Microsoft Dynamics AX and Service Management

Background

Much of the Dynamics AX functionality for supply chain is rather basic. However, there is one supply chain area area which stands out. This is the service management functionality. As Dynamics AX could be connected to a service parts planning engine, I thought it would be interesting to go through some of the screens in this application.

We start off in the introduction screen. This one screen controls all of the functions in Service in Dynamics AX (including configuration).


This is the Service Agreement screen. This where the service agreements are stored.


This is probably the most important screen for those that work in service parts planning because these are the different service agreements that are then connected (in terms of a service level) to the service parts planning engine.

One thing I do like is the ability to perform a drop down off of the bread crumbs and goto other related areas. You could not think of doing something like this in the SAP GUI. In this case we can take a look at the service orders.


Here they are.


Right from here we can go into repair operations, which allows us to fill out a form.


The Service Parameters is essentially the configuration. This looks extremely easy to configure compared to what I am used to SAP. See all the options below.


Selecting any of these brings up the option below.


Here is where the service agreement standards are set (under Setup –> Service Agreements –> Service Level Agreements.)


Here we can setup the diagnostic codes.


This certainly gives the impression that a Microsoft Dynamics implementation would be far more cost efficient than an Oracle or SAP implementation. This topic of configuration efficiency is almost an undiscussed topic, but its one of the most important features to implementation success. See this post on the topic:

http://www.scmfocus.com/sapplanning/2010/09/18/efficiency-issues-with-sap-configuration/

Reporting

Dynamics AX integrates reporting into each screen, which I like.

This is particularly true coming from the SAP world where reporting is not inherent in the user interface but instead is a separate system called the BW. I prefer at least a basic reporting system within the application itself.

The reports open as listed above, but you can drill down into a specific item for more detail. 
Interface Speed

The entire Dynamics Trial was slow and buggy. The interface looks very HTMLish, however, the performance is quite bad. You are required to use Remote Desktop to get into the Windows Server 2008 box that is hosting the Dynamics Trial. Why is the trial not simply available to be logged into directly through a browser? This is how Arena Solutions has setup their demo, and their demo system is extremely good and very responsive. Overall it took me quite some time to get these screen shots and navigate through the system because of its performance problems.

Conclusion

Dynamics AX’s service management functionality is not bad. Secondly, Dynamics does a very good job of combing everything from the user screens to configuration to reporting all in a small space. Its “breadcrumb” menu systems is also very good and improves provides a powerful navigation element throughout the system. You never feel as if you are lost as with the bigger ERP vendors.

Dynamics AX is rare ERP software in that it has quite a lot of focus on service management. I assume this is because they purchased a vendor and integrated into their suite. Explicit service management modules like the one in Dynamics AX are important in order to manage the supply chain by service levels. Service parts planning software can plan the supply chain by service level, but it needs to know what the different service levels are, and they must pull them from someplace where they are stored and managed. This is where the Service Management area of Dynamics AX would come in.


Service Parts Management by Halliburton in Iraq Beyond Belief

IOS

A License to Steal

The story behind Halliburton is well known and has been documented in many articles, books and movies as a company that constantly defrauds the US government. The behavior of Halliburton regarding service management and planning, as documented in the move Iraq for Sale, in Iraq is absolutely shocking.

[tube]6cJlJudDtVE[/tube]

This movie shows Halliburton and KBR deliberately not repairing items in order to charge the government for purchasing new items. This is because of how the contract with the government is structured. It is “cost-plus,” and therefore, Halliburton and KBR have every incentive to increase the cost, as their profits increase in a linear fashion. Secondly, neither Halliburton nor KBR appear to have any business ethics, and therefore, they are doing what they can to increase the costs as much as possible. There are many examples of this, but one that really resonates is the fact that Halliburton will have semi-tractor trucks that break down on the side of the road in Iraq because they either do not change the oil, or check the tires, or even order or stock spare tires. When this happens, Halliburton simply sets fire to the truck, destroying them (so the insurgents can’t use it.) They then charge the government for a new truck, plus their cost-plus margin. They are motivated to not repair even the most expensive items because they make more money this way.

That Halliburton is simply destroying large capital equipment items is amazing, but it is supported by multiple sources. Another form of fraud is related to how equipment is leased, but that gets into a divergent area of malfeasance, and I want to keep this article focused on service topics.

