A leading family owned and highly reputable dealer of propane in southwestern Connecticut was coming off of one of their strongest and most successful years of operation. Unfortunately, their continued success and growth objectives were at risk due to an outdated software system, and their business was being negatively impacted by:
- Limited system functionality
- Discontinued updates and support by the developer
- Unacceptable service response times and risk to daily operations
To compensate for the limitations and deficiencies of their current tool, the company found themselves utilizing numerous manual processes, which were inefficient, costly and error prone. For example, the system had:
- No ability to plan routes for deliveries or service calls
- No tools to understand the profitability of different parts of their business such as service calls versus deliveries, budget plans, etc.
As a result, our client was unable to grow or to provide the timely, worldclass customer service they were aiming for. In order to maintain their reputation within a very competitive marketplace as well as meet their short and long term strategic and operational business objectives, there was a need to quickly acquire and implement a modern heating fuel management application, focused and geared toward the oil and propane supplier industry. Before the start of the busy heating season the company needed to:
- Install the new application and related infrastructure
- Redesign their inefficient processes
- Train all staff — including office personnel, delivery drivers and service technicians — with minimal interruption to daily activities
- Visibly track and monitor the new processes and results to confirm their operations were running smoothly and goals were being met
The client was uncertain on how to go about selecting and implementing a replacement for their outdated software application that would obtain the best return on their investment. After all, they were in the propane delivery business — not the software selection and implementation business. They did have a long-standing, close relationship with BlumShapiro for audit and tax needs and felt immediately comfortable when one of our audit partners referred them to the Business Systems Consulting Division of BlumShapiro. A team from the Business Systems Group of BlumShapiro was engaged to complete an independent software selection engagement.
After spending time with key members of the client’s staff to understand in detail the business needs and current constraints, followed by methodical research and consideration of the company’s operations, improvement opportunities and requirements, a software and service solution was discovered that would address all of their challenges. Due to the overall complexity of the propane delivery industry, our final recommended solution was more than just a new software application.
Instead, we proposed and ultimately delivered an integrated suite of services surrounding the new software application to provide a comprehensive, turnkey solution. Based on our years of experience with technology and business, we were able to serve as the single point of contact and focus for the client across all the aspects of moving from the old software system to the new one. Relying on a single point of contact across multiple tasks and vendors gave our client confidence that the costs, risks and duration of their implementation was being led and managed for their benefit. In addition to the new software, our total solution for our client included:
- An infrastructure partner to install and support the new server, workstations, network and internet connections
- Installation of mobile computer technology in the delivery and service vehicles
- A data migration consultant to get all the information from their old system into the new one
- Process redesign and application training on the new systems
- Integration of customer service features into their existing website
- Project management to coordinate all the vendors and implementation activities
The new software manages the industry’s specific needs surrounding customer service, fuel delivery and service scheduling, inventory and finance, including a seamless integration with the Microsoft DynamicsTM GP financial modules.
Their new system allows the company to experience real-time executive dashboards and reports through which they can monitor their profitability and return on investment. The data, in turn, allows the owners to improve their ability to make key business decisions confidently and quickly when required. Reductions in fuel delivery costs and runouts due to route optimization tools and smarter usage forecasting have been realized and will continue even as the customer base grows and changes. Real time communication between the office and their delivery drivers and service technicians is available through wireless computers and GPS, allowing the flexibility needed to provide outstanding customer service. Customer service has also been enhanced as customers have internet based access to the company 24/7, as well as real-time delivery and service updates with the office.
The efficiencies gained in the first six months have already allowed our client to increase their delivery efficiency 15% by reducing the number of trucks on the road while still delivering more fuel with less stops and miles driven than the previous year. Ongoing analysis indicates that some drivers may only be needed on a seasonal basis — again cutting down on costs and increasing profitability.
Once uncertain about the ability to expand with the existing delivery and service fleet, our client has now hired a sales manager to focus on obtaining new customers and monitoring the company’s growth — a strategy that is already showing results. Plans for expansion in the near future are also under consideration.