Field service management is a key part of the customer experience. Meeting the engineers or technicians despatched to their house is often the end-user’s first and only human engagement with the company. Cloud and mobility technology is helping to improve the flexibility and collaboration between central control systems and individual fieldworkers, ensuring customers experience the best possible service and field service professionals become brand ambassadors, as well as technical problem solvers.
In Part One of this three part series on the next Frontier for Field Service Management, our panel considered the fundamental importance of the power and scalability of cloud computing and the ways in which it is revolutionising field service management. In Part Two they discuss the importance of striking a balance between central control and individual initiative.
The debate was hosted by ClickSoftware and chaired by Forrester’s senior analyst, Paul Miller. Joining him were Tim Faulkner, Senior Vice President at ClickSoftware; Dr Carsten Sorensen, Associate Professor in Digital Innovation at London School of Economics; Katelyn Burrill, Product Marketing Manager at ClickSoftware; and Phil Wainewright, Chair at Euro Cloud UK.
Central control and individual collaboration
In order to provide the quality and consistent levels of service that today’s customers demand, businesses still need to retain a degree of control centrally.
“You need to deliver on promises and provide a consistent level of service and quality that the customer wants,” explained Tim Faulkner. “You also need to allow for improvisation and tools that allow the technician to make decisions on whether or not to replace a part there and then or call a buddy to help.”
You also need to allow for improvisation and tools that allow the technician to make decisions whether or not to replace a part there and then or call a buddy to help.
Faulkner explains how ingenious adoptions of new cloud and mobile technologies allows FSM companies to better utilise their existing workforce, putting both technology and a greater decision-making autonomy in the hands of individuals.
It is exactly this enabling ability of cloud technology that helps networks or companies co-ordinate more widely distributed, flexible and fast-response supply chains, according to the LSE's Dr. Carsten Sorensen.
“The 21st century is about helping individuals and companies alike to adapt to emerging needs, to react immediately when something goes wrong or identify where there is room for improvement,” says Sorensen. He thinks that the cloud is fundamentally transforming the way organisations do business.
The reality for FSM businesses is that workers out in the field are becoming increasingly digitally enabled with mobile devices of their own (and supplied by their employers) of various kinds. And those organisations that are able to capitalise on this new way of communicating, swiftly and wisely, are set to benefit.
The UK police - how the operate like Uber
Perhaps one of the best examples of advanced users of field service technology in the UK to date is the police service.[quote float="right"]One of the best examples of advanced users of field service technology in the UK to date is the police service.
“The police don’t talk about mobile technology,” Sorensen explains. “For decades they’ve talked about mobile data. The whole point is instead of having a very localised arrangement – where somebody calls a police station and they dispatch on a two-way radio system that somebody should go somewhere - now they operate, in principle, like Uber. They did ten years ago and they still do now.
“Ordinary police officers have a queue of incidents and they choose one like a customer in a taxi rank. Whenever you try to solve one problem, you may have other problems and you need to balance what everyone is aware of. Fundamentally, you can transfer the way work is done.”
So are there lessons to be drawn from this police model for businesses to learn from?
“With most large companies, you have to spend hours on the phone to get in touch with a human being,” adds Sorensen. “For a lot of companies, their competitive advantage will come from having a civilised human being to talk to you.”
The police case study is particularly interesting to ClickSoftware's Katelyn Burrill, because issues around automating, picking and choosing jobs are things that she deals with a lot with her customers.
“Automating that process is one of the huge benefits that companies achieve,” says Burrill. “It’s managing the change that these field workers go through when a new technology is implemented. If they don’t understand the benefits and just see it as Big Brother managing their day all of a sudden, they won’t manage the technology to the best of its ability.”
The lesson here is that field workers often have their own ways of operating that have worked well enough for them for many years, so it's vital that they don’t think that their own discretion and autonomy is somehow being removed from them.
“That’s how projects fail,” says Burrill. “When organisations don’t sell it into them in a strategic manner. They [the field workers] need to be part of the process to organise how you’ll go about changing and what’s acceptable to change.”
After all, the people out there in the field are often a lot smarter about what’s really happening and what needs to happen than the people in head office, who might not understand the bigger picture and certainly can’t see it in real-time.
“Let’s not forget that the field service workforce is already using smart technologies, already sending photos and videos on their smartphones to ask: how do we get this done?” notes Phil Wainewright, Chair of Euro Cloud UK.
“You need to build a more collaborative infrastructure that takes advantage of how things really work on the ground.”
In part three of the debate we move on to consider ways in which technology can improve customer service and we address issues like privacy and security.