Blue Water Importers came to us needing a system that did vehicle tracking, document generation, barcode creation and scanning, email automation, document archival, reporting, invoicing, shipping management, and business process communication.
Blue Water Importers started over 20 years ago when owner, Jack Dempsey, began purchasing vehicles in Canada for sale in the US. As time went on, Blue Water took over the transport of the vehicles, the work of conforming them to DOT requirements, and titling. Today, Blue Water specializes in the conformity and transport of vehicles for other dealers. With a team of just under twenty people, they process approximately 1,000 vehicles a month and counting. As demand has spread, Blue Water, currently located in Burton, MI, is pursuing plans to open additional locations in several other States in the Midwest and Northeast regions.
General Problem Description
The Blue Water business processes fall into the main areas of Order setup, Importation, Vehicle Check-In, Title Processing, Recall Repair/Documentation, Instrument Panel Modification, DOT Conformity, Outbound Processing, and Invoicing. Each of these processes requires labor-intensive activities including customer interaction, contact management, VIN verification, vehicle data entry, legal vehicle classification, customs duty calculation, document creation, emailing, document archival, barcode label printing, barcode reading, document cross-referencing, vendor selection, creating shipping labels, taking and printing pictures, instrument panel tracking, odometer reading verification, discussions with book keeper, report creation, invoice creation, bill of lading creation, and bond tracking. Although Blue Water specializes in the above activities and performs them with skill and expediency, the volume of vehicles they can handle is restricted by the time it takes to perform and organize these business activities.
We were able to identify each type of entity that Blue Water interacts with, as well as their government requirements and job functions, and then detail each business process with the manager of those activities. Not only does this include identifying how daily operations are performed, but also pinpointing the desired result of each activity, employee opinion on the process, pain-points, and bottlenecks involved. All of the processes and decision points were identified in a “vehicle life cycle” flowchart which was modified to streamline the existing process, force adherence to preferred business processes, and incorporate value-add business activities Blue Water wanted to incorporate into their business process. We then looked for places to automate the system. Any time a process showed to be consistent, we had an instant opportunity to do this, and when decisions were made the same way on a regular basis, we had strong potential to automate here as well. After creating the road map of what Blue Water wanted, we began work on a web application that supported all of those activities.
The new system utilized security to allow both clients and employees’ access to their respective site functions. In order to give employees more time in the field we built the system to automatically assign bonds to vehicles and alert the importation manager if any special attention was needed to the bond or shipment of the vehicle, generate and send documentation emails to the custom brokers, and send manifests to the drivers. Using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), a local application was created to scan specific email accounts as well as network folders. This application pulls any new documents, scans them with OCR, and presents them to the appropriate team for verification. The team at Spud Software also created a way to build invoices automatically as vehicles undergo various activities. This process gave employees the capability to select a group of vehicles that are complete, send the invoice data to Quick Books through an API, and do so in such a way that invoices are automatically generated for each customer containing all vehicles and associated itemized charges. Another API was implemented to automatically print FedEx labels for title shipment. Another concern Blue Water had was keeping their employees on the move, so we built a mobile app that gave them the ability to work in the field. Personnel now has the ability to photograph vehicles, enter additional vehicle data, and print barcode labels from a mobile printer. Furthermore, the mobile app has the ability to take photos for DOT Conformity and automatically uploads them to the web server and stores them with the appropriate VIN. These photos are later printed along with all other DOT Conformity documentation that has been collected or generated for each vehicle.