10 Operational Advantages of Field Service Automation
The field service landscape has greatly evolved to include organizations in nearly every industry, due in large part to the technological advances that have enabled businesses to deliver their products and services directly to their customers. The advent of these technologies have sparked digital transformation initiatives among field service companies; and those who fail to keep up will risk falling behind their competitors.
IoT devices, augmented reality, and AI-driven tools all help to improve field service teams’ productivity, performance, and customer experiences. But in their rush to deploy shiny new tools and reach digital maturity, some companies have neglected to prioritize investing in technologies that support their most critical functions; especially scheduling.
Inefficient scheduling practices and outdated, manual tools negatively impact the customer experience and result in wasted time, which could otherwise be spent serving more clients. In fact, they cause a variety of operational challenges that undermine a field service organization’s digital transformation strategy and overall success.
Enter field service automation, which is specifically designed to eliminate the operational barriers that businesses face, including complex workforce scheduling. With field service automation, organizations can effectively execute their digital transformation strategies and optimize operations for a better employee and customer experience and greater profitability.
What is Field Service Automation?
Field service automation, often referred to as field service management (FSM), includes all of the processes, tools, and policies that a business leverages to manage its operations. Where “traditional” field service management relied on manual methods and basic metrics—like windshield time, and employee utilization—to carry out work and measure progress, automation leans on technology and data for success.
A field service company, for example, may use automation to streamline the scheduling and dispatching process. Instead of requiring staff schedulers and dispatchers to manually create schedules using spreadsheets, online calendars, or even whiteboards, field service automation software does the heavy lifting. It automatically generates optimized schedules and matches the right worker to the right job (based on certifications, skill sets, locations, preferences, and more), which reduces human error and increases team efficiency.
Field service automation is particularly attractive to organizations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they work to overcome new challenges and keep pace with industry trends, including:
- Increased customer expectations and demand
- A greater focus on sustainability
- Pressures to keep both employees and customers safe and healthy
- A need to remain SLA-compliant
- A need to balance profitability and quality of customer service
10 Benefits of Field Service Automation
Organizations that leverage field service automation software benefit in a variety of ways. The value of the right solution is grounded in powerful, robust features that solve multiple operational challenges.
Here are 10 ways in which field service automation software can benefit your business:
1. Real-time scheduling
The harsh reality that every field service organization faces is that daily schedules are ever-changing. Unlike their desk-based counterparts, who can generally cancel or reschedule a meeting without significant consequences, a field worker’s entire day can be thrown off kilter by a last-minute schedule change.
Let’s say staff schedulers at an HVAC field service company rely on manual, inflexible, stagnant tools (like Excel) to schedule their technicians’ work. Each week, they spend time sorting through work orders and technician details (e.g. locations, skill sets, availability, etc.) and creating schedules that maximize field employees’ working hours. In theory, it’s an adequate process that gets each technician where they need to be, when they need to be there.
But what happens when one technician calls in sick, a customer submits an emergency work order that must be prioritized, and two customers want to reschedule their appointment for a later date? The staff schedulers must scramble to readjust the schedule, wasting precious hours contacting potential substitutes, finding optimal travel routes that ensure worker efficiency, and verifying each employee is assigned fair working hours. If they don’t get it right—and fast—they risk missed appointments, frustrated employees, and, ultimately, lost revenue.
Field service automation software eliminates this time-intensive, burdensome headache. It handles scheduling changes in real time, and automatically makes adjustments based on the company’s pre-established priorities, constraints, and conditions. Those unavoidable last-minute modifications don’t hinder the team’s productivity, nor do they create an operational domino effect that impacts the customer experience.
2. Decreased Manual Tasks
Manually generating schedules and reports, dispatching, collecting field data, and tracking hours is exhausting, time-consuming, and costly. These outdated practices result in functional delays and errors, both of which impact operational efficiency and performance.
With a field service automation solution, businesses can easily streamline workflows and processes with intelligent technology. These tools reduce manual administrative work and empower back-office and field workers to focus on higher-value initiatives, like serving customers.
The right software enables staff schedulers and dispatchers to quickly create and modify schedules, optimize travel routes, and ensure optimal resource allocation. Instead of using paper forms to capture customer data, job details, and more, field workers can quickly collect information (even offline) on their mobile devices, then automatically sync that data back to the main system.
