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.

Setting Your Knowledge Free

Lessons from the Front Lines of Knowledge Management for Field Service

Thank you to Bo Wandell, VP Sales and Business Development at Infomill, Inc for this week’s guest post.

One of fastest and most cost-effective ways to improve field service KPIs is to Set Your Knowledge Free by delivering it to your service technicians’ laptops and mobile devices. Knowledge is power in field service operations – but only when your technicians have mobile access to it. Aberdeen Group found that service organizations incur an average of $1.68M each in unnecessary costs due to poor access to knowledge.[1]

Tacit vs. Explicit Corporate Knowledge

The two kinds of corporate knowledge are tacit and explicit. Tacit knowledge resides in the minds of employees, while explicit knowledge already exists in some published form, though it is probably locked up your corporate silos.

While both are highly valued by field service technicians, many organizations focus more on creating tacit knowledge, which can be an arduous and time-consuming task. In a 2015 survey[2] TSIA found that on average it takes 12 days to publish just one new article in a knowledge base. Some companies reported it’s not uncommon for the approval process to take 90 to 120 days.

A more cost effective and less risky approach for organizations to quickly improving KPIs is to focus on the delivery of explicit (existing) knowledge which has already been created and validated by internal departments.

Most corporations have large amounts of valuable explicit knowledge in the form of paper-based documents, PDFs, product and installation manuals, part lists, images, exploded diagrams, databases and more. Setting Your Knowledge Free means re-purposing this knowledge to create a current, searchable and accessible knowledge base for your field service technicians.

Explicit knowledge must be current if it’s going to be useful

So, why is Setting Your Knowledge Free so damn hard?

First and foremost, when your technical writers published the knowledge, they probably didn’t consider how a field service tech would need to access it.

Simply posting a 200-page installation manual PDF on a website is better than a sharp stick in the eye, but just barely. When a technician that shows up at hospital to service a lifesaving medical device, scrolling through a 200-page service manual on his device to find an answer to one question isn’t reasonable. What they need is a mobile application that provides an intuitive and searchable repository of all available explicit knowledge. According to Aberdeen Group, field service technicians spend an average of 14% of their time researching the information they need to do their jobs.[1]

However, it’s critical that explicit knowledge is kept current and continuously optimized. Corporate staff can try to anticipate the knowledge that service organizations will value, the technicians know best what they require to increase first-time fix rates and customer satisfaction while shortening field visits and increasing service-related profits.

There are many misleading or incorrect sources for content out there. For consistency, it is important that the knowledge your company created remains relevant and reliable.

Four lessons from the knowledge management trenches

Setting Your Knowledge Free requires a blend of people, process and technology led by a competent staff member called the Knowledge Czar. Below are four high level steps infused with a lot of lessons from the knowledge management trenches.

1.     Discovery – breaking into departmental silos

Establish team to the define the KPIs you’ll use to measure success. At the same time, identify and gather the sources of explicit knowledge available inside your corporate departments regardless of format. Otherwise you run the risk of your knowledge management project being delayed and the Knowledge Czar becoming frustrated.

2.     Convert – Mobilizing explicit knowledge

Convert explicit knowledge into XML or another industry standard format suitable for delivery to multiple types of mobile devices. This process is challenging, but assistance exists either from software applications or companies that specialize in converting documents to XML.

Next, add intelligence such as hyperlinks, hot spots, images, and links to external databases and videos. Intelligence should anticipate the knowledge needs of a field service tech. For example, if a tech is replacing part #001, he might need to test part #002. Provide a hot link for the instructions to test part #002.

3.     Review and Measure

The Knowledge Czar is responsible for performing a quality audit to ensure consistency and accuracy by manually verifying each piece of content and cleansing the outdated knowledge artifacts.

Measuring the success of the knowledge base can be accomplished by conducting surveys of service technicians. Since techs are on the front lines and deal with customers every day, they will provide valuable input on how to improve the knowledge base.

4.     Continuous Optimization – Keeping knowledge current

As discussed above, keeping content current is where most field service organizations struggle. Ensure that the Knowledge Czar has the responsibility and time to continuously optimize the knowledge base.

A final word of caution: creating and delivering a knowledge base that improves KPIs will result in your Knowledge Czar being hailed as a corporate hero. If they are rewarded with a promotion, make sure they’re replaced with someone equally as enthusiastic and committed to delivering knowledge to your technicians.

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[1] http://www.aberdeen.com/research/12031/12031-rr-knowledge-management-service/content.aspx
[2] https://www.tsia.com/documents/The_State_of_Social_Support_2015/