It isn’t sexy technology, that’s for sure. It doesn’t offer the glamorous aesthetics of Instagram and its potential use isn’t nearly as widespread as autonomous vehicles. In fact, chances are those outside the industry haven’t even heard of it.
Yet, despite a lack of press and high-profile CEOs, field service management software is shaping the world of tech as we know it. We just might not realize it yet.
Field service management tracks fleets of vehicles, inventory, and manages field technicians, and handles essential back-office tasks such as dispatch and documentation.
Manage a workforce
Workforce management is one of the primary functions of field service management. “Managing a workforce” is a broad term and can mean a lot of things. Let’s dive into that a bit.
When a customer requests field service support, a service tech is typically dispatched to go and assist the customer. Now, back in the days before modern day field service management technology, scheduling and assigning workers was tedious at best, and a nightmare at its worst. Managers had to manually input schedules and track a tech’s availability, then connect them to the nearest customer. Back-office administrators were often more concerned with scheduling and managing techs, rather than other important tasks like billing and resource management. Having to manage workers via spreadsheets (or even pen and paper) was slow and inefficient, nearly tripling response time. Double bookings were not uncommon, and neither were late appointments. All of this leads to customer dissatisfaction.
Today’s tools make it easy to properly schedule and manage workers when it comes to where their next job is, what their tools are and more. Oftentimes, this is even handled without user intervention by features such as automatic smart scheduling.
As a field service company, your inventory is more than just essential to your day-to-day operations; next to your techs, it’s your most important asset. But tools break down, degrade and need to be repaired or replaced. A coveted feature of field service management is its ability to track, manage and assign resources. Before software became a standard tool across the industry, managers used to track company resources manually. Now this task can be automated, freeing up valuable time for back-office administrators.
What does tracking resources mean? It means to log the amount of present inventory or assets, and then keep track of them as they’re doled out to technicians or used across an enterprise. This goes hand-in-hand with assigning resources, which isn’t as simple as it sounds. Sophisticated solutions will assign workers equipment based on their skill level and based on the equipment’s condition itself. This allows for the best possible allocation of assets across the entire business.
And then there’s resource management, which sounds like it’s from a video game but has more to do with the health of the resource and stock of your inventory. Because resources have to be replaced (which has an impact on inventory), resource management tracks their general health and condition and reports back to managers, so they can prepare the adequate stock. This ensures users always have an adequate supply of whatever tool they need on hand — as well as replacements.
Billing customers can often be a hassle, so automated solutions are now often equipped with features to help back-office managers issue invoices and store them securely for records.
Another valuable component of field service management is that it empowers technicians with the ability to issue invoices and collect payment on the spot. By utilizing a smartphone app connected to your back office, techs are able to pull up billing information and relevant documentation, and oftentimes are able to have customers sign on the spot. That payment information is then transferred back to the office for processing and storage.
Collect and manage documentation
Field service management often has a document management system that makes it easy to store important information that helps technicians and office managers alike do their jobs. Some important documentation examples include:
- Topographical maps
- Zoning information
- Parts numbers
- Parts lists
And much, much more. These documents can often be pulled up on mobile devices to assist field workers who are out on a job.
Perform back-office tasks
Billing, scheduling, dispatch, management — all of these can eat into the valuable time of managers. Most field service management solutions handles these things with ease.
Billing, which we’ve already covered, can be handled by either the technician or back in the office, where quotes are dispatched and receipts are kept.
Scheduling is another beast, however, but it’s a tameable one with the help of effective field service management. Sending out techs to multiple jobs can become a hassle when the job is:
- Out of their geographical range
- Out of their skill level
- Not compatible with their work schedule
Field service management helps mitigate this by intelligently pathing out jobs and then picking service workers who are able to meet those requirements based on preset and user-established criteria. Most software will also work with predefined start and stop schedules, which can be invaluable for keeping customers and field service professionals happy. It won’t give them jobs that are estimated to take too long or that are too far out of the way if the day is coming to an end. Prior to the arrival of software tools, managers had to handle this by hand. They had to know their (ever-changing) lineup of techs’ skill-levels, expertise, locations and preferences. Now it’s all stored in a robust database, which also handles other pieces of information like tool usage and technician routing.
And an additional benefit in scheduling software is that it takes employee scheduling, routing and skill information, and pairs it against customer schedules, which means the right tech and the right customer are paired together.
All of the above are possible thanks to information collected in real time. Field service management software collects data of all kinds to run your field services at maximum efficiency. For example, it uses your technicians’ current locations and job statuses to schedule and dispatch them once a new job opens up. It also keeps your inventory lists up to date by updating them whenever a component is used on a job. And lastly, real-time analytics helps the software realize when a job is done and what was done on the job so it can send the bill over. Basically, these real-time analytics provide you with the information you need to run smoothly.
Any field management software worth its salt will have some sort of mobile component to it. This is not a “feature” either. This is now a requirement.
