News that matters for fleet decision-makers

Take control of your…field operations

By Dominic Claeys-Jackson
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 16:29

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MarkForrestTrimble

EXPERT: Mark Forrest, of Trimble

In our latest Expert Blog, Mark Forrest, General Manager at Trimble, gives his tips on how to seize control of your field operations

Managing a field service operation in today’s marketplace is not an easy feat and there are many barriers that need to be overcome and steps that need to be taken in order to execute a perfect workday.

With customer expectations at an all-time high, the pressure to deliver the best service performance has never been higher and it is a clear objective for any field service company that wants to remain competitive.

However, budget constraints have led businesses having to achieve service excellence with fewer resources, resulting in meeting SLA Commitments, providing short appointment windows and ensuring the ‘first time fix’ that much harder to achieve.

When it comes to managing a field operation and achieving the perfect workday, it is often supposed that knowing each vehicle’s position would be at the heart of the solution.

However, it isn’t where the vehicles are that’s important, its where the engineer or field service worker is and what they are doing that is of paramount concern, as ultimately they are the ones providing the service to the end customer.

So executing  a ‘perfect’ mobile workday may be a rarity as field service workers are regularly faced with obstacles often out of their control.

For example, jobs may overrun as they turn out to be more complicated than first thought, emergency work may come in which changes the day’s schedule or traffic congestion and vehicle breakdown can cause delays or failure to meet an appointment.

Additionally, with workers calling in sick, starting late or getting lost; all these factors can impact adversely on the productivity of the workforce.

With much field-based work becoming increasingly mission-critical in terms of timing, skills and consequence more importantly than ever companies need to ensure that their field service is not derailed by unpredictable dynamics of the working day.

Achieve your perfect work schedule

In a recent survey by The Service Council, nearly half of organisations highlighted their interest in broader investments in field service in the next 12-24months.

Developments in Work Management technologies, for field services, have come to the fore as solutions able to transform the way in which work is performed, through intelligent scheduling tools and advanced performance analytics.

This capability provides the stepping stones needed to help organisations measure, manage and improve their operations through optimising resources, offering real-time visibility and monitoring and giving warning of tasks at risk or showing the impact of work allocation decisions.

Such capabilities helps to increase the profitability of service delivery as it allows the field service manager to schedule tasks to meet SLAs, produce efficient routes to reduce travel time, fuel costs and overtime and ensures work is only given to those with the right skills.

Many organisations schedule tasks based on a technician’s allocated territory, however selecting the most knowledgeable technician, or one who has the right tools or parts in their vehicle, is also crucial.

More and more organisations are beginning to realise the value of ‘intelligent scheduling’ – incorporating technician knowledge, parts availability, and capacity into their scheduling processes to ensure that the technician arriving on site is actually the person who can resolve the customer’s issue first time.

AberdeenGroup found that intelligence is at the heart of scheduling with over half of organisations using service performance data to evaluate the effectiveness of scheduling criteria.

Self-learner tools help with intelligent scheduling.

They incorporate an algorithm that quickly learns preferences for each mobile worker and will allocate tasks accordingly.

This includes geography (which mobile workers normally service particular areas) and skill (learns what skills mobile workers have and to what degree they are qualified to do particular types of work).

The first step to managing productivity requires field service managers to get the right people with the right skills with the right assets to the right place within a set time and the self-learner tool significantly helps in achieving this.

Optimise productivity to achieve quality of service through greater business intelligence

It is important to remember that technology is purely an enabler and measuring the effectiveness of technology is just as important as the initial install. It is the management information and performance management analysis and how this is used that is fundamental in meeting business targets.

A survey by the Service Council confirmed that performance management and visibility was a major area of concern in field service.

Reassuringly, developments in workforce management technology have begun to offer a solution to these concerns.

Performance Management Analytics (PMA) provides field service managers with the visibility to analyse the productivity of their fleet operations.

For example, scheduling statistics for individual workers can be recorded from the start of the day and compared with the position at the end of the day.

Based on actual location data, easily digestible performance reports can be generated and customised to showcase the key metrics of a field operation.

These can range from if the quality of service has been met/failed, utilisation (total time vs. time spent on tasks), efficiency (actual vs. estimated task duration), total tasks completed, total fuel usage and total distance travelled.

By adopting PMA the field service manager is provided with the visibility to identify what is preventing the company from doing more jobs and able to identify gaps in the working day where mobile workers could be utilised elsewhere.

An additional capability of the technology is that it provides the field service manager with the ability to learn from day-to-day experiences.

Data can be collected about the trends in the field, the type of jobs that overrun, the number of commitments met and the performance of individual and groups of service workers.

If, for example, a service worker takes 40minutes for a particular task whereas the average for others is two hours, then is that worker cutting corners or are they simply an outstanding employee?

Conversely, if taking two hours as opposed to 40minutes then do they need additional training?

Such integration not only ensures that all relevant stakeholders across different business units have the salient information they need to manage the daily performance of the organisation, but the performance analysis also helps feed into strategic business planning on targets, budgets and resourcing.

Ultimately, the capabilities provided by Work Management technologies overcomes the business challenges field service companies have been faced with for years.

How do I know what is really happening in my field service operations?

How do I know that what my workers say they are doing is true?

How can I get more jobs done per day?

What prevents me from doing more work? How good is the quality of service?

How effectively are resources being met?

Taking a holistic approach across field operations and obtaining visibility into the work in its entirety is essential and the business intelligence provided by Work Management technology achieves this, suggesting that the old adage of ‘you cannot manage what you cannot measure’ certainly rings true.

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