Scheduling challenges: Getting the right engineer in the right place at the right time

Nov 27, 2014 • FeaturesresourcesschedulingSoftware and Appssoftware and apps

Scheduling your field engineers is undoubtedly one of the core key performance indicators (KPIs), central to your business profitability, and a key target on which staff are measured. In this article which is taken from the Advanced Field Service Service Management Handbook 2014 we look at some handy pointers to getting the right engineer to the right place at the right time... 

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Scheduling is one of the most fundamental aspects to get right for a field service organisation, but it’s a delicate balance between meeting the needs of both your staff and the business. Get it right and the chances are the business will be highly successful. Get it wrong and the consequences can be disastrous. Utilisation may be a simple percentage number but there are multiple factors that influence its outcome…

What type of call are you doing?

  • Fixing a breakdown or performing a routine service?
  • Do you just fix the immediate problem or go ‘above and beyond’ in addressing all potential problems to minimise the likelihood of another call-out?
  • Are you paid per call, or does the customer have a warranty, service contract or rental agreement? [/unordered_list]

What is your routing allocation model?

  • How can you ensure engineer days are utilised with maximum efficiency?
  • Do you segregate engineers into geographic regions with boundary inefficiencies or route engineers for least travel time?[/unordered_list]

Can you categorise the calls you do to plan the day effectively?

  • How do you optimise the number of calls per day you can handle?
  • How do you balance the load? Divide your teams into large site service jobs, concentrate on multi-location quick fixes or mix-and-match?
  • Do you bias planned maintenance work to the latter half of the week to free up capacity for the start of week breakdown rush?[/unordered_list]

What is your skills/parts allocation model?

[unordered_list style="bullet"] 

  • Can you allocate jobs based on skills/knowledge?
  • Do you know what skills each job requires?
  • Do you have systems in place to manage this or does your call centre team have to know all about your products and your engineers’ individual capabilities?
  • Can you train all your engineers to do everything, and keep them up to date, or do you have area experts but run the risk of over-utilising sought after individuals?
  • How do you manage broken calls?[/unordered_list]

Do you understand the site access profile?

  • Are customer premises open 24/7, 9am – 5pm, or appointment only?
  • Can your software automatically match the work order to site access requirements to maximise productivity? [/unordered_list]

Right engineer. Right place. Right time.

It’s simple to manage a very small set of engineers with a small number of jobs. But as your business grows, so does the potential complexity. On the flip side, having more engineers and more options doesn’t necessarily have to mean more hassle for you. In fact, many growing UK service businesses find that big savings, both in terms of costs and time, can be made from getting the properly skilled technician to the job with the minimum of fuss. So when scheduling your field resources, how can you get it right?

1. Optimise travel times

With 50% or more of service man-hours commonly lost in travel time before an engineer gets on site, not to mention escalating fuel costs eating into your profit margins, optimising travel times has never been more important. When new calls come in, you need to know your engineers’ present and future locations. Modern GPS navigation, route planning software and mapping tools have changed the rules for engineer allocation, helping your engineers reach customers via the quickest and/or shortest route. Your scheduling system should reduce planning time by suggesting and prioritising slots in the vicinity of the engineer’s home location and/or existing call locations – as well as find the best slot for the job in line with SLA commitments.

 2. Track your field team

Can you see at a glance who you have in the area and which engineer is best placed to answer a new call or respond to an emergency? If for any reason an engineer cannot gain access to a customer’s site, is there another call locally that they can be redirected to? Knowing your engineers’ whereabouts will help you react and re-plan rapidly. You’ll also be able to monitor how long they’re spending on any particular job and check whether other work needs to be urgently re-planned. Over time, having this data will help build a record of engineers’ actual and reported locations, highlighting any anomalies that need addressing.

3. Combine breakdown service with planned maintenance

Which customers have routine service checks nearly due? Is an engineer already scheduled to attend the customer or working with another customer nearby? Being proactive in scheduling routine maintenance jobs will free your team to handle unexpected events. Your systems should give you the flexibility to generate service jobs when you want to and to prompt operators with information about these jobs at the appropriate time.

4. Increase first time fix

You should have the systems in place to quickly identify who has the skills and availability to take a call. Provide them with everything they need to know to get in quickly, do the job, close down and exit, including call history and technical information. Needless to say your engineers need ready access to spares and parts. Can you track your inventory so that parts can be sourced quickly – from another engineer in the vicinity, the depot or a supplier? Give your engineers the power to search for spares and order them via their mobile device. This can also assist in reducing the costs of carrying inventory on the van ‘just in case’.

5. Plan non-billable activities

Time has to be allowed, planned and incorporated into the overall scheduling process for non-job related activities such as holidays and training. Only then can you instantly see the potential clashes of too many staff away at one time. Will approving a particular holiday request make it impossible to deliver certain jobs on time? Or can delivery be achieved only by the over-utilisation of the engineer prior to or immediately after their holiday? Integrated planning can help manage this process across the complexity of all jobs and staff, keeping an acceptable balance on workloads and maintaining realistic timescales.

6. Review demand against resources

Workloads need to be managed to acceptable levels for both your field and back-office staff. Your scheduling systems should prove invaluable in managing the complexity of resourcing across all jobs and provide a holistic view over the resourcing commitments across the business – so you can see at a glance the forecasted demand on your staff and their availability to take on new work. By being able to visualise the impact of resourcing staff into new jobs and contracts, priority can be assessed, achievable schedules can be created and, if necessary, existing work rescheduled or reassigned to another engineer with the skills to complete the job.  

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