May 03, 2017 • Features • Astea • Kevin McNally • Kony • Mark Homer • Paul Whitelam • ClickSoftware • Deb Geiger • Exel Computer Systems • Rue Dilhe • servicemax • Software and Apps • Steve Luong • Asolvi
Competition in the Field Service Management Solution sector is fiercer than ever and new technology is constantly emerging. So we asked a series of industry experts what we should expect of our FSM solution today and what should we look for in a provider?
Features as Standard?
With the amount of functionality in standard FSM applications constantly improving, new innovations quickly become standard features. With this in mind what is the baseline level of functionality we should expect from an FSM solution? I.e. Should a solution include a mobile piece, scheduling, parts management?
Rue Dilhe – Managing Director, Exel Computer Systems explains their solution as being predominantly aimed at “established SME’s within the service industry, these companies are, generally speaking, well aware of the benefits available from a full breadth system.”
“The baseline functionality the majority of our prospective clients look for encompass pretty much all of the technologies and functionality offered. If we are able to show them functionality they weren’t aware of, such as configurable user dashboards displaying pertinent KPIs and reports, then these soon make it onto their requirements list, ” he adds.
“We expect the following to make it onto the majority’s ‘must have’ list: fully integrated solution, a dynamic/assisted scheduler, real-time information, remote engineer application, management reporting, user pertinent reporting, document management, call/case centre management, service oriented CRM, job information and technical documents pushed to engineer device, customisation tools, workflow tools, financial management and the ability to invoice on-site. Not to mention, the preference to partner with a well-established solution provider.”
For Kony, the focus is perhaps more understandably on mobile, as Steve Luong, Sr. Director of Product Marketing, explains.
“Although there are many FSM solutions in the market that address different needs, back-office capabilities such as scheduling, parts & inventory management and team allocation are commoditised features now.”
Mobile is now a critical functionality in modern solutions, with native apps providing a better user experience and performance over others -Steve Luong, Kony
Tesseract’s Kevin McNally, comments “In our experience, customers are looking for a best of breed service solution.”
“This includes service contract and asset management, service call taking and scheduling, planned maintenance control, stock & logistics management, quoting, job costing/invoicing and Engineer mobile communication. We are also seeing the requirement to control internal workshop / repair centres as a growth area requiring a different solution to that of field processes.”
“One of the often-forgotten areas of a solution is reporting,” he continues.
“The ability to report on any piece of data is crucial and a reason many companies are looking for change. Our customer’s clients have also become more demanding, and the ability to communicate externally also needs thought, whether that is a web portal, client reporting or direct data integration.”
Deb Geiger, VP Global Marketing, Astea International points out that there is not a 1 size fits all requirement for field service.
“I think that it all depends on the individual needs of the organisation in regards to baseline level of functionality. For example, if a company manages a mix of internal and external subcontractors then the base of functionality also needs to include third party vendor management capabilities,” she comments.
“But at a general level, the most basic elements of FSM solution should have the ability to manage service contract and entitlement information; asset/equipment information; scheduling, parts management, mobile (online & offline), customer self-service, and performance management/reporting as well as ability to configure solution without coding.”
Any field service management solution worth its weight should handle work planning and scheduling - Mark Homer, ServiceMax
However, he goes on to add that “as field service management evolves to become more integrated in other aspects of the industrial economy and proves a necessary lynch pin of optimising the performance of industrial equipment, these basic functionalities will progress to include more advanced features.”
Again scheduling and mobility are tow key components that are expected by ClickSoftware’s Paul Whitelam, Group VP of Product Marketing “Baseline capabilities for FSM consist of scheduling and mobility (specifically communication with the field and task execution support). Beyond that there are certainly additional aspects such as planning, forecasting, customer engagement, analytics and so forth, but as Field Service Management software becomes increasingly sophisticated, thinking in terms of feature sets can be something of a red herring,” he explains.
“In particular, there are non-functional aspects such as open APIs and extensibility, as well as the deployment model that can have a huge impact.
For example, software delivered via multi-tenant SaaS can offer a significant advantage in terms of agility and speed of deployment. More so than a feature list, it’s the way in which technology is combined with processes and people that delivers business advantage.”
Buying for the future...
So, whilst there is of course a variety of different elements that different experts think of as standard requirements, there are indeed some universal core functionalities that should now be embedded within any FSM solution, with these primarily being some scheduling automation, a mobile tool for engineers in the field and dashboard or similar reporting tools for monitoring what is of course a mission critical part of the business.
