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(Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Field Service Management Software

Time to spark a controversy: field service management software isn’t sexy technology.  It doesn’t offer the glamorous aesthetics of Instagram.  You can’t use it at home like virtual reality.  And its potential use isn’t nearly as widespread as autonomous vehicles.  In fact, chances are those outside of the industry haven’t even heard of it.

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Yet, despite a lack of press and high-profile CEOs, field service management software is shaping the world of tech as we know it.  You just don’t realize it yet.

What is Field Service Management Software?

Field service management software is known by many names.  Sometimes it’s called field service software, some call it field staff management software and others simply shorten it to FSM software.  No matter what it’s called, however, its main purpose is to facilitate the tasks of field service management.  Although your favorite companies may not be field service management providers, chances are some of your favorites use the technology.

Think of field service management software in the context of car components.  When you think of what makes a car work, what do you think of first?  Probably the engine, brakes, battery, transmission, etc.

But what the average person may not think of is the alternator, which helps supply the battery, engine and other essential systems with power.  Field service management software is basically the alternator of several new technology companies.

In other words, it’s the hidden driving force behind a more recognizable face.  For example, field service management software is essential to the success of companies like Uber (you may have heard of it).

As we said earlier, field service management software facilitates field service management.  But, we’ll be honest, that doesn’t really tell you a whole lot.  So let’s expand on that by turning to a company not as well known for its FSM software: Salesforce.

Salesforce describes it in its blog: “At its core, FSM is simply any system that is designed to keep track of the various components of field operations.  These components typically include inventory management, vehicle tracking, scheduling, customer portals and more.”  We have to add one more piece to the full power of a field service solution: back-office capabilities.  The best solutions also help with billing and other back-office systems.

As with most software today, there’s no separating mobile field service management software from “non-mobile” FSM software.  Tracking a mobile workforce requires the devices using the software to be mobile — to go wherever your technicians go.  After all, how are your technicians going to be scheduled if they don’t have the scheduling software with them?

What FSM software should ultimately provide above all else, however, is better customer service and higher customer satisfaction.  You want all five of those stars on Google and Yelp, don’t you?

Common Field Service Management Software Features

We’ve touched on some of the features of field service management software earlier, but now it’s time for a closer view.  Here are the features you’ll find in your typical field service management software vendor:

Workforce Management

Scheduling and dispatching your technicians is at the heart of what you do.  You can’t service your customers unless you have someone scheduled to do so, and that’s just what field service management software does.  We’re probably preaching to the choir when we say that managing your technicians’ schedules is cumbersome.  That’s why FSM software automates the whole process, so that as soon as a new job opens up it can be assigned to the next available technician.  That way neither your customers nor your technicians are kept waiting.  We call that a win-win.

Inventory Management

Knowing how much of your inventory you have and where it is at all times is a must, especially with expensive equipment.  For companies in industries such as telecommunications, manufacturing, or property maintenance, that equipment is your livelihood.  Thanks to the internet of things and FSM software, you can keep track of each individual piece of equipment.  The inventory you can track even includes your vehicles, so you know where they are at all times.  Field service management software gets rid of the questions of where something is or where it’ll be at the end of the day.  All you have to do is check your field service solution.

Billing

Part of keeping your customers happy is sending them the bill.  Well, maybe not actually sending them the bill, but doing so in a timely manner.  Customers can get annoyed if you take too long to send it.  They may also forget completely and end up surprised when a bill shows up months later.  Field service management software helps you avoid the annoyance and the shock by automating the billing process.

Real-Time Analytics

All of the above is possible thanks to information collected in real time.  Field service management software collects data of all kinds to run your field services at maximum efficiency.  For example, it uses your technicians’ current locations and job statuses to schedule and dispatch them once a new job opens up.  It also keeps your inventory lists up to date by updating them whenever a component is used on a job.  And lastly, real-time analytics help the software realize when a job is done and what was done on the job so it can send the bill quickly.  Basically, these real-time analytics provide you with the information you need to run smoothly.

