Magazine Article | August 1, 2003

Grab Greater Yield From Field Service

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Running field service software on mobile computers, Fujifilm Canada increased service revenue without increasing service work.

Integrated Solutions, August 2003

There are probably many ways your organization can screw up without permanently damaging customer relationships. It can occasionally make inaccurate shipments. Once in a while, it can inadvertently bill customers for services they didn't receive. Perhaps a couple of times a decade, your company can even attempt to reduce the price break customers have been getting. But, there's one thing customers will rarely, if ever, tolerate: having to wait for service. This is particularly true when your products or services (or lack thereof) have suddenly put their businesses in jeopardy. If you can't quickly and consistently respond to urgent customer requests, you risk having professional grievances escalate into personal ill will. Marriages end with less justification.

Fujifilm Canada Inc. (Fujifilm), an equipment provider for photofinishing labs, wasn't finding itself in customer divorce court. In fact, Fujifilm dedicates three regional help desk facilities and more than 40 field service technicians to the goal of ensuring that every customer across Canada is a satisfied customer. Although 85% of service issues are resolved by technicians on the phone, the rest are dispatched to field technicians who provide on-site service. Given the one-hour turnaround times most Fujifilm customers promise to their customers, labs calling in to report equipment malfunctions can't tolerate service delays.

Even though Fujifilm was keeping pace with customer requests, its paper-based methods for processing service calls were making the company nervous. The data entry inaccuracies and reporting delays associated with paper processes limited the company's abilities. Fujifilm couldn't thoroughly track service trends, nor could it accurately record billing activities. It also couldn't efficiently reschedule technicians to handle emergency service calls or base service calls on technicians' skill sets with particular pieces of equipment. So, Fujifilm moved to a mobile, laptop-enabled platform for pushing service data to and from the field.

Pull In ERP, Take Out Paper
A little over four years ago, Fujifilm began its move away from paper-based service call recording and reporting. It equipped each of its 40-plus field technicians with an IBM laptop computer to enter service information in the field. (The relatively low number of field technicians reflects the company's ability to handle the bulk of customer service needs over the phone.) It also purchased a basic customer service software application, which allowed help desk technicians to schedule field service calls.

Although the software helped Fujifilm take initial steps toward centralized field service management, it had limitations. First, the system's client/server architecture didn't support data synchronization with the laptops. Users had to be connected directly to the desktop infrastructure. Second, the application's scheduling component maintained the entire history of scheduled calls, including completed ones. Says Doug Groutage, director, technical communications for Fujifilm Canada, "After we had logged a couple of years' worth of scheduled calls into the system, it bogged down, and database response was extremely slow. Plus, we needed a view of the field service schedule that was closer to real time." Finally, the system's proprietary design discouraged customization and made integration with J.D. Edwards, Fujifilm's ERP (enterprise resource planning) application, impossible.

That initial system's rejection of J.D. Edwards is still being felt. It won't be until September of this year that Fujifilm will finally stop accepting paper from its technicians. To a degree, the delay can be attributed to the ongoing training of technicians to perform error-free laptop data entry. (Currently, technicians still must supplement their laptop entry by submitting hard copy service orders.) Eventually, all data entry activities and transaction processing, including billing through the J.D. Edwards system, will be handled digitally. "If we had been on the right field service product four years ago and had achieved the efficiency and accuracy we now have, the J.D. Edwards integration would have been completed by now," Groutage admits.

Field Service Is CRM
The right product has turned out to be Astea International's Alliance suite, components of which Fujifilm began implementing two years ago. Alliance offers Fujifilm integrated CRM (customer relationship management) and field service functionality, enabling help desk personnel to quickly turn customer calls into service orders. It also gives field technicians access to full customer account information. The system resides on two IBM xSeries servers. One, equipped with dual 700 MHz Xeon processors, hosts the system's SQL server database. The other, a dual 1 GHz Pentium III Citrix machine, is the deployment server used to port the software interface to the mobile field units.

Each morning, field technicians log on to the system over an Internet VPN (virtual private network) via a high-speed cable modem or DSL (digital subscriber line) connection. At that time, updated service schedules for each technician are downloaded to the laptops. Any new information field technicians have entered into their laptops since the last synchronization session are uploaded to the central Alliance database. When immediate on-site repair needs arise during the working day, help desk personnel can query the system for technicians' locations, availability, and skill sets to determine which technician to call for service. The system also alerts field technicians when parts modifications or new editions of equipment manuals have been released. A separate interface includes links to intranet Web pages where technicians can access PDFs of technical documents.

The integration of Alliance's CRM and field service functionality translates into nearly identical user interfaces in either module. That common look and feel is particularly helpful at Fujifilm, where most field technicians also work the help desk on a rotational basis. "When you convert a help desk screen, which is the CRM end, into a service order that goes out to a field technician, there is very little change," says Groutage. "That simplifies our training program. When we teach technicians how to enter information on a help desk order, we're essentially teaching them how to enter a service call on a laptop."

Know Your Inventory
Now that Fujifilm has stabilized its laptop-based service scheduling, it will look to make advanced use of the field service system. First up is the integration of Alliance with the J.D. Edwards ERP package. Completing that link will enhance two key aspects of the company's business: billing and inventory management. "We have a need to get our service billings through our systems more quickly," Groutage says. Because Alliance is not yet integrated with J.D. Edwards, up to three weeks may go by before a field technician's service order is invoiced to the customer. "We'd also like to push service call records to J.D. Edwards so we know what parts the technician has used, what parts were defective, and what parts the dispatcher should request for certain stops on technicians' schedules," Groutage says.

The integration will also give Fujifilm better visibility into equipment failures and service trends. "We could have used J.D. Edwards to track a part failure to the customer site but not to the specific piece of equipment. It could tell us how many times technicians were at the site but not why they were there," says Groutage. Drilling down further, the Astea tools can track a part to the serial number of the equipment it was used on and to a description of a technician's actions related to the part. This granular view will allow the company's national technical managers, in particular, to study parts failure trends emerging from the 5% of service issues that can't be resolved in a single on-site visit.

Service Histories Show You Care
Even before it completes the next integration steps, Fujifilm Canada is already realizing the benefits of tighter information processing. Simply by having field technicians enter daily information about services performed, the company has increased its revenue from billings while its technicians' workloads have remained stable. "In the past, we didn't have accurate records of what jobs were done, so we weren't sure whether or not customers had been billed," says Groutage. "The fact that we have increased revenue without taking more orders suggests there were serious gaps in the way billing was performed, either at the technician level or in the head office. Now, everyone is aware of the need for accurate service information."

And, although Fujifilm hasn't formally studied customer satisfaction rates, Groutage reports reduced numbers of customers calling to complain about promises not met. Says Groutage, "We rarely get a call anymore where the customer says, 'You said you'd do one thing, but you did something else instead.' Now that we have complete and accurate records of each service call - what time the customer reported the problem, what time the technician arrived, what activities were actually performed, and what, if anything, still needs to be done - we can quickly convince customers Fujifilm is indeed working on their behalf."