Transitioning from manual to automated processes in field service management
Field service organisations are continually looking to foster greater productivity, visibility and efficiency in order to meet the demands of their customers and leapfrog the competition.
Aberdeen Group recently found competition in product and service to be the leading challenge for field service organisations.To address this, transitioning from manual to automated processes and using one platform to streamline the entire field service workflow is key.
Indeed, aligning back office systems with workforce management, telematics solutions and mobile devices, allows for quick access and easy data sharing from one step of the process to the next, seamlessly, across the entire business. The result is greater consistency, faster response times and a better customer experience, says John Cameron, general manager at Trimble Field Service Management.
The Big data challenge
Field service organisations are often overwhelmed by the relentless flow of information coming in from multiple sources, in various formats and through an array of tools. For example, in a typical day field service business data will be coming in from GPS and vehicle tracking systems, telematics, fleet management and workforce management.
If aggregated in a digestible form, the information gathered from the field can be used to extract valuable insights to better hone day-to-day operations and on which long-term strategic decisions can be based. However, merging and organising this data is so difficult that, in most businesses, it ends up sitting unused in applications and databases.
In a recent Trimble survey of field service managers, it found that nearly 30% believe that their organisation is ineffective at using the data they collect to make decisions and just one in five believes they get the information they need from field service data to successfully do their job.
Another major concern with using data from the field is the reliability of the information, especially if it has been collected via manual processes, as manual data collection is prone to human error, duplication and inconsistencies.
Addressing data challenges through integration
The challenges of aggregating reliable data and analysing it effectively to drive field service excellence can be made easier if all field service systems are integrated seamlessly across one platform, automating the field service workflow. Indeed, the more a system communicates throughout the process, the more tailored an experience that can be provided to the end customer.
So, if you have an end-to-end field service suite with a back office, telematics and workforce management solution set, integrating these with your technician’s mobile devices out in the field will offer innumerable benefits.
Automated workflows also help to avoid the unnecessary task of having to manually enter the same information, multiple times, into different systems and duplicating work. Field service organisations then have complete control over what information is gathered, in a reliable format and this minimises human intervention and touch points, increasing the reliability and consistency of information further.
What’s more, by allowing this information to flow freely through the different systems, the entire organisation has complete visibility of the data received, allowing individual departments to access and analyse what data they need to do their jobs which they can then use to base strategic decisions on.
The journey to automated field service
Once an organisation understands the manual processes it’s using and why they do things a certain way, it can start to re-evaluate how to do those processes in an automated system, with fewer touch points and more immediate responses.
Ultimately, automating and optimising service processes directly affects delivery and thus customer experience. Shorter appointment windows, online booking capabilities, real-time updates, and better communication are all made possible by software automation across one platform.
The journey to automation starts in the back office, with a single, common, integrated system that manages customers, calls, service contracts, estimates and work orders along with assets, inventory and billing, all from one place.
Information stored in the back office can be pushed out to workforce management systems, tool and inventory databases and scheduling engines to allocate shifts, tasks and appointments intelligently. Integrating these systems with CRM applications is also important so that businesses can look to prioritise customers, ensure that a technician arrives on-site at a time that is convenient to the customer and that service level agreements are met.
For technicians that are on their way to visit a customer, the type of information that is stored in the back office is extremely valuable and having on-demand access to it is critical to their success. Being able to pull up work orders, warranty, parts inventory, service contract information and customer data via a smartphone or tablet enables them to complete jobs on-time, first-time round, resulting in lower operational costs and higher customer satisfaction.
What’s more, having access to historical customer data empowers them to make valuable service recommendations. Customers feel as though they are getting a personal service and view the field worker as a proactive, valuable partner.
Visa versa, technicians also need to share information with back office and workforce management systems, such as issuing a new service ticket to be scheduled, updating customer records and their at-work hours, which can then be sent directly to the HR system to be documented if this is integrated too.
Faster billing can also be achieved if technicians have the ability to complete work orders, have customers sign off on their mobile devices, and are able to bill the customer onsite for same-day billing and faster turnaround. No more losing paper billing forms or miscalculating due to illegible handwriting.
While a transition from manual to automated may seem like a daunting task, the switch is as simple as knowing what you collect now, how you collect it, and what you want to know in the future. Once the manual processes are understood, businesses can start to re-evaluate how they do those processes in an automated system, with fewer touch points and more immediate responses.
You can think of this transition as the ultimate planning phase. Recording data on paper and waiting for the back office to combine and interpret it just isn’t fast enough for companies to be proactive or competitive. Having a mobile device which is fully integrated with the back office and other field service management tools to record and share detailed data not only makes the data collection process faster; it also makes it more accurate and thorough.
Perhaps most importantly, automating time-consuming processes in a field service business will equip staff with the ability to give a consistent, professional and timely voice to customers, whilst being more productive in the process. Not forgetting, automating the field service process also allows businesses to truly open up their data silos to share information with the whole organisation, from the CEO to the HR department and technicians out in the field, and this is crucial to success.
They are able to extract the information they need to do their jobs better and are in a much better position to make decisions which will directly benefit their team, business and customers.
The author of this blog is John Cameron, general manager, Trimble Field Service Management.
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