When Every Second Counts

Service management solutions have evolved dramatically over the past few years. The advent of PDAs and mobile workforce management software has enabled field engineers to respond faster than ever before to jobs in the field. No longer do engineers have to rely on paper-based communication methods, they can send job details and information directly to management from the job site. Customers rising demands and expectations are driving improvements at service organisations and this in turn is being supported through the rapid evolution of Service Management systems.

The financial implications of failing to respond quickly to field service jobs can be huge; for example the downtime of a mobile mast for a telecoms operator could cost many thousands of pounds per hour. Businesses are therefore beginning to require greater accuracy in scheduling and faster response times. In addition, clients are demanding that field service organisations become more accountable, which means that organisations need to develop highly detailed and accurate reporting methods.

This poses a problem for many organisations as the very nature of field service work means that it is difficult to know the exact location of field technicians at all times. There are certain best practice processes that they can put in place such as requesting field workers to log their departure and arrival times at job sites and the work that they have carried out or report any significant problems immediately. However, for some organisations they cannot achieve the level of reporting and accuracy they require without having precise real-time resource information.

A problem arises in that the tools for managing work and resources in the field have historically been segregated from the tools that aid navigation for field technicians. This makes it difficult for organisations to combine information from both sources to gain full visibility over field operations.

Several organizations have tried to integrate their disparate workforce management and GPS navigation systems, often with limited effect. Aside from being a costly and time consuming process, many organizations find significant overlap occurs or that the resulting solution is too complicated for the end user to use effectively.

There is a growing trend of organisations looking to systems integrators to provide converged solutions that integrate navigation directly into the mobile workforce management software. The seamless integration of the two tools enables management to benefit from having access to all the information collected by the navigator in real-time for scheduling and reporting.

Integrating GPS navigation into the mobile workforce solution provides improved resource tracking through real-time pinpointing of field technicians current locations, which opens the door to more dynamic and accurate scheduling. The information gathered from the navigator also provides management with the necessary information for reporting. It gives them an audit trail tool with which they can replay the actual route taken by field engineers to the job sites they visit. They can even see the time taken for the journey, the speed, mileage and work order information and have the option of exporting this information to Excel to create comparisons across operational areas. This in itself can see a significant return on investment and improvement in response times through deterring alternative journeys and identifying best practices.

One public sector services company recently deployed Aspectives converged solution to 300 field technicians to improve resource tracking. The company has specific reporting requirements and needs to be able to prove to its clients that field workers are in certain location at certain times. Prior to deploying the Aspective solution, management only had access to the presumed location of an employee, with the converged solution it can now pinpoint the location of a field worker whenever they are logged in to the workforce management solution.

The solution has also created a more seamless experience for the 300 field technicians as they no longer have to switch between the navigation and workforce management solutions on their PDAs. Now, the co-ordinates of a destination site are already held in the job information in the workforce management system without the technician having to manually search for the site.

As the tools available to aid service management continue to evolve clients and business expectations for field technicians to respond quickly and accurately to site jobs will rise. Every second will count and will need to be accounted for. In order for organisations to meet these demands they need ensure they have both the processes and technology in place to gain the necessary visibility over their field technicians.

Keith New is VP mBusiness for Aspective, a leading eBusiness solution provider, specialising in 'front office' applications for sales, marketing and customer service.

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