
In the “on-demand” world of today’s consumer, it’s not good enough to offer the minimum in terms of product support. That means an OEM can’t just publish a non-searchable PDF parts manual and call it a day. Not if they want to stay in business.
For example, people search online for video demonstrations when they need to fix their personal vehicles, and that behavior is leaking over into the commercial and industrial workplace. If you sell equipment that is maintainable by the owner, make sure you’re the first source that customers think of when they need reputable advice.
What else can you offer that is related to parts, service and technical support? Is your parts catalog smart enough to show buyers related items when they view a part? Like the seal kit that’s necessary when replacing a drive shaft, or a crush washer that goes along with installing a new bolt?
OEMs are in a unique position in their ability to provide buyers with warranty information, inspection certifications, operating instructions and other proprietary data. Turn that information into a competitive differentiator by exposing as much as possible to users.
It all adds up in a customer’s mind when they think about a manufacturer’s brand reputation and how much loyalty they will feel the next time they decide to make a major equipment purchase.
Remember, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to sell to an existing customer than it is to land a new one. Treat your current product owners at least as well as you treat potential prospects. That means giving online visitors the product information they want and need to keep their machines running.
What’s behind the currently popular technology buzzwords, “digital transformation” and “digitization”? You’ll find these terms displayed on many technology-oriented B2B websites, from consulting firms to software vendors.
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what these companies are offering, or what tangible benefits you’re going to receive after your “transformation”! At Digabit, we want to do a better job of communicating the details of our product offering and its value proposition.
In that spirit, let’s discuss why this thing we’re calling “digitization” is important. Why should manufacturers embrace digital transformation? And how does the idea of digitization get translated into strategy and successful business outcomes?
First, the motive for investing in digital change is simple: the longer you wait, the farther you fall behind your competition.
Do you think the companies that resisted the move from electric typewriters to word processing software for the longest gained some advantage in the marketplace? Or those who waited to switch from locally installed desktop software to a client-server model? In hindsight, it’s easy to see that these transitions were inevitable.
The Move Toward Digital Content
For customers and end users of content, digital means receiving the information you need exactly when you need it, on whatever device is at hand: smart phone, tablet, desktop, or a wearable device like a smartwatch or glasses.
Now the question is, how do you “transform” text and other valuable content from its current form into something that can be delivered to users whenever and wherever they ask for it?
Most people are aware that digital information is different from information stored within a material object like a book. But when technology vendors talk about digital, they’re not simply talking about information stored as bits on a hard drive or a DVD, either.
While people often use “digital” and “electronic” interchangeably, there are clear differences when it comes to information and content management. And the common perception of the term digital has evolved.
CDs and DVDs store digitally formatted data, but that doesn’t make them “digital” for our purposes.
Technically speaking, digital means information stored as a series of binary digits (normally 0 and 1). However, from the perspective of a company trying to build a digital enterprise, information stored on a DVD is no more digital than the information stored on a magnetic cassette tape.
Electronic Is Not Digital
Electronic documents are fundamentally mirror images of paper documents, simply displayed on a screen. There may be basic search capability in electronic formats, as you’ve probably experienced in text documents created by word processors and text editors. However, these files are still generally stored and managed as separate, disconnected files.
Electronic information in the form of a DVD doesn’t do much more than the cassette tape that’s been around since the 1960s. It stores static information, and you can’t change that information in any meaningful way aside from erasing and replacing it with some other information.
In other words, the data stored on a DVD is certainly digital, in strictly technical terms, but it’s not digitized in the sense of being agile, portable and easily reusable.
PDFs Are Not Digital
More advanced electronic documents, like the latest PDF formats, can offer interaction in the form of user-fillable fields and other features, but they are still not digital. We can mimic some of the capabilities of digital information by searching and indexing the content of a format like PDF, but that requires another type of software to create one additional element: a database.
Digital = Database
The foundation of digital technology is the ability to store and manipulate pieces of data, and further to define (or allow an end user to define) relationships between those data objects.
When you listen to an audio CD or watch a movie on DVD, the sound and images have been converted to a digital format. Aside from that, the information they contain may as well be on a vinyl record album.
Relational vs. Flat Database Architecture
In order to take advantage of the ability to modernize business processes through better data management, modern applications employ a relational database as a core component.
The first generation of databases simply stored related pieces of information in one “flat file” or table.
Flat file databases are still used in many applications where the number of records is relatively small. If you ever use Microsoft Excel to record and sort data in a table, you are essentially creating a flat database.
But within sophisticated software systems, the world has moved on to a more powerful solution, the relational database. Relational databases store information in multiple tables, not just one. That’s what makes it possible to rapidly search millions of records, to enable complex data analysis, and to discover relationships between data entities.
