The old man stares at a 16 foot measuring stick, a dried up tube of “Kolor Kut” and a bottle of baby powder, longing for the good old days of actually using a stick to “stick the tanks,” longing for the days he knew before the machines took over.
O.K., it may not sound exactly like a quote from an Arthur C. Clark novel, but it should…well, maybe not. I haven’t bumped into anyone who longs for a return of manual tank stickings. After all it can be a fairly nasty process that frequently requires begging or threatening to get someone to go out and do it.
For perspectives sake, a little history:
1979 - In the News: The war in Afghanistan, the federal government bails out Chrysler, Iranian controversy, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are saving the universe at the movies with Star Trek, and the automatic tank gauge (ATG) is introduced.
Now, fast forward 30 years to the present…
2009 - In the News: The war in Afghanistan, the federal government bails out Chrysler, Iranian controversy, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are still saving the universe at the movies with Star Trek, and many of the ATGs introduced in 1979 are still in use!
Some things never change. The wheels of progress sometimes move slowly and in the past, the fuel business would have provided us with a great example of that; with business processes remaining almost unchanged for decades. However, today, our industry is changing, and it’s evolving at a more rapid rate than most companies can keep up with. With multiple daily rack price changes, dramatic swings in day-to-day fuel prices, credit/allocation disparities, trucking/driver shortages, and dare I say a recession-like economy; the rules of the fuel business game have undergone tremendous changes during the past several years.
Soon it will be 2010, and not unlike previous decades the next ten years will carry a theme, something monumental for which it will be remembered. Perhaps it could be known as “The Decade of Chaos and Confusion.” Without trying to sound like a fear monger, quite frankly the future may be now, ready for your inspection.
So I pose this question. What key events have occurred in the past two years that would make anyone think the U.S. petroleum marketing industry is better equipped to prosper if a repeat of 2008 were to occur? Most likely, our industry will end up worse off than it was in 2008. Inflation is rampant, credit is tighter now than ever, and some world events might lead you to believe that things aren’t quite stable.
By nature I am a very positive person, give me lemons and I’ll make lemonade! It’s a futile effort to worry about things that you can’t control. But for a moment, focus on one thing that is totally under your control, your very own proprietary information. Proprietary information can and should be used as a powerful tool to help you operate more efficiently and better prepare yourself for the future. There are many innovations that can assist in making great decisions, one of those you may already own; the automatic tank gauge.
ATGs have been available for 30 years, and for those who have been using them for a while may wonder how you ever managed without them. Most ATG manufacturers build rugged and reliable systems that seem to work forever, many operators have been using the exact same wall-mounted ATG unit for 20 plus years.
So what to do with old systems that still work, but were built prior to Al Gore’s invention of the Internet (humor)? Fuel inventory methods from the past are simply not practical today. In fact, they often times cost you more and can leave you stuck with an excess of expensive fuel inventory that you are then forced to sell at a net loss. By enabling your existing ATG with the Internet, you’ve taken the first step towards implementing real-time inventory methods.
Real-time inventory is the only practical way to perform “Just in Time” fuel deliveries. By enabling your existing ATG with the Internet and plugging in a little software, you can monitor fuel inventories continuously, creating inventory databases that can then be used to accurately predict precise delivery times. Once you get accurate predictions of delivery times, it becomes more realistic to use a true “just-in-time” model for fuel deliveries, helping you avoid the tragic situation of maintaining excess fuel inventories and selling at a net loss.
Once you have real-time inventory capabilities, you can easily couple that with leading-edge business intelligence (BI) tools that allow you to see inventory statuses at multiple locations in a single glance on an easy read graphical display. Sophisticated dash boarding tools can display fuel inventory forecasts on an individual location’s needs; based on priority or critical inventory status. Why is that important? With the shortage of transport drivers and the necessity to schedule deliveries days in advance, it becomes beneficial to have the ability to tweak the delivery schedule based on current inventory and location information. Organization of information is critical when dealing with multiple locations and a single person monitoring inventories and scheduling loads. Real-time-inventory coupled with BI technology will let operators know that a delivery is in progress or if a rapid loss (such as a theft) is currently.
Thirty years ago, the most useful purpose of an ATG was to “stick the tank” and report the current inventory levels. Today, not so much; ATGs are still a vital part of the fuel business, but have become only a source of information that is then leveraged to aggregate vast amounts of extremely important information that can then be used for environmental, marketing and logistical decision making purposes. Real-time inventory solutions and the variety of BI opportunities it represents is one of the best ways to ensure that you are making informed fuel buying and dispatching decisions to move your business into the future.