Service Parts and Maintenance: Making the Effort in Service

Organizations and service parts management are in a poor state in the US. The official explanation for this is the philosophy of neglect. The standard The line of reasoning goes something like this:

“Companies want to improve in service parts planning because its good for their customers, the only issue is an issue of education.”

For some time, we personally believed this. However, the Halliburton example demonstrates this is not always the case, and not the only explanation. Other examples of service incapability are stretching the credibility of the lack of education argument.

The Math of Destruction

If Halliburton can charge the government $90,000 + its cost-plus contract for a new truck, they would rather do that then charge the government for a new tire plus the margin. When will this change? No time soon. The Pentagon is now highly dependent upon Halliburton and KBR for all types of essential functions. Secondly, Halliburton continues to contribute mighty to the political process and have hired a number of influential ex-Pentagon officials, that mean Halliburton will continue to get contracts into the foreseeable future no matter what they do and how much fraud they commit, they have a blank check to rip of the government.

Incentives

This is an example of two companies that operate in this manner. However, there are more. The assumption that every company cares about service parts needs to questioned in light of their institutional incentives. If a company can make more forcing a customer to buy a new product, they may prefer this over servicing an old item. Automotive repair shops are known to replace parts that are not necessary to replace. If service management is to be understood then its underlying assumptions must be questioned. It also helps determine what companies and areas to focus upon. For instance, if I were a consulting or service software company I would not bother offering consulting or software services to Halliburton in Iraq. Lets just say, they prefer to buy new….or in fact for the taxpayer to buy new. The whole movie may be seen here. It’s a few years old now, but not much has changed, so it is still quite valid.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6621486727392146155

References

http://www.publicintegrity.org/projects/entry/297/bio.aspx

Accenture Writes a Childlike Paper on Service Management


Everyone knows that Accenture hires inexperiences resources, but who is actually writing Accenture’s white papers?

Articles can be motivated by inspiration, or frustration. Neither motivation is more or less valid than the other. This post is definitely motivated by the later. I thought I might learn something by reading a white paper on service management that was produced by Accenture back in 2003. Guess again. Nine pages of content-free PDF later, and what felt like the equivalent of a literary Diet Pepsi, we learned the following:

  1. Accenture is focused on service management
  2. Saturn is focused on service parts
  3. There are software companies that focus on service parts
  4. Accenture has a nice graphics department

Any Information in That White Paper Partner?

Is there an interest in actually communicating any information in white papers or are they purely promotional items to Accenture? This phenomena is not restricted to Accenture, there is simply far too much promotional literature that is disguised as white papers. This is one of the reasons why the “research” departments at the large consulting companies don’t produce very much of value. Other reasons are that these departments don’t employ people with an understanding of research, but most importantly, these firms lack integrity, and the research departments are really just cover operations for marketing and business development. No paper is written, and no effort is undertaken at large consulting companies without the concept of a direct payoff in the marketplace. As a result, many white papers simply designed to hook the reader into contacting the consulting firm.

The promotional white paper format goes something like this:

  1. Come up with white paper title
  2. Create a beautiful cover page
  3. List two partners on the second page
  4. Come up with a few examples of companies that are doing something similar to what the white paper is discussing
  5. Talk about how technology is important
  6. Put a few graphics in the white paper, the simple the better (three circles is apparently white paper nirvana)
  7. List the obligatory 30% improvement in whatever (30% seems to be the magic number — all improvements return 30%)
  8. List contact details

Material for Retarded Executives?

The quality of many of  these papers provide a glimpse into how simple-minded are executives that assign their names to these papers? For instance, what we learned from Accenture’s white paper is that Accenture either knows extremely little about service parts, or did not leverage any of its external expertise on the topic. (In a white paper on inventory optimization, I learned that Booz Allen Hamilton does not actually understand what the term means.) If I were an executive I would not be overly interested in having Accenture come and visit my service organization, since a quality white paper on the topic is apparently beyond them.