But one thing that is certain in our industry is that technological innovation is never far away. Whether it be connected devices, quantum annealing, or augmented reality every where we look there are technologies being intrinsically linked with field service that could change the way we approach service delivery entirely.
So given the constant development of technologies within field service management solutions, what steps should field service companies take to ensure that the solution they opt for is future proof?
Exel’s Dilhe explains that from their experience “from the outset, prospective clients are usually pretty confident they want a common, ‘out-of-the-box’ solution, and this is true for maybe 90% of the implemented solution, the remaining 10% however, the client can usually see a benefit in configuring the solution to the way they work now, whilst having the ability to adapt to how they may work in the future. It is for this reason that within the Eagle Field Service solution Exel provide a customisation tool-kit.”
“Customisations can range from the introduction of simple validation on fields to new panels and scrolling data sets for data entry and data display. Clients are able to extend any table by adding any number of columns for storing additional information, these can be managed from within the software without the need to make any manual database changes.”
Of course customisation sits at the very heart of the Kony offering also however, it is the pedigree of the platform and the provider themselves that offer the best glimpse of how future proof a solution is in the eyes of Luong.
He comments: “To ensure solutions they opt for are future proof, field service companies should look at solutions that have a strong technology stack supported by an underlying platform and cloud. These characteristics will allow for rapid implementation but more importantly, enable simple and fast updates to adapt to a quickly changing marketplace.”
“Additionally, understanding the solution provider’s roadmap and view of the market will ensure alignment between the field service company and provider into the future."
For McNally the responsibility should be shared by the providers and their customers.
The “Internet of Things” may be viewed by some verticals as a distant reality but equipment such as coffee machines, compressors and many other products viewed as “unconnected” are today providing useful data - Kevin McNally, Tesseract
“As an example, the “Internet of Things” may be viewed by some verticals as a distant reality but equipment such as coffee machines, compressors and many other products viewed as “unconnected” are today providing useful data. This information is allowing providers to be both reactive and proactive in their service delivery. It is vital that companies understand the data and use this as a competitive edge.”
“It can seem unfathomable for small and medium size service providers to understand the complexities of new technologies but suppliers should be assisting their customers on their future requirements and helping them understand the benefits, as these may already be “out of the box” based on previous implementations within that vertical market.”
This sentiment is echoed somewhat by Geiger who explains that when selecting technology we can’t just think of today.
“What is right for companies at the moment, might not suit as their business grows and evolves. It’s important for businesses to not only to understand their immediate need but to get the full picture of their objectives so that companies can find a solution that will support them today but also in the future. Even if an organisation may have very limited requirements today, it is much easier to start with a platform solution that has rich capabilities and a high level of configurability instead of a solution that just meets the requirements for today.”
“By leveraging a solution that offers a high-level of configurability, it is very easy for companies to remove fields or turn features “off” with a feature-rich solution, to get the base feature set to support their needs today. But as their business model changes, they have the tools to quickly adapt the solution without having to pay for customisations or having to wait until the software vendor adds specific features to a roadmap if they even decide to add those features at all.”
“You never know what is around the corner, so you need a solution that gives you the flexibility to add functionality as and when you need it.”
For ServiceMax’s Homer however, the answer is simple - the future belongs to the Cloud.
“Because field service organisations rely on remote workers for the majority of the information needed to run their business, flexible and constantly updated cloud-based software is a must – and a pre-requisite for mobile synchronisation and offline capabilities,” he asserts.
“And when it comes to enabling field personnel, companies need to seek out vendors with proven mobile capabilities. They need to find providers who continually invest in the latest mobile architectures for deployment ease and full functionality across all mobile platforms.”
“Lastly, and most importantly, customers need a platform that grows with them. They need a system that easily supports configuration with workflow management that organises standard operating procedures not only in the office, but also in the field. And it should all work together to keep service delivery consistent from the office to the field.”
Cloud-first is again echoed by ClickSoftware’s Whitelam, who also sees the need for field service companies to keep their finger on the pulse n terms of how emerging technology could impact their vertical markets.
Ensure your FSM solution is highly configurable, and not limited to a particular data model - Paul Whitelam, ClickSoftware
Indeed Whitelam lists the following as the key to ensuring a future proof approach are:
- Move to cloud-first solutions which enable fast, seamless, and frequent updates to the latest feature sets and enhancements—something all but impossible with on-premises installations.