A properly designed business application database can contain hundreds or even thousands of data tables.
Relational databases let users manipulate and analyze thousands of object properties.
Luckily, you don’t have to understand or remember any of this in order to take advantage of Documoto’s relational database and its ability to search for parts, create associations between machines and all their parts, and suggest purchases in buyers’ shopping carts.
Documoto takes the hard work out of building a hierarchy of digital data that is explicitly designed to organize parts and assemblies. Neither the authors who create parts catalogs or end users see databases or the raw data they contain. The program’s interface prompts catalog creators to upload files and parts data, add tags, and enter additional information, and the application builds the parts information database in the background.
Now you know the magic behind digital data processing within a relational database, but we still haven’t defined digital transformation and how it can impact business processes throughout an organization.
Benefits of a Digital Business Model
We’ve briefly discussed using a database as the foundation to create modern parts catalog in the context of the Documoto platform. However, this is just one potential application that could be part of a larger digital business strategy.
When you have parts data stored in a non-proprietary format in a database, you have the flexibility to use that data in any number of ways. You can synchronize and exchange data with other application databases, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.
One major goal of digitization is to automate manual processes like data entry. Entering information about a parts order should generally require very little decision making, so there’s no reason to use valuable human labor for that chore.
With software applications like Documoto and ERP systems, there’s no need. You can store pricing information, product inventory and other data in the ERP’s database, while managing part numbers, descriptions, and assembly drawings in Documoto.
When it’s time to display a parts catalog to an end user, data is pulled from whichever database has the relevant information.
Digital Workflows Optimize Business Processes
Setting up relationships between two (or more) applications requires some technical savvy, but integrations like this are the backbone of many digital transformation strategies. This allows you to store and manage one set of data, but let that data flow and be re-used wherever it’s needed to optimize business processes.
So, your aftermarket sales reps see the same parts data in a shopping cart as your service team sees in the parts books. Dealers, distributors and equipment owners can be shown different prices, pulled from the ERP where price lists are stored. There’s no need to create three sets of price documents, because the application knows to show the right information to the right user.
The information is dynamic, meaning application interfaces get information from the appropriate databases in real time and display live data. Not last week’s or last year’s data, like you might find in a simple PDF or a printed catalog.
This article only scratches the surface of the opportunities open to companies that want to maximize operational efficiency by improving the use of data and building digital workflows.
If you’re wondering whether your aftermarket operations can benefit from implementing a relational database system to manage parts information, publish accurate digital part catalogs, and empower online part sales, contact the Digabit sales team today!
Amazon’s B2B marketplace, Amazon Business, has received a lot of media attention lately. Sales are booming on the platform, and why not? Flexible account and payment options, fast shipping, price comparisons, what’s not to like?
But there’s one big market that neither Amazon nor Amazon Business has cracked.
While B2B and B2C customers alike have come to expect Amazon-like experiences when buying online, the truth is…Amazon isn’t designed to sell parts for highly complex machines and equipment.
Large original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), who make things from heavy construction equipment to assembly line machinery, can’t effectively sell spare parts for their machines on Amazon.
Need new rotary vanes for your pump? Good luck finding them on Amazon!
Have you ever seen an exploded assembly illustration with a parts list on Amazon? You haven’t, and there’s a reason for that. Amazon’s eCommerce interface is designed to display single products, and it serves that purpose extremely well.
Of course, Amazon’s commerce platform is backed by a powerful database, but the database architecture is not organized to recognize hierarchies of parts, sub-assemblies, assemblies, and machines.
The purpose of an illustrated parts catalog is to make finding parts fast and accurate, but Amazon’s parts lookup is extremely limited: you can conduct a keyword search by part number or name. If you have experience in the OEM aftermarket arena, you know how reliable a 5-year-old part number is, which is not at all.
Service workers, dealers and equipment owners often need a clear visual reference in order to identify a manufacturer’s part number or description. That’s why parts books printed on paper are still seen as valuable tools, even in this digital age.
What is the best current solution for modern OEM part sales?
A number of commercially available applications focus on managing complex parts data and producing digital catalogs. Some of these, however, are only useful for parts lookup and have no commerce capabilities.
Digabit’s Documoto is one system that combines a powerful database to manage part information, a responsive interface that makes finding the right part simple for any user, and the ability for customers to buy parts directly from the digital catalog.
Documoto is also designed to support data exchanges with other applications, like enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. This is the key to building efficient processes in a digitally focused organization. Data and information must be able to flow between applications and business units with a minimum of data duplication and human intervention.
Documoto’s cloud technology and database architecture may appear straightforward, but they are truly leading edge for manufacturers who want to manage and sell thousands of parts online. If you’d like to explore the potential of growing revenue through online sales, while optimizing order processing and fulfillment, you should check out Documoto.