Managing in the field

Investment in field service management technology can help streamline business processes, leading to long-term efficiency, profitability and customer retention.


Operations managers face ever-mounting internal and external challenges to achieving business excellence. Customer expectations are at an all-time high, and field services play a major role in customer satisfaction, brand reputation and ultimately customer retention and profitability. Adding to this, unpredictable fuel prices, incoming legislative requirements and environmental concerns make this a challenging time to run a service operation.

Maintaining efficient field-based operations is essential for any business to remain competitive and investment in technology can help to achieve this. A solution which boosts productivity while reducing costs ensures a business achieves a genuine return on investment (ROI), including improvements in workforce productivity and customer satisfaction.

Trimble recently carried out an independent study among directors and senior managers operating large field-based work forces in the UK and found that only 18 percent possess fully automated scheduling, dispatch and mobility tools. The majority are operating partly-manual, partly-automated systems, integrating a diverse mix of often incompatible legacy systems. This is preventing many organisations from realising the full potential of technology to increase workforce efficiency, a crucial factor in achieving field service excellence.

The rise of intelligent data
Fleet management and telematics have emerged as powerful management tools to provide new levels of field service and vehicle fleet performance. Today’s solutions integrate GPS with wireless communication to enable every aspect of mobile operations to be identified, measured and analysed, delivering greater intelligence to fleet managers.

The information typically includes vehicle location, speed and time, but may also include work order information, driver behaviour and vehicle diagnostics data such as miles-per-gallon, fuel use or vehicle faults, all determined by the in-vehicle telematics. Businesses can then start to reduce direct expenses such as fuel costs by optimising route planning, improving operational efficiencies and driving revenue generation through top quality customer service and maximum flexibility, making real-time decisions to keep their operations running as smoothly as possible. According to the research, organisations running field-based workforces cited fleet management as one of the top priorities for future technology investment and upgrades. Operations managers require a clear understanding of what is happening in the field to monitor performance and a work management solution provides real-time job status of each mobile worker as well as alerts for proactively managing productivity. If a job is in jeopardy of being missed or a customer emergency comes up, modern work management solutions mean these are automatically highlighted by the technology and a proposed solution put forward as to how to redeploy resources to meet the new requirements. The capabilities and benefits that can be achieved include:

·         Optimising and automating mobile work schedules.

·         Communicating to mobile workers via a laptop or smart phone so they can view work details, provide current work status and receive work assignments without returning to the office.

·         Monitoring arrival times, distances travelled, stops made and overtime usage.

·         Comparing planned vs. actual work done per day/shift.

·         Adjusting schedules and reassigning work.

The above capabilities evidently lead directly to increased customer satisfaction due to increased on-time service delivery performance and reduced customer complaints for late technicians or missed appointments. Once you start comparing the information taken from your field operations regularly it is easy to see where improvements can be made or where patterns exist that you can plan for in advance to minimise the impact.

Managing the worker and mitigating risk
Health and safety is understandably a high priority for organisations with field-based workers, especially those doing a significant amount of driving. These individuals not only face greater risks than office-based employees, but can also expose members of the public to danger through aggressive and unsafe driving, with disastrous consequences for the company’s reputation as well as the legal risks involved.

As technology has evolved, both the amount and type of data gathered has increased significantly. Driver behaviour and vehicle diagnostics information are now available to identify how a vehicle is being driven and any faults that may affect performance. Taking steps to mitigate poor driving or proactively servicing underperforming vehicles not only significantly reduces the road risk but minimises vehicle breakdowns or unscheduled downtime.

Trimble’s research discovered that 51 percent surveyed agree that the technology they are using to manage the safety of their employees is in need of updating, with 44 per cent stating that their risk assessment software is in need of the most improvement.

Driver safety solutions enable managers to monitor driving behaviour and complete back office analysis of aggressive manoeuvres, such as hard acceleration, braking, turns and speed. With this data at hand, recommendations on training can be made for individual drivers, resulting in lower accidents and liability and therefore helping to manage the risks and costs associated with work-related driving. Essentially, technology can be used to improve the efficiency of, rather than completely replace, health and safety policies, while also helping to increase efficiency, cut costs and help maintain a brand’s reputation of executing a safe driving culture.

Going green and cutting costs
Introduced and incoming legislation has placed mounting pressure on businesses to improve their sustainability and accelerate the move to meet green targets. For field-based organisations especially, monitoring fuel consumption through fleet management and telematics is a quickly achievable method of reaching environmentally friendly targets.

Fuel prices have seen a consistent increase over the years and business owners have become very conscious of managing these costs. Reducing fuel usage through data interpretation can result in significant cost savings and will additionally lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions.

Cost is a major barrier to rolling out new technology but the increased sustainability credentials derived from the financial and environmental advantages are key benefits that influence business decisions. Trimble’s recent research shows that nearly two thirds of respondents believe that sustainability plays a key role in their business plan and a further 64 percent feel sustainability will have a significant effect on their business moving forward.

The desire to become more sustainable is also largely driven by perception and company image, as being green, and being seen to be green in the public eye, is becoming increasingly important. Forward-thinking businesses are moving towards sustainability as a way of promoting their organisation and ultimately to attract and retain new customers.

There are a multitude of solutions available to help streamline field service operations. The challenge now is educating organisations on the extended benefits such technologies can deliver and helping them to overcome any reluctance to invest, due to economic hard times. Fundamentally, enabling drivers to do their job more efficiently, effectively and safely through the deployment of field and fleet management technologies facilitates lower cost and better service, leading to long-term success for the entire business.


Mark Forrest

<!--paging_filter--><p>&nbsp;</p> <p> Mark Forrest is general manager of Trimble&#39;s Field Service Management Division, which provides visibility into field and fleet operations so businesses can streamline efficiency and increase productivity. For more information visit: <a href=""></a>.</p>