Lessons Learned from Field Service Automation Implementations
Guest Author: Sumair Dutta, Chief Customer Officer, The Service Council
Available field service research, including ours at The Service Council, highlights the benefits of field service and mobile automation. From reduced paperwork to reduced errors, to greater productivity and profitability, there are a myriad of reasons to move away from paper-based field service processes and to automate.
However, quite often we in the analyst community, seem to indicate that automation is as simple as flipping a switch. One minute you’re paper-based, and the next you’re automated and enjoying all of the benefits highlighted above. In addition to money and time, investments in leadership, collaboration and discipline are required to support successful automation implementations. In our research on mobile device implementations, 49% of organizations indicated that their projects ran over budget with another 57% stating that their projects were not completed on time. It is noteworthy to report that between 26% and 32% of organizations didn’t know whether they were over budget or beyond pre-planned timelines, another scary thought.
Let me state that implementation challenges aren’t just specific to the field service arena. These challenges have persisted in enterprise-wide solutions like ERP or CRM, as well as function-specific solutions tied to things such as Voice of the Customer or Customer Communities. Given the increasing importance being placed on service and support, and specifically the importance being placed on front-line empowerment, the focus on field service implementations is vital. My journey around the investigation of field service implementation best practices or lessons learned (or ‘I wish I had known’ moments) commenced at a recent ClickSoftware Americas user event wherein current ClickSoftware customers were sharing ideas and best practices on managing their Click implementations. (Some of these ideas are captured in my ClickConnect summary blog.) On a side note, kudos to ClickSoftware and other providers in the space for increasingly opening up forums of communication for customers to learn, share, and exchange ideas tied to gaining the maximum utility from their adopted solutions, as well as, the opportunity to collaborate with peer organizations. Quite often learning comes in the form of complaint and mis-steps but as Bill Gates states, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
We have data that points to some of the best practices in mobile and field service implementations, but for this project, I interviewed 10 different field service organizations of various sizes, with different implementation timelines, and a variety of field service solutions. To list all the best practices or lessons learned here wouldn’t be optimal, so I thought I would list the top two answers at various stages of the implementation cycle.
- Determine a baseline for current performance
ROI is key when undertaking an automation project and to that end, it is essential to understand which metrics need to improve and by how much. ROI shouldn’t only be calculated on cost savings or time to recoup cost of investment.
- Make sure you have an accurate customer database
The link between customer databases, CRM and field service is extremely valuable to ensuring seamless service delivery. Investment in a project without a clean customer database can lead to incomplete results.
- Be very specific in the questions you ask to provided reference customers.
- Understand the true cost of making changes
This isn’t just tied to the cost of configuration changes or customizations at the point of solution development, but also in the cost associated with making updates to these configured or customized solutions. Even the littlest change in the beginning can have a compounding effect when it comes to cost.
- Do not understaff the implementation team
A cross-functional team involving field engineers, IT, service operations and more is vital to any implementation from the point of needs recognition all the way to go live and beyond. During the process of implementation, this team leads the charge in delivering requirements and modifications to the vendor and essentially serves as a translation layer between the two organizations.
- Develop a beta group of testers in the back office as well as the field
Beta groups also support the development of champions who assist in driving user adoption. Also, ensure that you have analysts in place that can review incoming data during the test stages in order to suggest modifications to data reports, dashboard formats and more.
- Have established and previously agreed processes and timeframes for fixes
In every implementation, there are mis-fires or errors that need to be addressed. Building in a mutually agreed plan to deal with fixes or changes post-implementation can go a long way in ensuring that these changes are addressed in a timely and effective manner.
- Establish a team focused on continuous improvement and be persistent in providing ROI information to upper management
Post go-live, it is essential to have a team in place that can review performance data and prioritize improvements that need to be made to the solution in itself or to the processes impacted by the solution. To support these additions, it is essential to provide management with consistent visibility into the ROI of the established solution.
Internally demonstrate the value of the implementation to the process and the customer
These are some of the best practices tied to recent field service implementations that we’ve been witnessing through our ongoing research coverage. In summary, most interviewees highlighted the challenge of balancing a well-defined (and possibly rigid) implementation plan with the opportunity to be flexible in picking solution attributes. For most of these organizations, the key was to have a well-established (and often cross-functional) team in place to overview and manage the implementation process with specific business objectives in mind.
I’d be interested to learn from others with regards to their implementation best practices, please do post in the comments section.
Sumair Dutta is the Chief Customer Officer at The Service Council where he oversees research and community engagement initiatives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @suma1r. More on The Service Council can be found at www.theservicecouncil.com