Revving Up Your Field Service Planning
In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed the benefits of moving to the cloud, as well as the need for offline support in your Field Service Solution. In this post, we want to share our insights on another key feature of a Field Service Solution: planning. During the planning process, work orders are assigned to technicians in the field. The planner plays an integral role in this process, and as the planning process matures, the role of the planner shifts from planning optimizer to planning director.
With decades of experience in field service, the Gomocha team has identified four stages of maturity in the planning cycle, characteristics of which we discuss here, including the requirements for and the benefits of advancing to the next stage of maturity.
While you traverse the different maturity stages, your organization will also mature and reap many benefits, including increased customer satisfaction, lower operational costs, and higher employee satisfaction – all of which help ensure you can stay ahead of your competition.
Planning in Field Service
Assigning work orders to technicians is one of the most important processes in field service. This can be performed in several ways, which we will discuss at a later stage. When assessing your organization’s field service efficiency, it is important to take into account the level of effort and complexity that’s required to manage workers in the field.
The work of the planner is directly related to the work of the call intake agents, and of the technicians. To have a shared understanding of those different roles, let’s briefly go over them.
Call intake agent:
- Receives call from customer
- Assesses customer needs
- Creates work orders
- Assigns work
- Re-assigns work orders when they take longer than expected
- Re-assigns work orders when a technician is sick or unavailable
- Keeps track of all work orders
- Executes work orders
How Mature is Your Organization’s Planning Process?
The Gomocha team has identified four stages of maturity in the planning cycle, characteristics of which we discuss here, including the requirements for and the benefits of advancing to the next stage of maturity.
Stage 0 – Manual (Paper) Planning
If you follow manual (primarily paper-based) processes, then you are at what might be considered “ground zero” in your planning maturity, where planners typically handle the assignment and/or re-assignment of work orders for up to ten technicians. Call-intake agents manually create all work orders, usually by filling out a paper work order. This paper work order is then handed out to the responsible technician, who returns it with the customer’s signature (obtained after completing the job). A field service solution is usually not in place in this scenario.
Stage 1 – Advanced Planning
In this stage, the call-intake agent, planner and technician are supported by a field service solution. When the customer calls, the call-intake agent gets an overview on the screen of all customer-related data – including the latest orders, contracts, and assets. All information related to the work order can be easily looked up, and specific order details can be entered accurately and consistently.
Instead of the call-intake agent being required to enter all orders manually, as in Stage 0, the field service solution provides additional support. Contracts can be used to set up recurring orders – for example, two preventative maintenance checks per year. These orders are automatically generated in the background, which means the call-intake agent no longer needs to be involved.
The role of the planner in Stage 1 also differs from the role planners play in Stage 0. In Stage 0, a planner would need to think of the availability of the technician, the technician’s skills, the skills required for a certain job, any time constraints (SLA) on an order, the territories involved, and much more. With the advanced-planning capabilities in a field service solution, a planner would receive warnings when the work assignment does not match the criteria. This allows for semi-automatic optimization. As a result, a planner can plan more technicians – up to around 25 – compared to a Stage 0 solution that allowed planning about 10. Furthermore, it becomes easier to transfer work between planners, since planning knowledge is offloaded from the planner to the field service solution.
Another benefit of the advanced-planning capability is that it enables planners to transfer workloads from one technician to another in the event of, for example, technician illness or other emergencies.
Stage 2 – Scheduling: Automatic Planning
When switching from advanced planning to scheduling – or “automatic planning” as it is called in some organizations – the role of the planner changes. With advanced planning, it’s the planner’s task to plan all work orders. With automatic planning, the scheduling algorithm executes this task. Work orders are planned automatically and the planner role shifts to a director or exception manager. For example, if a technician gets sick, a planner will make sure the scheduler is aware of this, so work orders can be rescheduled.
Since the scheduling algorithm makes use of several optimization algorithms – such as route optimization, SLA optimization, environmental optimization, etc. – the resulting planning is automatically optimized based on the parameters of the optimization algorithms. As a result of the automation, a planner can manage hundreds of technicians. When a customer calls with a request to plan or reschedule a work order, the scheduling engine can be used as an “advice agent” to propose some options – taking SLA, technician skills, availability, tools, territories, contracts and cost into account. The same holds true for high-urgency and emergency orders, which arrive when all technicians are already fully booked. In that case, the scheduling algorithm can be used to find an open spot, by rescheduling an already-planned work order to another time.
Stage 3 – Predictive Scheduling
You’re at the top of the planning maturity scale (Stage 3) if you’re using a solution that helps you predict when work should be assigned, which helps avoid emergency-repair situations and helps minimize down time.
The role of the planner in Stage 3 is very similar to that of Stage 2 – generally a director and exception manager. In this role, the planner can manage hundreds of technicians. The big difference between Stage 2 and Stage 3 is the amount of work which is manually created by the call-intake agent, which drops significantly in Stage 3. A large percentage of the orders are created based on real-time IoT data in combination with historic data. Predictive maintenance orders are planned based on the actual use of assets, instead of on a preset maintenance schedule. As a result, the number of service requests declines. In case of an unforeseen failure, the asset will automatically report that it has failed, resulting in an automatically created service request.
For a call-intake agent, this means that his or her role also shifts to an exception manager. A large percentage of work orders are automatically created in the field management solution. In some cases, however, some assets or customers may not yet have IoT capabilities. In other cases, there may be certain customer-specific restrictions that preclude fully automated scheduling – such as lack of access to the property without the customer being present. Those scenarios still require a call-intake agent’s directions.
As You Grow, FMP360 Grows with You
The FMP360 Platform is a stackable solution that enables your Field Service organization to change and grow through all the different planning maturity stages. For example, start using FMP360 for advanced planning. When your organization matures and you need more functionality, you can easily move to Stage 2, the scheduling solution, by adding (or “stacking”) another module on your existing solution.
Ultimately, when your organization is ready, you can move to Stage 3, predictive scheduling. With our stackable solution, there’s no need to replace your Field Service Solution. When you grow, our FMP360 Platform grows right along with you.
A Trustworthy Solution is the Ideal Change Agent
Don’t go from first gear to sixth gear. Instead, take a measured approach to change. Of course, your organization needs to adapt to changing circumstances. But changing too fast causes resistance. Recognizing and accepting that the role of planners is changing is the first step in transitioning up the planning-maturity scale. Instead of the traditional approach, where planners have their hands on every aspect of the planning process, the future is all about planners controlling and trusting their organizations’ digital solutions to handle the “heavy lifting” associated with increased efficiency and improved profitability.
Need Advice and Guidance?
For more than 25 years, we’ve provided advice and guidance to field service organizations. We’re experts at designing roadmaps to take companies from “ground zero” to Stage 3, with any necessary stops along the way to ensure that steady progress will lead to success. Request a demo, call 240-403-6001 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story and tell us how we can help you.