For most successful companies, it is very common that they are not just focus on a single aspect, like marketing, product development or sometimes customer service. The reason is that most companies these days are performing a more holistic approach that covers the entire factor that affects business and that is commonly known as globalization. This has created a different twist in the competitive stand of most companies. It also shows that through globalization, companies are closely looking at how business can really be serve well to its customers by not just focusing mainly on the product or services that the company offers, but first they look at the values and trends that customers and internal human resources needs. That is also why consultancy industry are also on the rise these days, because these companies provides better direction that sometimes not present or not envision by most managers and leaders of companies. It is also the reason why in this study, it will focus mainly focus on how a typical business operates, like how should be structured, what are the common issues that it usually encountered and what are best practice recommendations that can be given in order not only to improve the operation of the company but also to gain competitive edge against the current competition. But, in the first part of the paper, it will cover first the basic concepts and theories that is relevantly important to the study like life-cycle analysis, maintenance task analysis (MTA) and other analytical tools. Then these tools will be integrated in the Computer Repair business that is presented in this paper. As an over-all objective of this paper is really to provide readers the important operational standards and issues that need to be known by the business and how they can react and address these issues for the best of the company.
LISTS OF FIGURES
Around one to two decades ago, most businesses are well dominated and clearly monopolized by big multinational industries. Competition is clearly dominated by some of those few big companies before, but now with the emergence of globalization where small and big companies are now together in the same battle field where they both can introduce their product to the international market, provided they also follow certain international business rules. But, with these even the market or the general public or simply the customers, may have a wide variety of choices, which results to competition not just by brand but more of quality and cost. This has resulted good effect for the masses since it can address budget concerns. That is also why for companies to be effectively perform its business, they need to look closely on how they can operate or what product really is needed and how they can get that product and service are the main key points that need to be prioritized. In this paper, it will clearly focus on that, because in this study, the objective is to discuss and present a typical computer repair company. In this study, it will cover how the company operates effectively, what are some of the most common issues that the company encounters and lastly is that how the company resolves these issues in order to establish consistent better service for its customers. But there will be first discussion on some of the basic concepts of operation and service businesses like using life-cycle analysis, maintenance task analysis (MTA) and other analytical tools.
2. Basic Concepts and Tools for Business Operation
Strategic Business Unit
As a starting point any businesses usually start with a vision and mission, where all the different business units should align their objectives and strategies in their work. Business units or sometimes called as strategic business units may also vary if your company are performing diversified businesses. These business units are responsible in performing the over-all business process for their unit, like marketing, sales, administration, planning, etc. And then on a regular basis these business units will then consolidate its reports regularly either quarterly or annually in order to address issues and provide solution on it. For most companies business units are very important to monitor, because these business units are the ones that knows exactly what are their needs and these ease up the burden for main stakeholders because they can provide strategies that is fit for both the top management level, for the internal resources and most specially for the customers. (Strategic Business Unit n.d.).
Standard Business Operation
It is true that the standard business operation never change, it’s still the standard process that were applied. Like from customer requirement gathering and then converting potential customers to real customers and this has been the bulk work assigned to marketing and sales. Then, it will go now to support process, where setting up the customer product or service is done initially. Then after sales service come in to the process. These has not change but the one that change is more on the approach due to customer preferences are also changing. Like one good and very timely example is VoIP service. These has change the way business work, it has conveniently provides companies using IP or network IP address and its phone service into one. Unlike before these two are separately setup. With the standard operational process, it does not have that problem complying with it, but it is more on how they will perform these process effectively, take for instance regarding the most common global call center support. These has always been the common issue, call center agents are not been trained to know and really understand how they can respond to customer issues through understanding the customer values. There might be some but not really going into deep training regarding it or sometimes due to lack of constant monitoring and evaluation of service that were done by their agents is the problem. We know that technological changes are continuously driving the business but companies should also have to understand that it is people with high values and with knowledge of how to understand values of other people through respect is much needed and not just technical expertise which is also considered easier to grasp.
But there are actually standard and generalized operation system that most companies apply which actually covers the over-all picture and what each and every unit within the organization performs. (See Figure 1)
Figure 1. Generalize Operation System. (Summers, M 1998:4).
Life Cycle Analysis
These days most companies started to examine their impact to the environment. With the growing problems about ozone layer, pollution, etc. companies considers that they also need to take their own initiative on how to preserve the environment and how they can really help its customers receive only the best and quality service or products but also environmentally friendly as well. But this mainly covers manufacturing companies that are truly needed to be carefully monitored and regulated because they are operating with a lot of concern to the environments , specifically topics such as waste management. But, again this does not also stops small or medium sized companies to also implement these process or methodology because it can also improve a lot in their operation.
