Many companies don’t know a lot about field force automation, and this particular type of enterprise resource is fairly new. Having an understanding of what field force automation is and how businesses use it can help executives and business leaders enhance what they do for customers, while improving both sales and customer service.
Field force automation is one of those new trends that revolutionizes how people work in the 21st century. By bringing specific data to the point of use, these types of solutions give workers more tools at their fingertips, and make them more capable ambassadors of their brands.
What is Field Force Automation?
Essentially, field force automation software involves taking in sales or service data in real time, and transmitting it to a mobile interface. Through the interface, field workers can communicate in real-time with the home office.
One of the first things to understand about field force automation is that there are two distinct types of software and interfaces — some related to sales data, and some directed toward customer service. While there might be some tools that combine the two, other stand-alone solutions focus exclusively on either a sales process or mobile customer service functions.
For example, field service management, or FSM software, suites focus on things like scheduling and dispatching, working with drivers en route to customer locations, and documenting specific customer needs on location, while also providing certain kinds of customer service information from the head office.
This kind of directive and administrative software improves communications and shows both ‘endpoint parties,’ the customer and the home office, more about what’s needed and what the company can do to serve a particular client well.
On the other hand, field force automation sales tools are much more like a customer relationship management platform or sales automation portal. They predominantly have sales information on hand to help with deal-making at every stage of the game. The automation tools needed for sales are often identity-driven: they can identify past track records, touchpoints and interactions, while showing sales workers a clear path forward.
As an example, take Salesforce, one of the biggest names in CRM. The company has pioneered a tool called FieldForcePro that is particularly geared toward field service management. At the same time, the Saleforce legacy services accomplish much of what is most important in sales automation. Other vendors have similarly started to offer both sales and service tools that automate field work to a high degree – so businesses getting into the game at this stage have a lot to choose from.
Big Decisions in Data
One of the first processes involved in field force automation is determining what specific kinds of information need to go into a mobile interface.
Companies will have to do some thorough research and brainstorming to figure out which types of sales data will be most useful in the field, or which kind of information gathering will be effective in customer service.
Consider a remediation service that needs to go into homes and deal with things like insects, mold, water damage or other issues. Having the right interface to port visual and documentation data back to the head office will vastly improve customer service, and make work processes more transparent. So companies have to design these tools with those goals in mind. They need to figure out more about how core services are supported, and what types of functionality make the best impression when a remote field worker visits a customer.
Building an Interface
In taking advantage of the idea of field force automation, companies have to build or source the right interfaces that effectively support field work. One of the most common setups is a WiFi or LTE set of connections to tablet PCs and/or smart phones that workers carry with them in the field. In some ways, the typical field force automation interface is like an intranet, with every remote worker signed on to give and receive information through the platform.
Aside from the types of data that go into the platform, there are many questions about how to set up this interface in the best way. There are issues of access to information, questions around situating controls and menu options, and creative thinking around how to display different kinds of results on a given screen. Many of these systems are built one form or field at a time, very deliberately, to support a particular business outcome.
Resolving Real-Time Data
Another major area of constructing the right field force automation system involves getting that field data and merging it with the internal databases and central data repositories. This challenge can be harder than it sounds.
Business tools aimed at merging data are often complex and sophisticated systems that consider how data has to be in the right places at the right times to be useful to a business. Oracle describes some of this process in a white paper on “Real-Time Access to Real-Time Information:”
“Transactional data—data related to business transactions such as customer orders, payments, shipments, and service requests—and business applications that rely on processing, reporting, and analyzing that transactional data are critical for day-to-day operations.”
To this end, algorithms and other programming tools track each instance of incoming data that updates a database in some way, and work to ensure that end users have access to the most current version of data.