Tuesday, 30 July 2013 09:29

Top 10 Things to Consider when Selecting a Mobile Workforce Management System

As businesses are squeezed from every angle leaders are looking for ways to tighten up their business processes and minimise the operational costs associated with service delivery. Mobile Workforce Management Systems are essential to any business in optimising efficiency and maximising the profit margin at every stage of the service delivery process.

Regardless of whether you are looking to make the move to a Mobile Workforce Management System or debating an upgrade for your existing solution, there are a number of key points you should consider.

Here’s our top 10 list:

  1. Modular or Point Solution?
  2. Future-proofing
  3. Optimising Job Scheduling
  4. Mobile Apps & Workflow Optimisation
  5. Minimising Repeat Visits
  6. Real-time Communication & Visibility
  7. Hosting
  8. Professional Services Charges
  9. Upgrades and Development
  10. Reporting and Analysis
  1. Modular or Point Solution?

    • Many businesses have implemented mobile workforce management systems in the past that provide a point solution to address specific challenges. Whilst the tactical point solution approach may well improve an element of the service delivery function, chances are that there will be efficiency leaks in many other areas of the business. Areas of the business that interface with and are a key part of the extended service delivery process, that are overlooked during the scoping of the project, are not and cannot be addressed by a point solution. These gaps are typically filled with extensive use of spreadsheets and the like.
    • Think strategically when replacing aging systems. Deploying a modular mobile workforce management solution with a supplier that looks at the entire service delivery process throughout the whole business will eradicate efficiency leaks that would otherwise have been overlooked by taking a point solution approach. Look for a supplier that will assess your end-to-end business operations and will make recommendations on process improvements that are supported by individual modules. Ensure your supplier has an open approach to integration to ensure you can integrate with any existing systems that are too well established to replace.
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  2. Future-proofing

    • When you begin your search for a mobile workforce management system consider both your current and future requirements. Whilst you may need limited functionality to start with, chances are you will need to expand the solution to meet your future requirements.
    • Finding a system that offers a strategic roadmap for your business in the early stages will save you time and money in the long run. The last thing you need is to implement a system that meets your current requirements, but will need replacing in 12 months.
    • Modular systems offer the greatest flexibility as they are designed to allow you to adopt components at your own pace and in line with your business requirements. So whilst your business might need limited scheduling functionality now it is worth investing in a system that can offer additional functionality in the future.
    • However, you don’t want to pay for a system and only use 10% of it’s functionality, so look for a supplier that will charge you for what you need and agree a defined pricing strategy for the additional modules and features.
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  3. Optimising Job Scheduling

    • Many companies look to deploy a mobile workforce management system to make their field workers more efficient, enabling them to carry out an increasing number of jobs per day, at a lower cost. However, this often falls down when the decision on job allocation and task prioritisation is left to the customer service team who don’t have the specialist knowledge required to ensure they select the most efficient and cost effective option for the business.
    • Large savings can be made by ensuring your workforce carry out service requests in the optimum order, but more often than not, these aren’t maximised due to poor decision making on behalf of the customer service team. Consider looking for a system that supports the customer service team’s decision making process, allowing them to schedule the appointments based on their perceived best approach and then providing the option to optimise the routes and schedules based on more accurate information.
    • Some system providers also offer the option to deploy a fully automated dynamic scheduling solution, removing the need for the customer service team to physically schedule appointments. Care should be taken to avoid trying to fit your business into a standard automatic scheduling system, which doesn’t consider all the “What ifs” that are commonplace for most businesses.
    • The best approach with the lowest risk is to work from the bottom up. Provide enhanced tools for the planners to improve efficiency and then the supplier can add layers of intelligence based on your business processes that deal with the “What ifs” until a point is reached that the system can be run with minimum intervention.
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  4. Mobile Apps & Workflow Optimisation

