Field Service Scheduling Software and What You Need to Know

Scheduling software has long been a foundational technology for field service companies allowing them to meet customer demands.

This article initially appeared in Field Service News – September 7, 2018

 

Michael Blumberg, President of the Blumberg Advisory Group lifts the lid on all of the key aspects of this crucial tool…

If you have spent any time in Field Service, you probably understand the importance of managing service delivery functions against key performance indicators (KPIs). Among the most critical KPIs in the Field Service Leaders track are First Time Fix (FTF), Service Level Agreement (SLA) Compliance or Onsite Response Time (ORT), and Mean Time to Repair (MTTR). These KPIs measure the effectiveness of a Field Service Organization (FSOs) in delivering quality service in a timely manner.

The inability to meet KPI targets may result in exponential costs, customer attrition and loss of revenue; whereas the ability to exceed customer expectations can result in customer appreciation followed by an increase in profit margins and sales. To effectively schedule/dispatch the right technician to arrive on time with the right parts and skillset plays a significant role in meeting these outcomes. This is definitely not a small feat for your typical FSO.

Scheduling and dispatching Field Service Engineers (FSE) poses a challenge for most FSOs, particularly those with more than 5 FSEs. The reason behind this is there are many variables and factors involved.

An FSO with only one or two FSEs and a few customers may not perceive scheduling to be a major challenge. The volume of service requests may be relatively low while the options of who, when and where to send them may be rather limited. Scheduling becomes more of a challenge as the volume of service requests (i.e., customers) and the number of FSEs increases.

Adding to this complexity are the business objectives and/or constraints an FSO must optimize to meet its scheduling requirements.

With additional constraints or objectives, the more difficult it becomes to produce a solid schedule. For example, if the objective is to only meet a response time commitment to the customer, then the decision is easy – assign the FSE who can arrive in a timely manner at the customer’s site.

If FTF, MTTR, and/or SLA Compliance targets are also part of the equation, it becomes even more difficult to produce that solid schedule. Adding a profit margin objective, high call volumes, multiple geographies, and a sizable pool of FSEs, the decision becomes even more overwhelming.

The reason why scheduling is so excruciating of a task is that there are numerous factors that an FSO would need to create and evaluate to determine the optimal assignment for each FSE.

This is a time-consuming activity that requires an extensive amount of computational power to achieve. Many companies have suffered from a loss of time and resources in dealing with confusion and potential human error. The solution is Dynamic Scheduling Software.

Dynamic Scheduling Software provides FSOs with the feature-rich functionality that streamlines, automates, and optimizes scheduling decisions.

This technology ensures the FSO sends the assigned technician to the right job having the proper skill set and arriving on time. These applications typically leverage a scheduling engine that optimizes FSE job assignment. Scheduling engines vary in their complexity ranging from those based on business rules to Linear Programming (i.e. goodness of fit) techniques, Operations Research Algorithms (e.g., Quantum Annealing, Genetic Algorithms, etc.), or Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Self-Learning applications.

The complexity of the scheduling problem, number and types of resources involved, duration of tasks, and objectives to be optimized play a role in determining which scheduling engine is most functional.

Critical factors to consider may include whether the scheduling engine can handle:

  • Multi-day projects or short duration field service visits,
  • People and assets (e.g., tools, parts, trucks, equipment) or solely people,
  • The number and types of KPIs that are part of the objective, and
  • Route planning requirements.

In evaluating Dynamic Scheduling Software, FSOs are also advised to consider the following criteria:

  • Cloud versus On-Premise Deployment Options
  • Speed and Ease of Implementation
  • Integration with Back-office Systems
  • Availability of Real-time Visibility by the Customer
  • FSO Requirements for Best of Breed or Integrated Enterprise Solution
  • Total Cost of Ownership
  • Return on Investment
  • Vendor Industry Knowledge and Experience

There are over a dozen software vendors who offer some form of dynamic scheduling functionality for field service.

