Inside the four walls of a plant, maintenance management processes are well suited to standard asset management (EAM/CMMS) software. But for geographically dispersed work, greater coordination, collaboration, and information mobility is required.
Most companies have at least a first-generation system in place to handle field service scheduling, dispatch, service parts management, and perhaps some degree of mobility. Others use EAM/ERP system extensions for more robust scheduling and dispatch capabilities. The worst-case scenario is management by spreadsheets and manual processes, which hamper productivity and drive excessive costs.
An increasingly popular solution is purpose-built field service management (FSM) software that automates and streamlines the complete service process, provides connected and disconnected mobility, and integrates with the installed EAM/ERP system.
Highly distributed operations such as refineries, pulp and paper, mining, and transportation are obvious candidates for this approach, as field work is fundamental to their business model. Their assets and equipment are situated across wide geographic areas and require efficient condition monitoring, inspections, testing, repairs, and installation. Similarly, OEMs and third-party service providers require mobility in the delivery of point skills, specialized services, and domain expertise to remote customer sites and assets.
The utilities industry is a prime example. “Field service is pervasive in utilities. Mobility is necessary for inspection, maintenance and emergency work, as well as short-cycle work, long-cycle projects, and customer appointments. Paperwork puts a drag on the processes,” says Jill Feblowitz, owner of Feblowitz Energy Consulting.
FSM software is unique in several respects. Following are its top 10 advantages:
1. Automation: FSM software automates in a very streamlined fashion those activities that occur outside the four walls. From its robust planning and scheduling capabilities to providing the ability to adapt to changes throughout the day, it avoids the frustration and cost of wasted time and inefficient activities.
Consider, for example, the installation of a large CNC machine. A precise sequence of events is required: a subcontractor pours the footings; electrical personnel run the power; an install technician arrives as the equipment is delivered, installs it to the power grid, and tests its basic capabilities; software specialists configure the electronics; trainers teach the end users how to use the machine; and finally the machine is transitioned to support.
FSM software facilitates this type of task coordination with a dynamic scheduling engine that handles all the various planning and scheduling variables and dependencies. It takes the decisions out of the hands of a manual dispatch environment and puts them into the software.
Another example is automated cost management and invoicing, as the actual service labor and associated costs are recorded instantly. FSM software also knows which service is under warranty, and whether there are any special pricing considerations such as a pre-negotiated labor rates or parts discounts. The software drives billing speed and accuracy, removing that burden from the technician.
2. Resource optimization: The assignment and routing of field personnel is optimized with FSM software, which is important because this can directly affect profitability. “Dispatch optimization allows crews to do as many jobs in a day as possible. It minimizes drive time, increases productivity, and reduces emissions and fuel charges,” says Feblowitz.
For example, Source Refrigeration & HVAC replaced its manual dispatch processes with an automated FSM system in order to create more efficient routes. In one region alone, service technician travel times were reduced by 35% while maintaining service level compliance. “Instead of someone calculating this information in their heads, we needed a system to determine the plan in a uniform way across all sites,” recalls Hal Kolp, vice president of information technology at Source Refrigeration & HVAC.
FSM software facilitates crew selection by pushing visibility into skill sets, certifications, union work classifications, proximity, time commitments, overtime, contracted service levels, penalties for noncompliance, and other crucial factors.
3. Coordination: FSM software simplifies management of the complete field service life cycle, including the equipment, work orders, labor, service parts, warranties, returns, contracts, and projects.
For example, before implementing FSM software, oil and gas engineering services company T H Hill struggled with a lack of coordination. Every step in managing a resource, from dispatch to reporting and the invoicing of the customer, was a disparate process with no standard workflows, controls, or database. “These were insurmountable problems without adding a better and consolidated tool,” explains Scott Harrison, CFO at T H Hill. Its FSM solution solved these concerns: the company attributes its 38% revenue growth in 2011, and 34% in the first seven months of 2012, to the FSM solution.