It’s the middle of February in Alberta, and the 18-wheeler you’re driving needs to stay ahead of a massive winter storm moving in just a few miles behind you. Suddenly, you see a “check engine” light flash on the dashboard, which could mean anything from routine maintenance to critical failure.
Had this happened a few years ago, the only recourse would’ve been to pull over, call an 800-service number, and wait for help to arrive—which would hopefully happen before the first foot of snow fell.
These days, chances are you wouldn’t have gotten the error message at all. That’s because the Maxim Central Fleet Maintenance group can proactively advise you of the issue before it happens, and have an appointment booked at the closest Maxim facility once your route is complete.
“Our back-end GoFleet GPS systems communicate with the fleet in real time,” explains Alan Sealey, chief information officer at DLH Group, a Canadian truck sales and manufacturing company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “Preventative maintenance can be triggered weeks in advance and our Fleet Maintenance group has all the information they need to handle emergency issues quickly and effectively. Waiting too long to service trucks can be expensive, but so is over-servicing them. We’ve figured out how to avoid that.”
Creating the cornerstone
Founded in 2017, DLH brought seven different companies—encompassing everything from retail and distribution (DLH’s “sweet spot”) to manufacturing and real estate management—under one umbrella. As the long-serving CIO of Maxim Truck and Trailer, DLH’s flagship company, it was Sealey’s job to streamline and unify the companies’ disparate tech systems.
The first step: replace DLH’s legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools with new SQL-based platforms, together with a centralized data management system called SYNNRG to more effectively manage data across various databases. The goal, Sealey says, was to create a system that supported the different business models—sales-friendly features on the retail side, process-accounting capabilities for the manufacturing arms—while still allowing his team to leverage economies of scale.
“When you’ve put a new ERP in one place, and it works, you can’t go reinventing the wheel too much,” says Sealey, who completed the first upgrade late last year for the manufacturing division. “The trick is to figure out which knowledge and information is common across the companies and use it to cross-pollinate.”
The second ERP update will be completed in early 2020, allowing Sealey to fully leverage the data in both ERP systems.
Alongside the new ERPs, Sealey overhauled Maxim’s aging customer relationship management system, using mostly internal custom development to create what he calls the best CRM in the industry, thanks to features that feed sales data, customer information and other intelligence back into the ERP.
No safe spaces
Of course, the more data you have flowing through the environment, the bigger the target looks to would-be hackers—even in an industry not traditionally seen as a black-hatter’s paradise.
According to Sealey, one of the biggest mistakes a company can make is to focus too much on not being hit. And while Sealey has instituted a number of measures to bolster DLH’s perimeter with next generation firewalls and threat protection from Western NRG, he’s been equally vigilant in ensuring that the company is able to recover in the event of a breach.
Thanks to the Western NRG cybersecurity platform, should an attack occur, DLH will be able to “roll back” its systems to any previous configurations, significantly reducing data loss and associated costs.
“No matter how good your perimeter protection is, there’s always someone out there who’s got bigger and better tools, but if you’re able to recover quickly—that’s an enormous advantage,” Sealey says. “Western NRG has enabled us to implement next-generation solutions while not being disruptive to current operations. It’s a perfect example of why relationships with vendors are so critical, and our relationship with Western NRG has been a critical one.”
Still, when it comes to DLH’s growing data troves, Sealey’s team is focused on far more than simply bolstering their security posture.
Case in point is the company’s Central Fleet Maintenance program. After outfitting the entire fleet with cutting-edge GPS systems from GoFleet, Sealey then linked those systems to DLH’s ERP. Because a truck’s mileage is logged automatically, the ERP can now trigger preventative maintenance—for things like engine and safety inspections—a week or more in advance.
Not only does the system allow DLH’s maintenance crews to better handle service requests and avoid scheduling backups; it also prevents unnecessary servicing and associated costs by tying maintenance to actual mileage and truck diagnostics, rather than a calendar.
More exciting still, the company can now relay simple instructions to drivers in the field, giving them the information necessary to fix things like minor fault codes without having to bring the rig to the shop.
“Sometimes a fault code is triggered due to environment, not because of mechanical failure. It could be going uphill for an extended period in extreme heat for example,” Sealey explains. “If drivers know that, they don’t need to wait for maintenance or delay the trip. This keeps our customers on the road making money.”
With DLH’s IT foundation firmly in place, Sealey and his team are setting their sights on the next frontier in their industry: artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
On the back end, the department is working to leverage AI to simplify the company’s invoicing process. For example, if DLH pays $10,000 a month in telecom charges, Sealey can use a preset condition to automatically approve payment without a human ever seeing it.
More ambitiously, Sealey envisions using predictive analytics and probability calculations to pinpoint which of the tens of thousands of fleet vehicle alerts coming into DLH’s ERP are indicative of real issues, and which “false positives” can be ignored.
“Everything we’re trying to do right now, everything we’re trying to build, is based on the interdependence of data,” Sealey says. “Ideally, we want platforms that communicate with other platforms with as little intervention as possible. It’s my job to put DLH in a position where we’re taking advantage of those potentials when they’re available.”
In other words, keep truckin’.
Though, as everyone knows, there’s no such thing as a truck on one wheel.
“I believe very strongly that creating and maintaining good relationships is the key to any department’s success—and IT is no exception,” Sealey says. “I’m very fortunate to have several long-serving team members that are absolutely critical to the IT operation. It really is a team effort.”
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