By Mark Percy, VP of Technology at Field Squared
It may not seem like it, but field service software delivered in the cloud has been around for some time now. Case in point, Field Squared was founded in 2014 to disrupt the market and build something better. But that’s a different story you can read here.
This topic of this article is something I’ve been thinking about writing for a while and finally had the time to sit down to put it all together. Like other software markets, the field service software space has become overly-crowded with single use case solutions that focus on one industry—think just focused on oil & gas, utilities or telecom—or one piece of functionality—think mobile forms. Additionally, and as is common in the field service space, enterprise asset management and other mobile workforce management software are oftentimes needed in one common framework, which isn’t easy to find.
With the flood of vendors in this space, it can be difficult to filter through the noise. The abundance of misinformation and look-alike syndrome has given rise to several common misconceptions about field service software adoption. From what we found, the misconceptions about field service software stem from a few patterns we identified among customers’ we’ve spoken with. It usually involves past experience being a leading indicator of perceived difficulty in adopting a solution. What we’ve found is field service businesses conduct inadequate research before choosing a vendor and attempting to implement it.
To dispel the myths and restore your confidence in the significant advantages this category of technology can bring about, I’m breaking down the top 5 misconceptions about field service software adoption.
Misconception #1: Field Service Software is Time Consuming to Implement
One of the most common misconceptions about field service software adoption centers on the time commitment required to implement the solution. Sometimes, given a poor experience with other field service software vendors, or the initial vendor evaluation process, many companies have the expectation it will take six months or longer to get up running.
The truth is, the average field service business adopting and, ultimately, implementing field service software, should, on average, take 30-90 days. That timeframe includes training-the-trainer as well as enabling the field workforce to fully complete work orders.
On top of the general timeframe expectations, and it must be said, field service software should not require a team to manage, nor should there be a steep learning curve to be trained on how to use it.
When it comes to software, we know one size does not fit all. The only caveat to the average timeframe relates to large, enterprise field service businesses—those that have thousands of field service workers or highly differentiated types of jobs. Very large implementations may take longer to fully operationalize simply due to the scale and complexity of their field service operations.
To overcome such a large-scale implementation, we recommend planning a phased roll-out of the software. For instance, the first roll-out could be to field workers that are conducting a similar type of work. A team-based or territory-based roll-out would be another approach.
Misconception #2: It’s Less Expensive to Build Our Own Field Service Software In-House
Since the dawn of information technology, coupled with rise of software procurement teams, the buy vs build question has emboldened organizations of every size and scale to evaluate uncharted territory. We fully agree the question should be asked. However, to be an apples-to-apples comparison, it must be in the context of clearly defined business requirements the software must address. After all, you wouldn’t enter into a vendor evaluation without clearly defined expectations and needs analysis, would you?
It’s also necessary to consider the complexity of your field service operations.
Software built with enterprise-grade security infrastructure is not always the first thought when taking on an in-house software project. Today, it’s a must.
There are a few things we remind customers when they’re considering an in-house solution:
- Budget: What is your budget? If you’re building it in-house, double it. Like taking on a home remodeling project, you always order 20% more material than you think you need. When it comes to software, you’ll easily spend double what you initially thought it would cost… or, realistically, more.
- Updates: There are two types of updates to software to keep in mind. The first is taking advantage of evolving technology. The only way to reap the full benefits of next-generation technology is to allow for future enhancements within the software architecture.
Painting yourself into a corner is very easy to do if you didn’t architect the software to be flexible as well as scalable from the start. It’s an expensive mistake that happens more often than you know. Today more than ever, field service technology is constantly evolving, extending leading-edge capabilities to the field, such as augmented reality, virtual reality, Internet of Things and others. Moore’s law is proving itself in the field service software space as it is in the broader software market.
The second aspect related to updates to software is the underlying operating system the software is built upon. You know when you get a software update notification on your computer or iPhone? At every software provider around the world, behind the scenes a team is testing the compatibility of the latest update with the software they provide.
Sometimes, things don’t look right, workflows break, or things just don’t work, period. Do you have a software QA team in-house to take on the testing responsibilities? What’s more, this is a never-ending cycle of develop, test, update, repeat. It’s not for the faint of heart to undertake.