Sell Sell Sell…

Everyone wants to sell business, but the implied agreement is that white papers are actually going to contain information that could be valuable to the reader. If white papers continue to be so promotional, fewer people will read them. For those consulting companies looking to learn how to write a white paper, check out the Ciber website and see how its done. (BTW, we have no affiliation with Ciber, we just like their documentation.) Here is Accenture’s promotional brochure…err, we mean white paper. http://www.accenture.com/NR/rdonlyres/6BBEC529-3EE0-491F-B6BF-A19F2750E6EB/0/profit_after_sales.pdf

You could spend time reading it, but what is the point?


How Dell Shows Parts Connections Online

Dell’s Website and Intel Linkage

Something we found interesting while writing an article on assembly to order in SAP SCM and Dell.

http://www.scmfocus.com/sapplanning/2009/07/04/assemble-to-order-and-dell-and-apple/

This relates to how websites from different companies can be used to interoperate with each other to add functionality for the consumer and maintainability for the involved sites. We were on the Dell website, when we noticed they have a link to the right that states:

“Compare processors to find what’s the best for you.”

Here is the site, notice the orange circle to the right under livechat.

Dell Intel 1

Where the Link Goes

What we found interesting about this was that the link takes you to Intel’s site, where an explanation is laid out for the consumer between the different microprocessors Intel offers in Dell models.

Intel

Who Benefits?

What is even more interesting about this is how Dell benefits. First, they provide valuable information to their consumers. Second, they no longer have to maintain information on their own site about a product that they do not make. We could see links like this for all the components. What this does is demonstrate and make transparent the contribution of suppliers to the end manufactured product.

Extending the Concept to Service Management

This concept can be extended to service parts management. For instance, if a hard drive needs to be repaired, or a microprocessor needs to be switched out, it is the supplier, not the assembly firm (in this case Dell) that has the intellectual property and knowledge of the components. Too often the main brand that performs final assembly has attempted to both present the concept that they “manufactured” the entire item, and that they were the specialists in servicing sub-components that they did not manufacturer. The web provides the ability to show the interconnections with suppliers that made the sub-components and to integrate product and service information in a way that has not been done before. Manuals in the future would be both on-line and integrated. Thus the overall guide to say…the Dell Inspiron 14 could be partially on Dell’s website, but then integrated with Intel’s and Western Digital’s and Corsair’s (etc..) websites. This is all accomplished through linking. Furthermore, each supplier only need write the manual and guide for its components once, and this can be linked to by Apple, Dell, and any other manufacturer that uses that component in their products. This both reduces the costs of maintaining this information, and improves its quality.

Using Online Video for Service and Repair

YouTube
Videos for iMac Repair

As we described in our previous post, we recently had a hard drive in our iMac crash. After learning of the $420 dollar charge, and the inability of the Apple Store to put in the model that we wanted.


Reliability vs. Capacity

We wanted to downgrade to the higher reliability and lower heat smaller drives, and have opted for a Hitachi Deskstar 320 GB disk. We took out the 500 GB disk that came with the iMac and ran it in an enclosure and were disturbed by the heat it created. Little discussed is a univeral feature of new items. The newer a technology, often the less reliable the technology.


We decided to repair the iMac ourselves. One of the best sources of information on this is not from Apple (they do not endorse users to perform this replacement as they consider it too complicated) but from YouTube. Several users have posted how to remove the front integrated display to get to the drive bay. We have assembled several computers ourselves, and replaced numberous hard drives and this is the first computer we have seen that has its hard drive so difficult to reach that it requires a special approach.

[tube]2YsCTNVEYt8[/tube]

[tube]eBAawbp2GUE[/tube]

youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YsCTNVEYt8

youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBAawbp2GUE

These people posted this video for no profit, and it has helped probably many Mac owners do internal work themselves. Since Apple does not want people opening the case of iMacs, without user created guides, the information of how to open the iMac case would never be made available. Kudos to the YouTube community.

What We Learned from the YouTube iMac “Service Video”

  • What tools we needed to buy before we attempt the replacement (allowing us to order the tools along with the new drive so they all arrived at roughly the same time)
  • How to perform the case opening in a fine level of detail.

Videos are amazingly good tools for learning how to perform complex multi-step activities — and thus are perfect for service parts repair operations.

The Use of Video

Video is popping up here and there in service management. For instance there are DVDs that deal with service management that can be purchased. Below are a few examples that are available on Amazon.com, but the titles are not very numerous, nor all that specific.