Top Challenges of Field Service Management

Many of today’s companies need to manage large numbers of skilled staff across various locations. They may need to monitor the work of a geographically diverse staff, a high number of remote workers, and/or a very large workforce. Modern field service management software, also known as field staff management, helps firms automate field staffing and make overall business management more efficient.

Just like other kinds of enterprise solutions such as customer relationship management, field staff management solutions are designed to help companies tackle a particular set of problems.

In this case, the problem is the labor-intensive process of keeping in touch with on-the-go workers, monitoring their performance and tracking their daily and long-term activity as they do their jobs. Here are some of the big challenges that field staff management platforms can help out with:

Making the System Responsive

Another major challenge in field staff management is providing a responsive system for leaders and employees to use.

One of the selling points of some field service management systems is that companies can “get rid of phone calls” from field service employees by simply requiring everyone to use a common communication interface. That’s based on the idea that phone calls are an obsolete bother to modern business.

However, this is easier said than done – in the digital age, companies are moving from a telephone directory to platforms like Slack, Basecamp and other communication systems. The problem is that none of these messaging apps really provide the same type of vibrant communication that the telephone does.

To give an example of this challenge, picture an employee out in the field trying to make a deal without a particular sign-off. Imagine when an employee has questions about upcoming events, how to put products together, or even just how to write a press release. Messaging platforms do not provide the same direct response capability as a phone call – that is, unless the company links its communication platform to every employee’s mobile device, which is a fairly unusual step for companies to take.

The bottom line is that companies have to make sure that their field staff management platforms are adequate for the communication needs of their staff. That involves doing detailed research by looking at when people work, how they work, and how they work together. With all of this data in hand, businesses can set up the right protocols and use field staff management tools the right way to make sure that everyone gets the responsiveness that they need from the system.

Keeping Things Moving

Another commonly reported problem with field staff management is actually customer-facing. It’s making sure that deal contact points and business processes happen in a timely manner.

Some companies using field staff management platforms may see problems with invoices getting processed. They also may see problems with customers getting responses from individual employees.

This is another area where a good field staff management tool makes all the difference. Many of these platforms offer real-time tracking, so that business leaders can assess each contact point and follow up accordingly. That means if there are delays with 10 out of 100 deals, top management can isolate those 10 cases and work on them quickly to get them resolved.

Assuring Ease of Use

A field staff management platform is really not that helpful for businesses if the interface is not intuitive.

Poorly designed interfaces lead to massive frustration on the part of individual workers. It’s important to get a certain amount of ‘social buy-in’ when implementing a field staff management tool in the first place — otherwise, the company risks some form of rebellion when mandating the use of that tool for communications. That can be a problem for a manager or someone with a supervisor role.

It’s also important to think about how field workers present themselves to customers if they are using the field management tool in front of them. Will they be fiddling around with their device trying to access key information? Or will a well-designed, user-friendly interface make each field technician seem like a pro in his or her field?

Various features of field staff management software help to eliminate these and other kinds of problems.

Good invoice management tools keep money flowing where it needs to go. Good work order management tools also enhance the customer experience. Customer feedback tools help companies build better business intelligence to satisfy their client base. And last but not least, if the platform is set up for responsiveness, as mentioned above, employees can get better communication models in place with messaging. Just think about how modern field staff management tools can help you better manage your workforce.

On-Premise vs Cloud Field Service Management Software

Fieldwork is an essential component of service companies. Supervisors and managers use field service management software to allocate field tasks to workers and then monitor their performance. Field service management software can help businesses improve field productivity, service delivery, business performance, and increase sales. Some examples of businesses that use this kind of software are companies in construction and utilities, health care assistance and home repairs.

One of the major decisions for businesses that are looking to invest in field service management software is whether to deploy the software on-premise or in the cloud. Let’s explore both deployment options in-depth before analyzing which one you should choose:

On-Premise Deployment

An on-premise software solution is installed as well as hosted in your data center, which means the management of the solution is typically carried out by your internal IT staff. Such a solution allows businesses to have full control over every aspect of the system as well as company data security. On-premise field service management software, like any on-premise software, typically entails a significant upfront investment. However, ongoing costs other than regular maintenance and service expenses aren’t much of a factor.