    • Mobile workforce management systems can help your workforce to achieve more each day by eliminating the need for unnecessary paperwork. By replacing paper forms with mobile applications and workflows on a mobile device you will not only make your workforce more efficient but your business will also ensure no information is missed and that the associated time and cost of manual data entry of these paper forms is eliminated. Not to mention the cost savings associated with the time required to rectify errors due to incorrect transcription or lost paperwork.
    • In order to minimise the volume of administration and data entry it is important to find a mobile workforce management system that supports real-time mobile device data capture to eliminate the need for forms to be filled out by hand in the field. The information captured then needs to be automatically uploaded to the mobile workforce management system to deliver the information back to the office in real-time. This could include re-ordering of parts used, signatures for work completed, pictures of faulty assets and so on.
    • You should also consider whether the system will support the import and export of data between your different systems. Once you’ve captured a signature on site and completed a job, how will the finance team know to raise an invoice if it’s for chargeable work? If a part is used, how will the stores know to re-order that part to prevent it being out of stock for the next requirement?
    • It is important to take a top level view of mobile workforce management within the business and to identify all of the systems and departments that the team interfaces with to ensure your system can support the transfer of data where required. Some system providers will even help you to do this, sharing the knowledge they have gained from deploying solutions to similar companies to yours.
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  5. Minimising Repeat Visits

    • In order to minimise repeat visits it is vital that in addition to knowing the location or the service or repair, the customer service operative also knows exactly what asset needs attention, the type of repair or service to be carried out, and the parts required. Without this knowledge the customer service operative may schedule an engineer to arrive on site without the necessary parts or without the knowledge to carry out the repair. This leads to costly and preventable repeat visits and a poor customer experience.
    • Look for a system that enables the customer service team to schedule the engineer with the correct experience and the right parts on their vehicle for each service request. Ensure that the mobile apps and workflows prompt the engineer to check the asset ID when on site and to capture the parts used. I, ideally this will automatically update the parts management module within the mobile workforce management system. Get it right first time and your operating costs per call out will be drastically reduced.
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  6. Real-time Communication & Visibility

    • Real-time communication and visibility is vital to the efficiency of your business and the satisfaction of your customers. Mobile workforce management systems that incorporate mobile applications allow you to speed up data transfer and job closure processes, increase efficiency and reduce the communication costs associated with chasing engineers for updates. But make sure the mobile app works fully off line when network coverage is unavailable without any user self-management.
    • By implementing a system that enables both internal and external resources to access real-time information you could eliminate the need for time consuming calls throughout the working day. Remove the need for internal staff to call mobile workers to allocate work, chase location information and check job progress and you can significantly reduce your communication costs.
    • Improving the visibility of business activities allows you to change the nature of your communication with customers from reactive to proactive, tighten up service windows and keep control of customer service level agreements. Communication is the key to customer satisfaction and by utilising the real-time information your mobile workforce management system captures to provide immediate feedback to customers and mobile workers your service levels will improve resulting in new opportunities.
    • There are a number of ways to provide your engineers with remote access to your mobile workforce management system. These include mobile access from a web browser, which requires constant good network connection through semi-offline HTML5 apps, to fully functioning off-line mobile workflow apps that continue to work even when they are out of network coverage. Whilst it may cost a bit more, wherever possible look for the fully functioning off-line mobile apps as the quality and timeliness of the data will be far better and will result in greater visibility and resulting productivity.
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  7. Hosting

    • It is important to consider where and how your system will be hosted. There are three main options:
      • Onsite hosting
      • Cloud based hosting
      • Software as a Service (SaaS)
    • Onsite hosting of mobile workforce management systems may give you the reassurance that your system is housed ‘under your own roof’, however it is often complex, expensive and costly to support and upgrade. The key things to think about if you are considering onsite hosting are whether your IT team has the time to monitor and manage the hosting. How will any updates be administered? Who will be responsible for taking regular backups and adding any security updates that are required? Who will put a robust disaster recovery plan into place and who will manage that if something goes wrong? Chances are that your IT team won’t have the time and if there is a problem with your onsite hosting or a critical system failure your whole mobile workforce management team will grind to a halt.
    • Cloud based hosting may be simpler and more cost effective but still needs someone to manage any security updates, system updates and a disaster recovery plan. The only real difference between cloud based and onsite hosting is that often your cloud hosting provider will provide added resilience via the provision of additional data centres that will guarantee extremely high levels of service and minimal downtime.
    • Software as a Service (SaaS) however, is becoming the accepted norm and provides a fully managed and hosted mobile workforce management system where every customer uses the same software and the same shared hosting. Customers’ differing requirements are catered for by configuration of the mobile workforce management system which means that their system can be upgraded seamlessly in the future. This differs from bespoke software that has been written specifically for the end user and is an important point to consider.
    • SaaS is normally sold on a different model to the old “upfront + maintenance” pricing of legacy systems and you should expect to pay per user or per enterprise on a monthly basis.
    • The SaaS system will be upgraded seamlessly to ensure that you are always operating on the latest version. SaaS platforms will be designed to cope with high bandwidth as they are generally serving many organisations with varying levels of usage and will provide dependable availability. The SaaS mobile workforce management system provider will manage all of the security and system updates and regular backups and will have a robust disaster recovery plan to ensure business continuity for its customers. In summary, SaaS takes the headache of managing your hosting and upgrades away.
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  8. Professional Services Charges

