Companies considering implementing enterprise technology to optimize field service scheduling and management have a wide range of options, with a variety of software applications available to help manage the route and schedule of field service technicians and others that need to be dispatched to remote sites in order to carry out their work.
In an environment characterized by low volatility and a slow business rhythm, it is perfectly possible to schedule field service crews manually—and not rely on software tools at all. In any number of industries, or a start-up company, without a lot of technicians in the field or a significant number of customers or site visits, it is reasonable to schedule technicians manually; relying on no more technology than pieces of paper and a few highlighter pens. The paper is typically ruled into squares with technicians’ names down the left-hand side and time slots across the top. In each cell of the matrix are data reflecting the job that is to be handled by that tech in that time slot. The dispatcher will allocate newly arrived jobs into the empty slots, until each technician’s day is full. This is obviously field service scheduling at its crudest level, but that is the starting point for many companies.
Automating Resource Scheduling
At some point in a field service department’s development, they find they need to start automating some of the decisions involved in creating the schedule. Often, this will involve a home-grown development by the internal IT staff. To a technologist, it looks like a fairly simple problem to solve. There are a number of jobs, and a number of technicians—it should be fairly simple to automate the process of matching the two up in an optimized fashion. Maybe the IT department even employs someone with a math background, who can figure out some algorithms to employ to build a schedule that is better than the manual equivalent.
Companies often fail to realize that their own business environment is very complex or challenging. After all, it may have developed over a long period of time, and the executives typically have grown up with it, and adapted gradually to each tiny change—failing to recognize the overall situation properly. And the consequences of this lack of insight can be dire.
I recently met with the finance director of an independent service provider involved with maintaining aviation equipment. They recently missed their contracted SLA commitment and he had to write a check for $250,000 as a penalty payment. As it turned out, it was just one job in several thousand that had tipped them over the edge and into non-conformance. If someone had been able to identify that particular
job as one of critical importance and fixed it in time, a substantial penalty could have been avoided and the loss of reputation as a reliable partner avoided. This could not be achieved without sophisticated, automated tools with sufficient awareness to recognize the danger.
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