Make hay while the sun shines - planning for a busy summer

Aug 08, 2014 • FeaturesFleet Technologygiles margerisonFleet Operationstelematicstomtom

Giles Margerison, TomTom Telematics Director UK & Ireland, considers how field service firms can best organise their resources to cope with the holiday season.

The arrival of summer usually receives a warm welcome on these shores but that's not to say it's without its challenges.

Field service companies, in particular, face the often taxing issue of ensuring service levels don't drop below expected standards during a period of resource instability.

The need for smart planning to cope with staff holidays is made ever more pressing by the continued growth of the service sector, as economic recovery keeps gathering pace, and the shift from a transactional to a relationship economy.

Customers expect higher standards of customer service and expertise from field workers than perhaps ever before and those companies capable of meeting this demand will be best equipped to thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Data as the foundation for good planning

Of course, good service delivery relies upon effective planning. On a basic level this means coordinating holidays with expected workloads to ensure staffing and skills levels remain sufficient through the summer period.

But there is a need for organisations to become ever more sophisticated in order to cope with the changing face of the UK economy and this is where 'big data' can help.

Armed with the appropriate data, it is possible for field service companies to work out how many jobs their staff are able to attend in a day, accounting for factors such as time spent on the road journeying between jobs.

For example, using routing and scheduling software integrated with real-time data from telematics allows working schedules to be optimised, planning each mobile worker's day to ensure they spend as little time as possible out on the road.

Once work schedules are finalised, the details can be sent to each worker's in-cab navigation device, with navigation automatically loaded to send them along the quickest route, taking into account the effect of traffic flow, roundabouts, traffic lights and other obstacles.

Shifting scheduling from static to dynamic

Variables such as traffic or the emergence or unexpected, urgent call-outs can throw a spanner in the works, hence the need for  dynamic methods of planning.

Rather than setting workflow schedules in stone at the start of each day, field service organisations might be better served by planning on the fly with real-time information in order to make better use of resources and ensure the absence of staff isn't felt.

As such, telematics systems are able to make use of live traffic information to provide accurate times of arrival. If a worker gets held up severely by traffic or a delay in their previous job, the next most appropriate colleague can be dispatched in their place, or at the very least customer expectations can be managed.

Similarly, in the case of emergency call-outs, the system will automatically allocate the best-placed person to take the job, according to the time it will take them to arrive on site, rather than merely distance.

Dynamic schedules can also be tailored to complete both high-priority call-outs and low-priority, scheduled appointments in the most efficient manner. For example, if a worker is called to an urgent job on the same street where a regular visit is planned for later in the week, it often makes sense to complete both jobs at once, reducing the number of man hours wasted.

There's an app for that

Such dynamic scheduling takes into account staffing levels, availability and a host of other factors to ensure the available resources are most efficiently used but doesn't necessarily address any skills shortage that might occur when temporary staff are drafted in during the summer months to help service demand.

However, you’ll be pleased to know ‘there's an app for that'. The remarkable acceleration in the development of business technology means mobile workers can now benefit from a number of applications designed specifically to take advantage of logging workflow and process on one device, which makes their lives easier.

These apps, for example, allow the driver to conduct daily vehicle checks on their driver terminal or tablet device, ticking off each element on a pre-defined list before the details are sent automatically to the office for their records.

Once this is completed, the driver's workflow can be automatically loaded to their device, with navigation queued up for each job as necessary.

Upon arrival at a site, the worker will automatically be sent full details of the job along with any manuals that are required, ensuring they have the requisite knowledge at their fingertips.

There is such a range of technological solutions now available that companies can ensure whatever system is implemented will be tailored to the precise needs of the organisation, the industry and the customer.

End-to-end business systems, which build a seamless link between field and back office, remove the element of uncertainly that might have previously surrounded summer staffing and allow field service companies to deliver year-round, uninterrupted, first-class service.