    • Unforecasted professional services charges can often be the cause of systems becoming unfit for purpose, especially if you’re working with a number of different systems throughout your service delivery process. A single change to your business processes could cost you extensively if each system provider charges for changes.
    • A sure fire way of avoiding multiple professional services charges is to implement a single platform SaaS solution where the cost of change is included. However if you have to use multiple systems be clear about the changes that are included in your contract and those that aren’t before making a decision that could potentially hinder the future development of your business. Ensure you know what the costs are for additional changes you may require in the future. Typical ‘hidden’ charges include:
      • Module upgrades – to benefit from new functionality
      • Changes to your configuration of the system such as:
        • field names
        • drop down menu categories
        • layouts for new mobile devices
      • Creation of additional workflows/data capture screens for your hand held devices
      • Additional licenses for internal and external users
      • Early termination of contracts
    • Be clear on what is and what isn’t included and you’ll ensure you avoid any nasty surprises in the future.
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  9. Upgrades and Development

    • Historically when a business purchased a system it would remain the same throughout the term of your contract. Whilst this offers continuity, the trade off is that your business doesn’t benefit from future advancements in technology and as business processes look to change, inflexible systems start to act as a costly barrier.
    • To ensure that you get the greatest return from your mobile workforce management system, you should look for a supplier that provides an agile solution that offers future development to its customers at no additional cost. Consider moving to a Software as a Service (SaaS) style system that guarantees your business will always be operating on the latest version.
    • Your business evolves over time and your mobile workforce management system needs to evolve alongside it.
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  10. Reporting and Analysis

    • So you have decided to implement a mobile workforce management system and you understand that the system will deliver positive results in terms of improved efficiency and reduced costs. However, the system should also provide you with detailed analysis of where the efficiencies and savings were made as well as information to help you drive further improvements.
    • Look for a provider who pulls all the information gathered from individual modules into a central reporting and analysis dashboard. Utilising multiple data feeds will result in more accurate and reliable information on your business performance.
    • Interpretation of your business data is what will drive the greatest improvements, so rather than choosing a system that offers you reporting tools alone, choose a system that goes that extra mile and offers graphical analysis of your data in an easy to understand dashboard. The dashboard solution will enable your management team to see instantly how your business is performing long term, identify any trends and highlight areas for further improvement. Having quick access to your business data enables a more dynamic and timely approach to effective decision making throughout your organisation.
    • Some systems allow you to drill down into the analysis from a general business view to regions and individuals, select specific date ranges and set your own targets. By identifying underperformance, tackling retraining and changing business processes you could generate a bigger return on your investment than you ever imagined.
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In Summary

Learn from the mistakes of others, make sure you do your research and take time to look at all your options. Spend time making sure you have considered both your current and future requirements before choosing your next system and hopefully you’ll be rewarded with a system and a mobile workforce management partner who will be with you for life.

  • About this blog

    Aeromark is a leading European tech company specialising in intelligent real-time platforms for Facilities and Field Service Management.

    This blog is dedicated to sharing the latest views on trends and best practices covering service efficiency, real time automation, Smart monitoring, digital transformation, Internet of Things and more.

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