Since this is again mostly covers manufacturing companies, there is a figure that is presented below that shows how a typical manufacturing company effectively apply life cycle analysis. (See Figure 2).
Figure 2. Life Cycle Analysis for Waste Management. (Life Cycle Analysis and Assessment n.d.).
The main purpose actually of life cycle analysis is to find some improvements that need to take by the company in terms of the environment and also to really show again to the public. That their products are truly environmentally friendly and lastly are that in order to be well regulated and complied with some of the standard compliancy requirements. (Life Cycle Analysis and Assessment n.d.).
Maintenance Task Analysis
In every business operation, maintenance is also a big problem. It can either be maintenance issues regarding after sales services. The main reason why it is important is that most customers these days are already intelligent and sometimes in terms of cost and quality, companies are usually the same or sometimes just have little margin and quality are sometimes equally competitive as well. So the result of this one is more on competing based on service. Companies need to know that increase in sales does not reflect the real value of the business or how they actually operates, because companies need to understand that more potential business is service and that retains much number of customers rather than quality and cost. Because for them if they need some assistance, they would always expect service is easily be reached and not just by phone with only two lines are available.
Actually, maintenance task analysis focuses on how the company prepares the detailed resources to implement effectively the corrective and preventive maintenance task for a particular system, product or service needed by its customers. These resources whether technological resources or human resources should be always available in order to serve customers well.
This is always a common issue for most customers, companies do not operate and study how they can actually prepare or even face current needs for support instead they focus more on just by selling the product. Commitment to the customer does not end by just selling or producing large billboard a advertisement that promises many good things for the customers. These days customers are very intelligent and they have a lot of choices if the company fails to deliver. It is very dangerous to just experiment, that is why many companies like the bigger ones or some that are starting to become big are investing a lot for customer support and mostly they establish separate customer support company to handle it. With this kind of strategy companies are comfortable in focusing their main business operation which is like producing an excellent product.
There are important aspects or factors that need to be addressed during MLA (Maintenance task Analysis) and these are:
· Support Equipment (both standard equipment and special equipments)
· Standard and special tools
· Storage and Packaging
· Transportation consideration
And preparing a well prepared maintenance task analysis that works with these factors stated above would definitely gives a lot of good result to support and the entire operation of the company. (Maintenance Task Analysis n.d.).
But in order to implement an effective maintenance task analysis, the company should first establish or develop a maintenance objectives and strategy. Most specially the latter, because this is where maintenance is properly measured. In this way there will be a more cohesive approach of delivering the service for the customers. To start with the objective, this is actually involves the reviews that the management with the technical heads on how they can exactly perform maintenance for the company and there are factors that will actually help them in coming up with a good and reliable maintenance objective:
· Profitability – if the company can possibly generate revenue out of the service or maintenance activities that they will do for the customers.
· Growth – if the maintenance activities that will be implemented can help the company to grow and increase its market share or customer patronage.
· People, environment and equipment safety – if it does not compromise the safety of its people, its equipment and most specially if its does not harm the environment
· Social responsibility – ethically respect human values.
In line with these basic key areas that needed to be considered during the establishment of maintenance objective, there are also some important additional key areas that it should also need to considered like: (1) technical aspects, like does the company can really do it or it needs much bigger investment which eventually affects the company’s financial side. (2) Legal objective, can it easily be complied or follows regulation requirements or it creates a lot of tedious requirement preparation which might affect the time of operating the main business. Lastly, (3) Financial objective, which mainly focus on the entire financial impact of the maintenance activities. (Marquez, A 2007:5-8).
In terms of strategy, there are also some specific processes that needs to be considered and these are: (1) first it should derived from the corporate goals, (2) determination of current factory facilities and performance, (3) determine current performance targets, in order to see how the company can actually provide their service, up to how much they can achieve, and lastly (4) establishing the principles for the strategy. (See Figure 3).
Figure 3. Maintenance Strategy Model. (Marquez, A 2007:7).
In this way companies may also be very careful in coming up with a more reliable and most relevant maintenance objective that will surely give a better boost in the development of an effective maintenance task analysis.
3. Repair Company Presented in this study – Computer Repair Company
Company’s Current Capabilities and Structure
The company is actually in operation for more than 10 years in the business and it started not exactly as a repair company for PC’s, Laptaps and other technology gadgets like cell phones, iPODS and other related to it. But the company has observed that during the first couple of years of operation as originally sales company of branded PC’s, they found out that there are times that mostly service is keeping them working long hours and not anymore selling. This has made the owners and major stakeholders of the company to add another business unit within the company that would not only address issues of their current customers who bought the product from them, but also customers that mainly ask for services.
