As a utility fleet professional, you’re well-versed in ANSI’s requirement for annual dielectric inspections on aerial equipment to verify the nonconductivity of electricity through the boom. These inspections help you and your team identify and fix potential issues before they can cause injury or downtime.
But if you have bucket trucks, digger derricks and other aerial equipment spread across several locations and regions, how do you ensure those critical inspections are getting done on time, according to the right standards and at the best possible price?
That’s the challenge John Adkisson confronted in April 2019 when he became the director of fleet services at Asplundh Tree Expert LLC, the Willow Grove, Pennsylvania-based company that provides vegetation management and utility infrastructure services to utilities and municipalities throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Dealing with Inconsistencies
Adkisson oversees about 45,000 fleet assets across 160 regions throughout the globe.
So, you can imagine the complexity involved with trying to create consistency in dielectric testing on thousands of aerial assets in so many different locations.
Adkisson and his team developed service-level agreement standards to comply with ANSI directives and create consistency in the data that Asplundh would need to track at the corporate level.
“For a dielectric inspection vendor to be accepted on our property, they need to prove they’re qualified, have a set pricing schedule for all of the equipment for all the regions, and be able to demonstrate and document their inspections via an automatic feed that goes directly into our fleet management system,” Adkisson said. “With that automatic feed, we’re able to easily determine inspection compliance and any resolution of issues noted during those inspections – what we call a ‘red tag list’ or an ‘out-of-service list’ based on those inspections.”
Adkisson said that the service-level standards have not only helped to improve inspection consistency across all locations but also to cut costs through volume pricing, where the regions pay lower fees for inspections than what they would be able to negotiate individually.
Key Concerns: Availability of Inspectors, Equipment Downtime
Although creating standards made sense from a corporate perspective, Adkisson needed to address legitimate concerns from the regional managers at the local level.
“When we began talking about inspection standards, the regional managers were concerned about the availability of approved inspectors and whether we would have inspections going overdue, which would ground the units until they were inspected,” he said. “So, it was incumbent on us to make sure, when we rolled out this program, that we had backup plans in place with alternative vendors that could fill in when needed.”
What was Adkisson’s communication strategy to garner support for the new inspection standards program?
“Before any communication would go out, I would first meet with the senior-level executives who supervise the regional managers and share with them what I’m going to do and why I’m doing it that way,” he said. “This way, they’d get a chance to see the communication before it goes out to the field, which does two things. First, it allows them to offer their input and ask questions so we can modify the communication based on their feedback. And second, they know about the issue before the communication goes out, so they’re prepared to answer questions and talk about the initiative with their regional representatives.”
Tips for Effectively Managing Service-Level Agreements
So, what advice does Adkisson have for establishing and managing service-level agreements with vendors? He offered these three tips.
1. Define the scope.
“State your expectations for the service-level agreement so that all parties know what the expectations are, who’s going to do what, and what the scope of work is that the vendor is going to provide,” Adkisson said.
2. Agree on key performance indicators.
“You need to determine key performance indicators to hold the vendor accountable,” Adkisson said. “Ultimately, if the vendor is not performing, you need to have the operational flexibility to bring in someone else.”
3. Diversify your vendor network.
“It's never a good idea to have just one option because you’re going to have a much tougher time holding that vendor accountable if there’s only one player in the game,” Adkisson said. “If you’re going to use a service-level agreement model, you need to have a backup vendor that is fully vetted, and that you can bring in if the first vendor is either overloaded or doesn’t meet service expectations.”