Article | October 4, 2021

Does Your Company Need A Mobile Operations & Maintenance Planning And Scheduling Tool?

By Dan Smith, Vice President, InterPro Solutions

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I’ve been in the software industry for over 25 years and have seen the evolution from mainframes to local servers, desktop software to SaaS, and from desktops to laptops to mobile devices.  With each evolution, there is an accompanying change in the user experience which translates to a change in user expectations. As the computing power of mobile devices continues to rise, and mobile app designers continue to redefine how people interact with these devices, business apps previously considered much too complex for mobile use are being reimagined for the next generation of users.

One of those areas is operations and maintenance. For many years, complex enterprise software from companies like IBM and SAP have been the standard for this industry. But now, there are new options that capture the power of these heavy apps in a mobile device. Here’s how to decide whether they might work for you.

Do you have a high volume of recurring events, such a PMs and Inspections, that need to be assigned across your workforce?

The desires to easily batch assign routine tasks and drag-and-drop work orders is well suited to mobile design principles. Assigning what might take 12 steps in a desktop environment can now be done with a few taps. Long lists of tasks requiring vertical and horizontal scrolling on a desktop are being replaced with card views that make it easy to move assignment between crews, across calendars, and between technicians.

Do you have a younger workforce that prefers mobile interfaces over desktop?

Data shows that staff turnover in O&M teams is approaching 25 percent, and that in the next few years, nearly half of the facilities management workforce will reach retirement.  So even if you don’t have a younger workforce, the reality is that you soon will.  96 percent of US adults under 30 have a smart phone, compared to 79 percent of people 50-64 – which means that there is now an expectation that they’ll do their jobs with a mobile device – which can be a large as a desktop touchscreen or as small as the ever-present smartphone in their pockets. 

Another argument for mobile is the alarming turnover rate itself. With 25 percent turnover, training new staff on complex desktop scheduling and planning applications become a full-time job – and it can take months (or years!) for the employee to gain full competence. Mobile apps, by contrast, require very little training. Your smartphone savvy employees are well-accustomed to mobile design principles, and with some basic guidance, can reach competency in mere days or weeks.

Do you often have to change work assignments on the fly?

This is where mobile excels. Drag-and-drop functionality makes it easy to move assignments across calendars, between technicians, across crews, and from one project milestone to another. Similarly, required tools, machinery and parts can also be dragged between assignments as the situation demands. Compare that to the multiple steps you’re probably taking, and menus you’re traversing, in your desktop tool. 

Do your crew chiefs or foremen need to manage assignments?

Planning and scheduling are most typically centralized functions – the schedulers have thousands of tasks that need to be assigned across the organization, and planners are managing complex events such as the turnover of a newly constructed building.  Where the centralized approach often breaks down is when it come to assigning the actual technician. While the assigner will usually be aware of the technician’s craft (say, a plumber or electrician), they will usually be unaware of the technician’s familiarity with a specific pump or transformer.  The crew chief, on the other hand, knows that one of his plumbers has worked on that pump model many times before, or that a particular electrician has expertise with a specific transformer.  With mobile scheduling, the assigner only needs to get the jobs to the crew chief and let the crew chief distribute the assignments to the most qualified technician using her mobile device.  Similarly, the crew chief can easily balance workloads and overtime assignments while in the field– aligning staffing with current priorities.  The availability of mobile scheduling assures that the most qualified technicians are assigned to each job, which translates to improved first fix rates and reduced repair times.

Would it be useful to send push notifications to techs in the field?

With the myriad of features available on today’s mobile devices, we sometimes forget that their primary (or at least original) purpose is person-to-person communication – adults 25-34 send and receive over 75 texts a day. Enabling planners, schedulers, crew chiefs and technicians to easily communicate with each other goes a long way towards resolving questions, communicating status, and sharing expertise.  Mobile planning and scheduling tools are able to harness the devices’ mobile push capabilities to not only notify a technician of a new assignment, but to also enable conversations among team members, which, importantly, can be saved in your asset management system as part of the permanent work record.

As technology ceaselessly marches on, organizations have to keep assessing when they’ve reached the tipping point where what was once cutting edge has become commonplace, and by extension, when their employees expect to be working with newer technology. Hopefully, the questions above will provide some guidance on when is the right time for your organization to move forward with a mobile scheduling and planning tool.