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Revolutionizing Support Using Military-Style Logistics

In my experience with farm equipment dealerships, there seems to be little discussion about logistics, logistics planning or logistics support analysis, despite the immense pressure that dealerships and technicians face during planting and harvesting seasons. Having the right technician — with the right knowledge, tools and parts — in the right place at the right time is critical. It is what the military calls Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) — a unified, iterative process that establishes the support of a capital asset, such as a piece of equipment.

ILS encompasses service manuals, test equipment, tools, training, stocking of parts, computer resources, facilities and transportation — all based on the equipment’s reliability and maintainability. The mindset of military logistics can help a farm equipment dealer know where to focus. Consider these quotes:

You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.” - Dwight Eisenhower
“Leaders win through logistics. Vision, sure. Strategy, yes. But when you go to war, you need to have both toilet paper and bullets at the right place at the right time. In other words, you must win through superior logistics.” - Tom Peters

By applying ILS’ many lessons, dealerships can revolutionize their approach to maintenance, dramatically improving efficiency and reducing downtime during critical planting and harvest periods.

Military & Dealership Similarities

Both equipment dealerships and the military involve the management of resources, personnel and equipment to ensure efficient and effective operations. The military typically works on a much larger scale and with greater complexity than farm equipment dealerships. While military logistics involves coordinating the movement and maintenance of vast amounts of equipment, personnel and supplies across various locations — often in challenging environments — farm equipment dealers usually operate on a smaller scale in a more localized area. However, the consolidation of customers is driving dealership consolidation, with dealers operating across states and having hours of drive time between customers and their equipment.

Both military logistics and farm equipment dealer support are mission-critical, meaning that failure can have severe consequences. In the military, failure can result in lost lives and compromised missions. For equipment dealers, it can lead to lost crops and financial losses for their customers.

The military and farm equipment dealers alike rely on skilled personnel with specialized knowledge and expertise. The military has logisticians, maintenance technicians and transportation specialists. Farm equipment dealers offer service technicians, parts specialists and sales representatives. Some dealers may have a dispatch function for vehicles and technicians.

Whether in the military or in a dealership, support is continually evolving, with each adopting new innovations to improve efficiency and effectiveness. In the military, this includes transportation, communication and automation advancements, while dealers benefit from advances in diagnostics, remote monitoring and precision agriculture.

Questions to Ask

ILS analyzes key factors, including the criticality of the failure (is the equipment usable), the reliability (the time between failures) and the maintainability (the time to repair). Does your dealership understand these factors, whether from your own data, consolidated data from your 20 Group or from the OEMs you represent?

The military builds a logistics support plan for equipment before deployment. Does your dealership plan for excellent support ahead of critical seasons, or are you only reactionary?

The military plans locations closer to deployed equipment. These include:

  • Forward support locations — temporary or semi-permanent.

  • Combat service support centers positioned near operational areas.

  • Tactical maintenance facilities and deployable workshops for more extensive repairs.

Where could you test different approaches for facilities, reducing technician drive time and time to repair?

While the military doesn’t look for return on assets, it does want to optimize parts spending and balance inventory spend with potential critical needs. How does your dealership plan where costly but critical spare parts are in inventory during critical times? Could this be improved based on the expected reliability? How do you determine where parts are deployed to speed up repairs?

The military focuses on full maintenance. Is such a program necessary for all your customer’s machines?

Military logistics and farm equipment dealer support have many similarities. You can learn from the pros to help you manage and lead better in turbulent times.

As published in Farm Equipment Magazine

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