Cloud Computing: Customer Service

As the head of customer support for Komatsu America, Mike Hayes travels almost constantly for meetings with owners and sellers of the company's backhoes and bulldozers. Wherever he goes, he can check the status of Komatsu equipment in North America on his smartphone. He sees where the equipment is and whether it's operating or in the shop for repairs. The system even sends alerts when a machine is about to fail. "This is essential to customer service," he says. "[Customers] know you're being proactive and responsive."


The information comes through a service called Komtrax, which is provided by Komatsu in Japan to the company's global subsidiaries, distributors, and equipment owners. It's an example of how mobile computers that connect people to a system crunching data in real time can dramatically improve customer service for corporations. Other heavy equipment companies, including Caterpillar (CAT), have come out with similar services for use by their employees and customers.

For Don Pleu, heavy equipment manager at Komatsu customer Kinder Morgan Terminals, the service offers the potential for big savings on fuel. He can now monitor how long each piece of equipment spends idling and tell the operators of those machines to turn them off more regularly. Then he can easily see if they've done what he asked. "We have developed a philosophy of 'Thou shalt not idle,' " says Pleu. Last year, sensors in Komatsu equipment found leaky window seals and alerted Komtrax. The seals were replaced before damage was done.

Hayes taps another cloud service that helps him cope with making 8 to 10 flights a month. He has a virtual travel agent from Rearden Commerce that handles his arrangements and is reachable from anywhere at any time. If a flight is canceled, the system instantly notifies him and gives him alternatives it knows will suit his needs. "The system eliminates the frustration and puts you back in control of your life," Hayes says.

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