By Jeffrey Smith, Senior Director, InterPro Solutions
Is your organization managing service vendors like your own field staff?
Speak with physical plant managers anywhere about the importance of field service vendors to the success of their operations, and you are likely to hear two very consistent themes:
“We rely on our Service Vendors as much as we do our own employees, but we’ve never been able to leverage their contributions as fully.”
Listen more and you’ll find that reliance on critical vendors and mixed workforces are only expected to grow. Organizations everywhere face requirements for specialized technical skills or certifications, flexing labor needs and constraints, and the increasing prevalence of proprietary equipment manufacturers that limit or restrict self-maintainers. It’s clear that internal workforces will never meet all of these requirements and that your vendor partners are here to stay.
So why don’t organizations have as much control and awareness of vendor activities as they do their own field staff? Quite simply, they haven’t had adequate mobility tools to do the job.
Here is what’s been missing:
- locked down alignment of expectations between the client and vendor;
- real-time client awareness of technician activities; and
- seamless integration of all results into the client’s Enterprise Asset Management system (EAM).
Add to that the inability to easily measure and share meaningful vendor performance metrics and the picture becomes even clearer: your organization has probably not been getting full value from its vendor partners, and the field services they perform.
Let’s break down each of these problems and establish some clear requirements for potential solutions and use case opportunities.
Real-Time Awareness is Lacking
The specific challenges in managing vendors performing remote field service work include:
- Having both the client and vendor in full alignment on the specific scope of work and asset location;
- Knowing which vendor technician(s) to expect on the client site and when to expect them;
- Knowing whenever Vendor Technicians are actually on the client site;
- Knowing exactly what work has been done by the vendor technician and what remains to be done;
- Getting all of the vendor work performance information into the client’s existing EAM so that it can be used most effectively; and
- Having an efficient way for clients to measure and compare vendor performance.
We Need Everyone Looking at the Same Scoreboard
It has long been recognized that better measurement tools lead to better performance; and all operations managers know that whenever vendor services are hard to measure, they become harder to manage. Service Level Agreements (SLA) are familiar tools for managing vendor performance. Yet they are often limited by the availability or visibility of reliable measurement and performance capture mechanism.
The best measurement systems all share essential characteristics: they capture meaningful metrics of performance; they are easy to access by all relevant parties; and they report in real-time. Think about the scoreboard at sporting event: both teams — as well as everyone in the arena, ballpark, or stadium — instantly knows how things are going. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something that clear and reliable working in support of your vendor relationships?
Truly effective Key Performance Indicators (KPI) allow both clients and vendors to see the same data in real-time. In addition, specific SLA performance goals or targets need to be incorporated directly into the shared KPI views for clients and vendors. Tools like this allow organizations to continuously adjust incentives and penalties to optimize vendor performance.
Organizations Must Reclaim Their Data
Organizations are rightfully concerned with data and network security. Some service vendors still provide clients with updates using electronic reports that are emailed a day or more after the work has been completed; while a growing number of vendors have established online customer portals to view or report on work results. But these “off system” solutions, while a step in the right direction, are still not enough for your organization to fully leverage what is really your data.
The primary limitation of client portals is that the data is never actually in your system – which makes looking at vendor performed assignments alongside that of your internal workforce a big challenge, since you are always bouncing between data sets. The same goes for trying to compare the performance vendors to one another. In addition, when you change service vendors the historical data is either downloaded as saved report or lost completely.
It’s no wonder that most operations managers have little to no reliable vendor data for operational decision making. The challenge is getting the vendor’s data into your EAM to make it as complete as your own internal workforce records —do that securely — and that includes not having to manage specific technician access credentials.
These core requirements are critical to creating an effective and durable vendor management toolkit. They also help you go beyond just reactive repair and preventive maintenance requests and enable many additional use cases such as:
- Inspection and testing routines
- Emergency preparedness and response, including drills with critical service responders
- Environmental monitoring, sampling, and incident response
- Fuel delivery management
- Waste and recycling removal
In light of all this, what should organizations do?
There is a solution: you can add deploy easy-to-use mobile tools that track vendor work activity, and automate the secure sharing of data – in real-time – to your EAM, so you can manage vendors in much the same way you manage your own employees. These tools work on any phone or tablet and allow vendors to accept work requests after reaching agreement with the client on critical details, including scope and arrival time, assign approved work to specific technicians, and track technician arrival and job status throughout. Both vendor and client can see a KPI dashboard so everyone is on the same page regarding performance. Most importantly, all of the critical work performance data resides in your system of record.
Realizing full value from your critical service vendors is an achievable goal. Organizations no longer have to settle for less.