Their efficiency is no longer tied down by manually filling out endless paperwork and transcribing information into a system once they return to HQ—which wastes time and increases the margin for error. Key details never fall through the cracks, and field workers maintain their productivity without sacrificing the data that’s so valuable to the business.
What’s more, field service automation solutions can automatically track hours worked and sync them back to HR and finance systems, so payroll and invoicing are always accurate and seamless. Field workers simply check in and out of job sites on their mobile apps to verify that they’ve completed a job, rather than spending precious hours filling out timesheets.
3. Centralized hub of information
Many field service teams use several apps to access and share information, capture job details, check and update their schedules, and communicate with colleagues and customers. This creates disparate sources of truth and missing or duplicate information; often resulting in miscommunications, errors, and a lack of preparedness in the field.
This also makes it harder to onboard and train new field service techs. As the current workforce ages out, they take with them foundational knowledge and expertise, and new employees must dig through various sources to access the information they need to properly perform their jobs.
But with field service automation software, back-office and field workers have access to a single source of truth in one secure place. Everyone can find and share everything they need, when and where they need it, and information is updated in real time—so no one ever misses a beat. The entire team is always working from the most up-to-date information, which improves accuracy and productivity.
This also enables better training and support, since workers at every experience level have all the essential documentation at their fingertips. Field workers are empowered to be well-prepared and confident to tackle any situation and provide the best customer experience possible. They maintain efficiency and safety, too, since they always have seamless access to necessary checklists, procedures, and policies.
4. Decreased down time
Disconnected, outdated systems make it impossible for a field service organization to gain the workforce visibility required for efficient maintenance operations. A lack of real-time visibility means a lack of customer and job history, and an inadequate understanding of what’s already been done, what needs to be done and when, and who needs to do it.
This causes more equipment breakdowns and failures and, thus, costly downtime. It’s a reactive approach to maintenance that hinders the company’s ability to meet customer expectations.
Modern field service automation solutions eliminate the cloudiness of understanding, scheduling, and conducting maintenance tasks. They help teams gain total visibility and transparency into planning, scheduling, and overall maintenance operations and adopt a more proactive approach.
The business has detailed, up-to-date records of previous inspections and job histories to ensure everything is in working order. Instead of derailing the whole team’s schedules when something does break, they have all the information they need to adequately address the problem and plan for downtime, boosting both productivity and customer satisfaction.
5. Improved efficiency in preventive maintenance
Limited visibility, complex scheduling requirements, and inadequate tools cause operational inefficiencies that prevent field service teams from leveraging a strong preventive maintenance practice. They experience unexpected costs in the form of expensive equipment replacements, lost productivity, low customer satisfaction, and overtime labor. They must contend with constant break/fix scenarios that are difficult to stay on top of, as well as potentially dangerous equipment failures.
Preventive maintenance software (like a CMMS, ERP, and EAM) are all part of a more efficient, optimized puzzle, but schedulers and technicians also need field service automation software to succeed. With the right solution, they gain complete workforce visibility, and tools that support multi-layered workflows and handle complex scheduling requirements. They have all their essential information—like equipment records, job histories, worker availability and skill sets, and more—in a centralized hub, so they can always get the right worker to the right job at the right time.
Field service teams no longer struggle with poorly planned schedules that otherwise obstruct their preventive maintenance processes. Even unplanned changes occur, they’re able to maintain operational efficiency. Their scheduling, dispatching, and routing practices are fully optimized, so technicians can get to the next job site quickly and safely. The organization never misses a maintenance task, which helps them meet their SLAs for happier customers, safer working conditions, less downtime, and a healthier bottom line.
6. Greater asset and equipment management
Field service organizations have myriad assets to track and manage, but without the proper tools and processes, they often struggle to maximize the value of those investments. Teams deal with poor asset life cycles because their workflows and scheduling operations don’t enable proper inspection and maintenance.
With field service automation, businesses can get more value from their assets and equipment. Their scheduling process runs like a well-oiled machine, so technicians can ensure everything is always in working order. With consistent, recurring inspection and maintenance, they’re able to quickly resolve issues and replace parts instead of an entire piece of equipment, helping them save the time and money associated with larger failures.
