As technology changes at warp speed, Coates Hire is embracing the ride and deploying innovations that deliver multiple benefits for customers and the company.
In the civil, infrastructure and contracting space, some of the advances have been ground-breaking. A GPS tracking system for expensive equipment in remote areas such as mining sites. Mobile scanning devices that fast-track the inspection and delivery of equipment. And sonar measuring tools that ensure new roads adhere to bitumen compaction standards.
Garry Newton, Service Operations Manager and Project Manager Mobility at Coates Hire, says the company is three years into a technology overhaul that reflects changes around the world.
“We could see lots of different ways that we could harness technology, not only to help our own business processes but also to provide our customers with more information,” Newton says. “So that started the journey.”
Part of the strategy involves regular brainstorming sessions with employees and input from clients that highlights technology ideas that in the past may have been put in the too-hard basket.
“It’s all those seemingly pie-in-the-sky things that you think about but never actually used to talk about,” says Newton, who adds that a trial of a customer extranet providing a secure internet platform for product and safety information is one of the concepts to materialise out of those sessions.
Coates Hire is one of the first hire companies in the world to use MEAPs, or mobile enterprise application platforms, to streamline its asset management processes and deliver a better customer experience.
Using an app on mobile hand-held devices to scan and monitor about 300,000 individually barcoded pieces of equipment ranging from drills to excavators, the company has transformed pre-hire inspections and equipment returns. The app uses the device’s laser barcode scanner and GPS capabilities to submit the status of an asset – eliminating manual data entry and a massive amount of paperwork.
Newton says about 6 million fleet inspections a year are now all handled electronically, and has resulted in increased availability of equipment, much faster turnarounds and a superior auditing trail of equipment.
“Although it has cost a lot of money up front, you get the payback at the end,” he says.
Conceding there are challenges with technology innovations, Newton says the biggest dilemma is the rapid pace of change and the growing range of software and hardware choices. For example, any tech rollout must be able to be applied to the three key operating systems – Windows, iOS (Apple) and Android. “That makes the complexity a lot higher,” Newton says.
WORLD OF OPPORTUNITIES
Nevertheless, technology has opened up a world of opportunities for Coates Hire and its clients. Mobile and GPS systems allow live streaming over tablet devices of information about the status and location of products. Newton says as a result there is robust equipment data, while technicians can quickly be sent to a site when breakdowns are identified.
Most importantly, downtime for equipment has been slashed. As just one example, a Victorian pilot trial monitoring the turnaround time for the receipt of products by clients noted an improvement in the typical delivery time from about four hours to two.
“So we halved our turnaround time and customers were rapt,” Newton says.
In remote areas, GPS tracking provided by Coates Hire has proven particularly helpful. One miner with thousands of lighting towers was constantly losing them in isolated, scrubby bushland before the GPS systems were installed. The lights have also been fitted with automated operational switching gear – removing the need to employ permanent workers whose sole task was to drive around far-flung areas to activate and deactivate the lights.
Closer to home, Coates Hire has installed sonar devices on some road compactors to electronically measure compaction rates that must be met during road works, bypassing an old system whereby engineers painstakingly drilled holes in the road to test field density compaction.
After experiencing major company and client gains as a result of the three-year technology blueprint, Coates Hire is now revising the strategy to ensure it is ready to adapt to imminent and long-term industry needs.
As Newton explains: “It’s all about productivity and ease of use, and better operating conditions.”