The benefits of a field service management solution

By | 4 minute read | January 4, 2016

leadspace image of cogs to denote field workforce management

Field service management (FSM) — the ability of a business to plan and dispatch workers to a location in order to meet service commitments — is a complex discipline with a number of important, interlocking pieces:

  • Managing demand: Forecasting the number of work orders to plan the staff that is needed
  • Scheduling: Using predefined rules to optimize how people and resources (tools and vehicles) are being used
  • Dispatching: Getting the right work orders to the right technicians in the field
  • Mobility: Letting dispatchers and technicians communicate and share data in real-time

A smart FSM solution should bring these pieces together in a seamless way, on a single platform. In this blog, I will examine some of the key capabilities and benefits this integrated approach to FSM enables.

More efficient, mobile work

A recent Gartner report found that in field service organizations, 40 percent of the workforce is mobile. Businesses still using paper work orders, or those who aren’t leveraging mobile technology in the field work are already falling behind. Technicians in the field need a mobile platform that will give them instant access to critical data, even if they lose connectivity. A secure, trusted line of communication is needed between the tech in the field and the back office, via their mobile device.

Your mobile work platform needs to act as a single interface to manage the execution of work, including the submitting of actuals, creating follow-up work and being able to delegate to nearby field technicians. From their mobile device, technicians also need to be able to see the optimal route to travel to the customer location, and to be able to access parts and equipment inventory – all from their mobile device.

Data-driven scheduling

Today, even advanced businesses are using the wrong tools for the job when it comes to scheduling their maintenance and service workers. Planning and scheduling often still takes place on post-it notes, and complex projects are often managed in Excel spreadsheets — with work divided up by supervisors based on gut feel.

Critical factors like missing parts, skills and even severe weather slow down projects and lead to canceled commitments daily, and yet these factors remain key inhibitors to meeting customer expectations for work completion. Maintenance scheduling and service work that doesn’t consider these factors will often result in unscheduled interruptions, cost overruns, dissatisfied customers and continued erosion of equipment reliability.

A smart scheduling platform should let businesses optimize their maintenance and service scheduling practices, by combining real-time weather, traffic and asset data with powerful analytics to to drive better insights and decision making. It needs to handle appointment booking using real-time data (providing customer notifications in the event of cancellation), proactively rearrange a worker’s schedule in the case of an appointment change, and offer planners and forecasters a single graphical view where they can view network dependencies and model advanced project plans.

Workforce mapping and asset visualization

An FSM solution should optimize the travel route of every tech in the field, to save wasted time and reduce fuel costs. Routes should be visualized on Google, Esri or Bing maps with turn-by-turn directions displayed on mobile devices, and incorporate real-time traffic data that can reroute and communicate changes to the back office.

Visually rendering and understanding the spatial relationship between assets and geolocation is also a key. FSM solutions can visualize the spatial relationship among managed assets and other mapped features, such as roads, buildings and pipelines. This gives planners a level of visibility that is hard to achieve by looking at numbers on a spreadsheet, and it improves reliability, asset longevity and work execution.

Dynamic dispatching and work assignments

Dispatching the appropriately qualified and certified technician to a worksite on time is a complex undertaking. Thankfully, FSM solutions remove much of the complexity.

Your FSM solution should automatically optimize resource assignment based on location, craft / skill and weather. If a technician arrives onsite, but isn’t qualified to do the job (an occurrence that happens far too often in the world of paper work orders), you’ve just wasted the time of both your technician and customer.

It’s also important to monitor work and adjust scheduling and dispatching based on real-time progress. If a worker finishes a job early, or if a tech in route receives a cancellation, your FSM solution should automatically push the next, highest priority job to the techs mobile device. And the customer should be alerted by SMS. Optimizing dispatching and scheduling using real-time data will help cut down on the up to 8 hours wasted work by each of your workers each week.

How Watson can help

At IBM Watson IoT, we’re doing some cutting-edge work around how the Internet of Things can change how our clients manage their field workforces, including using weather data and cognitive analytics to optimize and automate many of these processes. Stay tuned for additional blogs on how we see IoT changing FSM, and check out this webinar for information on Maximo Scheduler Plus, which is a large part of how we help companies improve these processes today.

This is the forth blog in a series on IoT and field service management. Read our previous blogs for an overview of field service management, a look at the impact of weather and a survey of top trends in 2017.