Shirlene Spillers, VP.Product Management, Design and QA, FieldAware
Once the leadership in an organization decides to automate functions that employees do outside the office like service technicians, property managers, clinical trial managers, and others, there are many considerations.
"Seamless integration with Accounting, CRM, ERP, Inventory, and other in-house custom applications are critical to maximizing the potential benefits of automation"
The selection of a Field Service Management (FSM) solution is an important decision that should be carefully considered. Depending on the size of the organization and its needs, the requirements will be different. Still, there are five critical features/functions that need to be included in the solution for the organization to realize the maximum benefit of automating field service operations.
The Native Mobile Platform
When you think about it, you want and need true mobility to support employees that are mobile/in the field. To do that you need a native mobile platform, one that leverages the robust processing power, applications (Siri, mapping, photos/videos, time-aware), and embedded devices (video/ still cameras, flashlight, etc.) of today’s smartphones and tablets. Doing so enables the organization take advantage of the features/functionality on mobile devices, regularly updated, rather than recreating the wheel and being subject to a myriad of vendor upgrade cycles. And, with a native mobile platform, field workers can operate even when cellular network coverage is not available; data is cached and synched once a signal is present. In contrast, an HTML application running on a mobile device cannot achieve this functionality.
Cloud-based and Secure
True mobility requires access to back office systems at any time and from anywhere, which means that a truly mobile platform needs to be cloud-based. It’s important to make sure the solution provider’s platform is based on a highly reliable, scalable and secure cloud environment. Amazon Web services for example has a 99.5% reliability service agreement; the field service management s o l u t i o n provider needs to take all steps to secure the data going in and out of the cloud, including encryption, authentication, and support of MDM (Mobile Device Management) for optimizing the functionality and security of mobile applications.
API/Easy Integration with Existing Systems
Of particular importance to the CIO, whether launching a new FSM solution or moving from a legacy system, is the ability to integrate with the systems that are already running in the organization. This requires an Application Programming Interface (API), built on the latest technologies, that doesn’t require custom coding to implement, but can be managed by any IT person. Seamless integration with Accounting, CRM, ERP, Inventory, and other in-house custom applications is API/Easy Integration with Existing Systems critical to maximizing the potential benefits of automation. For example, the CRM system identifies a sales opportunity, the FSM system pushes the job out to the technician, the t e c h n i c i a n c o m p l e t e s the job using several parts and the information goes back to the office where an Inventory system adjusts inventory and the Accounting system processes the invoice.
Easy-to Configure / Use
Every business is different and every business changes and evolves, so the solution you choose needs to be flexible and configurable by the IT team. If you add another service, another part, another product, you want to be able to easily add or delete fields and change workflow as necessary, not undergo custom development or depend on a solution provider to make the change. Hand-in-hand with flexibility comes ease-of-use and not just on configuring the fields and workflow, but also for the field worker. Workflows that are not intuitive or unnecessary and unclear fields, can hinder productivity.
The beauty of an end-to-end solution, that extends from the back office to the customer via the field worker and back again, is the ability to capture and analyze all of the information that flows through the organization in real-time. The CIO can help run the business at its maximum potential with day-to-day (even hour-to-hour) data analysis for precision management of resources. Without this capability, the CIO is missing the opportunity to provide management with the insight necessary to optimize their businesses. What are the most profitable services? Which field workers are the most productive? How can the margin be increased for a particular service? The information that is captured automatically in real time can answer these questions and many more.
In addition to functional requirements, you need to partner with a solution provider than can ensure your success. Make sure there is a proven on-boarding process and ensure that support resources are available and committed to setting up your specific organization.
The decision to automate field service operations can be daunting for organizations that have often run for decades on manual processes. At the same time, the benefits can richly reward a business. If a service-tech can upsell additional services on the spot, that’s more revenue; if the administrative tasks are simplified and automated for the tech, jobs take less time and more can be accomplished in a day.
Either way, the benefit goes right to the business’s bottom line.