By Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst, Strategies For Growth
Field Service Management (FSM), just like any other major business initiative, requires a great deal of thought, time, planning, resources, energy, and money. But it also requires momentum to ensure that it maintains its applicability as the business evolves in an ever-changing global marketplace. That is why so many well-intentioned FSM initiatives tend to "fizzle out" over time, either in terms of commitment, use, or simply because they haven't grown in functionality at the same pace as the organization itself has grown. Whatever the reason, many companies ultimately find themselves in a position where their FSM program just flat out isn't effective anymore.
Several years ago, Fram oil filters utilized an advertising campaign that stated "You can either pay me now, or you can pay me later!" This referred to the fact that you could either check (and, if required, replace) your car's oil filter on a routine basis (i.e. before a problem manifests itself) or wait until after a problem occurs, thereby costing you significantly more money to fix the problem after-the-fact. The same concept also applies to FSM: fixing (and correcting) the solution along the way will undoubtedly save your organization more time and money than waiting for the process to "break" at a later date, or otherwise stray off course.
However, once a FSM solution strays off course – whether by a lot, or a little – it is usually extremely difficult to easily get it back on track in terms of refocusing direction, reallocating resources, rechanneling team efforts, realigning processes, and in many cases, admitting that the solution has gone off track in the first place. For these reasons, it is critical to monitor the ongoing functionality of any FSM initiative on an ongoing basis in order to avoid falling into a situation where you will need to make what NASA refers to as "a mid-course correction.”
When a rocket is aimed at the Moon, sometimes the "mid-course correction" requires nothing more than a 10- or 20-second burst of steam released from the side of the spacecraft to ensure that its trajectory will be recalculated to send it to the desired landing spot on the surface. In cases where the problem is identified well enough in advance, it may only take this 10- to 20-second effort to ensure that the rocket does not miss its target by thousands of miles. In relative NASA terms, this is neither a complicated nor expensive procedure to execute, and the return is enormous (i.e. avoiding a potential total failure, and ensuring that the original target will be hit).
However, in cases where the problem is not identified – or is ignored – until much later, or other lesser “patching” attempts have ineffectively been executed along the way, the rocket may have to be entirely reprogrammed – literally, on the fly – possibly entailing a new trajectory that will require orbiting around the back side of the Moon several times, and selecting a new landing site – or worse – sending it out into space as a failed effort.
While the former "correction" would save the entire effort at a relatively minor cost, the latter would – at best – require a huge amount of resources (people, time, and money, etc.) for just the chance of avoiding failure. We believe that the same alternatives also apply to FSM initiatives, and that planning in advance for the most likely "mid-course corrections" should be a critical component of any FSM effort.
Hopefully, any required "mid-course corrections" will be minor (such as taking added steps to improve communications and collaboration between internal customer support groups, services sales and product manufacturing; bolstering management accountability and operations oversight; upgrading existing software to the latest versions and releases, etc.). However, some corrections may be much more complicated, such as changing FSM solution vendors and/or platforms mid-stream, reengineering existing service delivery processes, or dealing with other major FSM program-altering situations. Regardless of the level of correction that will be required, one thing remains clear – an ineffective FSM platform will provide – at best – ineffective field service management. Further, while an effective FSM platform can generally always be expected to provide a reasonable ROI, an ineffective solution typically will not – at any cost.
For many organizations, ongoing solution monitoring and assessment is merely an afterthought – if it is a thought at all. These are the organizations that may ultimately find that their existing FSM solutions have strayed way off course, and cannot be easily "corrected" or salvaged. However, those organizations that have planned well in advance, delegated the monitoring, assessment, and accountability responsibilities; and documented them to the appropriate stakeholders, will have the best chance of correcting any future problems with only a minimal amount of resources needing to be expended.
The best way to plan for these eventualities is to build them into the solution from the outset. All major business undertakings should already have these types of contingency plans built-in – especially those that directly impact the customer base, business processes, or the bottom line. The key to ensuring that your FSM initiative has adequately addressed these issues is to create an ongoing process-monitoring and self-assessment mechanism that is well-defined and clearly delineated in the original plan; and to empower the appropriate group – or groups – to manage and monitor these functions effectively.
Some tips for ensuring that you are always able to address these issues effectively are:
There are many ways in which an organization can forestall problems relating to their FSM initiative, or – hopefully – avoid them altogether. However, in order to accomplish this, you must always plan ahead; address the most likely "what-if" scenarios in your contingency planning; monitor, measure, and track your service delivery performance all along the way; and encourage and empower both your managers and their support staffs to get their jobs done effectively.
You regularly replace the oil filters in your car - don't you? You can still count on NASA to use "mid-course corrections" for its upcoming Moon (and Mars) launches. Therefore, it also makes sense – both philosophical and economic – that your organization's FSM initiative is continually supported by these planning processes as well.