Mark Forrest, manager of Trimble Field Service Management (FSM), gives his top ten field service predictions for the year ahead.
Access to advanced analytics and management tools promises to make 2014 a productive year for field service organisations.
Companies that understand how to strategically leverage new and existing technologies stand to drive efficiencies, improve customer service and boost profits. Here are 10 important developments to look for this year:
1. Profit-Driven Analytics
Companies will increasingly rely on data collected through fleet and workforce management solutions to drive operational intelligence, improve customer service and efficiencies and boost profits. By leveraging analytics tools, companies can better enforce worker accountability and optimise planning. Analytics helps identify top performers, determine which schedules and routes produce the best results, and compare results from single workers and teams against the entire fleet. Aberdeen says best-in-class organisations leveraging analytics see profits increased by nearly 20 per cent, customer retention by 42 per cent and SLA performance by 44 per cent. In an increasingly competitive market, this translates to higher efficiency, increased customer satisfaction and an optimised bottom line.
2. Knowledge Management Shapes Strategy
Information gathered from the array of technology tools and systems used by field service organisations is often used separately for specific tasks, and in some cases forgotten in databases and unused files. But if aggregated in a digestible form, the information can drive innovation and stimulate change. This is called knowledge management, which is typically tied to specific goals, such as increasing competiveness, enhancing staff expertise and improving communication between different departments. In 2014, more organisations will grasp the importance of knowledge management as a cross-discipline in shaping strategy and direction across the enterprise.
3. Increased Integration of M2M
Machine-to-machine communication is transforming how companies do business. Data transmitted from devices in the field to applications in the office can lead to decisions that significantly improve the business. In field services, that data flows in from GPS and in-vehicle data-capturing devices, as well as ruggedised handheld computers used for invoicing and confirmation of deliveries and task completion. In addition, sensors and monitoring devices on everything from household appliances to utility meters to complex machinery in oil fields transmits data on diagnostics, measurements, temperature and overall conditions, all of which is instrumental in preventing equipment failure, scheduling maintenance, and improving safety and energy consumption.
4. Leverage of Mobile Apps
As mobile apps flood the marketplace, field workers will use them more and more to share data and ease their workloads. Mobile apps help field workers become more productive by leveraging the cloud to access customer files, calendars, routing information and even social media. This allows workers to instantly access information on customers, invoicing, inventory and job locations instead of having to return to the office to get it. Information is backed up and then compiled into reports for analysis and future planning.
5. Emergence of a New Worker
The recession left a gap in the employment sector and now demand for field service workers is growing as the aging workforce retires. In 2014 a new generation of technicians will start to emerge, and it will have much more proficiency in mobile tools and apps, in addition to a strong grasp of the importance of the cloud and other next-generation solutions in driving success. This new breed of worker will be quick to adapt to change and embrace technology to resolve issues, increase efficiency and collaborate with co-workers.
6. Growth of Rugged Mobility
Ruggedised handheld devices in recent years have become essential to field workers to complete their tasks. Workers use the devices for scanning packages, diagnostics, checking customer records, invoicing and delivery confirmation, among other tasks. In 2014, we will see a continuation of the trend to equip field workers with rugged devices. Companies that have used non-rugged tablets and smartphones for field work will be replacing them with rugged handhelds as they realise breakage rates cost them more than deploying rugged devices in the first place.
7. Enhanced Service Excellence
Revenue growth will continue to depend on superb service and field service executives realise a positive customer experience translates to higher customer loyalty. Delivering excellence is tightly linked to the quality of work performed and information communicated by field technicians to customers, who use it to measure integrity, credibility, effectiveness and overall brand perception. Organisations with customer satisfaction rates of 90 per cent or more see service revenue increases of 6.1 per cent and overall revenue growth of 3.7 per cent, according to Aberdeen. Companies that track whether service commitments are met, tasks are completed on time, and scheduling is efficient, are better positioned to deliver excellent service.
8. Cloud-Driven Transformations
The benefits of cloud-based software will continue to give businesses significant advantages. KPMG's Technology Innovation Survey 2013 ranked the cloud as “the biggest driver of business transformation for enterprises in the next three years,” citing real-time information and productivity as key derivatives. Best-in-class field service organisations know the cloud makes them more flexible in meeting customer demands, so the question is no longer whether you should deploy cloud solutions but when. Organisations must evaluate and implement cloud services as methodically as with on-premises applications to remain agile and effectively meet customer needs.
9. Data-Driven Productivity
Big data flows into organisations in various formats from a vast array of sources, including company systems, websites and social media. Collecting, organising and drawing insights from these massive volumes of data will help field service organisations improve services and operations, and stand out from competitors. Companies will need to review historical data, identify patterns and compile metrics for predictive analysis and strategic business planning. By leveraging data from multiple systems, including content management, data warehouses and specialised file systems, companies can better understand their operations and customer needs, and make decisions that drive customer satisfaction and increase profits.
10. Performance as a Priority
An under-trained, under-qualified workforce can hurt a company. How field workers perform is critical to customer relationships, which in turn is a key factor to profitability. Just one underperforming worker can affect a brand’s perception, and potentially costs thousands of pounds a month by failing to complete work or delivering shoddy service. Workers need to resolve customer issues the first time, every time. To ensure that happens, companies should leverage workforce management and analytics tools to identify which workers are underperforming and need training. They should then implement effective training programmes to get workers up to speed and deliver service excellence.