Paul Adams, Marketing and development manager at Solarvista looks at why no two field service companies are ever quite the same and what that means when choosing service management software…
‘At Solarvista, we have implemented hundreds of service management and workforce mobilisation systems over the years. And the biggest thing we have learned over that time is that everyone in service management does everything differently… even in the same industry sectors!
This issue became quite a big problem for us. We’d be approached by a prospective user in the same industry sector as current customers (they were often referred to us by them) and we’d think, “Great, we have a service management solution off the shelf for you”. Then, we’d find out that they did just about everything differently! Ouch.
We’d pitch modifications that required the use of developers going into the core product and making changes to meet those needs. In itself, quite a workable proposition and we’d done this successfully for many years. But as we grew, managing this code change became more costly to us, and sometimes to the customer. And it’s fair to say that developers don’t come cheap.
The ‘gaps’ that we normally address with specific modifications or code usually are categorised as:
- Missing functionality
- Integration to legacy systems
- Logic or business logic modifications/additions
To our customers, these gaps needed to be filled to ensure a successful, efficient solution was implemented. But, deep down, it often felt risky to them… they couldn’t see what they were getting until the latter stages of the project, when maximum resource exposure occurred. It doesn’t matter how good we are as developers, it’s only natural to feel anxious about such risks.
We needed to do something that enabled us to address the (mostly) totally different needs of each customer without resorting to changing or modifying our product.
I’ve written in previous articles about our R&D effort in cloud based services and some of the answers came as a result of this research. In cloud systems, one of the key cost reduction drivers is “one version of software for all customers”. But we knew that this was contra to what service management systems need. After some deep thinking by our best developers, we managed to find a solution.
Firstly, we re-architected many parts of our software to offer, what we call, Extensibility. This means that we can add completely new client-side features, 100% integrated with the core product, without needing to modify a single line of the underlying product code. In other words, one version of software BUT with new functionality added specifically for the customer needs, which operates as if it’s part of the existing product (the user wouldn’t realise). Not only that, the feature can be added in (literally) hours or days (not weeks) and with no requirement to regression test the underlying product. This enabled us to address Missing Functionality and Business Logic Change issues.
This didn’t solve the problem of connecting to ever increasing legacy and partner systems however. Often we would need to read customer data from a corporate system, or update a third-party system of a partner company. In fact, we often built 30+ interfaces in one system! How could we do this without needing expensive development?
The answer came again from our R&D into cloud architecture. We thought about power supply adapters and how they could be “plugged” together to achieve a whole unit. From this we built something we call a Dynamic Adapter operating via our Service Bus system that allows us to connect as many systems together without needing to code a single line. Once again, one version of software, but implemented doing very (very) different things.
The results have been impressive. In fact, we have recently addressed the service management needs of a very famous coffee shop company using Extensibility and Bus/Adapter technology alone without needing any core changes to our products. Another, in the automotive sector, that had pulled out of a service management project with a competitor, has had 35 ‘gaps’ filled with this same technology.
Service management software is often standard. But this doesn’t mean you cannot have exactly what you want.