- Adopt systems with open APIs and extensibility so that new capabilities—be they IoT enabled devices or Augmented Reality goggles—can be easily adopted in a modular way.
- Ensure your FSM solution is highly configurable, and not limited to a particular data model. For example, IoT devices represent a new set of inputs or variables to be incorporated into your operations. Having a generalised approach to data management, coupled with the processing power of a cloud platform enables companies to translate this data into actionable—and automated—improvements.
Solution provider support?
It is interesting to note that many of the experts that we spoke to identified a shared responsibility between vendor and customer to understand the technology trends and establish a sensible roadmap of FSM technology to implement.
Of course in any industry where the product is as absolutely vital to business operations one would expect a consultative approach from solution providers, but this willingness from many such providers to engage with and in many ways educate the market.
This leads us to question what other factors, aside from feature set and cost, should field service companies take into consideration when selecting a solution provider?
At Exel would prefer to see the selection process as the client choosing a business partner, instead of supplies,” replies Dilhe.
It makes sense to ensure you choose a solution provider that can meet your company’s needs, both now and into the future -Rue Dilhe, Exel Computer Systems
“With a 32 year history of implementing our solutions and supporting our clients, we feel our services far exceed those provided by a reseller,” he concludes.
McNally is certainly on the same page here also .
"The implementation of a system should be viewed as a partnership,” he opens, before adding “and partnering with an experienced provider who has a track record of delivering both technology and functionality is of key importance.”
“A strong vision and roadmap is also vital, because implementing a system should be viewed as a long-term relationship. Speaking with reference customers can be a useful exercise. The software is only one part of the picture, implementation and support are also just as important as is the relationship between the two teams.”
Choosing a provider whose vision aligns with the field service company is key states Luong.
“Field service companies should understand how a provider plans to leverage new technologies and smart services such as IoT, sensors, beacons, image recognition capabilities, integration with cloud services or other public services such as maps, storage, identification,” he says.
“These technologies and services can totally transform existing business processes to make them more efficient, driving costs down while improving customer loyalty by providing a better overall experience.”
“As service continues to become a key differentiator, companies need a partner who understands service – a specialist who can help them get the very best from the software platform, and give them the tools to take service to the next level.” Geiger adds.
With something as mission critical as a company’s service business, it is worth the time and effort to ensure successful deployment and adoption - Deb Geiger, Astea
“Many solution providers therefore pride themselves on the speed on their on-boarding process – to get companies up and running on their solution in a matter of weeks. However, aiming for speed often comes at the expense of quality – things overlooked, staff not fully trained, and opportunities missed”
“A quick on-boarding process may potentially cause more problems than it solves. With something as mission critical as a company’s service business, it is worth the time and effort to ensure successful deployment and adoption.”
“Additionally it is important to look at service solutions holistically. There are many cool technologies and new capabilities are entering the market constantly. It is critical to look at all of these solutions in a holistic manner and the value that they will provide to the service business.”
“It is imperative that the solutions share data intelligently between applications, allowing operatives to make decisions and take action with full insight into the situation,” she concludes.
For Homer, another consideration is that “field service organisations need to consider time to market, as with any other investment in enterprise software.”
“Implementation time, employee adoption, and training all need to be looked at critically as they all impact the return on investment. Software vendors should have good options for buyers to evaluate these aspects of their products, as well as a very good understanding of the nuances of the service domain. Without service expertise, product development capabilities can stall and implementation projects can run over budget.”
Finally, Whitelam believes that besides features and costs, field services companies should strongly consider a number of other factors when selecting their FSM solutions including:
- Company viability and focus: Look for external proof points and proven implementations. To what extent is the company focused on FSM?
- Vision: What does the roadmap look like? Does this align to the way you think about your field service business going forward?
- Experience: Has the company worked with companies like you before?
- The Team: This is a long-term partnership, where a strong relationship can lead to great things. Is this the team you want to partner with?
- Support: What kind of ongoing support is available? 24/7? Global? Will this vendor be responsive and strive for your success?
Indeed it seems that whilst the features of field service management solutions are ever evolving, the selection of the right tool for your business should look far beyond a summary list of features on your wish list and ask what can the provider do to make this a partnership that works both as soon as possible after implementation and also in the future.
The right solution is there for you, just look with open eyes.