Maytag Repair

Motocycle Repair
There are several reasons why DVDs are not the best medium for repair videos.

  • Many people have a small video to contribute and will not go through the effort to produce an entire DVD
  • DVD’s tend to represent the interests and perogatives of the OEM. However, a number of unapproved techniques can be posted by users that the OEM would never publish.
  • YouTube and web video in general is far more convenient for the user
  • The cost is much lower
  • YouTube serves as a central online library for thousands of online videos

YouTube As a Service Video Library

The largest repository of service and repair videos in the world is no doubt on YouTube. However, it is not manufacturers or their service organizations that are leading the way, but individuals who are posting videos out of personal interest and in their spare time. This is yet another example of innovation not coming from inside of companies, but from outside, and from the general public.


Parts Databases and eBay

eBay has created the largest service parts database in the world, and it was not created by any one company (eBay only created the platform), but by the collective efforts of many individuals and companies simply through the listing of items. To read about this, see this post.

http://www.scmfocus.com/servicepartsplanning/2007/07/22/service-parts-databases-and-ebay/


Using YouTube As a Video Server

Posting videos to YouTube is beneficial for several reasons. Once a video is uploaded to YouTube, it can be presented on any blog, as we have presented videos within the post of this blog. Therefore, the video can be both available to those searching YouTube and those searching the company’s service site. A series of service videos could be created for the most common repair items for a company’s products, posted on YouTube, and then also posted on a service parts repair site. Here is an example of what we are describing.

http://www.servicepartsportal.com/?page_id=255

Conclusion

Companies focused on service should begin taking advantage of video, integrated into blogging software to improve the quality of their service capabilities and to distribute this information to the public.


Why Service Parts are Good for the Environment

ServicePartsforTheEnvironment.jpg

Where Are Service Parts in the Environmental Discussion?

Not sufficiently discussed is why service parts effectiveness is good for the environment. The same family that dutifully recycles, may also be the same family that trades in a car after 3 years for a newer model. Many electronics items are designed never to be serviced, or to be very difficult or expensive to service. One example of a popular consumer item that could be easily improved is iPods and iPhones, both of which lack a replaceable battery. This combined with a replacement program where the iPods must be shipped to Apple or independent service shop, encourages people to simply go and buy new devices.

iphone.png 



Apple has some of the best consumer electronics engineers on the planet. So why can’t they standardize around easily replaceable batteries for the very popular iPhones and iPods? Currently these models must be sent in and it costs between $25 to $60 to have the battery replaced. The consumer will of course compare this with the cost of a new iPod, which has more features. iPods and iPhones are small compared to cars, so cars and houses are a better place to start in terms of improving serviceability, however, Apple is used here as an example of a lack of service priority by a company that could easily make a difference.

Things Are Changing

The US in many ways created and leads the world in the disposable culture concept, and we are responsible for both tremendous waste, in addition to exporting this wasteful concept to other countries through both our example and our international marketing programs that promote “the good life.” However, this concept has run into the limits of environmental constraints and throwing away will have to be replaced by both recycling and keeping things longer. There are two ways to keep things longer before they even leave the factory:

  1. Build items to last
  2. Build items to be serviced

Both of these concepts run head first into the influence of marketing, which is focused on selling more units and sees design for serviceability to be both a waste of resources as well as a possible deterrent to future sales (i.e. planned obsolescence)

Improved Service In Addition to Improved Serviceability

Many things could be done to make items last longer, as there are many things that could be done to decrease the cost of servicing (including improving the availability and ease of accessing service parts). Many of these opportunities are being completely wasted because business places service parts and sustainability very low on its priority totem pole. In the case of automotive parts, subservience to an anachronistic dealer system has thoroughly undermined a more logical approach to service parts networks. See this post on how wasteful and badly the US automotive part system is managed.

http://www.scmfocus.com/servicepartsplanning/2009/05/15/auto-service-part-networks-are-a-mess/

The movie Yank Tanks is a documentary on how, due to the US embargo of Cuba, the Cubans were required to keep their stock of 1950 and 1960 American cars operating with no service parts except those which they fabricated themselves.

yank-tanks.jpg 



Not originally intended to be a movie about service parts and service management, there are actually important lessons about these topics as well as insights on how to live in a more environmentally friendly way.

