We've all been dealing with the surging cost of fuel. I've grown accustomed to the feeling of dread when I have to fill my tank, and I can only imagine the thoughts of companies with large field service operations that are filling the tanks of entire fleets. When I recently discussed with industry experts the topic of scheduling and routing for fuel efficiency, they all agreed on one thing. Gas prices are high, but fuel efficiency is the last thing on their minds when it comes to improving the performance and decreasing the cost of field service operations.
Why? "Within a company's field service operation, fuel is really the lowest cost attribute," says Mitch Green, director of business value consulting at Astea International. "The costs associated with skilled technicians and not meeting an SLA (service level agreement) are much higher." How should you balance the cost of fuel, technicians' skills, and SLAs? The experts suggest flexible, real-time scheduling to make your field service operation run more efficiently and, in turn, more cost-effectively.
Plan, Forecast Prior To Real-Time Scheduling Implementation
Before you implement a real-time scheduling solution, Simon Morris, VP of marketing at Click Software, suggests you have a strong forecasting and planning process in place. "Forecasting and planning is often overlooked," says Morris. "Before a scheduling solution can truly be effective, you must consider the skills, tools, and inventory that are necessary for each job." Having a solid understanding of what is needed for each job and what skills are possessed by each of your technicians will make a real-time scheduling solution a valuable tool in carrying out your plan. In addition, be sure you continue this process after you implement a scheduling solution to optimize its efficiency. "Regularly reviewing and updating your routes, technician skill sets, and several customers' needs is a necessity," says Susanne Scholz, marketing consultant at Prism Visual Software.
You should also consider that implementing a real-time scheduling solution will likely involve some business process reengineering. "The visibility that a real-time scheduling solution offers will make any business process inefficiencies stand out," explains Laurent OthacÃ©hÃ©, CEO of 360 Scheduling. For instance, with a scheduling solution that does not offer real-time visibility, you may not notice if you have a technician who is using their mobile device incorrectly, batching the job information, or entering incorrect data. When you implement a real-time scheduling solution, this information will become apparent.
Flexible Scheduling Is Key
With today's high gas prices, it may be tempting for companies to cut travel as much as possible with tighter routing. However, Green warns against this. "Although fuel costs are rising and are impacting the cost structures of service providers, there are more important factors to consider," he says. "The cost of a missed SLA and the customer dissatisfaction that may ensue can have far more long-term negative impact on a company." It is important to consider the trade-off between an optimal route and SLA performance, and a flexible real-time scheduling solution enables a company to do so. For instance, the optimal route for the day may be a circle of stops. But if you promised the client midway through the circle the first appointment of the morning, what do you do? "To increase field service efficiency, a company must balance tight routing with the demands of SLAs," says OthacÃ©hÃ©. "With real-time scheduling, you can do so. On a quiet day, you can follow tight routing. On a busy day, you can focus on meeting SLAs."
A real-time scheduling solution takes all of the various components — technician skill set and availability, tightest route, SLA, travel time, priority of call, truck inventory, etc. — into consideration to create an optimal, yet adaptable, schedule for each technician. This means the solution reacts to real-world events in real time to allow for immediate responses in instances of emergency, a valuable tool to companies that require fast emergency response time.
Decrease Repeat Visits, Increase Efficiency
According to a June 2008 Aberdeen Group study, the 20% top-performing field service organizations have an average first-time fix rate of 86%, equating to a 14% revisit rate. The other 80% of field service organizations have an average first-time fix rate of only 55%, equating to a 45% re-visit rate. This means that for 80% of the field service organizations, almost half of all jobs will require a second site visit.
"Repeat visits are the most common way a field service organization loses money and wastes fuel," says Morris. "Decreasing repeat visit percentages by even a few points reduces both fuel and work costs significantly." The cost of sending a service vehicle to a job site is high, especially today, but the cost of the technician's time is still the most costly component of a service visit. Repeat visits can occur as a result of various scenarios — a missed SLA, inaccurate estimation of job duration or drive time, or misaligned technician/task assignments. "It really goes back to the basics of getting the right technician with the right tools to the site on time," says Green. Not nearly as easy as it sounds, right? Using a real-time scheduling solution can help, and this is probably where it will make the biggest financial impact to your company. A real-time scheduling solution takes into account all of these parameters and automates the process of choosing a technician with the proper skills, ensuring the correct tools/parts are available and providing the technician with information they may need to complete the scheduled job.
If you'd like more information on the benefits of real-time scheduling, visit ISMinfo.com/jp/5780.
According to Aberdeen Group, 56% of companies surveyed earlier this year expect to increase their spending on field service solutions, with an average increase in spending of more than 10%. Companies listed the rising cost of fuel expenses as one of the key justifications for an increase in spending. "These organizations know that in light of today's economic strain, companies who invest in technology and are able to reduce cost and increase revenue, as a result, are well poised to flourish," says Scholz. If you are one of the companies planning to increase spending on field service solutions, you may want to consider the increased efficiency that can result from a real-time scheduling solution.