Obviously, no two Dynamic Scheduling applications are alike. Each one has their points of differentiation. The best solution is a function of the level of importance the FSO places on each criterion and how each vendor meets these criteria.

Regardless of which vendor is selected, the benefits of Dynamic Scheduling are clear.

In fact, industry benchmarks show that companies who implement these types of solutions can achieve a 20% to 25% improvement in operating efficiency, field service productivity, and utilization. The impact on bottom line profitability and customer satisfaction is substantial. To enable FSOs to provide customers with an Uber-like experience and significant profitability, FSOs should consider deploying Dynamic Scheduling Software as part of their service delivery infrastructure.

Is Now The Right Time To Replace Your Field Service Management Software?

 This article first appeared in August 20, 2018 online issue of Field Technologies Online 

The market for field service management (FSM) software market is large and growing. In 2017, the market for cloud- based applications was valued at $1.2 billion by Blumberg Advisory Group, and we anticipate that the market will experience a five-year compound annual growth of 22.8 percent. In other words, it will more than double by 2022.  

Given the size and growth of this market, it is no wonder that dozens of software vendors are vying for share. Each vendor claims that their software will help field service organizations (FSOs) transform operations, keep up with industry trends, adhere to best practices, increase profits, and maximize customer satisfaction.

These claims are prompting many field service leaders to evaluate if now might be the right time to replace their existing FSM solution.  Being rational business managers, field service leaders need logical reasons to upgrade or replace their software. Of course, there are many reasons but some are good and some are not so very good. With more than three decades of experience with this topic, let me share with you five good reasons why NOW might be the right time to make a change:

  1. Your current system is costly to operate and maintain. Lets’ face it, if you are spending too much to operate and maintain your existing system, then it is probably time to replace it. Typically, companies that operate antiquated, disjointed, and/or fragmented systems experience higher IT operating expenses than those who do not. I worked with one client whose IT operating expense were 12 percent of revenue (while best in class is 4 percent). The cost savings alone was enough to justify the purchase of a new system.  
     
  2. Your existing FSM software is hindering growth. Depending on its feature functionality, your FSM software can either facilitate or limit your company’s growth. A few years ago, I helped a client expand into a new service business. Unfortunately, their existing systems did not have the required functionality to manage the transactions and workflow of this new business. As a result, my client had to postpone the launch of the new business until they could replace their system.
     
  3. You can’t get good data from your current software. This is one of the most frequently cited reasons for replacing software. If you can’t obtain good data on your installed base, equipment service histories, field service engineer skill sets, cost of service, failure rates, etc., then your company is at a disadvantage because it lacks the business intelligence to effectively plan and manage resources. 
     
  4. Your current solution is impacting KPIs. Ultimately, the success of your FSO’s ability to meet financial targets and keep customers happy depends on its ability to manage service processes against KPIs. For example, first-time fix, SLA/response time compliance, MTTR (mean time to repair), etc. If your company’s performance trails significantly from industry average or best in class, then it is possible your FSM is to blame. Perhaps its time to consider replacing your current system with one that does a better job and drives performance gains?
     
  5. Your current solution lacks flexibility and scalability. It is important that your FSM software can scale up or down without a massive investment in capital or labor. In addition, it should offer flexibility in terms of how workers can share and access data as well as flexibility or openness in terms of the ability to add on third party applications.     

There will always be software vendors who offer new and innovative applications to the field service market. The desire to keep up with industry trends and best practices will also drive purchasing decisions. Implementing a new solution can be costly and time consuming, even if the ROI exists. Therefore, the decision to switch should not be made lightly. You can use these five reasons to provide an objective framework for decision making.  

Avoiding the Four Biggest Mistakes FSOs make when using Contingent Labour

This article first appeared in the June 18, 2018 online issue of Field Service News.

Michael Blumberg, President of Blumberg Advisory Group  and founder of FieldServiceInsights.com discusses  some of the most crucial mistakes field service companies can make when utilising contingent or seasonal labour…

Field Service Organizations (FSOs) in North America, UK, and Europe are increasingly turning toward crowdsourcing platforms and subcontractors to augment their field workforce.