A super-secret third area of updates to software is if you plan to integrate third-party tools and systems to your in-house software solution, thereby automating updates to said systems without having to manually make changes in response to events in the field. From time to time, APIs or other aspects require changes to the integration. This further complicates maintaining an in-house solution and one of the reasons we discourage building your field service software in-house.
- Talent: Maybe you can made do with only having a few features to enable your field service workforce to be more efficient via in-house field service software. The question is, who do you hire to develop the software? How much do you pay them? Do you get the best or good enough?
There are so many considerations when it comes to what will be in the thing and how the thing will work, but very little attention as to who will build the thing. It is no secret software developers are in high demand—everywhere. That demand comes with high salary expectations as well as interest in what they’ll actually be working on. What makes your software project compelling?
Most customers we talk to that are considering building field service software in-house quickly come to the realization that it’s simply too expensive to undertake.
In the end, we’ve found the misconception that it’s less expensive to build your own field service software in-house a reason to adopt an existing solution. Moreover, some existing solutions do not require any costly customization to be industry agnostic. We built Field Squared as a highly configurable, enterprise-grade platform ground up.
Misconception #3: Software Doesn’t Work in Offline/Disconnected Mode
Technology is truly an amazing thing, presenting limitless possibilities. Which is why it’s truly humbling to know that are still many field service businesses insisting on using paper-based processes—paper forms, spreadsheets for scheduling technicians, printed maps with directions to customer locations or depicting asset locations.
With all the leaps and bounds technology has made, it’s not just the software that makes it all possible: the device itself plays a role as well.
We often hear the objection that, without a WiFi/cellular connection, field service workers can’t do their jobs. True, not all field service software mobile applications can be used in offline/disconnected mode, but there are a few that can.
For instance, the Field Squared Mobile App was built as a native iOS and Android application that leverages the hardware of the device itself to enable field workers to conduct work even when there is absolutely no WiFi or cellular connection. Combined with Field Squared’s proprietary Mobile, Offline Sync and Merge Engine, all data and location information are automatically synced when connection is restored, ensuring no loss of important field information.
When evaluating field service software, this should be on the list of required buying criteria. Otherwise, you might as well be using paper.
Misconception #4: An All-in-One Solution to Manage Service, Assets and Mobile Workers Doesn’t Exist
As I mentioned in the intro to this article, the field service software space encompasses many single use case software that focus on one industry (i.e., oil & gas, utilities or telecom) or one piece of functionality—think mobile forms.
Many of the customers we talk to are looking for much more. They want field service software that allows them to manage service operations, assets (internal- or customer-owned) and their mobile workers in an all-in-one software solution.
Given the multitude of third-party tools and systems the average field service business leverages (i.e., ERP, GIS, CRM, OMS) they have an additional need to connect all the things, automating the orchestration of updates to these other systems in response to changes in the field.
While not common, this type of field service software exists, and you can find it in solutions like yours truly, Field Squared. Before settling for something that might not work, dig a little deeper for something that covers all your needs in one software solution.
Misconception #5: Scheduling and Work Order Management is all Field Software is Good for
For some reason there is a very prevalent misconception that field service software is only good for scheduling and routing or simple work order management. These may be common reasons to seek a field service management solution, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. Think bigger.
When we begin talking with a customer, it’s consultative. We identify the root of the problems inhibiting field efficiency, explore key challenges faced by operations management as well as field workers on a daily or weekly basis, and gain an understanding of what third party tools or systems need to be integrated. We walk through their field workflows, establishing where automation can take over, freeing up time while increasing data accuracy. Think field service collaboration, mobile time cards, inventory and parts management, all wrapped up in an automation engine.
For a simple, impactful example, why make field workers spend time entering customer information on a digital work order form when the majority of the information can be auto-populated? It’s little efficiency gains like that which add up to massive time savers. The same can be said of third-party tools and systems. It’s exponentially more efficient to automate the orchestration of changes via an integration than make manual entries to one or more systems. For instance, with an integration, we have customers that decreased payroll from 3 days to 30 minutes. Another customer eliminated 95% of paperwork through field service automation.
At the end of the day, there are many things to take into consideration before deciding to buy or build field service software. No two field service businesses will approach the evaluation process the same, but it is almost certain at least a few of the misconceptions about field service software adoption will make their way into the process.
As long as you have this handy guide to dispel the myths, you’re already one step ahead.
If you want to explore real results achieved from field service automation, read Field Squared’s case study with Great Plains Gas, National Metering or Sea Tow