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Supply Fulfillment – Shipping Part 3: Advanced Supply Alerts

Supply and service fulfillment is often the cornerstone of any managed print services (MPS) program.  From Alerts and Alert Management to Supply Fulfillment SOP s and Information Management and on to listening to the Voice of the Customer ; the articles found in our archives are devoted to helping dealers, VARs and IT professionals work with and manage their MPS and fulfillment programs.

The goal of every supply fulfillment program should be to deliver on contractual commitments, provide excellent and sustainable customer service, while maintaining company profitability standards.

A bold statement to be sure, but when businesses focus on each of the elements …

  • Excellent and sustainable customer service
  • Delivering on contractual commitments
  • Maintaining company profitability standards

… they can establish a solid foundation upon which any solid program can be built.

All data collection software (DCS) should have the ability to monitor devices for supply status, but not all report the same detail in the same manner.  This coupled with the fact that OEMs, devices themselves as well as the cartridges in use sometimes leave much to be desired. When it comes to reporting accuracy, know the capability of the devices being represented as well as those in the customers’ fleets.

For example – If toner supply thresholds are activated to alert the dealership when there is 10% toner left and machines at the installation location report in no more than 25% increments, the only notification that can trigger is when the device runs out of toner … passing from 25 to 0% as it runs out.  A setting of 10% could result in a call from the customer and require an emergency supply fulfillment delivery.

Still, there are a multitude of other obstacles and variables to overcome.  Some data collection software developers offer enhanced features to assist to MPS professional.  In this article we will highlight some of the more common tools and features * available in today’s data collection softare.

* NOTE – Not all software may offer the features included in the discussion below.  Dealers should research and employ the software capable of reporting the capture accuracy needed for devices for which they provide service and support.

Enhanced Site Monitoring for Mission Critical Installations

All software will have challenges when gathering information and reporting from time-to-time.  Most difficulties are easy to remedy, provided the dealer knows when something is amiss.  It is up to the dealer to ensure the MPS software they are using is reliable and offers a visual means to insure reporting accuracy.

Some MPS software providers offer the ability to create and send report detailing client installations that have stopped reporting as scheduled and/or have had devices that have not updated meters.  Enhanced Site Monitoring for Mission Critical Installations reporting takes this kind of notification to the next level.

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With ‘Enhanced Site Monitoring’, administrators may select specific sites where continuous device monitoring is “mission critical”.   If the DCS stops checking in, a “Check-in Alert” can be sent to specified recipients (including on-location IT staff) notifying them action is needed to restart the service.

With Site Monitoring, an alert can also be directed to specific email addresses when installations have not sent a device supply or service alert for a designated number of days.  The enhancement gives supply and service administrators (including on-site personnel) notice when installations are experiencing reporting challenges.

Upon receipt of emailed Check-in Alert, action can be taken as needed to review and restore DCS reporting.

A Note on Low Toner Alerts:

A thorough fleet evaluation is recommended before enabling low level supply alerting and it is suggested setting multiple alert levels may be needed to ensure time is allowed for appropriate actions to be taken. Be certain everyone … including the customer … understands the processes, with outlined expectations and definition for what is to be done with incoming alerts.  Notify the supply team, identifying specific levels at which toner orders are expected to be fulfilled. Alert confirmation is not enough; confirming an alert simply logs that the alert has been received … no action has been taken and the alert could potentially be cleared with no fulfillment taking place.  A written Supply Fulfillment SOP eliminates the guesswork of implementation. Trained supply personnel who know how to document the actions they take ensures proper fulfillment.  The MPS software the dealership uses should have components with the ability to accept, log and date-stamp action entries.  Simple notes like “Shipped toner by service car” can be kept in device log files within the MPS software’s administrative tools for as long as the machine remains in the fleet.

Cartridge Replacement (CR) Alerts

Certain customers may have or even require a “safety stock” of supplies stored on location for self replacement.  When an imaging device indicates toner is needed (by way of a console message), the customer will pull a cartridge from the toner supply on hand and put it in the machine.   When replaced, software with the ability to detect the change can update the device status and show the low toner condition has been remedied as the device is restored to a “ready” state.  By activating Cartridge Replacement alerts, the DCS senses the change in condition and sends an email notification to the supply administrator.  The administrator can then send a replacement for the cartridge just put to use.