Let’s Be Cuban?

If the Cubans, who started with little domestic part manufacturing industry, and with no access to the original service parts, could keep circa 1950 and 1960 Chevrolets and Cadillacs working properly up to the present day, why can’t we extend the life of our Hondas and Toyotas a bit longer than 10-12 years? Clearly, it is not ability or opportunity, but comes down to priorities. If we understood and internalized how close we are to maxing out non-renewable resources we would re-arrange our priorities, focus less on style and status and more on sustainability.

Conclusion

Service parts and service maintenance are critical factors in reducing our environmental footprint. The longer items are manufactured to exist, the more they are designed to be serviced, and the better they are serviced, the less they have to be replaced and the less recycling (which also takes energy by the way) has to be done. The example of automobiles and iPods are only a few examples that have been used in this post but the same theme extends to everything from housing construction and servicing to a wide variety of consumer items. There is almost nothing that could not be designed to last longer and be better serviced.

Footnotes

Its understood that cars on Cuba do not get the type of miles that cars in the US do, and we are not necessarily proposing that people keep their cars for 40 years. However, the life of cars could be certainly extended from 10 to 12 years to 20 years with several adjustments that would not at all be onerous.

As a continuation of the concept serviceability and environmentalism running headfirst into marketing, it is clear that serviceability and environmentalism runs headfirst into stock price driven capitalism more generally. There has been a lot of talk about making capitalism more green. Its important not to pretend you can optimize two things that contradict each other. In the article above, increasing the serviceability of items means that fewer new units are sold per year. There is no way around that. No number of environmental commercials produced by Exxon showing spinning dolphins, and promising both growth and environmental health, will change this. It’s a question of priorities, continued growth in aggregate sales of manufactured items can only come at the cost of a greatly degraded environment, which is losing its ability to support humans at their present level of population, much less the population growth that is coming.


Where Are the Books on Parts Planning?


Book Availability

We have written a number of times about how under-emphasized both service management and service parts planning in particular is and continues to be in companies. However, what surprised us to an equal degree was a recent search for books on this topic. We stopped by Amazon.com and performed a search for “service parts planning” and received this result.


What it Means

For those that do not search Amazon.com very frequently, we can tell you how unusual this result is. By the third result, we are already getting into books that are so old or out of print, that there is no image posted. Also notice that this third listing has nothing at all to do with service parts, but came into the results in any case because there are so few books on this topic. One of the books is completely dedicated to service parts planning in SAP. However, what if you are a company that does not use SAP? This book will probably not cover what you need then. The second book is related to algorithms for service parts supply chain. This would probably answer a few questions for the technically inclined, but it can not be considered a book for business people trying to understand service parts planning and does not cover the topic generally. If we change the search to “spare parts planning” we get similar results, so the terminology used does not change the results much.

You can do the search yourself and see the full results. However, of the next few pages of results, we only found the following book to be applicable.


And this is not a book specialized on service parts planning per say, but simply service parts. This book covers service parts generally, but does allocate chapters to things like forecasting and inventory management for service parts.

Best Books and Articles

This is a listing of the top books and articles in the field. The list can certainly grow.

Books

  1. Analysis and Algorithms for Service Parts Supply Chains – John A. Muckstadt – http://www.amazon.com/Analysis-Algorithms-Operations-Financial-Engineering/dp/0387227156/ref=sr11/105-0952385-1563663?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1185121839&sr=1-1

  2. Service Parts Planning with mySAP SCM: Processes, Structures, and Functions – Jörg T. Dickersbach – http://www.amazon.com/Service-Parts-Planning-mySAP-SCM/dp/3540326502/ref=sr11/105-0952385-1563663?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1185125847&sr=8-1

Articles

  1. Winning in the Aftermarket – HBR June 1006 – Cohen, Agrawal, Agrawal

Conclusion

How are the next generation of service parts planners and consultants to be trained if there is not literature commonly available on the topic? Our conclusion is that considering the size of the service market there could be more material. Secondly, in order to advance the field, its important that more material be published.


Service Part Maintenance Databases

What This Article Covers

  • What is a service parts maintenance database? 
  • What are some examples of service parts databases? 
  • What are two databases in one? 

