Magazine Article | March 26, 2013

Scheduling Software Makes Large Field Staff Manageable

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine

This government agency has improved procedural consistency, visibility, and efficiency with a new field service scheduling solution.

A large field staff can be challenging to manage. This is especially true for government agencies that may have employees spread across a region and who execute operations with varying degrees of complexity using various methodologies. Scheduling software can help improve uniformly operated execution, efficiency, and visibility for these large organizations.

The Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) supervises the compliance and enforcement of laws and safety regulations in The Netherlands for public transport, hazardous industries, substances and products, water, soil, and construction. It was formed in 2012 via the merger of the Inspectorate for Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, and the Transport and Public Works Inspectorate. To help manage the activities of the agency’s 800 inspectors, the ILT has deployed the IFS FuService Management solution to schedule and manage its inspections.

The 800 inspectors are divided between the environmental department (which monitors building construction, drinking water, hazardous substances, and waste processing) and the transport department (which monitors the safety of road, rail, water, and air transportation). They carry a mix of smartphones, laptops, and notebook computers to communicate with the main office and record inspection details.

The inspection operations at ILT vary in quantity and complexity. ILT is an organization of professionals, and the new field service procedures needed to be organized and improved. According to program manager Jo Douven, the merger of multiple agencies prompted ILT to look at ways to improve scheduling to make planning and operations more uniform, transparent, and efficient.

In the past, the departments had planned inspections using Excel spreadsheets or their Outlook agendas. “Previously, the inspectors worked in different divisions,” Douven says. “Therefore we had a look at our primary processes and restructured them to comply with more uniformly defined business processes. Hence, we also needed to organize our field service planning in more transparent and efficient ways. This was something we had never done before to such an extent and scale.”

Web-Based Scheduling Software Wins Out
Planning began in 2009 with the need to improve steering and scheduling. With the help of an outside consulting firm, ILT created a requirements list and then identified 60 potential software vendors to evaluate. That list was whittled down to ten, then to four vendors. The IFS Field Service Management solution met all of the organization’s requirements and was selected after a lengthy government procurement procedure as the best solution at the lowest cost to meet ILT’s criteria. In 2012, ILT began implementation in the organization by launching pilot tests with the new scheduling software.

Using IFS Field Service Management, managers and their planners assign inspections to specific employees. The inspectors access the solution via a custom-made Web portal to check their schedules for the day, and can reject assignments based on available resources and other factors (such as weather, or the inability to access a particular site). Scheduling information is also sent to the inspector’s Outlook account to facilitate further access to planning instructions when working in the field. “Just having access through the portal was not enough,” Douven says. “Whatever is offered in the portal is also presented in the Outlook agenda of the inspector.”

While at a job site, inspectors read and enter inspection planning data on their laptops or other available computers using a proprietary software application. They use the IFS Field Service Management solution to update job status throughout the day. “They enter information about the inspection via the portal or read information in Outlook,” says Paul Terpstra senior advisor at ILT. “They also note that the job is complete.”

The solution is also integrated with the agency’s Exchange e-mail server and human resources systems, for time/labor reporting and off-duty information. “It has been relatively easy to connect these interfaces to IFS Field Service Management,” Douven says. “It has very simple import and export facilities.”

Right now, about 400 inspectors in the aviation, shipping, rail and road transportation areas are using the solution. This year, another 350 to 400 inspectors will follow and also come online, Douven says.

Improved Field Worker Visibility Streamlines Operations
In the six months the system has been in place, Terpstra says there have been efficiency and visibility improvements that have helped to simplify and standardize the scheduling process. “The biggest benefit is that it has streamlined our organization,” he says. “Every department is being scheduled in the same manner, and managers have started to see the benefits in scheduling. We have much better transparency. Everyone can see what each inspector is doing each day.”

Inspectors themselves don’t have to search through Excel spreadsheets to figure out what their schedule is each day. “The responsible manager can see what the plans are, and determine whether to make arrangements to get additional inspectors from another department. What’s easy now was difficult then,” Terpstra says.

Because of the improved schedule visibility and increased uniformity, it’s easier for managers to shift workloads when an inspector is ill, or to make arrangements for staff to work in other departments when workloads increase. “The managers in the first departments we deployed this for are already saying they can see the benefits in both efficiency and clarity in steering their operations,” Douven says.

Next, the agency is considering using the IFS 360 module, which would allow more sophisticated longterm planning and scheduling using pre-configured constraints. “We could plan more efficient routes for the inspectors based on the geographic location of their assignments, for instance,” Terpstra says. “That’s something we’re just now looking at.”