7. Improved employee oversight and productivity
72% of executives claim that worker productivity is negatively impacted by their existing technology. In an effort to better support their operations, many businesses have adopted single-point solutions or have cobbled together various tools—but the result leaves much to be desired. Disparate technologies limit workforce visibility and disrupt worker productivity, since they must spend a significant part of their days switching between platforms to find what they need.
Supervisors can’t see what’s going on in the field and lack a fundamental understanding of their workforce operations, including availability, progress, and any obstacles to success. And they can’t fix issues in productivity or performance if they don’t know exactly what’s working and what’s not. Workers aren’t as productive as they could be because their schedules and routes aren’t fully optimized to maximize their working hours. Plus, when field workers don’t have seamless access to resources, one small issue can throw a wrench in the entire day.
But when field service teams implement a field service automation solution, they gain total transparency into their entire operation. They have real-time access to worker locations and job progress, creating a safer, more productive workforce. They’re able to optimize schedules and routes based on every relevant factor (e.g. availability, skill sets, customer and job histories, etc.), so the team is able to serve more customers without sacrificing quality.
8. Greater inventory control
Most field service teams use an ERP system to help them manage inventory, track which equipment is being used, and schedule the right jobs when equipment is available. While ERP tools enable teams to look inward and manage their internal resources, many don’t track inventory per technician.
This is a real challenge, though, since supervisors need to know which technicians have which equipment, parts, and expertise to complete a particular job at the right time. If not, they struggle to meet their customer SLAs and accurately and understand and control their inventory.
Field service automation software fills this gap by offering data on a per-technician, per-job basis in real time. Unlike ERP systems alone, its capabilities are robust enough to provide every single data point supervisors need to make intelligent decisions about their field service operations.
9. Improved customer loyalty and satisfaction
To remain competitive and profitable, a field service business needs efficient operations, a streamlined employee experience, and the ability to deliver great customer service in a timely manner. Systems of record (e.g. ERPs) are great for providing an authoritative data source for specific areas of the business. But field service teams also need a system of engagement to pull everything together and ensure excellent customer experiences.
With intelligent field service automation, teams are up-to-date with accurate arrival times (thanks to real-time scheduling and optimized routes), so customers always know what to expect. Field workers are well-prepared with everything they need with a centralized source of truth, so they can get the job done right the first time, every time.
Field service automation software is purposefully built to help teams meet customer expectations during every service delivery. By tracking detailed data (like customer invoices, receipts, and preferences), and storing that information in a single place, it allows teams to confidently complete their tasks while also focusing on customer needs.
Plus, it automates the scheduling and dispatching process, so teams don’t constantly run into customer service issues, like last-minute no shows or cancellations. The result is a happier, more loyal customer base who trusts your company to meet (or even exceed) their expectations.
10. Increased cohesion and communication among team members
Teams with high levels of engagement show 21% greater profitability than their disengaged counterparts; but 80% of remote workers report feeling more excluded or disconnected than their in-office colleagues. With insufficient communication tools that aren’t uniquely designed to support field workers (like Slack, email, and text messages), it’s no wonder they struggle to remain connected.
Some field service automation systems solve this problem by offering mobile-first tools that completely streamline communication between workers. They enable better collaboration and knowledge sharing through real-time updates, centralized alerts, and quick access to essential resources. Field workers don’t need to waste time toggling between different communication platforms, since they have everything they need to collaborate on one app in real time. This boosts their engagement, productivity, and overall performance in the field.
Powerful Field Service Automation for a More Efficient Team
A successful field service operation is one that’s backed by strong tools and processes. While the disparate, insufficient tools your team may have leveraged in an effort to digitally transform likely fall short, intelligent field service automation software can help you achieve true operational efficiency.
Skedulo’s field service management software makes it easy to boost the efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness of your team. With tools for automated scheduling and dispatching, optimized routing, seamless communication, fast field data collection and analysis, and more, Skedulo can help your business overcome the operational challenges associated with field service work. Learn more about how the right software can help you drive operational efficiency to reduce costs, boost productivity, increase customer satisfaction, and improve your bottom line, or book a demo today.