For businesses competing in the service space, it’s easy to get caught up in managing your workforce, routing, and order management, but just as important is how serviceable assets and parts move both to and from a customer’s site.

Organizations have struggled with mapping and managing Reverse Logistics in the past, but new technologies and a thoughtful understanding of your business makes these processes increasingly manageable, leading to a state of relative maturity among reverse logistics technologies.

I’m pleased to say that many organizations already have a good handle on the totality of their reverse logistics sequence, but for many, the complexity of their business and serviceable materials mean that this knowledge is handled across tens of departments.

It’s imperative to your organizations’ operational success that all reverse logistics activities be handled in a unified, standardized fashion. This means that returns, depot repairs, part swaps, and so on, need to be coded in the same language, and managed with the same system. Mapping the various tracks through which parts and assets move from a customer through business systems is key. Here is a questionnaire, with some light explanations, that can help you build a profile for your business:

What is the nature of your business?

  1. Manufacturer of serviceable assets
  2. Seller and servicer of assets
  3. Service provider
  4. Other
If this first question isn’t an easy one for your company to answer, then your business may have some bigger problems. This information is key, though, as it helps define the trajectory of how inventory passes through your system. The next question is for those firms that do not manufacture their own products:

Where do items go when they leave the customer?

  1. Back to the manufacturer (for return or repair)
  2. To specialized repair shops outside of our jurisdiction
  3. To a central depot managed internally
  4. To satellite locations managed internally
  5. To local retail operations managed internally
  6. Other
This helps you to build both ends of your logistical map. Where are items going to? There can, of course, be multiple answers for this question. Perhaps returns go to the manufacturer, part replacements go to an internal depot, and repairs go to third-party repair shops. Now that we have our map, though, we need to understand how inventory travels across it.

How do items get to their destination?

  1. Customer shipping
  2. Business shipping
  3. Technician courier
  4. Delivered by contracted technicians
  5. Other
This is another instance where a combination of methods is not unusual. This, of course, is another key element in getting the big picture of reverse logistics for your company. Finally, and most importantly:

What sorts of items pass through your reverse logistics systems?

  1. Full assets in need of repair
  2. Full assets to be returned
  3. Parts in need of repair
  4. Parts to be returned
With all these things in mind, you can know with certainty that you have the full picture. This map will give you the business problems that you need your reverse logistics software to resolve.

Tom Paquin
Author

Contributor, Future of Field Service