A mobile application allows workers to stay in sync with HQ. It provides all the flexibility of a personal digital assistant with the mobility and agility of a mobile device. By tacking on a mobile asset, field workers are better able to serve the customer. They get access to data quickly, they can respond to jobs faster, and can constantly be in touch with their managers in the event that the higher-ups need to be pulled.
Mobile field service management can also help billing move quickly. Customers are able to sign receipts on-the-go, receive invoices and more. And all the while, that data is being sent back to HQ to be stored and processed.
On-Premise vs Cloud Field Service Management Solutions
Fieldwork is an essential component of service companies. Supervisors and managers use field service management software to allocate field tasks to workers and then monitor their performance. It can help businesses improve field productivity, service delivery, business performance and increase sales. Some examples of businesses that use this kind of software are companies in construction and utilities, health care assistance and home repairs.
One of the major decisions for businesses that are looking to invest in field service management software is whether to deploy the software on-premise or in the cloud. Let’s explore both deployment options in-depth before analyzing which one you should choose.
An on-premise software solution is installed as well as hosted in your data center, which means the management of the solution is typically carried out by your internal IT staff. Such a solution allows businesses to have full control over every aspect of the system as well as secure company data. On-premise field service management software, like any on-premise software, typically entails a significant upfront investment. However, ongoing costs other than regular maintenance and service expenses aren’t much of a factor.
A cloud-based software solution is when the software is hosted by an external service provider who is responsible for all aspects of the infrastructure. Some of these aspects include data storage, security, server stability and maintenance. This software is accessible via the internet in a web browser and, sometimes, a mobile app. Cloud-based field service management software generally has a subscription-based licensing model. As a result, their upfront costs are low or nonexistent.
Now, when you’re evaluating which deployment option is best for you, what do you need to be aware of?
Which to Pick?
In the upcoming year, companies must be extremely agile in their response to the changing needs of their customers, as reports are saying that the field service industry could be worth nearly $4.45 billion by 2022. So which one should you pick in order not to miss your slice of the pie?
The cloud is:
- Cheap (at least up front)
But on-premise systems present their own significant advantages. On-premise solutions:
- Are customizable
- Can be scaled (in some cases)
- Provide companies more control over their data
So it’s understandably hard to pick which solution will suit all of your needs. Thankfully, it’s becoming increasingly common among FSM vendors to offer cloud deployments alongside their on-premise solutions, letting you stay mobile and benefit from everything an on-premise solution has to offer.
Developments in Field Service Management
Field service management is a surprisingly agile field. Just check out our trends article to get an idea of what we’re talking about. There’s constant growth in both the methodology and technology in service management, and one of the biggest ones comes from the unlikely fusion of uber-like technology with field service.
The Uberization of Dispatching
Do you remember what we said way back about how companies like Uber are using field service management software? Have you figured out how yet? We’ll give you a hint: start by thinking about automated dispatching.
When a passenger requests an Uber ride, the field service system processes the locations of all nearby drivers. Once it finds the closest one, it dispatches the trip to that driver. At this point, the driver can either accept or decline the trip. If they decline, the trip gets dispatched to the next closest driver, and so on. After a driver accepts, the passenger can track where the driver is, see the driver’s name and see an updated ETA.
The main difference between Uber’s field service management software and regular FSM software, however, is “crowdsourcing.” As you probably know, Uber drivers aren’t full-time employees. Rather, they work whenever they want to, oftentimes only a few hours a week. This has become a massively successful business model, and traditional field service may follow suit. In fact, some companies are already trying it out, with positive results so far. It’s no surprise that the uberization of field services is one of the biggest trends in the industry.
Although requesting a technician at the push of a button isn’t here yet, the transparency is already possible. Boston-based Dispatch is a field-service platform that helps companies connect with their technicians and their customers better. Similarly to Uber, the platform lets customers see the incoming technician and provides real-time updates on their arrival time.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality: Game Changers in Field Service Management
“What does virtual reality (VR) have to do with field service management software?” You might ask. Well, it’s got a lot more to do with field service software than you think.
We reported on how augmented reality (AR) and VR were changing the game. They’re lowering the barrier to entry by deploying workers with a live connection to the back office staff, who can see what they see and direct their actions.
Imagine sending two unskilled employees to go do the work of an engineer, guided virtually by that engineer. Or maybe the engineer takes to the field, and, using AR goggles, is able to visit a worksite and pull up live data on a piece of equipment he or she might be working with.
VR and AR are also being used in training scenarios across the field. Companies like Stefanini are deploying VR and AR goggles and software to train their field service employees.
The future of FSM might not be behind a pair of screens, but behind a pair of goggles instead.
AI and Field Service Management — An Unlikely Match Made in Heaven?
Think of all the rote, boring and mechanical tasks you have to take care of when it comes to running the back office and managing people. There’s scheduling, asset management, dispatch and more. After a while, this starts to eat away at the time you could be spending doing other things — even with some of the best asset management solutions, you’ll still be bent over the keyboard working out little details.
