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Transforming Field Service Management with Technology

The people who work in field service today face challenges on all sides. According to an industry study cited by Microsoft, the top five drivers influencing a field service organization’s ability to effectively manage their operations include:  
  1. Customer demand for quicker response time
  2. Need to improve workforce utilization and productivity
  3. Need to improve service process efficiencies
  4. Internal mandate to drive increased service revenues
  5. Customer demand for improved asset availability
To achieve these goals, field service organizations (FSOs) need to provide higher quality, in-depth information to customers and internal stakeholders and work more efficiently. However, the industry survey indicates that while there is a growing acceptance and use of “emerging technologies” to support field service management, one in seven companies still use manual processes to run their services operations.   Without the proper technologies in place, field teams find it difficult to gather and deliver the data needed to improve customer service, cut costs, and increase revenue. Consider these challenges and how the right tools can help:  
  1. Scheduling. A long-standing problem in computer science called the Traveling Salesman Problem asks, “Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city and returns to the origin city?” Field teams not only have to deal with the distance between appointments, they have to ensure that the right resources, equipment, and skill sets are delivered to appointments in the most efficient manner. This makes the Traveling Salesman Problem even more complex. Artificial intelligence (AI) solves the Traveling Salesman Problem by using a number of factors to create an ideal schedule. Forbes magazine puts it like this:  “To generate an optimal schedule, AI systems will likely be able to evaluate weather forecasts and traffic trends that have been the cause of routing inefficiencies in the past. Based on these factors, the system will be able to allot additional travel time…. As an extra parameter, the system can factor in the preferred visitation times that may be requested by a customer.”
  2. Field reporting. Often, field services organizations need to communicate and substantiate to customers when they arrived, how long they were there, and what was done. Customers want documentation and are demanding more field-based information. Telematics systems—ideally built into the service vehicles—can help field teams get more jobs done more efficiently. “It is critically important to monitor both the time spent at the branch and/or suppliers and put a specific policy in place to limit the amount of time a field service technician can spend at these locations,” Kimberly Clark, telematics leader for Element Fleet Management, told Work Truck, an online resource for vocational truck fleets. This will help ensure the technician spends more time at customer sites and less time at nonproductive locations.”
  3. In-field data collection. Field teams perform tasks such as maintenance, field inspection, and installation. They must also provide field data such as assets installed and inspection information—data that might include pictures and video. Paper-based processes are inefficient, and field service reps spend far too much time on data entry after a job. Again, AI can make all the difference. Forbes cites the example of developing image recognition technology into an AI system that can identify diagnostic issues from a live camera feed. This would help service technicians more quickly troubleshoot issues. The system would evaluate the current condition of the asset and compare it to the asset’s historical records to infer what the problem might be.
Technology helps FSOs turn challenges into opportunities for enhancing customer service, streamlining operations, and generating profits. Microsoft notes that the latest research has shown that the most successful FSOs will likely, among other things: When you’re ready to transform your field service organization, turn to the

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