Workforce.com

Managing a Field Service Technology Upgrade

For a smooth transition, work with a partner, know your goals and test software on old work orders.

October 11, 2011

Improving field-service management takes more than giving technicians smartphones and subscribing to some Web-based apps. To be successful, companies need to shape new systems to their specific needs and give themselves plenty of time to switch over.

Here's what industry analysts and managers who've gone through an upgrade suggest:

1. Work with a partner. Smaller businesses should consider working with a consultant or third-party implementation firm since some field-service software vendors won't deal directly with companies with fewer than 500 technicians. A field-service systems specialist is likely to be familiar with more vendors than a company would be, and can help them get software up and running should a vendor not provide that service.

2. Have a goal. Field-service management software can be configured differently depending on whether a company's goal is responding to customer calls faster, saving money on gas, reducing headcount or something else. "A lot of companies go in and think" the software knows what's best for them, but that's not the case, says Scott Taylor, field service director at Vivint, a Utah home automation company. When Vivint—formed when two home security companies merged—expanded its product line and quickly picked up new business, the company needed an alternative to an existing manual process for scheduling house calls that involved up to 20 steps. When they switched to field-service routing software, the goal was to improve customer service: handle phone requests and scheduling appointments as quickly and efficiently as possible, and get technicians to house calls on time and within the smallest possible waiting period, according to the company.

3. Put software through a dry run. To make sure its new software was ready for the road, Vivint tested it using old work orders, Taylor says. "It's load testing," he says.

4. Make the software a selling point to techs. To encourage buy-in and assuage any Big Brother fears among its 695-person field-service team, Vivint produces software training videos and encourages techs to come up with improvements by leaving suggestions on an idea board. "Everything I and my co-directors do is so they have a wonderful experience," Taylor says.

5. Manage expectations. Switching from existing to new field-service technology can take months or longer. "People thought we'd hit a magic button and … everything would be perfect," Taylor says. But it's been an ongoing process, one that continues as the company prepares for yet another upgrade. "My only hindsight suggestion is to be realistic about time frames," he says.

Michelle V. Rafter is a Workforce Management contributing editor based in Portland, Oregon. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.