Cloud-Based Deployment

A cloud-based software solution is when the software is hosted by an external service provider who is responsible for all aspects of the infrastructure. Some of these aspects include data storage, security, server stability, and maintenance. This software is accessible via the internet in a web browser and, sometimes, a mobile app. Cloud-based field service management software generally has a subscription-based licensing model. As a result, their upfront costs are low or nonexistent.

Now, when you’re evaluating which deployment option is best for you, what do you need to be aware of?

Need for Agility

In 2017, companies must be extremely agile in their response to the changing needs of their customers. Cloud-based solutions help make businesses agile, as they get access to the latest technologies. It lets them quickly ramp up operations and grow their business. As a result, the addition of new features for changing business requirements can be much speedier in a cloud-based field service management software.

Deployment of new processes and services are typically slower in on-premise deployment models. Changes in existing business processes and even the introduction of new processes take more time to implement as compared to cloud-based models. Incorporating such changes may involve changing multiple layers of the on-premise software architecture. As a result, it may take more time for the business to introduce new products and services.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

On-premise deployment of field service management software requires a large upfront cost. However, there are fewer incremental costs as compared to cloud-based versions. But keep in mind that your business will be responsible for future expenses such as hardware, IT labor costs, system upgrades, and maintenance fees.

Cloud-based field service management software typically have a lower upfront cost than their on-premise counterparts. The trade off is regular costs as time goes on based on how the vendor prices their subscription. As a result, businesses with small IT teams bring their operational costs down. With this deployment model, the vendor manages system maintenance tasks such as server support, upgrades, and data backup as well as recovery.

Presence of Legacy Systems

A lot of large organizations still use legacy IT systems, which means they’ll be facing considerable challenges as a result. Businesses that made large investments in their IT infrastructure might be reluctant to adapt or change their existing processes. They may have long-term contracts in place with their software supplier or systems integrator. Companies who already have a significant investment in enterprise software such as ERP systems are a prime example of such businesses.

In such a scenario, these businesses are more likely to choose an on-premise field service management software rather than a cloud-based one. However, companies who don’t have too many legacy systems may be more inclined to adopt a cloud-based field service management solution.

Customization, Integration, and Maintenance

Integrations and customizations in an on-premise field service management software are usually a simple process since all of the software and hardware systems are generally together already. Data transfer between various systems is faster since it’s done over the company intranet. Your IT team can also customize the timing of software upgrades and scheduled maintenance. Doing so eliminates or causes minimal disruption for your users.

Customization and integration in cloud-based field service management software is more limited in comparison to on-premise versions. Data transfer occurs over the internet, which sometimes results in transfer issues. Software upgrades and scheduled maintenance are generally carried out at the convenience of the provider, so you don’t get a say when it happens. As a result, your users have to work around the timing of the maintenance.

Security Concerns

Some businesses may be sensitive about data being stored in third-party data centers. Some organizations might operate in industry sectors with strict regulatory and compliance rules. Some sectors might even require very high levels of access security. In such scenarios, on-premise field service management software is the ideal solution.

If your business operates in a industry sector without strict regulatory and compliance rules, then it makes sense to go with a cloud-based field service management software. Your business doesn’t need to invest resources, time, and effort to protect your data. In cloud-based solutions, the vendor applies security policies and keeps track of any threats to your valuable data. In case a network crash or equipment failure takes place, failover capabilities minimizes downtime. Furthermore, hosting your data in an off-site location increases the chances of effective data recovery.

When you are considering whether to adopt on-premise or cloud-based field service management software, you should first evaluate your business needs. Do deep research and weigh the pros and cons of each deployment model before making a decision. The decision of going in for a field service management software is a major one. Involve all the stakeholders as well as your partners to do an assessment of your businesses’ current state and future plans. And of course, you need to make a decision keeping in mind your business’ needs both now and 5 years in the future.

How is the Field Service Management Software Market Changing Because of Companies Like Uber?

