Attribute it to the increased recognition among manufacturers of the importance of extending value chains. Or to natural evolution from such "suite" software as ERP and CRM. Or to the need to develop new sources of revenues and profits. Whatever the reasons, and those just cited are prominent among them, service and maintenance software is coming into its own among industrial companies as diverse as Boeing Co., which makes planes that fly above the ground, Caterpillar Inc., which makes big construction machines that move across the ground, and De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd., which uses machines to recover diamonds from below ground. "A lot of the companies have realized that customer loyalty and customer retention are purely driven by customer service. And customer service is really the only competitive advantage for most companies," says Peter von Euen, a Bellevue, Wash.-based senior manager in Cap Gemini Ernst & Young's service parts logistics group. "It's a critical strategy." It's also an important source of profits. A recent study from Accenture puts the profit potential of service management at "nearly double" that of first-time product sales, especially in such industries as autos and heavy construction equipment. "In fact, an Accenture study of GM [General Motors Corp.] shareholder value revealed that $9 billion in after-sale revenue produced $2 billion in profits. Profits from the company's $150 billion in car sales were relatively lower," reports the consulting firm. "Mechanics and technicians represent, in many industries, the single largest workforce that they have. And their efficiency is paramount to profitability," contends John Snow, vice president of marketing and business development at Enigma Inc., a Burlington, Mass., software provider. Specifically, software that better matches technicians' skills and customers' service needs allows companies "to do more with less," says Moshe BenBassat, chairman and CEO of ClickSoftware Technologies Ltd., also in Burlington, Mass. "Workforce optimization is one of the few areas in [the use of] software technology today [where] you can [show] quantitative, measurable ROI," he claims. Caterpillar uses software to help improve service technicians' productivity. Boeing uses software to help improve aircraft reliability and cut costs for customers. And De Beers uses software to help reduce costly downtime by remotely diagnosing faults in diamond recovery machines. Here are some details on what they're doing. Caterpillar Inc. Rebuilding heavy construction equipment, the impressive off-road stuff that excavates and moves mounds of dirt, can be a two-month job and seemingly about as big a challenge as the full-blown project itself. In the mid-1990s, Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar Inc. was looking for a software tool to help its network of independent dealers, the folks who service and maintain its products, make better use of technicians' time and improve customer responsiveness. In 1997, Caterpillar did a stand-alone pilot run with ClickSoftware's scheduling tool and decided to integrate it into a home-grown legacy service-order system. Caterpillar made the integrated package available to its dealers during 1999 and 2000. Although he says it's difficult to attribute benefits to just one component of the system, Joseph J. Stewart, a Caterpillar senior engineer, reports a "15% to 30% improvement in the efficiency of technicians as measured in terms of hours per job." In other words, through more precise scheduling and reduced runaround time, technicians are able to complete a given service assignment in 15% to 30% less time than they were formerly, something that Stewart says makes them available to tackle other service calls. Boeing Co. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, aftermarket support and services have taken on a new urgency at Chicago-based Boeing Co. "That's because the airlines really need help in a big way to get back on track," explains a company spokesperson. "And the fact is, if the airlines aren't successful, neither is Boeing Commercial Airplanes," he adds. With a focus on providing additional value to airline customers, Boeing's commercial aviation services group, among other things, has developed new digital tools to troubleshoot airplanes more quickly and accurately. One result of Boeing's efforts is a package called Enterprise One, a set of integrated software modules designed to manage maintenance and related activities for airlines with 20 to 100 aircraft. It helps airlines make the most of such support activities as maintenance planning and scheduling, engineering operations, logistics management and document management. About 18 months after the software's introduction Boeing has two customers, Aloha Airlines Inc. and Royal Brunei Airlines, and "others are in the queue," says Rich Higgins, vice president of maintenance engineering and publications at Boeing Commercial Aviation Services, Seattle Meanwhile, Boeing has been working with AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and Compagnie Nationale Air France on the prototype for software dubbed Airplane Health Management, which it expects to put into production early in 2004. The software is designed to sift through an airplane's data and look for the "blips" that signal some future problem. "If we can do that, we can start turning all [the] unpredicted maintenance [which accounts for about 75% of total maintenance] into predicted [maintenance] and deliver much better . . . schedule reliability," says Higgins. This is "a perfect example of how really great aviation knowledge, aviation information -- the bits and the bytes of the airplane -- and a unique piece of software have gotten together to start to change how we in the maintenance world deal with our issues and improve safety, reliability and cost for the customer." De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. Any delay in the mining process represents a major cost to De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd., Kimberley, South Africa, a unit of De Beers SA. So it's not surprising that the company places a premium on rapid response to machine problems. Its DebTech division is using ClickSoftware's ClickFix remote diagnostics software to help diagnose and resolve technical faults in X-ray diamond sorting machines in Botswana. According to ClickSoftware, advanced algorithms guide a user through the problem resolution process first by identifying potential causes, then recommending tests to pinpoint the fault's cause, and finally proposing corrective actions. Big payoff: dramatically reduced repair times. With the software, says its producer, mine technicians can resolve most problems themselves. Previously, it took four to 12 hours for a DebTech technician to be dispatched from Johannesburg and be ready to tackle a problem at a remote mine. Locating Information But these are not the only ways service and maintenance software is being put to work. For example, at Enigma, which counts Ford Motor Co.'s Volvo Cars subsidiary and Tokyo Electron Corp., a maker of semiconductor fabrication equipment, among its customers, service and maintenance software is simply about information delivery. "We're not about scheduling the mechanics more efficiently. We're not about generating job cards for maintenance. Or about tracking customers," Enigma's Snow emphasizes. Rather, he states, "we simplify" the task of locating the information that service personnel need to do their jobs.