This type of outsourcing strategy enables FSOs to become more agile in meeting customer demands for service. As a result, they [FSOs] are able to reduce costs and improve service productivity. In addition, crowdsourcing and contingent labour helps solve the problem of finding skilled labour on a rapid basis.

However, turning to subcontractors and crowdsourcing platforms does involve relinquishing some level of control over the labour force. Naturally, questions emerge about the reliability, expertise, and quality of technicians that are sourced through these options.

Over the last two years, we have spoken with dozens of companies who have or currently utilize contingent labour to either augment their existing workforce or gain greater agility and efficiency over the entire field service delivery process. The majority are satisfied with their external providers and report positive results on key performance metrics such as First Time Fix and SLA Compliance/Onsite Arrive Time.   On the other hand, a few anomalies exist where the performance of contingent labour did not meet the FSOs expectations.

Quite often, FSOs who experience subpar performance make critical mistakes when retaining and managing contingent labour.

Here is our perspective on the biggest mistakes they need to avoid:

1. Failure to fully vet individual technicians doing the work

Don’t assume that every contract technician (e.g., subcontractor, freelance, crowdsource) you dispatch has the skills, training, and experience necessary to complete the work properly and in a timely manner. Insist on viewing background checks, certifications, and credentials of every contract technician assigned to your company.

2. Failure to train and onboard technicians

Quite often companies issue work orders without to contract technicians without training or guiding them on how they’d like the work to be performed.

For example, they do not explain how they’d like the tech to greet the customer and/or notify the customer when the work is complete.  Fortunately, Internet-based learning systems make it possible for companies to train and onboard contractors in a cost-effective and rapid manner.

3. Failure to communicate with contractors

This is the biggest mistake that a company can make is hand off work orders as if they were tossing a hot potato over a fence.

This will result in problem with respect to key service performance metrics such as SLA compliance, First Time Fix, and No Fault Found.  It is important that companies provide contractors with detailed and specific instructions about the activities they need to perform on each assignment.

At the same time, contractors also need to communicate with the companies that hire them on the status of calls, issues or problems they are experiencing, and results of their actions.

4. Failure to integrate contract or crowdsourced technicians into their service delivery process

Problems can occur when there is too much of an arm’s less relationship between the company and the contractor.  In other words, there is little accountability, visibility, and control between the company and contractors/technicians, and vice versa.

The key to success lies in treating contractors as an extension of your company.  Companies can achieve this outcome by leveraging communication technology, collaboration tools, and workforce automation software.  Relying on these systems will ensure the company achieves best in class service performance through its contractor network.

In summary, FSOs experience challenges to crowdsourcing when they underestimate the level of due diligence, systems, and processes they need to put in place when utilizing this type of labour. This does not necessarily mean that they must make huge capital investments.

Rather, they are urged to design and implement processes and procedures by leveraging existing infrastructure when they can.

Devoting the time and effort to this initiative will pay off. Our research suggests that FSOs who have an unpleasant experience with contingent labour do so because they rush into the decision without much thought, planning, and preparation.

Basically, they are looking to solve an immediate problem with no consideration to future. In other words, they are taking a tactical approach to labour shortages where a strategic solution is required.

Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Antonia Kay gives a preview of WBR's upcoming event in St. Louis

Worldwide Business Research (WBR) will be hosting the Connected Manufacturing Forum on June 19-20, 2018 in St Louis, MO. I recently had the chance to talk to Antonia Kay, the Program Director, about a few emerging trends impacting the Manufacturing Industry.

1. What are the biggest challenges facing the Manufacturing Industry today, specifically when it comes to Industry 4.0?

We are at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will fundamentally change our lives. Things that we deemed impossible or futuristic as children – artificial intelligence, human-like robots, drones, self-driving cars – are quickly becoming an everyday reality. As fascinating as it may sound, these technological advancements translate into a lot of uncertainty and hard work for industrial leaders tasked with “giving a facelift” to their manufacturing ecosystems.

