What’s the Difference Between Mobile Workforce Management and Field Service Management?

Is mobile workforce management the same as field service management? It’s actually a line between the broad category of mobile work and the specific subset that is field service.

Most people use the terms “field worker” and “mobile worker” interchangeably. That’s cool, say whatever you want! It’s not the terms that matter—it’s what you are trying to achieve for your business that separates mobile workforce management from field service management.

But let’s just be clear about how these terms are different.

What is a Mobile Worker?

A mobile worker is anyone whose core job function does NOT take place in the office.

Mobile workers have jobs that are executed on site with customers, in homes, in the field where equipment or worksites are, or on the go in general. Your mobile workforce is all the people who are doing your company’s business outside of the office. Some examples include home health care providers, on-site trainers or service providers, home contractors, and trade workers.

Mobile workers are different than remote employees. A remote employee has a job that could or normally would take place in the company’s office, but does this job from another location.

Analyst firm International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that by 2020 there will be more than 105 million mobile and remote workers in the U.S. That number, which includes the field worker subcategory, represents nearly 75% of the total workforce in the U.S.

This is an enormous shift in how people work. It’s reflective of new business models, changing consumer preferences, and technology that makes mobility possible.

What is a Field Worker?

A field worker is a specific type of mobile worker who is delivering field service. It is estimated that there are less than 10 million field technicians in the U.S. As analyst firm Gartner describes it in their 2017 Magic Quadrant for Field Service Management, “Field service operations typically dispatch technicians to customer locations to provide installation, repair or maintenance services for equipment or systems.”

So, field workers are most frequently technicians delivering skilled services to commercial or industrial clients. This often involves specialized or even proprietary equipment, a bill of materials, and service level agreements (SLAs). Traditional field service is associated with industries like telecommunications, utilities, logistics and manufacturing.

What Are You Optimizing For?

Now that we’ve clarified how field service is a component of mobile work, let’s get philosophical for a second.

The root difference between mobile workforce management (MWM) and field service management (FSM) systems comes down to this question: What are you trying to optimize in your business? Are you trying to optimize factors of your business related to people or physical products?

If your goal is to optimize the customer journey, the scheduling process, or the daily experience of your mobile workforce, then you need a mobile workforce management solution.

In contrast, if your goal is to optimize the installation, maintenance and repair of physical products you own or have sold, then a field service management solution should work for your business.

The Many Use Cases of Mobile Workforce Management

Mobile workforce management (MWM) systems are built for businesses whose primary business drivers are human inputs, whether those are your customers, your team at HQ, or your workers in the field. It’s a solution category for the service economy with a mobile-first approach.

MWM systems can support many types of use cases or workflows, but they all have some common factors.

1. Customer Centricity

First, they are customer-centric, especially when it comes to appointment times and requirements. MWM systems can support use cases where the customer OR the business defines the time of service.

One example is a corporate cleaning service that is restricted by the client’s business day and office hours. In this case, it’s the client’s scheduling needs, not the workforce availability or an equipment failure, that primarily determines time of service.

2. Scheduling Around Human Variability

Second, MWM systems are designed to solve challenges around the variability of the people in your workforce beyond basic availability for a specific time slot. This variability could include specialty skills, tenure with the company, or even existing relationships with the customer or co-workers. A more technical way to think about it is that MWM takes into account complex qualitative attributes, as well as quantitative constraints, when managing mobile work and the people who provide it.

3. Making Mobile Work Better

Lastly, a MWM system must make the work of your field employees easier—from traveling to and from jobs to the execution of work itself. It’s not enough to just tell them where and when to be somewhere; a MWM solution must enable and optimize the work done in the field through the use of mobile technology. If it doesn’t have this element, it’s just a scheduling tool.

Ultimately, a MWM tool is designed to optimize the human inputs of your business—whether that is your customers, your team at HQ, or your workers in the field—to reach your broader business goals, such as revenue generation, costs savings, and customer retention.

The Standard Field Service Use Case

In contrast to mobile workforce management, FSM systems are designed to optimize the upkeep of goods or equipment that a business sells or owns. FSM systems are purpose-built for businesses whose primary business drivers are their physical products, like manufacturing, utilities, telecommunications, and infrastructure.

The standard FSM workflow is that a request is made for installation, maintenance, or repair from a customer who has already signed a contract with the business. The scheduler chooses among available and qualified workers to dispatch from an FSM system that prioritizes reducing the cost of the service and increasing the utilization of the field resources. The customer is given a service window, an available technician is dispatched, paperwork is filled out on site, and it is then returned back to HQ and processed.

On the back end, the system connects with an ERP or other asset management system to take inventory of spare parts, bill of materials, and the lifecycle of the product being serviced. The requirements of the physical good, the urgency of the repair, and reducing the cost of servicing a customer on contract drive the system and ultimately the scheduling decision.

FSM systems often assume a certain amount of standardization or limited variability in your workforce as the types of services rendered—and therefore skills needed—are generally well-defined within an SLA.

The “Bigger” Category is Mobile Workforce Management

FSM is a more mature solution category that includes extensive integrations to ERP and other systems to manage the requirements around complex physical products. With that in mind, it’s easy to think FSM is “bigger” than mobile workforce management (I’m looking at you, analysts). But that’s just plain backwards.

Mobile workforce management is the solution category that applies to the widest variety of business models, workforce types, job types, and workflows. FSM solutions are designed to support traditional field service only (and we think some of them do a great job at it!). Mobile workforce management is bigger because it works for businesses and use cases that do not fit the well-defined mold of traditional field service.

So What Is Skedulo?

Skedulo is the platform for intelligent mobile workforce management. Our web and mobile apps help enterprises intelligently schedule, dispatch, and track jobs in the field with real-time visibility and communication, creating a more productive mobile operation.

We take the variable skills, both human and technical, that make up your workforce so you can manage them against the needs of your customers. Skedulo was architected to be flexible because we understand that no two businesses manage scheduling, work in the field, and the back office in the same way.

We don’t put ourselves in the field service management subcategory, although “field” is a term we use all the time. Our platform was designed with flexibility in mind to accommodate all types of mobile workforce scenarios, including the ones that haven’t been dreamed up yet. It’s our belief that mobile work will continue to evolve and create new opportunities and we want to make them work flawlessly.

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