How to support field employees efficiently and effectively with the 3 P’s
The current economy is driving companies to find ways to mine value from key revenue generating functions. The most value typically comes from reorganizing the sales and service functions while implementing new, efficient processes. Another way to find value is by focusing on operational excellence, which can reduced costs as a result of improved safety and reliability programs. Many companies quickly realize a need to implement field service systems to support the new processes and programs.
Implementing a field service solution can eliminate a paper-based system and support processes while providing timely information to field employees.
Selecting the right field service solution is a bit like hugging a porcupine. It needs to be done carefully given the impact on field employees!
Field employees perform critical processes that are not only customer facing, but generate revenue. How can a company confidently determine which solution will support field employees efficiently and effectively?
It is all about considering the 3 P’s of the Field Service solution:
Many companies assume that all activities performed by field employees can be supported by field service automation, no matter how non-standard the activity. Little thought is put in to determining the appropriate processes to automate. As a result, companies will select and start implementing field service solutions supporting this goal only to stop mid-project as budgets are exceeded by a significant amount. Why?
Field service solutions work best with standardized processes.
Choosing the processes that should be supported by a solution, given the broad range of activities performed by field employees, can be difficult. The most obvious processes to be considered include those that are checklist or form-based, including safety incident reporting, inspection, maintenance or work tickets.
Standardizing these forms and processes across divisions and geographies is challenging!
Create an inventory of forms, reports and work flow to support each process. Work with divisions and geographies to determine whether existing forms and processes can be standardized. Expect resistance! A lot of resistance! The business case for standardization should easily trump the, “we don’t do it that way here” syndrome. A field service solution can be considered once agreement on the proposed future state is reached.
Many field service solutions are being sold as a Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud-based software. The SaaS model is designed to help ensure reliable service without having to acquire additional IT hardware or support personnel. Furthermore, many SaaS solutions provide a significant amount of functionality by assuming field employees have internet connectivity 100% of the time. SaaS solutions in this environment can pass through critical information such as engineering drawings, updated price books and corrected work ticket information from existing back office systems in real-time.
Unfortunately, expecting internet connectivity 100% of the time is unrealistic in many industries. Crew pushers, field mechanics and field service technicians often work in environments not covered by communications services.
Only consider solutions that provide robust functionality in disconnected mode!
The optimal solution will download the necessary information to support field employees as they perform their day-to-day tasks. At a minimum, this should include work tickets, price lists, engineering drawings and checklists. The solution should also allow field employees to enter changes to work tickets, including pricing, as well as capturing key checklist items. Once an employee gets back into range, the solution should sync with the cloud. Local databases and software should be updated at the end of the sync process.
Put a new technology solution in front of field employees that may help increase the efficiency of day-to-day activities and the reaction will be almost unanimous. “This will not work for me!” Why this reaction from the same people who have no problems navigating smart phones outside of work? Perceived difficulty in navigating and using a new technology tool.
Smart phones are “pokeable.”
Watch a group of the same employees on smart phones in the lunch room and you will see a lot of poking on the screen. Menu layouts are intuitive and activities require few screens to complete. Unfortunately, many field service solutions are hard to navigate and use a lot of screens to capture a small amount of simple information.
Field service solutions that support menu and screen simplification through configuration will be accepted and used by field employees. Getting to screens that support key processes should take no more than two menu drop downs. Each process should be supported by no more than two or three screens and workflow should support approval processes with a minimal number of steps.
Finally, the biggest mistake that companies make is to select a solution that supports both tablets and laptops. Choose one platform or the other and optimize features and functions for touch or keyboard. It is difficult and costly to do both. Think Microsoft’s Windows 8 release!
Picking and implementing the right field service solution to improve customer service is a bit like trying to hug a porcupine. It needs to be done very carefully. However a company can reduce costs and increase efficiencies by implementing a field service solution to support the right standardized processes, in the right technical environment with the right ease of use.
The biggest barrier is not technical: it is standardizing processes. Expect resistance! Then hug tighter.
This article was written by Peter Purcell from CIO and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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