The biggest challenge most executives are facing today is mapping out their digitalization journey, making first steps towards connectivity and automation, and adapting their company culture to the drastic change that comes with the digital transformation. As of today, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to connected manufacturing, but top global industrials are investing in IoT, cloud computing, advanced analytics, robotic process automation, and 3D printing in order to capture opportunities early on and secure their competitive edge in future.

2. What do you see as the most important trends and opportunities with respect to Industry 4.0?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the word of the day.

Global manufacturing organizations are investing in predictive maintenance and condition monitoring – the move from don’t fix what’s not broken to making sure things don’t break through continuous, smart monitoring and maintenance of the factory equipment.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are big too, as they can drive equipment optimization and productivity on the factory floor and beyond.

And, of course, there is an ever-present talk about Big Data and advanced analytics – how do you collect and secure your data assets, how do you leverage it for informed decision making, product/service innovation and, eventually, improved customer satisfaction?

The opportunities that come with connecting people, processes, and assets are endless. The question is, how do you do it?

3. What is the Connected Manufacturing Forum and why should people attend?

Connected Manufacturing Forum is a networking and learning platform for Industry 4.0 frontrunners who are ready to move past fear of the unknown and revolutionize their business, one step at a time.

4. Can you give an overview of what people will get?

Connected Manufacturing Forum will offer a comprehensive coverage of the main Industry 4.0 trends and will help manufacturing leaders find answers to their toughest digitalization questions.

We have a good number of real-life case studies focused on Industry 4.0 blueprint development and implementation, projects that have helped companies like Johnson & Johnson, LEGO, Intel, Boeing, Coca-Cola and more start their connected manufacturing transformation, align teams around the same goals and prepare for future industry advancements.

Cultural change and workforce management is a big topic this year – executive leaders from Georg Fischer, Kuhn Krause, Subaru, Nature’s Variety will share best practices in preparing your organization for the Industry 4.0 revolution, delivering required training to your existing employees and expanding your talent pool by attracting new, highly skilled workers who will drive the future of your company.

Lastly, we will be discussing innovative technologies – IoT, augmented reality (AR), 3D printing, robotics, sensor technologies, human machine interface (HMI), predictive analytics – that can help companies improve processes and optimize efficiencies.

5. Why did WBR choose to produce the event, and how will it be different from other events focused on Industry 4.0?

Our in-depth market research indicated that there was a high need for an Industry 4.0 conference that would help industry leaders benchmark their connected manufacturing strategies and find solutions to the toughest digitalization challenges.

While there are many smart manufacturing events out there, the quality of our content and the seniority and experience of our topnotch speakers by far outweigh competition and what other events have to offer. Our program was developed through in-depth interviews with Fortune 500 executive leaders and is packed with case studies, panels, roundtable discussions, and interactive workshops focused on real-life challenges that manufacturing executives are trying to overcome on a daily basis. Our goal is to help them do just that and progress to the next digitalization level.

6. What will people be missing if they do not attend?

They’ll miss out on top-quality, real-life content and outstanding industry networking opportunities. If your company is going through a digital transformation, you simply can’t miss Connected Manufacturing Forum!

7. If they must come up with one reason why to attend, what should it be?

Connected Manufacturing Forum is your one stop shop for all things Industry 4.0. Have questions about digitalization? Don’t know how to roll out an IoT initiative and deliver on it? Want to learn from the best in the industry and meet the most innovative solution providers? Then hurry up and register today!

Register to join 150+ executives in a collaborative debate on the emerging Industry 4.0 trends in Manufacturing, Technology, Operations, and Advanced Engineering.

And as a bonus to my readers, use code CM18BLUMBERG to save 25% on your ticket!

