• Fleet Operations Supervisor John Sliga finalizes the schedule for Milwaukee’s 400 equipment operators. If a driver deviates from that day’s route the software highlights the vehicle’s location in yellow, a feature called “automated visual exception reporting.” Green means the problem’s resolved.

    Credit: Falk Group Public Relations

    Fleet Operations Supervisor John Sliga finalizes the schedule for Milwaukee’s 400 equipment operators. If a driver deviates from that day’s route the software highlights the vehicle’s location in yellow, a feature called “automated visual exception reporting.” Green means the problem’s resolved.
 

For decades, Milwaukee Fleet Operations supervisors juggled the dates and times of routine maintenance and scheduled repairs for 4,000 vehicles with the vacations, training schedules, and bargaining requirements of 400 employees in three city unions by hand. Two shifts of supervisors created and altered schedules on eight sheets of large white paper, eventually entering those into spreadsheets for filing.

The unions have specific guidelines for equipment, staffing, and scheduling; and the manual process — subject as it is to human error — lacked sufficient documentation for employee records and grievance filings.

“It was quite a challenge,” says Department of Public Works Operations and Dispatch Manager Chuck Schumacher. “Human error is unavoidable. Each mistake made during replacement scheduling was compounded, causing a domino effect.”

The department and scheduling supervisors decided to take the plunge into automation. After assessing potential vendors on their programs’ ability to reduce grievance payouts and eliminate unnecessary overtime, they chose Field Service Scheduling Software developed by a local company: MSI Data based in Mequon, Wis. The company’s solutions integrate information gathered in the field via mobile technology with back-office enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and accounting systems; and serve the manufacturing, construction, and cable markets, in addition to government.

Their goal — which they achieved within a year — was to implement a job-numbering and route-tracking system that would standardize assignments based on employee tenure.

Various city departments — water and sewer, forestry, street maintenance, etc. — submit task sheets listing the jobs and services they need with project completion dates. Operators choose their projects from the available jobs based on seniority. Experienced drivers and equipment operators pick up most of the jobs, with less-seasoned employees picking up assignments when other operators are unavailable. The software also enables dispatchers to track sick leave and vacation, streamlining the allocation of those tasks to available replacement operators.

Installation took less than a year; staff training one to two weeks. Grievance pay-outs are down by more than 50%.

A single supervisor now spends 90 minutes instead of half a day to prepare daily schedules. He can sort job data, generate job reports, track equipment and repairs, and quickly recall route changes or assignments. If an operator isn’t available or a vehicle or piece of equipment goes out of service for maintenance, the software takes these factors into account and automatically alters the schedule accordingly.

“With the time savings we’re seeing, supervisors are making better use of their time,” says Schumacher. “For instance, they’re performing field safety checks on components, and checking fuel levels, belt conditions, and lubricant levels.”

The department is working with MSI to implement automatic vehicle location (AVL), which tracks vehicle and equipment location, that ties into the scheduling system. Once these changes are implemented, the system will automatically page or call field operators with job changes.

Supervisors are still on call 24/7, but they can now use their smartphones to resolve scheduling issues instead of coming into the office.

Pandl (mikep@msidata.com) is vice president of marketing for MSI Data (http://msidata.com) of Mequon, Wis.