How to take the headache out of facility service scheduling
Scheduling of field workers for facility services can seem like a constant juggling act. One of the most challenging aspects is allocating the right job at the right time to the right person with the right skills and equipment. With workers travelling between different customer locations, service scheduling becomes even more complex.
The process is prone to errors, requires quick decision making, and is subject to multiple revisions. Have you finally succeeded in optimizing the service schedule, to minimize travel and maximize billable time? Prepare to see it thwarted by unforeseen circumstances, such as workers calling in sick or emergency jobs coming in…
The good news? With the right tools and processes, supervisors and dispatchers can better handle the complexities of service scheduling. And this, in turn, enables service organizations to reduce costs and improve customer service.
Service scheduling challenges
Properly matching the job to the service professional every time, is a multi-dimensional decision process. There are different criteria that must be met before a job can be allocated. These concern:
- the job’s requirements and location
- workers’ availability, proximity, and skills (incl. certification)
- parts, materials, and equipment needed to do the job
- organizational objectives of the service provider – for example, cost reduction, completing more jobs the first time or meeting SLAs to avoid penalties.
What needs to be done upstream
A prerequisite for effective service scheduling is a correct understanding of the on-site requirements. This is important to avoid wasting time going back and forth to the customer site to assess the situation. A template-based ticketing system will improve the first-time fix rate as it allows to pinpoint issues more accurately.
Equally important is good work preparation (planning) by domain experts, who define the required skills for the job and calculate the time needed to complete the tasks. They can also book the right spare parts, materials and tools, and order any additional parts that are out of stock. Planning and scheduling need to be fully integrated with stock management to ensure that parts are available, picked and ready for use by technicians when they need them.
Only after the planning process has defined the ‘what’ and ‘how’, schedulers can determine when and by whom the job can best be done.
So many variables to align, so little time
To ensure the best results, planning & scheduling software can be very helpful. It must provide a single view of all activities and be:
- Fully integrated with other aspects of facility and maintenance management (ticketing, work orders, tracking of time and costs, facility stock management, asset inventory & tracking)
- Intuitive to use (e.g. visual planning boards, drag & drop functionality, colour coding)
Such software provides up-to-date visibility into working hours of field workers, periods of unavailability (holidays, sick leave, etc.) and whether they have already been scheduled for other tasks. Knowledge about technicians’ skills can be quickly recorded and easily updated. As every task requires a specific skill set, the use of standard call templates enables to quickly determine which technicians have the skills to do the job; or for more complex tasks and projects, to combine resources to build a team with the necessary skills.
Responding to a constantly changing environment
You can’t stop things from happening over which you have little or no control, such as unexpected traffic, problems with site access, customer cancellations, service visits that over-run (putting the next job in jeopardy), and a myriad of other challenges that are part of a service day… Live feedback from field-based staff is therefore extremely useful to schedulers. Through mobile apps with a user-friendly interface (e.g. a single “start/stop task” button), field workers can provide current progress in an automated way. These real-time status updates enable ongoing adjustments of the service schedule. They allow schedulers to see, for example, when field staff is taking a lunch break, when a job is actually started and when it is finished.
Dynamic job re-allocation is but one of the many benefits of deploying mobile apps to field workers. There are other benefits such as:
- The ability to update and dispatch work orders throughout the day
- Direct 24/7 access for field staff to all relevant asset data
- Easier wayfinding
- On-the-fly tracking of time and use of consumables and parts (linked to stock management)
- Better quality control
- Reporting based on more accurate data.
Dynamic service delivery: integration of sensor data
Wireless sensors, sending real-time data about indoor climate, space usage, and asset condition, are becoming ubiquitous. In the services area, for example, they can trigger tickets that are dispatched to on-site staff through mobile devices, with clear instructions on floor maps. Mobile apps and push buttons also empower facility users to easily request on-demand services and give instant feedback.
This is the new world of dynamic, outcome-driven service delivery, enabled through IoT-related technologies. Service scheduling software must keep up with this trend, i.e. become smarter and more connected. With the right tools, service provider staff can dynamically manage their daily work and respond to real-world events as they are happening.
As competition becomes more fierce and margins slimmer, service companies feel the pressure to operate more efficiently. At the same time, differentiation and customer retention are increasingly driven by the ability to engage more deeply with customers and improve their service experience.
Automated scheduling tools, mobile information sharing, and IoT-related technologies play a key role in reconciling those sometimes conflicting objectives.
At MCS Solutions, we have gone through the challenges of optimizing service operations many times before. It has allowed us to embed best practices in a streamlined service software platform. Please contact us if you would like to see how it works.