Bridgestone rolls out cloud-backed Win 8 app for mobile workers

Global tire manufacturer Bridgestone has launched a Microsoft Azure-backed, Windows 8-based mobile application to increase productivity levels of its sales managers, sales representatives and technical engineers working in the firm’s tire consulting business.

The tire consulting service, provided to Bridgestone’s fleet operator customers, aims to help the latter optimize their tire investments. According to Bridgestone, tires count among the top three costs for fleet operators, alongside wages and fuel.

“Like any financial asset, tires’ performances have to be monitored constantly,” says global solution service manager at Bridgestone Corporation Thierry Jakircevic. “The same tire can perform quite differently depending on the nature of a customer’s operations.”

The level of maintenance will determine tires’ lifespans, with tire pressure being a key factor in determining longevity. In their bid to help customers make suitable tire investment decisions, taking tire longevity to cost ratio into account, Bridgestone’s engineers visit customers routinely to check on the overall state of the tire fleet. Engineers will typically inspect each tire, taking note of its pressure, amount of thread rubber left and its overall condition. Decisions will then be made on whether a tire needs to be replaced.

Results from each tire’s inspection used to be written manually using pen and paper forms, with a photo of each tire taken. Engineers would later input the data from the inspection into Bridgestone’s existing cloud-backed, web-based tire management system, and customer reports could only be generated after all the data had been entered into the system. This process was tedious and prone to human error, says Jakircevic. “Our customers operate large vehicle fleets, and keeping tabs or some 5,000 to 10,000 times at any one time is a challenge.”

Jakircevic decided to streamline the tire consulting service’s processes by equipping the company’s sales and technical engineers with a mobile application that would sync with the company’s web-based tire management system, which runs in the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud. The Windows 8 mobile application was developed by NCS, which also worked on developing the web-based system two years ago.

The mobile application, dubbed Toolbox Touch, was launched last week in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Bridgestone tire consultants now conduct each inspection with the aid of a ruggedized Windows 8 tablet, a device built to withstand the sometimes harsh environments where some inspections take place.

With Toolbox Touch, any Bridgestone tire consultant now has instant access to a customer’s vital information, such as the main contact version, type of tires used, list of registered vehicles and activity history. In the past, customer data used to be kept separately by each tire consultant, which made it difficult for all personnel working with the customer to access current inspection information.

Vehicles are inspected by their registration plate numbers, and engineers have visibility into all tires used by a vehicle. Each tire is individually labelled in the system, and information such as tread depth and tire pressure could be input by the engineer. A tire’s condition can be selected via a drop down list and a photograph subsequently taken.

With Toolbox Touch, tire consultants can now present a complete report to fleet operators’ maintenance managers directly after an inspection. The report will include a list of all tires that need to be replaced or rotated, alongside photos of the respective tires.

Tasks that need to be performed for a customer can be entered into the mobile application via an “activity” function, and technicians are also informed if they have to visit a customer by a certain date.  Sales managers can also use the application to monitor all activities that are pending or past their due dates.

Toolbox Touch works both online and offline. Data entered into the application while offline will sync with Bridgestone’s tire management web app running in the Windows Azure cloud.

The new mobile and cloud-enabled process for conducting tire inspections has resulted in improved operational efficiency for both Bridgestone and its customers, says Jakircevic. “Our sales and technical teams are empowered with the tools and information they need to be more productive and deliver greater customer service.”

To facilitate adoption of the mobile application, Bridgestone has appointed Toolbox champions in each country it operates in. These personnel will be trained in using the mobile application and subsequently train other users. Toolbox Touch has been translated into 14 languages, including Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese Simplified, Chinese traditional, Khmer, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, French and Italian.

More than half (60%) of the mobile application’s users will be from the Asia Pacific, with 20% in Europe and 20% in the Middle East and Africa. India, Indonesia and Thailand are expected to have the most Toolbox Touch users.

According to Jakircevic, work is in progress to enhance functions available in Toolbox Touch. The second version of Toolbox Touch, already in progress and due to be released in May 2014, will include specific modules targeted at field engineers.

“Users love how easy the mobile application is to use,” says assistant manager of sales and marketing, commercial products, Bridgestone Asia Pacific Benjamin Chang, a Toolbox champion. “The mobile application complements our tire management web application and users like having the ability to input data out in the field.”