Continuing with our trend of departing from our typically scheduled programming, we are going to discuss something different today. We are going to touch on a class of software that is somewhat related to customer service management software, although only indirectly. In fact, it has quite a few similarities with supply chain management software. We are going to give an introduction to the class of software dedicated to automating field service management.
Given the recent natural gas and shale boom in North America, this class of software has seen widespread adoption in recent years. Not surprisingly, however, this software will not be limited to just the natural gas industry. The best field service management software can be used for a wide variety of industries, and we’ll get into the applications of field service management software in a minute.
What is Field Service Management?
Simply put, field service management is the process of managing personnel and other resources in a business that conducts a good portion of its operations offsite. It refers to the practice of managing worker activities, scheduling and dispatching workers, ensuring the safety of personnel in the field, locating vehicles, and integrating billing, inventory, and other back office systems such as accounting.
Examples of Field Service Management Applications
Numerous industries have employed software to help with field service management activities. For instance:
- Natural Gas Utilities dispatch engineers to check out and repair reported leaks
- The cable and telephone industry sends out technicians to install cable lines in residences or businesses
- In the healthcare industry nurses can be stationed at patient homes to help the family deal with burdensome tasks relating to the care of the elderly or disabled
- Various heavy engineering industries dispatch technicians to handle maintenance and inspection of high value capital equipment
- Waste management companies can use field service management to keep track of vehicles, to make sure they are on route and on time
- Pest control companies can use field service management software to keep track of pesticide usage and frequency as well as trap monitoring to keep tabs on those pesky critters
- Mad services have been known to use field service management software to optimize routes and scheduling, handle invoicing, conduct time tracking as well as attendance management
Features of Field Service Management Software
As you might gather from the above, field service management software is designed to solve a number of these issues. Certainly, various vendors are going to offer software solutions that have a wide variety of features, but we can at least list off some of the core feature set that most of them are going to provide (with permutations).
- Order management functions such as scheduling
- Tracking of personnel and vehicles
- Job status updates from personnel in the field
- Route optimization functions to minimize asset depreciation and fuel costs
- Time tracking and driver recording – no lollygagging!
- Repository of knowledge and assets to assist with problem solving at the point of the issue
- Parts and inventory management to make sure personnel have the stuff they need to win
- Integrated invoicing and payment processing to make things easy on everybody
- Regulatory compliance functions to make sure all applicable laws are followed
- Customer login in functionality so they can be up to date on the situation as it develops
- Forecasting to allow management to plan the allocation of human and capital resources
- Reporting features to enable management to track performance of human and capital assets
- Notification systems to issue reminders of critical tasks and appointments
- Partner integration, such as QuickBooks Integration
As you can see, the functions of field service management software are wide and varied. They can be mixed and matched to meet various business needs.
Benefits of Field Service Management Software
Increasing Customer Satisfaction: As always, keeping your customers happy is the core directive of any business (unless you’re Comcast). Field service management software enhances customer service by giving the customer more precise arrival times for the service personnel. This is in stark contrast to the old “we will be there between the hours of 11 am and 5 pm” song and dance, which has infuriated customers everywhere (cable companies, I’m looking at YOU). Even better, they can empower the customer to choose the arrival time, so that the service is performed around their schedule, rather than the company’s. In addition, the software can forecast the tools and supplies needed by the technician, ensuring that they show up with the needed supplies on hand.
Reduction of fuel costs: At the moment, crude oil is cheap. If history is any guide, this situation won’t last forever, so the ability to minimize fuel costs will once again come to the forefront of importance. Central to reducing fuel costs is the ability to intelligently plan routes around known traffic patterns as well as for minimizing total travel distance. This functionality is going to be incredibly useful for any business that owns its own fleet of vehicles and dispatches personnel to deal with issues on site.
Reduction of parts inventory: With the ability to predict the failure of parts based on historical information, the business can more efficiently stock parts to match up with anticipated demand. It does no good to have a spare part laying around for three months waiting for the part-in-use to break, if you can have one within a few days of needing it.
Workforce management: most of the field service management software solutions will have some sort of mobile integration, which will allow the management team to track employees while in the field. This helps them keep track of delays and problems, while ensuring accountability on the part of the employee. In the past, there was no real mechanism to ensure responsibility on the part of the employee, so this is a great feature for performance analysis and management.
Better on the fly problem solving: It’s no secret that many businesses face a set of recurring problems. The old way was to rely on tribal knowledge and a sort of on the job training process to relay this knowledge. No more. The best field service management software solutions enable access to a knowledge repository where the field service operator can access common problems and their solutions. This enables the employee to get in, get the job done, and get out as quickly as possible. This maximizes productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. I call that win-win.
Potential Downsides of Field Service Management Software
Of course, not all is rosy with the world of software. There are always issues, are there not? As usual, the implementation can be tricky, and the devil is in the details. A business needs to be sure that the adoption of a new system won’t break their current one, while the changeover takes place. In addition, they must schedule ample and sufficient training for employees to make sure everyone is up to speed on the new software, otherwise it will reduce rather than enhance productivity.
Trends that Affect Field Service Management Software
As is the case with customer service management software and other similar classes of software, there are a number of trends that have caught fire in recent years.
Software as a service (SaaS): This refers to the practice of paying for the use of the software on a month to month basis, rather than paying a license fee for each eligible device. It has the benefit that it doesn’t require on-site computing resources to enable the fancy features. Of course, it has the downside that it requires a remote connection to access the software, and relies on the infrastructure of another company to enable yours to function. This gives up some control of your core business functionality, but it’s a tradeoff.
The biggest concern with the SaaS model is the fact that sensitive information is stored on a system that the business does not have direct control over. This could potentially result in the breach of sensitive information, however that possibility would exist with any database. So perhaps it is a wash.
Mobile Access: Smartphones and tablets are everywhere, and many businesses have employed them to give employees access to key functionality on the go. The best field service management software platforms are mobile enabled, so that your employees have access to what they need on the go. It also enables many of the route optimization functions and knowledge repository access functionality, so this trend has really proven transformative for many industries.
If you are still wondering, is field service management software right for my business? Then there are some things to consider. Do you have a strong need for route optimization and gas cost reduction? Do you need to give your employees access to problem solving information at the point of the problem? Could your business benefit from some sort of attendance tracking system? Do your current business systems rely heavily on the use of spread sheets, or worse yet paper based tracking of tasks and inventory?
If you answered yes to some subset of these questions, then field service management software could be right for your business. Use the information in this guide as a jumping off point to help you start searching out the best field service management software solutions that will help you to streamline your business operations and take your company to the next level.
From there, start reaching out to vendors to see what their individual solutions offer, and how those solutions match up to your business model. When you have found a few matches, then start to compare on price and rule out any of them that won’t be able to provide the ROI to justify their cost. For those that pass that test, feel free to request a demo of the software so you can see it in action. This last step is really critical, as you are going to have to live with this software for a while. If the interface is ugly and counter intuitive, you could experience quite a few problems during the implementation. Just some food for thought!
I hope you have found this information helpful. In a future article, we will explore some of the best field service management software platforms out there. Stay tuned!