Plan for Tomorrow, Fix Today

Sep 04, 2019 • FeaturesSoftware & AppsFuture Technologyclick softwareClickSoftwaredynamic schedulingCapacity Management

Aligning capacity planning with dynamic work order scheduling is the key to planning for tomorrow not just getting through today unscathed argues Click’s Paul Whitelam. Kris Oldland reports...

There has been much talk in field service circles, but particularly in the manufacturing space, with regards to the importance of moving away from the traditional break-fix approach to field service delivery. In the past, the relationship between the service provider and customer has always been one whose nature has been primarily transactional.

An asset breaks, the customer calls to request a repair, and the service provider delivers that service within a previously agreed SLAs or at a designated cost if the asset lies out of warranty. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it has been around in one way or another since service delivery itself, with the odd refinement here or there.

So why, all of a sudden, does it seem that field service companies of all stripes and sizes are prepared to walk away from the ‘old ways’ to embrace the new? The truth is what we’ve done in the past has been good enough, it doesn’t mean it is the best we can be. Moreover, as technology drives both customer expectations and service provider capabilities forwards simultaneously, the need for better’ has in many senses been thrust upon us from all angles.

It is of little surprise then that we are seeing field service companies begin to adopt a new approach which positions them more firmly within a business ecosystem built of partnerships between service providers and customers. Talk of servitization and outcome-based service delivery has moved from niche concept to mainstream discussion in a relatively short time, and an understanding of advanced services has, well, advanced.

However, this shift in thinking is also being seen in the way some field service management (FSM) solution providers are approaching how they design their offerings. More and more we see talk revert to technology stacks which harness best of breed solutions versus the platform. For a long time, it seemed that the platform was going to be the future of the FSM.

“If you take the high-level strategic view, you can be a platform, or you can be a specialist in field service management..."

However, as integration becomes almost effortless in the age of the API, we see once again a shift in the direction of best-of-breed solutions. Take, for example, ClickSoftware, a company who have for a long time been regarded as a leading specialist amongst scheduling providers, who remain a best-in-class specialist, having previously appearing to flirt with the idea of a platform approach, for a short time at least.

“If you take the high-level strategic view, you can be a platform, or you can be a specialist in field service management,” explains Paul Whitelam, Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, when I caught up with him earlier this year at the Field Service USA conference in Palm Springs, California.

“There are some arguments about where are the boundaries on field service management because that boundary’s changing a little bit. It’s certainly true that if you listen to service managers, they’ll say that an integral part of field service management is work holder management. Technically it’s not, it is an integral part of work order management.

“However, it’s perfectly acceptable for an organisation to have a best of breed work order management or a work order management system within their CRM and then also have field service management as an adjunct.

“As a best-of-breed field service management player, we can differentiate on how strategic we are, and we can expand our addressable market vertically and horizontally - vertically both in terms of industries and then geographically.

“When I say we differentiate on the strategic nature of field service management, what I mean by that is that a lot of the implementations you’ll see around, are centred on the day of service. For example ‘I’ve got a task, I need to allocate it to someone, and I can put various degrees of automation around it.’ Our approach incorporates this, but also questions what you did six months ago or a year ago.

"Capacity planning has become a perennial challenge..."

“What moves did you make to make sure that you’ve got the right skills, you’ve got people who have trained appropriately with the appropriate parts in the proper geographies who speak the right languages to be able to support your broader business strategies?” he adds.

This approach is certainly in keeping with the current zeitgeist becoming prevalent within our sector as touched on above, where field service is taking a much more central role within the long-term planning of many organisations.

“We’re looking at a field service management organisation that is about more than just delivering transactionally on the day of service. It’s more about making sure that, that team is set up for success and they’ve got the right skills, they’re the correct size.” Whitelam explains. 

It is interesting to hear Whitelam talk about the longer-term strategic planning of field service organisations both on the industry vertical and geographical focus. Click has undoubtedly made some significant gains in specific industry sectors such as telcos and more recently, the insurance sector. However, when it comes to increasing geographical coverage, this is often at the core of the challenge for expanding field service operations for companies in all industries.

Capacity planning has become a perennial challenge, but it has been revolutionised since the advent of cloud computing which enabled dynamic scheduling engines like Click to leverage the higher computational power of the Cloud to make modelling of potential capacity requirements into new regions a far more straightforward task than it previously once was.

“Capacity planning is a big area where we’ve invested in the product side of things,” comments Whitelam. “The advantages for linking capacity planning to work order scheduling is that if you’ve got your day of service review on how you’re doing, having that hooked in real-time with capacity management is becoming essential. It makes an excellent argument for having a tightly coupled planning and execution engine.” 

With strategy in field service evolving, it is undoubtedly prudent to consider how you can leverage the tools you have, or what tools you might need to invest in, to support you, not just with the ongoing day of service operations, but in your strategic growth in the mid and long-term future.