When information flows easily to and from the field,
business processes improve
By Aaron Cargas, Cargas Systems
An energy company is a borderless organization. It’s true you have departments and jobs and buildings and offices, but these are just things that you construct to keep everything organized. Where does the actual delivery of product or service you provide take place? It’s out in the field, when your drivers deliver and your service technicians do their work.
So why is it that most companies focus on providing technology tools first to all the people in the office and later on consider giving technology tools to their field workers? To be fair, having an accounting system and back office system in today’s world is a necessity. However, I would argue that to be competitive, having better software tools for your field workers is a necessity too.
Take software for service technicians for example. This is a job where learning and information is paramount to providing good service. Also, collecting good information at the point where the work gets done and billing out in the field helps makes customers happier and smooths out your back office processes.
It would seem that providing better software tools for your service technicians should be a top priority given the nature of their information-based jobs. Still not convinced? Let’s explore more details about how software can support your service team:
1. Information Outflow – Information flow is one of the most important things in a borderless organization. Your service technician needs in-depth information to do his work most effectively. What’s the service history for this customer?
Do they have a balance with us? What is their pricing and service contract situation? Is this a callback? You can choose to print all that out on paper and send it along, but you can provide much more in-depth and up-to-date information on a mobile device. One of the top reasons to implement a real-time mobile service application is to enable better information flow out to your technicians. Give them the detailed information they need to do their job better.
2. Information Lookup: When you are in a technical job, you are only as good as your skills and training. Good technicians will be constantly learning and researching. The good news is that today’s modern mobile applications will run on a tablet device that allows technicians to not only have access to data from your back office system, but will also allow them to look up other necessary information about parts and equipment online, because the device they carry has an internet connection and a web browser. They can also download relevant manuals and other information onto the device to view later. This access to outside information is a great tool for technicians. Most office workers have Internet access and use online resources to do their jobs. There’s no reason technical field workers shouldn’t do the same.
3. Field Billing – Real-time billing of customers in the field is another advantage software tools will provide for your service team. Technicians can enter the parts or flat rate codes that were used, capture a signature from the customer and print a professional looking invoice right from their device. A signed electronic copy of the invoice is immediately stored in the back office system. This allows you to clarify any billing issues immediately, have a good record of the customer’s acceptance of the transaction, and vastly reduce the chance of mistakes and the time spent keying in billing details later. It also presents a much more professional presence to the customer.
4. Inventory Automation – Service technicians use parts all day long as they do repairs and cleanings. Many of the vendors you buy parts from will offer a program where they will act as your outsourced warehouse, delivering just-in-time parts to your service technicians. Just-in-time inventory is the holy grail of inventory management, because you aren’t tying up your own money by stocking a lot of parts, but the parts are available when you need them. Technology bridges the gap and makes this happen. Real-time mobile allows technicians to enter the parts used during the day, and this information will flow back in real time to the back office from their connected mobile device. The service manager can set up optimal reorder points in the system and run automated electronic reorder processes daily based on this real time usage. Parts are then available the
next morning. This is smart management enabled by technology.
5. Information Inflow – This brings me to the final detailed benefit of real-time connected mobile service applications for your field workers. Real-time devices are constantly sending detailed information to your back office system. You will know the technician finished their first work order and started the next one, but that’s taking a little longer so they are now running late. You will see the parts used. You will get GPS data sent back in real time so you can easily dispatch emergency work based on their current location. Customer service people will have real-time access to technician’s activities throughout the day to answer customer calls. Technicians can enter sales leads from their mobile device if they see equipment that may need to be replaced, and the sales team can follow up. The promise of mobile applications is not just information flow out to the technicians; it’s the flow of rich information back to the back office to smooth out your operations and make you more efficient.
Software is a tool, and while most people have come to the realization that their office workers needs software tools to do their work, the idea that field workers require software tools is still permeating the industry. Fundamentally, though, there is no difference between the needs of an office worker and the needs of a field worker. They can both benefit from better tools.
You could even argue that it’s more important for your field workers to have better software tools, since they are the ones that are face to face with customers. They are your ambassadors to the outside world on a daily basis. Giving them what they need to do their jobs more effectively not only shows you value them, it shows you are trying to make your customer interactions better. In a service-based business, that’s a top priority.