Although North Atlantic Snow is the largest part of the business, the company provides a wide range of other services year-round for both residential and commercial customers. Besides snow and ice management services in the winter, North Atlantic Snow also delivers heating oil to customers and helps split and deliver firewood. In the summer, the company shifts to site work, helping local organizations excavate sites for new development as well as lawn care and landscaping work.
This diversity of work, customer base, and equipment requires the company to manage a great deal of expensive machinery as well as seasonal employees, both of which can be an added challenge in using a manually based maintenance system. During peak winter season, its workforce nearly doubles to 200 people, and employees often work spread out over an area with an 80-mile diameter, seeing few if any co-workers.
North Atlantic Snow was tracking all its equipment by serial number on a spreadsheet and using creative workarounds to try to tie labor to assets. Communication was a mix of phone calls, emails, paper lists, and other in-person conversations.
“I think the team was actually doing a splendid job of maintaining all these assets without a system, but it finally came time to find a better solution,” said Chris Kiper, logistics coordinator at North Atlantic Snow.
Since North Atlantic Snow had such a distributed workforce, the fact that UpKeep was easily accessible on mobile devices and smartphones was key.
“It’s not like everyone was showing up to work, punching in, and going to the same water cooler,” Kiper said. “Some guys never see more than one or two other employees. We needed technology and communication tools to help bring all those people together. With UpKeep, everybody including all the managers, supervisors and foremen could now seamlessly request service and see what was happening.”
The employees at North Atlantic Snow were incredibly creative in piecing together a maintenance system to manage such a large number of assets and changing workforce with the few tools they originally had.
“We used Excel spreadsheets that recorded equipment serial numbers and license plate numbers as assets,” Kiper said. Employees used a field service app to record their labor, and the managers figured out a way to have them “clock into” an asset instead of a job so the company could associate equipment with labor costs.
In order to manage purchasing, a string of five or six text messages would contain one approval for purchase and a PO number. A team member would then need to scroll through her text messages and record each purchase, PO number and vendor in QuickBooks.
“If you look at what UpKeep provides and you break out each of the different functions, we had a work around for each,” Kiper said. “They were separate systems, and it was just an organic evolution of cause and effect. If we had a problem, we’d figure out how to use a spreadsheet or some other thing we were already using--including a lot of legal pads. We had some light documentation in Dropbox or in individual email boxes.”
When North Atlantic Snow began researching software, the management team was focused on finding something that could integrate with its GPS provider. The company explored some direct integrations, explored a local company’s offering, and demoed several solutions.
“Every product had pros and cons, and we got bogged down by cost versus functions as well as per user versus and per asset costs,” Kiper said. “I think we got paralyzed by overthinking the decision so we didn’t make a decision the first year.
“After awhile, I started my own rabbit-hole research,” Kiper continued. “I looked at UpKeep as well as several of its competitors and ended up deciding that UpKeep was a great solution for us. I brought it to the team and got everyone to buy-in. It wasn’t too technical but very, very functional. It really distills down the key aspects to keep a maintenance department moving along without frustrating people.”
Once North Atlantic Snow rolled out UpKeep in August 2020, the onboarding process went smoothly. “It was a really great process,” Kiper said. “It was well thought out. From the very beginning, we knew the steps needed to implement UpKeep, and there were time-driven milestones. Everything happened right on schedule, and there were lots of check-ins. It was like having my hand held through the process.”
Although North Atlantic Snow has only been using UpKeep for six months, the company is exactly where it wants to be. “A year ago, we were using scraps of paper, and text messages.” Kiper said. “Now, it’s running more like a funnel. Everything goes to one place. The fleet manager can review the orders, add information, approve and schedule work orders. By the time it gets handed off to technicians, they really have all the information that anybody has about this problem just delivered to them. It’s huge for us to be able to manage 160 assets spread out over an 80-mile diameter. We’re not just doing maintenance, but we’re welding steel, repairing equipment, changing out transmissions in the field. It’s a lot of aggressive mechanical work that’s happening.”
Work order scheduling through UpKeep also provided a structure to the week for employees. Technicians can just look at the upcoming week and know what the top priorities look like, which parts are in stock, and what’s on hold.
“I don’t look at UpKeep every day, but it’s great that it’s on my phone, especially after something like a snowstorm,” Kiper said. “I can quickly see what’s broken and who’s working on the repairs. I think the biggest change in efficiency is that even during the chaotic winter, we can still maintain preventative maintenance schedules. Those haven’t just gone by the wayside.”
In addition, requesters can log in and check to see the status of work orders. No one has to remember to tell a team member that a part is backordered or that a work order is delayed, it’s all available for anyone who wants to check in.
Since North Atlantic Snow employs many seasonal workers each year, the fact that UpKeep is simple to use makes the transition for contract workers fast and painless. “I think there’s a two-way trust that has to be given and earned in a small period of time,” Kiper said. “So when somebody comes into an established structure and sees that there are intentional tools and applications in place to handle whatever they need, I think that is probably reassuring to them.”
In fact, adding new employees is so simple that Kiper sometimes finds out about a new hire through UpKeep. “I didn’t recognize a couple of names in the system, and I checked in with the manager,” Kiper said. “He said he hired a couple of new people, added them, and they were good to go.”
A few employees at North Atlantic Snow were a bit skeptical of new technology. However, once they began using UpKeep, they were surprised at how easy it was to use. “I think they found that the learning curve wasn’t as daunting as originally thought,” Kiper said. “It’s kind of intuitive, and many were quickly adding people and assets on their own. They gained confidence, and then they just kept diving into the next capability.”
As North Atlantic Snow moves into the future, the team will be defining key performance indicators and expanding its usage with iPads for all mechanics. “We’re moving forward as a team, and that’s really exciting to see,” Kiper concluded.