The aggregate, mining, and construction industries have often lagged behind when it comes to adopting modern business technologies. Far too many scale houses still employ archaic IT systems that are slowing down production and costing them money. Here are 7 simple solutions to the most common mistakes being made by today's bulk material producers.
Using obsolete hardware and operating systems is not doing your business any favors. Updating a few of the machines your operations are built on - scale house PCs and printers, especially - can cut the time spent on daily tasks in half, which means big gains in productivity and revenue. Let's start by looking at your computers' operating systems.
Microsoft Windows continues to be the top operating system in our industry, and Windows 10 has been available since 2015. If your business is still operating on older versions of Windows 7, Vista, or even Windows XP, now is the time to evaluate the high level of risk involved with using outdated systems.
Running older operating systems at your pits can actually cost you time and money. Not only are they slower and prone to system failure, but they also increase your risk of malware infection and catastrophic data loss. Your scale house is ground zero for your business operations, so why expose your computers to unnecessary risk? Embrace change, make the leap, and upgrade your OS. If cost is an issue, research options for upgrading the PCs you already have. In some cases, you can still get Windows 10 for free.
We realize that ultra-fast broadband connections aren't always feasible in a rural bulk material plant, but you don't need a powerful connection to keep your ticketing data safe. If you can use a mobile phone at your scale house, you can set up a simple mobile WiFi hot spot for your PCs to connect to. Typically, ticketing data packets are so small, it should only take a few minutes at the end of each shift to back up your sales data to a cloud storage database of some kind (or even better, a cloud-based scale management system - we'll get to that in a moment). Make it happen. The next time you have a lightning storm and your scale house PC is toast, you'll be relieved to find that your sales data from the past week wasn't wiped out.
Dot matrix printers were invented in the 1950s. At this point, these printers are inefficient, difficult to maintain, and require expensive supplies that have become increasingly harder to find. Worse, they are often incompatible with newer programs and operating systems. It's time to sell or recycle your dot matrix printers and buy a LaserJet. Rather than dealing with the hassle of a specialized ticket size and format, consider using a standard 8.5" x 11" perforated ticketing paper (2, 3, or 4-part). Perforated paper is readily available from most suppliers and is much less expensive than carbon matrix paper.
Are your scale houses jam-packed with cables, monitors, PC towers, modems you don't need anymore, printers, and documents accumulated over the past 10+ years? Time to visit your local electronics recycling center.
Keep what you actually need, toss what you don't, and make room for a better way to run your operations. Let's move on to Step 2.
Over the past decade, software developers have shifted their focus from local infrastructure programming to cloud computing, with good reason. These days, housing huge amounts of your essential business data in several isolated computers is widely understood to be a terrible idea and, frankly, it's past time for the aggregate, mining, construction, and hauling industries to stop computing like it's 1995.
With Local Area Networks (LANs) came the practice of linking computers together with private networks to mitigate the risk of data loss, but this too wasn't enough because the central database still lived in a single location or region, making it difficult to manage (backups, data recovery, etc.) and vulnerable to system failure. Thus, with the rise of the Internet, the concept of the cloud was born, and tech companies across all industries are beginning to leave local-only programming behind. Numerous servers housed in multiple regions across the globe is the key to making data safe, always available, and accessible from anywhere. For this reason, cloud-based programs tend to offer more security and a much better user experience than their local-only counterparts.
Most importantly, the cloud is good for business. As Microsoft points out, "you typically pay only for cloud services you use, helping you lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change." Microsoft Azure, What Is Cloud Computing?
Companies in the construction and heavy civil industries have just begun to recognize the value of managing their operations from within a cloud system, and it's time for bulk material producers in the aggregate and mining sectors to follow suit.
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Upgrade to a cloud-enabled accounting platform that offers an API. This allows for direct cloud integration with your scale ticketing system. Once you've experienced the incredible convenience of exporting your ticket data directly to your billing software with a few clicks, you'll never want to use a desktop or server-based accounting software again.
If your company cannot implement a cloud-based accounting system, just make sure your ticketing platform offers some means of indirect integration, via a third-party export tool, for example. Whatever you do, discontinue the practice of hand-keying all of your scale tickets into your accounting software - it's a massive waste of time.
If your company has multiple pit locations, your scale houses should not be operating as isolated islands that trap important sales information. Storing information in this way not only puts your company's data at risk, but it's also an inconvenience to your scale operators. Instead, all pit locations should be connected to a centralized cloud database. This facilitates better communication between scale houses and ensures that all operators have the most up-to-date ticketing information available.
Creating a centralized database also eliminates the need to reenter the same customer, hauler, and order data at every single scale house. With a cloud-based platform, you can establish all of your ticketing resources one time on the cloud and then download that data to all of your locations with a few clicks. This is even better for any changes moving forward; when the main office makes a change or an order or a customer account, no one has to call every individual scale operator to let them know. The changes apply to the scale house automatically.
The best part of having a central online database is the fact that you can add new locations and reorganize your company data more easily. Thanks to the cloud, businesses in every industry can now grow twice as fast, with a fraction of the paperwork.
In the bulk material industry, scheduling and delivering product to customers is becoming more challenging. Truck and driver shortages have a significant impact on producers and haulers who rely on those trucks to deliver materials on time. This is why you need a cloud-friendly dispatching system.
The goal of a good dispatching system should be to fully integrate with your ticketing and order data. This will greatly increase the speed at which you can move product in and out of your pits. Using a cloud ticketing software that offers its own dispatching feature is even better. Nothing beats being able to ticket, dispatch, and track trucks from a single system.
A few must-have features to keep in mind:
As with dispatching, you want your ticketing system and your inventory tracker to talk to each other. Find an inventory tracking software that will integrate directly with your scale house tickets via the cloud. Then, as material moves in and out of your pits, just sit back and watch as your stockpile numbers go up and down automatically. Magic.
If you need to survey new production, try using a service like Stockpile Reports to keep your inventory analysis as accurate as possible.
It's important that you utilize inventory management tools that are accessible from anywhere. If you're going to track your stockpiles, you need to be able to do so no matter where you are or what device you're using. Thus, finding a cloud-based inventory tracker is key.
Any cloud-ready scale ticketing system you choose should have robust reporting and analytics features. Data analytics is especially valuable to the bulk material industry, where precision in the areas of truck tracking and material sales is critical. If your ticketing software lacks these features, consider looking at other options.
Cloud computing, databases, and intelligence is changing the analytics landscape. Powerful data modeling can now be done without costly servers, complex database design, or in-house data specialists. Analytics has evolved into a self-service resource, one that empowers you to access in-depth information, find quick answers to your questions, and gain a deeper understanding of your business overall.