REGISTER NOW

Walk Before You Can Run

A Blue Print for Creating an IoT Enabled Field Service Organization

Despite the enormous benefits of IoT, field service leaders face many challenges to implementing IoT platforms.   First, many of these leaders have not defined a clear outcome for IoT projects.   In other words, they haven’t created solid use case or achieved clarity around what types of actions, decisions, or benefits they can obtain from IoT.  The possibilities are endless and often overwhelming.   Second, these leaders need to create a clear road map with respect to when, how, and where they will implement IoT.  Questions often exist as to whether they should implement IoT on their existing installed base or roll-out with new product releases.   Applying IoT to an existing installed base may seem like a time-consuming and arduous task.  However, the benefits that a FSO can achieve when a large segment of their installed base is IoT enabled is significant.  Third, IoT produces a vast volume of data.  FSOs are often not sure how they will make sense of all the data or how they will ensure that actionable and measurable results will be achieved from this information.   Fourth and most importantly, many field service leaders are concerned that they must overhaul their entire service delivery processes prior to taking advantage of IoT.  This seems like an impossible order when they may have millions of dollars invested in the current ways of doing things.

Implementing IoT does not have to be this challenging or complex.  Ultimately, field service leaders desire a solution that helps them achieve actionable and measurable results in a reasonable time frame.  More importantly, they want a solution that does not bog them down with tons and tons of meaningless data and one that enables them to work with their existing service delivery processes and systems infrastructure.

Quite often, corporations that implement IoT solutions do so within the context of a Digital Transformation (DX) initiatives.  These initiatives typically involve a complete re-design of the service model.  While they have positive impact on the customer experience and share-holder value in the long run, they maybe counter-productive to the near term objectives of field service leaders to support their customers’ installed base on an efficient and productive basis.  This is because DX initiatives require corporate buy-in, multi function coordination, dedicated investment capital, and considerable time to implement, whereas field service leaders are more pragmatic and want results now.

The best approach for field service leaders is one that enables them to implement IoT in parallel to larger, corporate DX initiatives. By doing so, FSOs can realize short term gains within the context of serving their current installed base using the FSO’s existing infrastructure and service business model.  This approach reduces the requirement to re-design the entire business model and postpone the realization of results that are possible through IoT.

Field service leaders can think of this transformation as “a walk before you run” approach to implementing IoT.  It requires field service leaders to think of IoT in terms of moving from a reactive service model, to conditional, to prescriptive and finally to a predictive service model.  Reactive service is the modus operandi of most of today’s FSOs.  Service is provided when the customer acknowledges they have a problem and request a solution.  Conditional service represents the next phase in the transition to IoT.  It uses IoT technology to monitor the customers’ installed base and provide alerts to the FSO that service is required. This enables the FSO to be more responsive to customer issues, ensure first time fix, and minimize downtime.  A prescriptive model is one in which the alert includes a recommendation or instruction about what action the FSO should take next.  Predictive service goes one step further. It monitors the customer’s installed base to anticipate service events and take corrective action before they occur thus avoiding downtime altogether and eliminate operating costs and overhead from the service operation.

The time for FSOs to think about implementing IoT is when they are replacing or upgrading their Field Service Management Software.  Perhaps the requirement for IoT alone is the primary reason why a FSO would want to upgrade or replace now.  Assuming this is the case, FSOs are advised to seek out software vendors who offer IoT feature functionality as part of a complete solution. This will minimize the number of moving parts (e.g., vendors, applications) that need to be included in the solution.  This in turn will lead to reduced implementation costs, an efficient process, and less headaches for the FSO.  In addition, it will ensure that the IoT solution works within the context of existing service delivery processes and procedures as opposed to the other way around.  In this way, FSOs can walk before they run.

 

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What Makes Successful Digital Transformation? – Podcast

Field Service — FMS

Michael Blumberg (President & CEO of Blumberg Advisory Group) sat down with Todd Stewart of In the Know to discuss why digital transformation is one of the hottest topics within the field service space. 

Digital Transformation occurs when an organization leverages the use of  advanced technology to change the way they conducting business. By doing so, these companies can run a  more responsive business operation and gain greater market share.

