Checks and Balances through Technology
One of the things Coakley recognized when they first became involved with PrimeFlight was the lack of applied management technology compared with their existing companies, which had improved costs through the advancement in a variety of technological areas. "This is the kind of thing we think will help us become recognized pretty quickly as we apply the technology," states Coakley. "We don't want to be complacent or satisfied with the status quo."
The role of technology in the corporate support center or "back office management system" structure is integral to PrimeFlight's operations in the field. Considered by Coakley as the central nervous system of the company, the back-office system provides support to the field with up-to-the-minute communications and information, accurate records and payroll, continued monitoring of insurance rates and packages, risk management services and timely payments and receipt of products to and from vendors. Though every PrimeFlight on-site manager has completed progressive technical, administrative and financial training and all managers are capable of handling every aspect of the business, the corporate support system affords them the ability to focus directly on the management and care of their specific function, employees and client. "What goes on here at the corporate support center allows managers in the field the freedom to focus on the operation at the airport rather than worrying about what may or may not be happening in the way of payroll or accounts receivable or risk management or whatever function that's provided here," insists Wolken.
Similar to other ground handling companies in the facility/services side of their operations, PrimeFlight manages equipment through a CMMS software program. Tracking equipment to determine its location, maintenance schedule and expense log is crucial to knowing "where the money is going." However, PrimeFlight researches and evaluates the value of implementing new technology, and they do it based on the payback for the customer. Using these simple but "value-added" criteria, they have recently determined the viability of an automated wheelchair reporting and dispatching system utilizing Nextel phone systems, and they commissioned software to be written. The system is in operation at four locations and doing well according to Wolken. The company has added a GPS component to the system which tracks where all of the wheelchair passengers are throughout the airport at any one time. "We had heard through our customers the things they wanted to be able to track. Since we have a strong desire to self report, this fit right into that," says Wolken.
Flexibility in Service and Creativity in Delivery
PrimeFlight currently provides a range of 15 services to more than 25 airlines including all of the majors. Some of these services include ramp, skycap, wheelchair, LAV, cargo, under wing, security, passenger and baggage assistance. I asked Wolken how juggling so many different operations at 60 different locations affects their operations. "What is the customer looking for? They want quality service at a very competitive price," Keith states. "In order to do that we need to have our fixed costs spread across as many expenses or resources in the airport as we can. Offering this number of services from the curb all the way to the ramp allows us to do that."
Rather than commodify their products, SMS Holdings customizes each company's product with individualized yet consistent processes and systems, creating complete quality and control. "It's the same thing you encounter as you go through certain fast-food services," he says. "Everybody knows if you stop in that restaurant when you're traveling from Wisconsin to Florida, you're going to get a consistent taste and a consistent quality. That's what we are trying to do." Through their on site management, PrimeFlight makes sure that they can deliver the same quality product each time.
"It's important for us to measure our performance wherever we can to be certain that the customer receives the best possible service and that we stay attuned to their needs. That stands out as our No. 1 priority," adds Coakley. Customer Stan Ruth, station manager for Continental Airlines in Atlanta puts it plain and simple, "PrimeFlight is more than just a vendor to us, they're family."