Premature Cartridge Replacement Alerts

It is desirable for a cartridge to be fully depleted before replacement occurs.  Some DCS products offer premature cartridge replacement alert capability.  When a cartridge is replaced too early or above the supply alert trigger threshold, supply administrators can be notified. Simple conversations can be held with the customer:  “We noticed you had a ‘bad’ cartridge and it was ‘replaced’” or “Can we come by and pick up the ‘defective’ cartridge?”  Such exchanges are non-threatening and are often all that is needed to correct unwanted behaviors … as customers learn someone is watching. Setting multiple toner alert activation levels allows dealers to monitor early cartridge replacement, take corrective action when necessary, and still provide “just-in-time” supply fulfillment.

Days to Depletion Reporting

Nearly every supply provider wants their customers to change toner cartridges when they are fully depleted so maximum profitability may be realized.  And in an ideal world, they would like to have a cartridge arrive the day before the change takes place, ensuring the cartridge in use is not replaced early. Reality rarely matches with those wishes, and to be sure, there is no such thing as an ideal world.  Software which includes Days to Depletion reporting can offer help, but one first must understand a basic fact.  Days to Depletion is at best an estimate or as a college professor I once had said, “A SWAG .” Programmers apply algorithms based on historical volumes, estimated or calculated fill ratios , stated cartridge yields and other criteria to determine when a particular cartridge may become empty.  The time a machine has been monitored, unusually high volumes for short periods, abnormal page saturation, defective cartridges, and fills that are higher than those stated for a particular cartridge yield, all affect the accuracy of the calculations.  If more than one variable is affected, the stated depletion day could be exponentially off. To effectively use a ‘Days to Depletion’ report, supply managers should consider reported data to be a “reasonably accurate” suggestion until verified.  Patterns may emerge when comparing days to depletion information with other reporting.  From the patterns and trends, the supply manager can see groups of devices which have more use than others.  Heavily used devices have more accurate data and for these devices, administrators can group their shipments for likely depletion dates to get ahead of pending need.

Skip Alerts

Often, and especially for customers with larger fleets where many of the same device models are in use, there may be a safety stock of replacement cartridges stored on location.  When an imaging device triggers a toner alert, the customer will pull a cartridge from the stored toner on hand and put it in the machine.   The ability to Skip Alerts allows administrators to account for the replaced cartridge and deduct the replacement from the on-hand supply.  The ability to skip a triggered alert simply helps keep fulfillment costs low by eliminating unnecessary supply shipments.

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With the Skip Alerts feature, dealers can enter the number of cartridges available in the customer’s safety stock.  When an alert is triggered, the administrative software automatically checks if the alert should be skipped.  If so, a status note such as “Black toner level <= 25 SKIPPED” is added in the device’s alert log along with a “Last Skipped Date” providing a sign the triggered alert has been processed. The feature can also be used when customers call the dealer, asking them to not ship a supply because of stock on hand.  In addition, dealers no longer need to have their technicians configure devices to notify when supplies are truly needed.  

Note – It is a good idea to include location information for devices.  Location detail helps administrators know where the device can be found:   “123 Elementary School, 123 4th St, Yourtown, ID 83714”, “Mary’s Desk”, “Copy Room”, etc.

Scheduled Reports

Most administrative software has a host of built in reports business machine dealers and VARs use on a regular basis.  Often dealers access the same report each month to review device output, check on status changes, and/or review usage detail.  With the Scheduled Reports feature Administrators can set up reports to auto-generate so they are automatically sent on scheduled days. Administrators can configure alert summaries for toner and service need let them know all triggered alerts received in the past week or month, and when specific devices at customer locations stop reporting, and/or when devices stop sending toner detail.

… In Summary

As noted in the opening statement, “ The goal of every supply fulfillment program should be to provide excellent and sustainable customer service while delivering on contractual commitments to maintain company profitability standards.” Data collection software and its accompanying management utilities do so much more that gather meters.  What dealers do with the gathered information simply sets one MPS provider apart from another.  When offering a fulfillment program, a full feature set to manage the data makes the job so much easier. Decision makers need to be certain the software they are using the features they need and the people using the tools understand and know how to use all the capabilities.  Employing advanced features like …

  • Enhanced Site Monitoring;
  • Cartridge Replacement (CR) Alerts;
  • Premature Cartridge Replacement Alerts;
  • Days to Depletion Reporting;
  • The ability to Skip Alerts; and
  • The ability to Schedule Reports along with a
  • Written Supply Fulfillment SOP …

… make everyone’s job easier and help improve the customer experience and company profitability. Providers offering Supply and Service fulfillment need advanced features so they can fulfill on the promises they make.  Not all software offers a complete solution set including the features noted above.  What does your software do to make supply and service fulfillment easier?