This is especially true in the Field Service Industry. One example of this positive impact is the use of Internet of Things (IoT) to remotely monitor equipment performance. By continuously monitoring sensors related to a particular piece of machinery, a Field Service Organization(FSO) can predict when service is needed or know as soon as there is a failure. At that point, the FSO can contact the customer to provide information to fix the problem, analyze what personnel or parts need to be sent onsite to resolve the issue, or provide information to the customer to avoid the impending problem all together.

Learn more about Digital Transformation by listening to this podcast.

 

 

Digital Transformation Trend: Changing “Business as Usual”

The following is an excerpt from an article we wrote for XM Reality.  You can get a copy of the full article here http://resources.xmreality.com/blumberg-new-reality/

customer service

Perhaps the trend that is having the greatest influence on the adoption of AR/VR/MR platforms is not the affordability or stability of the technology but the commitment by today’s leading corporations to embrace Digital Transformation (DX). Rather than utilizing technologies simply to streamline and automate existing business processes and transactions, digital transformation means utilizing technological innovation such AR/VR/MR to change the very way business is conducted, resulting in new business models and cultures.

DX has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the performance of companies that have pursued this strategy. In fact, in some instances it has resulted in a winner take all scenario. According to Constellation Research Founder and Principal Analyst Ray Wang, “digital leaders in almost every industry are taking 40% to 70% of the overall market share and 23% to 57% of profits. In some markets, if there are one or two major players, they are taking up to 77% of the profits”.

These findings suggest that DX could lead to a “zero-sum” game for selected field service providers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that businesses across a wide range of industry segments are investing heavily in DX technologies. Indeed, worldwide spending on DX is estimated to approach $1.2 trillion by 2017 year-end, according to International Data Corporation, an increase of 17.8% over 2016. IDC predicts this market will continue to grow at a steady rate of 17.9% over the next three years, reaching $2.0 trillion by 2020.

Most business experts and industry pundits agree that DX investments have the greatest impact on a company’s performance when they achieve two major objectives. First, they make business operations more responsive by leveraging digitally connected product-service offerings, people, and assets. Second, they lead to innovations that transform how customers, partners, employees, and things communicate with each other. For field service organizations, the outcome of meeting these objectives incudes a more enabled workforce, enhanced customer experience, and improved overall collaboration and performance.

Clearly, AR/VR/MR technology is well suited to meet these objectives and deliver outcomes. At a macro level, it changes the way field service business is conducted, by bringing a problem to the expert rather than the other way around. As a result, it shortens the time it takes to resolve a customer’s issue and avoids the high costs associated with sending a technician to the customer site. In addition, it helps FSOs overcome resource constraints. For example, utilizing this technology, a technician at a customer site can simultaneously offer remote support to a second customer at another location. Furthermore, the technology facilitates greater collaboration and performance among technicians. A “top-gun” technician with deep domain knowledge and expertise can provide remote guidance to a less experienced, “novice” engineer. Technicians can also use annotations as part of AR sessions to overcome language barriers that may exist between people in different geographic regions. Lastly, AR/VR/MR provides an immersive experience to the customer, enhancing their experience and enabling them to be self-reliant when it comes to resolving basic issues.

In many ways, AR/VR/MR pushes the boundaries of possibilities when it comes to providing high quality and efficient services and support to end customers. By overcoming limitations, FSOs experience improved performance in the areas of first time fix, remote call resolution rates, mean time to repair, and cost per service call. While effective field service leaders have always been committed to continuously improving performance in these areas, AR/VR/MR provides the technology to make step-wise (e.g., exponential) improvements as opposed to only incremental gains.

AR/VR/MR brings additional value in its ability to positively influence and enhance customer satisfaction as well as generate new and profitable sources of revenue for FSOs. For example, many early FSO adopters have been able to monetize their investment in this technology by offering AR/VR/MR enabled remote support sessions as a value-added, fee-based service to customers. These examples clearly demonstrate why FSOs should give serious consideration to deploying an AR/VR/MR solution today.

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