Do you remember what we said way back about how companies like Uber are using field service management software?  Have you figured out how yet?  We’ll give you a hint: start by thinking about how these ride share services assign drivers to passengers.  It all comes down to workforce management; specifically, automated dispatching.

When a passenger requests an Uber ride, the field service system processes the locations of all nearby drivers.  Once it finds the closest, it dispatches the trip to that driver.  At this point, the driver can either accept or decline the trip.  If they decline, the trip gets dispatched to the next closest driver, and so on.  Once a driver accepts, the passenger can track where the driver is, see the driver’s name and see an updated ETA.  Although your technicians probably can’t decline a job, the dispatching technology works the same.  It still uses real-time data to locate the nearest employee and assign them a job.

The main difference between Uber’s field service management software and regular FSM software, however, is “crowdsourcing.”  As you probably know, Uber drivers aren’t full-time employees.  Rather, they work whenever they want to, oftentimes only a few hours a week.  This has become a massively successful business model, and traditional field service may follow suit.  In fact, some companies are already trying it out, with positive results so far.  It’s possible that the future of field service will be entirely crowdsourced.  We may soon be able to pull up an app and request a technician at the push of a button.

Although requesting a technician at the push of a button isn’t here yet, the transparency is already possible.  Boston-based Dispatch is a field-service platform that helps companies connect with their technicians and their customers better.  Similarly to Uber, the platform lets customers see the incoming technician and provides real-time updates on their arrival time.

This last part is especially important.  Today’s customer is fed up with the typical four-hour service window.  They want to get on with their day without waiting around for hours feeling helpless.  Keeping them up-to-date lets them carry on with their day, and they’ll be grateful for it.  Remember what we said earlier about improving customer satisfaction?  Transparency with your customers is what they’re seeking, and they’ll appreciate you all the more if you give it to them.

By improving customer service and customer satisfaction, field service management software is helping to revolutionize the industry — and that’s not even hyperbole.  We admit that we were wrong.  Field service management software is a pretty sexy modern technology.

What Field Service Management Software Vendors are Out There?

If you’re ready to start Googling “field service management software vendors,” first take a look at our curated list of some of the top field service solutions:

Astea

Astea’s field service management software is an ideal solution for service companies who want to automate daily tasks and eliminate manual work.  This mobile field service management software enables field service technicians to complete more work orders and provide data to back-office administrators instantly.

SAP

SAP’s FSM software enables you to manage comprehensive field service processes, including billing, service order planning and resource scheduling.  Leverage optimized scheduling functions to make the best use of your resources and meet service-level agreements.  You can increase your productivity by offering your field engineers mobile access to real-time information.

ClickSoftware

ClickSoftware has been in the workforce management and service optimization business for years.  This experience translates into helping companies maximize their efficiency, utilization and productivity.  ClickSoftware is focused on how it can help you help your customers, by improving response times and customer satisfaction.

IFS

IFS is famous for its robust enterprise-level software applications.  Popular in all field service industries, IFS’ field service management software helps companies streamline their complex business processes.  Improving efficiency is at the center of every aspect of the application, from its asset management module to its easy integration.

ServiceMax

ServiceMax offers a complete suite of cloud-based, collaborative and mobile field service applications.  Giving companies unprecedented capabilities in field service management, you can optimize operations and delight customers.  Companies use ServiceMax to handle everything from scheduling & workforce optimization to inventory & parts logistics.  Additionally, ServiceMax provides real-time customer and partner portal access.

Infor

Infor Workforce Management is a comprehensive solution that aligns labor management with corporate strategy.  Integrated modules address tasks like budgeting, scheduling, performance management and compliance.  Infor streamlines these processes to increase efficiency while encouraging employees to focus on activities that generate more value.

MHelpDesk

MHelpDesk prides itself on being an all-in-one solution.  No longer do field service companies have to juggle five different solutions to manage their business.  Offering seamless integration with QuickBooks for speedy data transfer, MHelpDesk wants to make everything simple for you.  Whether it’s tracking a job, dispatching a technician or integrating with your website, MHelpDesk’s solution is a great fit for any field service company.

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