Enabling the Real-Time Service Enterprise

Ensuring a technician shows up within a given window and fixes the problem the first time is challenging.

Many organizations realize that better managing their workforces can help address customer demands. Mobile communications and decision-support software have evolved to the point where service organizations can automate many of the scheduling, routing, and reporting tasks that previously required a lot of paper and forced dispatchers and managers to make decisions based on inaccurate data.

Service optimization technology changes the dynamic so that utilities, telecommunications companies, home and office computer and equipment suppliers, etc., can make smarter decisions in real time to support customer demands on the fly. Managers have better information to plan ahead for scheduled long-term projects and routine daily work and to ensure they will have enough technicians in the field to handle that work along with any emergencies. Automating workforce management this way not only reduces costs and increases field worker productivity, it also ensures the right technician with the right skills arrives at a customer site at the right time -- ultimately strengthening the service organization's relationship with its customers.

Intelligent Optimization
In the past five years, service organizations have evolved from having little to no contact with technicians in the field, to communicating with them using cellphones and other mobile devices. Technology now enables companies to deliver schedules electronically to technicians' handheld devices and, as the day progresses, the companies receive reports of the technicians' job status. To improve each technician's productivity even further, many companies have deployed global positioning systems (GPS) to see large maps of where their workers are throughout the day. Many also use street-level routing (SLR) to give drivers the shortest route from job to job.

These are important developments, but they represent just the beginning. Organizations that use mobility technologies merely for communicating information between the dispatchers and the field force are not leveraging the full potential of mobility technologies -- the burden of decision-making still resides with the dispatchers. With even a relatively small workforce of a few hundred technicians, reacting adequately and in real time to the constant stream of new field data is well beyond the capabilities of any human brain.

The ability to act in real time enables optimal decisions for resource allocation and job scheduling. By connecting decision-support and -optimization algorithms to the real-time stream of field data, this objective is achieved and the schedule is continually optimized.

This kind of software for service delivery execution is the cornerstone of many leading service organizations. Software agents constantly "listen" to the stream of incoming information from the entire system: new emergency jobs, jobs that take more or less time than planned, or a technician stuck in traffic. The software processes that information against a broad set of variables and business rules -- such as technician skill set, geographic region, tools on the truck, etc. -- and determines how to keep the schedule continually optimized throughout the day and across the entire enterprise.

Other service optimization technologies and practices that will streamline scheduling and boost productivity include:

  • Drip-Feed scheduling: A field technician gets two jobs to start out the day. When the first job is completed, the system provides the third job.
  • Online Traffic Updates: Street-level routing gets workers from Point A to Point B in the fastest way. By incorporating real-time traffic updates, scheduling and mobile solutions can now respond optimally and in real time to traffic delays caused by accidents, construction, traffic jams, and other unexpected events in order to reschedule and/or reroute field resources traveling to either same-day service appointments or those appointments booked weeks in advance.
  • Integrated RFID:Connecting radio frequency identification technologies with scheduling and asset management systems will enable service organizations to know exactly what spare parts each technician has on each vehicle.

Effective customer service hinges on having the information to make good scheduling and workforce management decisions. Workforce optimization technology helps companies take an important step to becoming real-time service enterprises whose schedules automatically adapt to myriad events to ensure technicians are productive and on time, leading to increased customer satisfaction and improvements to the bottom line.

About the Author
Dr. Moshe BenBassat is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of mobile workforce management and service optimization software provider ClickSoftware.

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