Trimble Field Service Management’s new Managing Director John Cameron joins Field Service Service News as a guest columnist and outlines the importance of managing mobile resources effectively…
Many companies managing a large field service workforce operate in industries which require highly skilled individuals, whose work is variable and complex in terms of location and task. Add in a high degree of compliance-focused work and that means that field service work has become increasingly mission-critical in terms of timing, skills and consequence. However, with market competition and customer expectations at an all-time high it is more important than ever that organisation’s ensure that their field service is not derailed by unpredictable dynamics of the working day. Understandably, the biggest area of concern for those in field service is workforce management and 69 per cent of organisations are investing in technology to help manage jobs more effectively.
Expert Insight: Defining the challenges
Establishing what it takes to manage a large field service operation today, from managing the people and scheduling the work, to the technology that helps to drive efficiency, is essential and requires organisations to overcome a number of obstacles, including:
- Jobs overrunning if they are more complicated than first thought
- Traffic congestion and vehicle breakdowns causing delays or even failure to meet an appointment
- Workers potentially calling in sick, starting late or getting delayed can impact adversely on the productivity of the workforce.
The biggest and most repetitive challenge facing organisations managing a mobile workforce is cost and this is closely related to a secondary challenge – the role of the technician in the business.
The technician is often the only contact a customer has with the company and therefore exposure to the company’s service delivery and brand. With a proven link between customer satisfaction, retention and profitability, how the technician interacts with the customer can be significant in the customer experience. The challenge facing organisations is therefore around the role and responsibility of the technician.
An additional challenge is measuring service performance, suggesting that the old adage of you cannot manage what you cannot measure certainly rings true. Measuring what is happening in a hugely diverse workforce and identifying what the key metrics are to do that is essential. Ultimately you need to understand what has happened and you want to know that ‘now’ to use that data to enable real-time decision-making.
Finally, managing change and embedding best practice is core to a successful field service operation. Organisations often wrestle with this change on a regular basis from all sorts of areas, whether it is new technology, new people, new policy or new vans and equipment. In a remote workforce, managing change and making sure that it sticks is particularly difficult, due to their activities, but finding a way to embed change and making sure that best practice is shared across the workforce is a key success factor.
Putting workforce management technology into action
Reassuringly, developments in workforce management technologies have begun to offer a solution to these challenges, through intelligent scheduling tools and performance management analytics. This capability provides the stepping stones needed to help organisations measure, manage and improve their operations through optimising resources, offering real-time visibility and monitoring and giving warning of tasks at risk or showing the impact of work allocation decisions.
Traditionally, many organisations scheduled tasks based on a technician’s allocated territory but with today’s most common customer complaint being that a technician did not resolve the issue on a first visit, scheduling the most knowledgeable technician to a task or one who has the right tools or parts in their vehicle, is crucial. As a result, more and more organisations are beginning to realise the value of intelligent scheduling – incorporating technician knowledge, parts availability, and capacity into their scheduling processes to ensure that the technician arriving on site is actually the person who can resolve the customer’s issue the first time. Aberdeen Group found that intelligence is at the heart of scheduling with over half of organisations using service performance data to evaluate the effectiveness of scheduling criteria.
Self-learner tools can also help considerably with intelligent scheduling. They incorporate an algorithm that quickly learns preferences for each mobile worker and will allocate tasks accordingly. This includes geography, such as which mobile workers normally service particular areas, and what skills mobile workers have and to what degree they are qualified to do certain types of work. Such capabilities help to improve customer service as tasks can be scheduled to best meet Service Level Agreements (SLAs), produce efficient routes to reduce travel time and ensures work is only given to those with the right skills, carrying the right assets and tools.
A case in point: Pacific Telemanagement Services (PTS)
Justin Keane, Chief Operating Officer at PTS drove change in the organisation after recognising a need for additional effectiveness in its scheduling processes. Every morning the company would give a batch of tickets to its technicians for their assigned regions and would see what they could get done in a day. Technicians would print a list of their tasks and spend half an hour planning routes based on their own knowledge of the area. They tried using a map to sequence the stops, but that took about an hour a day for each of the eight regional hubs, which is eight hours a day just to build the routes. With these scheduling problems having a detrimental effect on the company’s productivity and growth, it sought a solution which would allow it to become more efficient and reduce or eliminate the time required for scheduling.
PTS deployed a field service management solution which allows dispatchers to view all their tasks and schedules in one place. This has reduced the time that dispatchers spend on routing from three hours a day to 45 minutes a day – an efficiency saving of 75 per cent or about 11 hours a week. Additionally, since the technicians no longer needed half an hour a day to plan their own routes, it has saved more than 200 hours per week of their time and job completion rates have increased by 10 per cent.
PTS has expanded its field service technology to all of its regions and this has made the company more productive, which means improved efficiency, happier customers and a more positive bottom line.
 The Service Council : Achieving the perfect workday; intelligent field service management, 2013
 Trimble Insight Report, 2014
 Aberdeen Group: Secrets to Optimize Field Service for Better Customer Experiences, 2013