By D.Ann Shiffler03 October 2016
When you run the finance side of a business, you quickly learn a company’s efficiencies and inefficiencies. And then you work to curtail the inefficiencies as much as possible.
In the case of Jeff Curran, CFO of JJ Curran Crane Company, curbing those inefficiencies became a mission. In the process he created a leading fleet management software company, Fleet Cost & Care, of which he is president.
“Fleet Cost & Care and our NexGen Fleet Management System came out of my experience working for JJ Curran,” said Curran, whose father John “JJ” Curran founded the crane business in the 1950s. Today, Jeff Curran’s brother Larry Curran is president of JJ Curran Crane Company. Jeff Curran credits his father with teaching the brothers the business, inside and out. They continue to “follow our Dad’s formula for success.”
“JJ was instrumental in teaching us the business and especially the importance of staffing and developing the people who carry the weight and responsibility of running the day-to-day operations,” he said. “The organization of JJ Curran is the key to our success.”
Like many leaders in the crane, rigging and specialized transportation industry, Curran got his start in the business as a teenager. He learned the sales side of the business and after college he began calling on customers.
“That was when the personal computer started to develop and I had a real interest in automating the business, so my dad decided to move me into the financial side,” said Curran. “I became involved in the accounting processes, and soon I had a desire to improve our workflow and business operations. Commercial construction-based accounting software was being developed. Initially we chose not to go that route as it would be antiquated very quickly.”
But when LAN technology and networking evolved, this software made sense, even though it didn’t have order entry or dispatching capabilities.
“We would take the orders that came in on paper and then that information was re-entered so we could produce invoices and schedules,” said Curran. “On the cost side, when we paid our bills, we did the same thing. And again with payroll. We were creating paper and then re-entering everything into the computer. That was the playing field in those days.”
About the same time, the Detroit economy started to decline and the Curran family began looking at ways to diversify the business.
“We had to figure out how to be more competitive and to do more with less,” he said. “And so I chose to start building an operations system that eliminated all the duplicate entry. That was the goal initially. In the beginning people laughed at me. What the heck is fleet management they would say? In the early days we did the same things you still do every day: invoice customers, pay vendors and pay your people. But we could help you do it faster and easier.”
Curran and his team built a fleet management system that organized the workflow of the operation.
“Our software was doing the same things we did with all the paper, but we could prioritize and organize better,” he said. “At the time we had 50 cranes and 20 support vehicles. We had established a more efficient way to take care of our equipment, our customers and employees.”
The next step was to create dispatch capability. There needed to be a quoting, dispatch and job scheduling component. The cost side was fleet maintenance and repairs; the revenue side was dispatch and invoicing systems.
“When you have both sides you can then generate profit and loss reports by jobs or units,” said Curran. “To have both views was very innovative, a central view of your company with the ability to drill down into detail was very powerful. We had cooperative clients that allowed myself and our team members to focus. We were small in those days. We needed larger companies that had different perspectives. Through the SC&RA and our business relationships we had people who were supportive of us and gave us access and provided additional ideas. Those ideas nurtured us.”
Curran and his product development director Ken VanPelt have a lot of energy.
“We continue to build and develop through thick and thin,” Curran said. “We have tried to become a caretaker for the industry.”
With this basic program Curran had something that other crane and transport companies could use. Those were the early days in the evolution of Fleet Cost & Care.
“Looking back, it was a bit of a high wire act,” said Curran. “I knew it was helping our crane business, and I was certain there was market for it. We started selling our system in 1996.”
And the rest is history. I recently talked to Curran about the evolution of Fleet Cost & Care, the challenges of dealing with the constantly evolving technologies and what the future holds in this important realm of the industry.
IS MOBILE TECHNOLOGY NOW THE FOREFRONT OF FLEET MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE?
