For some field service organizations, jumping from pencil and paper to any sort of field service automation system is a giant leap. Going from stone-aged tools to next-generation technology just isn’t a realistic approach without first going through the different generations of automation.
At the very core, field service software solutions have helped organizations deliver faster service, get their technicians to the right place prepared with all the information and parts they need, and enable real-time transfer of information back to the office. It’s pulled the pencils out of the hands of technicians and replaced them with mobile devices and mobile field service apps. It has turned the industry from one that waits for machinery and equipment to fail to one where it can predict when it is going to and do something about it before that happens.
With different generations of automation, however, every field service organization could be in a different place. And that isn’t a bad thing, because next-generation technology, such as augmented reality and Internet of Things (IoT) technology isn’t needed by everyone. But many would agree that with the heighten competitive landscape in many of the field service spaces, some level of automation is needed to compete and keep profit margins high, while also keeping customers satisfied. Here are your three generations of field service software automation, and what is involved in each of them.
First Generation: Basic Field Service Automation
If your field service organization is just starting to make the change from pencil and paper to some level of automation, then basic field service automation tools will seem like next-generation level technology, but truthfully, they are the basis in which all automation is built upon.
Basic field service software automation includes automating work order management, dispatch and scheduling operations, and most of these rely on native mobile field service apps to tie the field service system in from the field, to the back off. In a recent survey by Field Technologies, scheduling and dispatch automation was the most common function already deployed, with 66.7% of organizations responding they had implemented some form of automated scheduling system, while work order management tools came in second, at 65.8%.
These tools are put in place to eliminate what used to be paper-based activates, and instead replace them with electronic versions that can be produced faster, are more legible, can be returned to the office for legacy and billing reasons, and save significant amounts of time, both for your technicians in the field and for your administrators, having to complete manual paper work orders.
With basic field service automation, organizations are getting:
Work Order Management Tools: Creating work orders typically done on paper is now being completed electronically, and automation is making it faster with work order templates, pricing schedules that calculate prices on time and expenses once inputted from the field, and automated systems such as direct email addresses, QR codes, or specific numbers at call centers that automatically produce a work order. Preventative maintenance schedules will also produce a work order automatically with all the information, checklists and parts required for the job. Work orders are no longer printed off and given to technicians, but instead, are sent electronically using the field service mobile app.
Dispatch and Scheduling Management: Dispatchers now have access to their entire workforce all within the field service software, and can narrow them down by skill sets, ensuring the right technician is selected for the job. Or for emergency repairs, the closest technician, which dispatchers can see on geographical maps, can be dispatched to the job, as automation in scheduling allows dispatchers to make real-time adjustments, without having to contact the technician directly.
Advanced Field Service Automation
For some organizations, basic field service automation is enough for them. They don’t need added bells and whistles to complicate their service delivery. They just need a system that helps them deliver fast service, without the endless amounts of paper.
But for some field service organizations, they need more than just a solution to create work orders faster and scheduling their technicians with search tools. They need insight into inventory, routing tools to help their dispatched technicians, and quoting and billing tools. In the survey, 56% of field service organizations were managing parts and inventory using field automation technology, while 49.6% had routing tools.
For service organizations who have plenty of inventory, next level automations allow for the tracking of those parts, in real-time, and the allocation of those parts when they are needed. When a work order is created, automation takes care of fulfilling the request for parts, and if a part is not available, it creates a purchase requisition for those parts.
Quoting tools are helping field service organizations produce their quotes faster for timely service, as automation takes care of pricing and the addition of tasks and parts, and makes it easy to turn a quote into a work order. On the other end, billing automation can speed up how quickly your organization gets invoices to the customer, reducing time from weeks to minutes with levels of automation built into your field service software.
Inventory Management: Automatically have inventory applied to work orders, or purchase orders created for out-of-stock parts, fulfilling the needs of any parts required on a work order. This ensures your technicians have the parts they need when it is time to finish a repair, without having to go through a lengthy process to order parts.
Quoting Automation: Quotes can be generated quickly with built-in automation for pricing schedules, tasks and parts. Simply add the parts and tasks needed and let the field service software automatically calculate your costs and profit margins.
Billing Automation: With paper-based work orders, they have to be returned to the office and processed by an administrator before they are turned into an invoice. The turning in phase can take days or weeks, could result in lost work orders, information could be wrong or illegible, and take hours to input into a system in order to produce an invoice. With a field service software integrated with an accounting system, technicians can insert information from the field, collect a signature for approval, and have an invoice generated immediately, depending on review levels. In any case, billing can be done in minutes or days instead of weeks.
Next-Generation Field Service Automation
Most organizations fall into the first two generations of field service automation. With all those tools, a field service organization can run a smooth service department, deliver service fast and efficiently, and keep their customers happy. That’s enough for anyone to ask for. But for the next-generation user who needs a little more, field service automation has tools that can help technician’s complete complex jobs, turn their business from a preventative one to a predictive one, and help them make better business decisions.
With new technology begin developed every day, field service organizations are finding themselves at the forefront of a revolution in the industry, as IoT sensor technology is helping to take field service to another level, making it predictive, rather than preventative. IoT sensors monitor equipment and send alerts to the field service team, informing them that something is off and a repair is needed. Technicians can react in real-time, as opposed to preventative models that try to keep equipment running at peak efficiency, but don’t monitor how they are acting in the field.
We’ve also seen wearable technology, such as glasses and watches, and augmented reality and virtual reality to help technicians when repairing equipment in the real world, changing how technicians are getting information sent to them. One specific area of change is on how data and analytics are used, as field service software is now offering real-time reporting tools that collects data from the field and turns it into useful information that can help service managers make informed business decisions.
IoT Connectivity: Sensor technology that automates work order creation when the sensors detect a problem in a piece of equipment, turning an organization into a predictive maintenance team, as opposed to waiting for a piece of equipment to go offline.
Big Data Reporting and Analytics: Data from the field is compiled into meaningful reports that are customizable for whoever needs specific data. Service managers can monitor Key Performance Indiciators, ensuring nothing is missed, standards are high and technicians are remaining efficient. It can start to show field service organizations who is their most valuable technician or sales person, when the slow times of the year are, and what location is the most profitable, amongst many other options that can be narrowed down.
With the many generations of automation available in field service software, there are plenty of areas where field service organizations can improve their service delivery. With any field service software, the idea is to make things easier for technicians and administrators, improve the quality of your service delivery from a customer service standpoint, as well as a revenue standpoint, and start to eliminate the tasks that can be handled by automation tools, as opposed to tedious manual input.