Magazine Article | January 28, 2013

Field Service Software Eliminates Manual Work Order Woes

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine

A mobile field service system helps Commercial Kitchen Parts & Service cut billing time from days to just minutes.

San Antonio-based Commercial Kitchen Parts & Service (CKPS) repairs food service equipment in large commercial settings. The company’s 43 service technicians maintain and repair equipment from hundreds of suppliers, generating anywhere from 60 to 100 work orders per day. All of these repair orders were managed using paper tickets, a process that resulted in hours of manual data entry for administrative staff and delays in both billing and receiving payment.

Management knew that a mobile computing solution could help speed up work order processing. The company had been using the AutomatedService solution from Ascent Business Systems in conjunction with its MAS 200 ERP solution from Sage since 1999. Finding a mobile solution that would integrate with its existing back-end systems was a challenge, however. Four years ago, Ascent approached CKPS about deploying its newly developed mobile solution MyTECH, which not only integrated directly with the AutomatedService solution, but also provided the functionality the company needed to improve field service operations.

CKPS ran a two-week demo to evaluate the system. “We liked what we saw, and we started the process of performing a long-term test,” says David Duckworth, director of training and development at CKPS. “We ran that test for one year with one technician, because we really wanted to work through all of our service scenarios.” The company works with some 200 manufacturers, and each of them has different processes for warranty service, service contracts, and other service call variations.

“We wanted to see how the solution touched all of those different processes, and how it would react,” Duckworth adds. In order to deploy the software, Duckworth says the company had to re-evaluate its labor codes and redefine them, so that the technicians could easily and accurately enter the work order information in the field using those codes. The company officially launched the MyTECH solution in its San Antonio office in 2011, with the remaining three branches going live early in 2012.

Mobile Device Selection: Keyboard Necessary
The company initially tested the solution on an Ascent-provided mobile tablet, but the technicians wanted a device with a keyboard. They eventually deployed the system on an HP TouchSmart device running Windows Professional. (The company has since upgraded to the HP EliteBook.) In the service vans, the technicians also use a vehicle-mounted Cannon PIXMA MP495 printer/scanner. A separate Trimble GPS tracking system provides location data and Wi-Fi connectivity in the van, which allows it to serve as a hotspot for the mobile computers.

According to Duckworth, the company’s primary goals for the mobile solution were to increase the speed of getting work orders back to the office for billing and to provide consistent, legible work orders across the company. By speeding up billing, the company would also receive payments faster.

When service calls come in, staff members enter the information into the AutomatedService solution, which pushes the calls to the dispatch department, where dispatchers assign each job to a specific technician. The system then e-mails the work order details to the technicians’ mobile computers. Once the e-mail is received, the job is pulled into the MyTECH application on the mobile device. The dispatch board in the mobile MyTECH solution is updated so that the technician can see all open jobs at any time and access details for any one of them.

Technicians use the mobile device to enter information about the time on the job, what inventory was used, equipment details, date of installation, and other notes. Once the job is complete, they capture a signature from the customer on the device. The technician then changes the status of the job to “complete,” and the information is sent back to the AutomatedService system. Once the dispatcher confirms the work order, it is passed to the billing department.

Previously, technicians would hold on to work orders, sometimes for days, until they returned to their depot location. Once the orders were turned in, administrative staff had to enter them into the backoffice systems. It could take five to 10 minutes to enter each work order (depending on job complexity), and staff members were sometimes processing as many as 100 of these forms per day.

“It alleviates all that manual data entry,” Duckworth says. “As soon as the techs finish a job, we immediately have the work order and we’re ready to bill. It eliminated all that double entry. Now, if everything is correct on the work order, we can bill it in a minute or less.”

Because it took some time for the technicians to adjust to the new solution, there was an initial productivity drop in the field, which lasted about a month. “We lost maybe 30 minutes out of the day,” Duckworth says. “That rose back up to the previous level once they got used to it, and we are now running at the same, if not better, production rate than we were before.”

Just having an e-mail connection to the technicians has also improved operations. “We’ve gained efficiencies by being able to talk to them that way,” Duckworth says. “We can send them documents. Before, if there was a problem on a job, we’d have to sit down face-toface with the technician, pull the old work order, call the technician into the shop, and go over the paperwork. Now everyone can pull up those jobs on their computer, and we do everything over the phone.”

Given the challenging environment of a commercial kitchen, Duckworth says the HP notebooks have held up relatively well. “We bought them with a three-year, no-quibble warranty, so they replace and repair anything that gets broken,” he says. “We’ve only had a few of them get damaged, with either broken screens or keyboards.”

Duckworth says CKPS will eventually run the payroll functionality from AutomatedService directly through the MyTECH system by tracking technicians’ time on the mobile devices. A recent upgrade to the software will also provide even more productivity improvements in the field by reducing the number of screens technicians have to click through when entering work order information.

“The system has performed well, and it’s also made us think a lot about our business,” Duckworth says. “We had to evaluate and refine our labor codes, and the system really made us look at our processes and improve them where we were lagging, so that we could move forward with this automation.”