The Five 'Must Haves' for an Intelligent Mobile Workforce Management System

Patrick Zirnhelt, VP of Enterprise Service & Asset Management, IFS North America
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Patrick Zirnhelt, VP of Enterprise Service & Asset Management, IFS North America

Patrick Zirnhelt, VP of Enterprise Service & Asset Management, IFS North America

Field workers often carry out the final stage of a customer's journey with a company, so the service they provide can leave a lasting memory. Mobility, flex­ibility and agility are key requirements for any organization that relies on field workers as part of its operations.

It is small wonder that Mobile Work­force Management (MWFM) has become a competitive differentiator in field service. The solutions are designed to slash travel time and costs, while increasing field pro­ductivity and Service Level Agreement (SLA) compliance – all resulting in an im­proved customer experience.

According to IDC research, the US mobile worker population will grow from 96.2 million to 105.4 million in 2020. MWFM is now crossing a new fron­tier to increase service effectiveness by empowering mobile workers. MWFM solu­tions are getting smarter.

So what does it take for MWFM solu­tions to be considered ’smart’? In this arti­cle I'll be discussing the five must-haves for a smarter mobile workforce.

First: Automatic scheduling - not all scheduling engines are created equal

A truly intelligent service scheduling so­lution must do more than just assign and dispatch technicians according to a daily timetable.

A thorough and robust solution will as­sign and dispatch technicians based on the skills and certifications that may be required to complete a certain job. But crucially, it will then anticipate and quickly adjust the service delivery schedule based on a variety of changes that occur throughout the service day.

For example, in times where a task needs to be escalated or prioritized it will automati­cally be evaluated in a schedule. If equip­ment requires a spare part, it will assign qual­ified technicians who have the needed parts available or are nearest to a stocking location where the parts can be sourced. Manage­ment can rely on the scheduling system to proactively react to unforeseen availability issues -anything from illness, traffic delays and even weather conditions.

An 'intelligent' solution is able to facili­tate capacity and manpower planning by ex­amining the anticipated workload over time, based on multiple factors. These include anticipated sales and installed base growth, engineering change programs, seasonal ser­vice issues, new product introductions, new business acquisitions, geographic expansion, vacation, training requirements and more.

Second: Routing can mean re-routing

Automatically assigning and dispatching the right technician, with the right parts, at the right time, and dynamically adapting the service schedule as required is great – but it’s not enough. An intelligent sys­tem must also ensure that technicians are routed most efficiently. A truly intelligent MWFM solution will make use of GIS and GPS technologies to ensure technicians ar­rive at their assigned service events swift­ly, with minimal travel time and cost.

Smart MWFM will even display the quickest turn-by-turn directions from the technician’s current location to the next assignment on his or her mobile device. Moreover, turn-by-turn directions should be able to consider events such as con­struction, traffic congestion, and accidents in real time and revise the route accord­ingly to the next best alternative.

Third: The mobile history book creates a personal service

If technicians are to be completely effec­tive they need to have all possible infor­mation about the equipment to be serviced, customer entitlements, the reported prob­lem, any prior communication. All infor­mation must be available to technicians on their mobile devices, whether they are connected to the Internet or not.

Relevant customer information would include the customer’s warranty or main­tenance contract entitlement status, SLA commitments and associated penalties or incentives. It needs to include account escalation status if appropriate, accounts receivable status if there is a billing problem, the customer’s hours of operation and any special instructions or requirements for accessing the customer’s facilities, such as required security clearance.

It’s important for the technician to be well informed of impor­tant pending issues with the customer, such as when a maintenance agreement is due to be renewed, or whether the customer is consider­ing a large purchase of additional equipment.

To expedite repairs and reduce resolution time, technicians need immediate access on their mobile devices to up-to-date, ac­curate information. Other relevant equip­ment information to the repair or service order might include detailed informa­tion like service history, equipment configurations, hardware and soft­ware revision levels as well as signif­icant operating conditions. Repair instructions or service manuals for frequently performed main­tenance, installation instructions or even unpacking and packing instruction can make the engineer’s job so much easier – and customers feel that they have had a personalized service experience.

Fourth: Knowledge is power

As well trained, skilled and experienced as many technicians are, it’s likely they may encounter certain problems that require access to a 'knowledge base' detailing equipment problems and appropriate repair processes. This is an essential element in helping technicians resolve problems accurately and quickly.

A MWFM solution must provide technicians with access to the knowledge base of information via their mobile devices. The ‘smarter’ intelligent workforce management solutions al­low service organizations to create a database of such knowledge articles and can make those articles easily accessible from tech­nicians’ mobile devices when online. When an online connec­tion is not available, an intelligent MWFM can identify the most relevant knowledge that may be needed for a repair or scheduled service and can download those articles to the technician’s mobile device beforehand.

Moreover, an intelligent workforce manage­ment system will provide technicians with the abil­ity to view and download other relevant material, such as ser­vice and maintenance manuals, schematics and engineering/ safety change documents that will aid the technician in delivering an accurate and speedy problem resolution.

Fifth: Collaboration, anytime, anywhere

Technology is expanding both the capabilities and value of the equipment that needs to be serviced. A by-product of these ex­panding technological advances is that many types of equipment are also becoming more complex to service. As a consequence, service and maintenance training is also becoming more complex and time consuming, and it often takes newer technicians longer to gain proficiencies in servicing complex equipment.

Easy collaboration among technicians of differ­ing experience and skill levels is a must for any modern MWFM system. Whether through voice and text communications, or data shar­ing such as diagrams, photos, and videos, col­laboration needs to extend from the field to in-house technical support, engineering and manufacturing personnel, and other relevant technical staff. This provides the ability to demonstrate a solution in real-time, or conversely to show a technician in the field exactly how to correct an issue.

A smarter mobile workforce

There is now a new generation of in­telligent MWFM solutions for field service or­ganizations that are providing ‘smart’ scheduling to deliver the best possible customer experience. At IFS for example, we offer dynamic scheduling engines which auto­mate scheduling decisions based on configurable and recon­figurable business requirements. They also provide “what-if” analysis to study how business, volume and staffing changes would affect the ability to deliver service. These ‘smarter’ MWFM solutions enable field service to become a profit­able business where SLAs are met, costs are reduced and profits increased.

In the field service environment, IFS is going a step further to deliver smart MWFM with wearable technology. The IFS in-house research department, IFS labs, is exploring the efficiency benefits of allowing technicians to record updates via voice commands to a smartwatch.

The launch of the Samsung Gear and Gear 2 range of smart­watches gave users of IFS software the early opportunity to receive and respond to notifications and alerts from their ERP system - wherever they are, at any time. We’ve now completed the circle by delivering MWFM on Apple Watch.

The bottom line is, truly 'intelligent' solutions offer field service organizations a competitive edge, by ensuring their customers receive the highest quality of service–and leave that lasting positive impression that encourages repeat business.

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