In fact these has generated huge revenues for the company, from the first three years of operation which sometimes good to be used for buying new products for the company to sell. This has created much focus for the company as they started to find ways on how they can improve their services, like there are constant trainings for technicians from time to time as well as sending other staffs to improve their customer service in order to improve customer satisfaction within the company. Until reaching its fifth year of operation or 7th overall and this is in the year 2005, when the company has expanded and 5 new strategic branches were opened. These branches has created big revenue for the company and customer awareness increases and even new entry companies that works the same as our company made us as benchmark in their way of service. But this does not stops us from improving our operation and by that same year we started to find assistance to some globally trusted consulting companies on how we can further ramp up our company which mainly focus on improving the customer service and over-all operation.
With the company’s continuous focus of strengthening the capabilities of its people in supporting the operation of the business, it is actually manned by the company’s current structure. (See Figure 4).
Figure 4. The Company’s Organizational Structure
Common Problems and Weaknesses in the Company’s Current Operation.
Even though the company has been performing a lot of process improvements on how they can effectively serve their customers both technically and ethically, still there are some recurring issues or problems that also keeping the company to grow more as expected. Some of the common issues, problems or weaknesses that the company faces are:
· Employee retention, because after they have been trained and the company has invested a lot of money, there are opportunities that comes to them that eventually affects the operation of the company. Because there will be a new guy to assist and most of the time the learning curve in the process and tools used is sometimes affected and these affects the overall support process.
· Constant changing of process that sometimes hard for employees to follow or sometimes late to be imposed.
· Inconsistency of process and tools used, there are time customers would compare service from other branches, like they would say service are better from that branch and the other branch are not or sometimes far below expectation.
· Management support and recognition to good work by employees, which most of the time the main issue also contributes to turn-over of staffs.
· Supplier availability of important parts that will be used in the repairs of PC’s. Suppliers sometimes delayed the delivery of important parts which affects the commitment of the support team to deliver the goods on time.
· Over-stocking of parts, this is sometimes not good because there are also under stocking of some goods and these affects the availability of parts and at the same time poor stock management. As a result it also incurs costs instead that it can be used for some other important priorities.
· Too much priority on the service business unit which sometimes affects the sales of the products and sometimes leaves some outdated products not to be sold anymore and just be sold for bidding or at low price which in the long run could also affect the over-all performance of the company.
Recommendation for the Company on How They Should Address These Major Issues
First and foremost the company must re-visit its main company strategy, just like from the theories that were presented at the beginning of this study. The service unit regarding services should not alone be prioritized; managers and the board must look into this matter and re-establish a new strategy for the company.
After providing a new company objective and re-visiting the activities and needed operational improvements for each business units. There should be a clear identification of detailed roles and responsibilities. This is because there are some misunderstandings or sometimes mis-alignment of other branches which most of the time there are some has complied the process and others are not. Or sometimes they do the same process but others not effectively applying it. So here there should be constant reviews and audits in each branch in each business unit regularly. Like, it can start as monthly, since there is really a need to make sure that everyone understands it and knows how to apply it.
Third, the company must look into creation of a knowledge management database. In this way they can easily address issue of technical experts leaving the company and knowledge transfer can easily be conducted. This is one of the biggest problems here, because experts just left the company without transferring their knowledge well to the new guys who will take their jobs.
The fourth one and also important also is that there should be regular appraisal period that does not only evaluate the employees how they do work but also giving them the right recognitions or even incentives in order for them to be motivated. This can also help in minimizing at least the number of turn over.
In this study, it clearly shows that companies should understand that improving the operations does not mean that you only focus on technical skills and ethical standards towards how employee works for the customers. There are also some important aspects that needed to be given attention, first, companies should look on the value of work that employees exerted in their work. Proper recognition and incentive should be given. Second, there should always be re-visiting of priorities because for some companies most specially operating in multiple business units, sometimes over focused their efforts only to those that they think they can gain more revenue where in fact not focusing other business units may also affect the over-all performance of the company and that would reflect to the company’s bottom line. In other words, company must look at the over-all operations and aspects of the business in order to achieve greater success and continuous competitive advantage.
Life Cycle Analysis and Assessment. (n.d.) World Resource Foundation [online] available from < http://www.gdrc.org/uem/lca/life-cycle.html> [accessed 28 February 2008]
Maintenance Task Analysis. (n.d.). MTain [online] available from < http://www.mtain.com/logistics/logmta.htm> [accessed 27 February 2008]
Marquez, A. (2007). The Maintenance Management Framework: Models and Methods for Complex Systems Maintenance. 1st Edition, Spain: Springer.
Strategic Business Unit. (n.d.). MiMi [online] available from < http://en.mimi.hu/marketingweb/strategic_business_unit.html> [accessed 28 February 2008]
Summers, M. (1998) Analyzing Operations in Business: Issues, Tools, and Techniques. US: Quorum Books.