Service Part and Service Maintenance Database Background

Service parts require extensive documentation because of the need to capture information from service calls. Successive service calls (in addition to other research performed by the service technicians). This is of critical importance to service organizations, and the requirements for doing this would not seem to vary greatly from company to company. Desirable traits in this software would be:

  1. The ability to easily update the service part data
  2. A distributable web-based system
  3. Volume and security capabilities
  4. The capability to handle image, video and audio files in addition to various document attachments

These are all capabilities met by a CMS or by blogging software like WordPress or Typepad. We were curious about how service parts and maintenance databases are being developed generally. What we found surprised us in that we did not find anywhere near the activity in this area that we expected.


Nomenclature

It is important to recognize that this is not the only name for this type of software. It also goes by the name electronic parts catalog or EPC. We define this other term in this post.

http://www.scmfocus.com/servicepartsplanning/2009/05/30/electronic-parts-catalog-and-service-parts-databases/


Generally Available Applications

Here are a few we ran into. One is called Aligni, which specializes in component management


You can test the trial yourself. However, they seem to be more of a parts management system rather than a part service management database. In fact the shortage of vendors or even announced programs in this area was eerie. However, service parts are a greatly under-serviced market from a software perspective. If our initial research is correct, there are huge benefits to be received by using blogging software to build and maintain parts databases.

Another is called Engima, which develops service parts databases for purchasing decision support. They create what is known in the industry as an electronic part catalog which is then used as the basis for the purchasing engine.

http://www.aligni.com

Enigma
http://www.enigma.com

Interaction with Planning Applications

The service part and service maintenance database interact with the planning system in some cases. But in others cases they do not. For instance, the transaction system can feed both the service part planning system and the service part maintenance database (SPMDB)

ishot-218
SAP Equipment Master

There is some confusion, which is only encouraged by SAP product marketing, that the SAP Plant Maintenance module maintains a capability in service management. Their argument is supported by the master data object called the Equipment Master. The equipment master is to the service part what the material master is to the finished good. The equipment master has a very large number of fields. However, while SAP proposes that the equipment master can be pushed out to a portal to allow for the creation of a service maintenance database, the SAP Portal is not designed for this purpose.

A Logical Design

What makes the most sense for clients that use SAP ERP(or other transaction processing software) is to integrate the service parts database with blog software and to periodically bring across new parts to the SPMDB and not worry about sending the maintenance data back to SAP ERP.

Two Database Types in One

Service databases are two things in one. First they are a comprehensive listing of the parts which are used for repair and refurbishment. This takes into account the part specifications and details of the essential part attributes. The second part is the service management part of the database. This is where the combined intelligence which is gathered during troubleshooting from service calls is aggregated and organized. The collective database has some essential requirements.

  1. It must be secure so that portions that need to be shared with consumers can be, while other posts are only available to company personnel
  2. Have the capacity to manage the service parts database
  3. Strong search function
  4. Update-able from many locations ( which allows service representatives to constantly update and enhance the database)
  5. The ability to store multiple media types such as technical drawings and product pictures as well as PDF and Office Documents
  6. In some cases the ability to allow customers to comment. The logic being that some customers have valuable additions to make to the database

Service Parts Databases in Practice

What needs to be done to optimize service parts and service management databases is often not done. There are many reasons for this, everything from weak content management skills on projects to software issues. After a brief period where service parts databases were lauded as a future emerging software area, less successful implementations lead to the area being de-emphasized by companies in preference for other types of IT projects.

Future Service Management Databases

With the rise of distributed software such as Drupal and WordPress among many others, there has become a strong capability manage content with blog tools. However, many firms are unaware of the overlap between blogging software and more traditional CMSs. Therefore, there is a segmentation in the market between younger small companies that prefer to use blogging software for content management and the large companies that tend to use specialized content management software. One very specialized area within content management is digital asset management.

Conclusion

The lack of focus or commitment of resources into developing service parts maintenance databases is strange and a missed opportunity. We can not say for sure, but we can imagine how service part maintenance databases may have become commingled with Product Life Cycle management. We hope that is not the case, as PLM is focused on the beginning of a product’s life, service parts maintenance databases are focused on the end, and are really a different animal.

Questions? 

Are there any questions about this design? If so, comment below.