As we continue our exclusive serialisation of Advanced Field Service’s excellent Service Manager Handbook 2015/16 edition we turn our attention to agile resource scheduling…
It’s simple to manage a relatively small team of engineers with a limited number of jobs. But as your business grows, so do the scale and complexity of your resources.
However, the challenge of getting the properly skilled technician to the job with the minimum of fuss and overheads is not insurmountable. So when scheduling your field resources, how can you get it right?
Optimise travel times
Typically, around half of engineers’ time is spent (i.e. lost) in travelling to the customer’s site. Escalating fuel costs mean that long journeys also eat into your profit margins.
Clearly, optimising travel times has never been more important.
When new calls come in, you need to know your engineers’ present and future locations. Modern GPS navigation, route planning software and mapping tools have changed the rules for engineer allocation, helping your engineers reach customers via the quickest and/or shortest route. Don’t assume the usual route is the best one. Stay alert to incidents and planned roadworks that are causing hold-ups.
Your scheduling system should reduce planning time by suggesting and prioritising slots in the vicinity of the engineer’s base location and/or existing call locations, as well as finding the best slot for the job in line with SLA commitments.
Track your field team
Can you see at a glance which engineers are in the area and who is best placed to answer a new call or respond to an emergency? If, for any reason, an engineer cannot gain access to a customer’s site, is there another call locally that they can be redirected to?
Knowing your engineers’ whereabouts will help you react with agility and re-plan rapidly. You’ll also be able to monitor how long they’re spending on any particular job and check whether other work needs to be urgently re-planned.
Over time, having this data will help build a record of engineers’ actual and reported locations, highlighting any anomalies that need addressing.
Combine breakdown service with planned maintenance
Do you know which customers have routine service checks falling due? Is an engineer already scheduled to attend the customer or working with another customer nearby?
Being proactive in scheduling routine maintenance jobs will free your team to handle unexpected events.
Your systems should give you the flexibility to generate service jobs when you want to and to prompt operators with information about these jobs at the appropriate time.
Hit the ground running and increase first-time fix rates
You should have the systems in place to quickly identify who has the skills and availability to take a call. Provide them with everything they need to know to get in quickly, do the job, close down and exit, including call history and technical information. Enable them to do this via their mobile device, rather than having to carry around boxes of manuals.
Needless to say, your engineers require ready access to spares and parts. Can you track your inventory so that parts can be sourced quickly – from another engineer in the vicinity, the depot or a supplier? Give your engineers the power to search for and order spares via their mobile device.
This can also assist in reducing the costs of carrying inventory on the van ‘just in case’, which ties up your capital unnecessarily.
Plan non-billable activities
Time has to be allowed, planned and incorporated into the overall scheduling process for non-job related activities such as holidays and training. You need to be able to see at a glance any potential clashes: will approving a particular holiday request make it impossible to deliver certain jobs on time? Or can delivery be achieved only by the over-utilisation of the engineer prior to or immediately after their holiday?
And what contingency plans do you have for unplanned absence or adverse weather that may prevent engineers coming into work?
Review demand against resources
Integrated planning can help manage the tricky juggling act of satisfying the customer by responding within a reasonable timeframe and keeping engineers’ and back-office staff’s workloads within acceptable limits.
Your scheduling systems should prove invaluable in managing the complexity of resourcing across all jobs and provide a holistic view over the resourcing commitments across the business, so you can see at a glance the forecasted demand on your staff and their availability to take on new work.
By being able to visualise the impact of resourcing staff into new jobs and contracts, you can assign priorities and create realistic schedules. If necessary, reschedule or reassign existing work to another engineer with the skills to complete the job. Your system should hold details of engineers’ skills and certifications.