Getting any of these details wrong can spell trouble for your business: unhappy workers means unhappy customers, both locked in a self-sustaining cycle of dissatisfaction.
Though it may sound like a trendy buzzword to you, artificial intelligence might just be the technology to save schedulers and managers from themselves. Almost half of all surveyed field service organizations say that automation is leading to the greatest source of their revenue growth.
Software like ServiceMax is already deploying automated scheduling, asset distribution and more to help make their customer’s lives that much easier. Picture this: when you’ve got a full day of service calls on the board, ServiceMax’s optimized algorithm goes through and assigns the best worker to each one, in accordance with their own, already-set schedules.
But it’s not all left up to AI. You can set rules and regulations regarding who is assigned what, and the AI will work around those rules to come back with the most optimized placements and asset assignments.
Suddenly you’ve got your board cleared up, and can move on to more pressing matters, all thanks to AI’s self-learning and self-sustaining capabilities.
What Are The Different Types of Field Service?
There are four different types of field service, each one serving a unique and important role in a customer and professional life.
- Repair: No fancy language or acronyms for this one. If something is broken or not working right, a fieldworker makes an appointment and shows up to fix it.
- Maintenance: This is where things get a little more complicated compared to simple repairs. Maintenance is all about maintaining equipment in proper working condition, hopefully preventing the need for repairs. Which is why of the different types of maintenance (yep, there are different kinds of this too), preventative is the first and foremost.
- Preventative: Routine, scheduled maintenance can help things run smoothly, with the goal of preventing the need for repairs entirely (that is the ideal, but not often the case). By pulling in data about their current assignment, they can also order replacement parts or schedule follow-ups to avoid the need for repairs altogether.
- Predictive: This type of maintenance is done in anticipation of future faults and problems, and is often predicated by a non-critical warning of some kind. It could be an inordinate temperature reported by a gauge or a small leak of some kind. Predictive maintenance is powerful because it is performed on a still-working product, alleviating the need for repairs./li>
- Corrective: Unlike predictive maintenance, corrective work is done on products that are still functioning, but due to a mechanical error, aren’t functioning at their full capacity. This can also be done in order to optimize performance, in the case that nothing is wrong.
- Installation and commissioning: Though people would like to think of themselves as pretty handy with a set of tools, there are some things that just can’t be done without help from an experienced technician. Ever tried installing anything more complicated than a washing machine before? That’s what we have field service workers for. After the installation, the field worker will run a series of initial tests to ensure it’s functioning at its intended capacity.
- Business consultation: Sometimes field service workers aren’t making repairs or installing things — they’re making complex judgments about your facility or site and writing up recommendations or prices. These judgments can vastly improve the performance of your business and operations. You’ll be better equipped to maximize the usage of your tools or worksite, as well as plan accordingly for future work or projects.
What Types of Businesses Use Field Service Management Software?
Any company that deploys skilled laborers and assets to off-site locations likely uses field service management software. But let’s demystify what “deployment of skilled laborers and assets” looks like.
It’s all about resource allocation on behalf of the company. If the technician is bringing tools, arriving in a company vehicle or installing rented hardware, they’ve probably got all of that logged in their businesses’ FSM software. Professionals like:
- Cable technicians
- Carpet cleaners
- IT technicians
- Construction workers
- Skilled craftsmen
All utilize field service management software in one way or another. Emergent fields like solar panel installation are also starting to take advantage of FSM software.
How Do I Know I’m Ready For a Field Service Management Solution?
Field Service Management apps are completely reinventing the way field service is handled. So how do you know if your business is prepared to start with one? Here are a few signs your enterprise is ready to utilize field service management:
- You have a cumbersome back-office system that’s reliant on inefficient technology such as spreadsheets or documents
- You’re losing time and money properly assigning technicians to jobs
- Customer satisfaction scores are low due to a combination of factors like late appointments or long jobs
- You’re onboarding contractors but are struggling to properly pay them or log them.
How Do I Select a System for Automating Field Service Management Tasks?
This is an important conversation to have with yourself and your team. Selecting a system for field service management in an already crowded marketplace is no easy task. First, you’re going to want to start requirements gathering. That’s business-jargon for asking yourself, “What do I need in my software?” Luckily, we’ve got a requirements guide that’ll help make that process a lot easier. Next is your all-important budget. Let’s face it: You’re not going to be able to proceed anywhere without selecting software that’s based on your budget. And finally, when you’ve assessed your field service management options via our curated list of software, you’re going to start what’s known as a request for purchase. RFP’s are long processes that involve multiple steps, so it’s better to have your requirements, budget, and some software selections ready before you start.
Hopefully, you’re not still asking yourself, “What is field service management software?” But if you are, we’ve got a bevy of resources to help answer that question — and then some. We hope you’ve found this guide helpful on your quest to learn more about field service management, or maybe you still need help picking out some software to suit your business’s needs. If that’s the case, maybe look at our requirements template so you can get a good picture of what your company’s software requirements might be.
Have any questions about field service management? Let us know in the comments below!