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Automation Links the Service Chain

BY CSA STAFF

Routine maintenance calls, service calls or critical emergency services—managing the what, when and where of each facility-maintenance request—is a monumental task, but one that is made easier and more efficient by automated processes. Kellie D’Andrea, VP of NEST International, Gloucester City, N.J., talked with

Chain Store Age: How is technology impacting facilities management?

Kellie D’Andrea: With a Web-based platform, everyone across the service chain has access to information quickly. Typically, retailers will have one or two individuals managing hundreds of information flows for their stores. Each store could have 30 events a month. Multiplied across a portfolio of several hundred stores, that becomes an overwhelming task to manage.

Technology, however, is enabling the retailer to simplify that process in an easy environment, and it gives retailers the metrics and measurement tools to better manage their service providers. Retailers want to see what is happening at their stores, how all their assets—people, processes and equipment—are being utilized and that they are getting the most bang for their buck.

CSA: Who is interested in this information?

D’Andrea: Anyone with financial [accountability] is interested in this type of trend analysis. For instance, we’ve seen the onset of Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Technicians use IVR to clock in and out, and retailers can see how long they are on the job, which helps assess hourly rates plus materials needed to get a job done.

CSA: What distinguishes NEST’s new technology platform from others?

D’Andrea: The systems currently offered in the marketplace are geared to one audience and don’t take into consideration the service providers. We’ve customized an off-the-shelf product to our needs, as well as to our clients’ specific needs. The system gives retailers what they need, and the service company and an on-site technician performing the job will have all the tools they need at their fingertips. Our Web-based platform links all of the parties in the service chain.

CSA: How is it being customized to a retailer’s specific needs?

D’Andrea: We are working with clients on developing their internal scorecards that include specific information and measurements they require. However, first we are looking at the common themes that are true for all of our clients and we’re building those automatically into the system.

CSA: What are some common themes that retailers have with regard to facilities management?

D’Andrea: Work-order turnaround—everyone wants to know the cycle from when a request for service is received to when the work is completed, and they want to know the average work-order cost. Being able to trend and schedule service orders and keeping stores informed of routine service dates is another common requirement. Similarly, there is a need to know how well service providers are performing—especially when retailers have outsourced facilities management to a third-party such as NEST. Everyone needs to know if the stores were happy with the quality of service, and that everything was completed and satisfied according to the service agreement.

CSA: What are some examples of needs unique to a retail chain?

D’Andrea: Every retailer has different requirements. Some require transparency and may want to see specific invoices. Some have their own purchase-order or work-order system that needs to be incorporated into our processes. Our system enables you to consolidate like processes to automate as much as possible. For instance, it may be as simple as converting a retailer’s purchase order into a work order that we send to a technician. Or, some retailers need to have a signed work order while an IVR report is sufficient for others. Each client is unique, but we work out the specifics for each one.

CSA: Are new applications being incorporated into the NEST platform?

D’Andrea: One that we are really excited about is tapping our system into a financial forecast model so we can help retailers track facilities maintenance against their budgets. We can see how much is budgeted for a service, where the retailer stands against the budget and provide them with a tool to link into their own general-ledger accounts.

We accrue up to the service request. Our report shows how much has been spent, what is in the queue waiting to be spent, orders that we are dispatching and the balance that will remain in the budget after these are completed.

CSA: Are these tools available now?

D’Andrea: The platform is being deployed internally and some functionality will be deployed to vendors and clients later this month. By June, we expect to offer it as an option with our services and all our existing clients will be on board with it by the end of the third quarter.

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Lampert, the Eli Manning of retail?

BY CSA STAFF

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. The New York Giants triumph over the highly favored New England Patriots in the Super Bowl earlier this month, has become an example of coming from the bottom to win it all. Sears Holdings chairman Edward Lampert is one of the latest to use the Giants win, even going as far to compare himself, and the leaders of his company, to quarterback Eli Manning.

The Giants analogy, and Eli Manning comparison, is applied mainly to the company’s Kmart division. In a letter to investors, posted on the Sears Holdings investor relations Web site, Lampert said during Kmart’s bankruptcy in 2002, the unit was “like an undrafted free agent who nobody thought had a chance to play in the big leagues.” Lampert went on to say, “Like Eli Manning, we know what it’s like to be underestimated and questioned, but we intend to keep working on our game to achieve our full potential.”

Sears Holdings reported net income of $426 million, or $3.17 per diluted share, for the fourth quarter ended Feb. 2, compared with net income of $811 million, or $5.27 per diluted share, for the fourth quarter ended Feb. 3, 2007. For the fiscal year ended Feb. 2, 2008, net income was $826 million, or $5.70 per diluted share compared with net income of $1.5 billion, or $9.58 per diluted share, for the fiscal year ended Feb. 3, 2007.

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Circuit City investor seeks to replace board

BY CSA STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. Circuit City Stores today acknowledged that it has received two proposals from shareholder Wattles Capital Management regarding its board of directors. Wattles holds approximately 6.5% of the outstanding shares of the company’s common stock.

Circuit City reported that Wattles proposed the idea of replacing the company’s Circuit City 12-member board of directors with its own nominees. Circuit City said its board of directors will review carefully the shareholder’s proposals and the qualifications of the nominees in accordance with its fiduciary duties, mindful that the proposal would give the shareholder absolute control of the entire board, which would be disproportionate to its relative ownership of the company’s shares.

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