Yes. This is the exciting part of it. The ease of capturing information through mobile devices is very exciting, and touch screens make the process easier and faster. You may need to perform a certain task like gather your payroll information, get a job ticket signed or have quotes approved. Mobile technology eliminates a layer of data entry. Information is sent wirelessly and captured in a central database.
I dreamt of mobile technology in the mid-1980s. The tools and technology coalesced by early 2012. I remember being at the SC&RA conference in Austin, TX and observed how many people came out of a meeting and went immediately to their devices. We had already made up our minds that we were going to build a mobile platform, which today is known as our Atom technology. User feedback is positive. Every day people are telling us what they are doing, how it helps them and how far it advances their business.
In short, technology eliminates mind reading. A central system promotes faster invoicing, easily and accurately processing payroll and reducing risk by capturing digital signatures. Those are major wins because of mobile technology. The effect it has had on the industry has been monumental. Companies big and small can benefit from this type of technology.
HAVE YOU SEEN A CHANGE IN ATTITUDE FROM USERS? HOW DO INTERFACE CAPABILITIES FACTOR IN THE EQUATION WHEN USING FLEET MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE?
Yes. Originally, everyone was a little bit skeptical. We work with so many different accounting products, people were questioning how all that would work. Today, people are much more accepting that there are better processes to take advantage of. It’s the mainstream manner of doing business. Companies are realizing these are good decisions for their bottom line.
THE ELECTRONIC LOGGING DEVICE MANDATE DEADLINE IS LOOMING IN 2017. HOW CAN FLEET MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS PLAY A ROLE IN HELPING COMPANIES STAY COMPLIANT?
By creating a digital trail of a company’s workflow. Record keeping is very important. Let’s take it in two steps. Initially, there is the checklist. Our primary focus was to create a digital checklist that was simple and repeatable for every market and industry.
Second is the electronic tracking of the hours and miles on the job. The data will be streamed from the devices that are on the equipment. Hours of operation are tracked electronically using various different types of hardware.
There are some great ideas, but we are going to have to standardize them and simplify things. While we at Fleet Cost & Care don’t have all the answers, we are going to take a lead role. It will take a while to smooth it all out.
CAN CRANE AND SPECIALIZED TRANSPORT COMPANIES MITIGATE RISK AND SAVE ON INSURANCE COSTS USING A FLEET MANAGEMENT SYSTEM?
Yes, for sure. Insurance companies love to be able to verify information. They want to see that operations in the field are going according to standardized processes. Insurance companies reward excellent record keeping. The fundamental concept of working safer is our goal. These systems allow us to standardize the process, keep great records and make the rules easy to comply with. Safety and risk management become a part of the daily routine.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO ACHIEVE RETURN ON INVESTMENT?
Quite naturally people are concerned about having to purchase data plans for their mobile devices and also having to purchase the devices as well. There are upfront costs that businesses have to consider.
Depending on the job description, you can start seeing a return on investment in a matter of days and weeks. For some it’s a matter of months.
WHAT IS ON THE HORIZON FOR FLEET MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE?
At some point, everyone is going to realize that fleet management software can be a benefit for their concerns. Companies of all sizes are understanding they can invest in this software with confidence.
Essentially you are looking for a more effective utilization of your assets. Smart use of data and analysis is critical. The cost of technology is trending down and efficiency is going up. One of the ways to do this is through cloud-based solutions. In the past there was your IT person who was managing all of this software. A network license, PC license, the accounting software license and the like. We envision a simplification in licensing which will lower cost while keeping data in a more secure environment.
WHAT IS YOUR BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY?
I learned years ago that every company or every team has some weaknesses, and we try to turn those into our strengths – this has worked very well for us. You don’t try to meet the minimum requirement. You don’t just take it to the next level, take it up two or three levels. This philosophy will have a major effect on your business.
I think that participating in your industry, being an insider, a caretaker, someone who is involved in the exchange of ideas at both a high-level and the more granular, is how you really come to impact those you serve as customers.