Field Service Operations and Wireless Communications:
The Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of the Services Industry

(Originally published in the March/April 2007 issue of AFSMI's Sbusiness)

By William K. Pollock

Field Service Operations and Wireless, Working Together

Field Service Organizations (FSOs) have been around almost forever in one form or another. They have grown steadily in functionality over the years, and have weathered all types of cycles in the economy, as well as having to deal with an ever-changing competitive services marketplace. Sometimes it seems like wireless technology has also been around forever - but it has only been in use among the more progressive FSOs for just about a decade or so.

However, when you stop to think about it, for a large, and increasingly important, segment of the marketplace, wireless is not a new concept - it has been around for as long as they have been in the business. Therefore, it would be a mistake to think of the marriage between FSOs and wireless as anything other than "meant to be" with respect to satisfying the needs and requirements of the services industry - somewhat analogous to the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, or taking tried and true favorites like chocolate and peanut butter, mixing the two together, and coming up with something "new" that the marketplace simply cannot live without.

"When you stop to think about it, for a large, and increasingly
important, segment of the marketplace, wireless is not a new concept
- it has been around for as long as they have been in the business."

Wireless, by itself, cannot transform a poorly run FSO into an efficient operation; nor can it turn an unprofitable one into a cash cow. However, it can clearly help to re-position an already well-run organization for accelerated growth, heightened market position, improved effectiveness, and increased profitability. For many FSOs, the greatest determinants of their commercial viability - and profitability - are the efficiency, functionality and effectiveness of their wireless Field Service Automation (FSA) solution.

Gartner, Inc. defines a "complete" FSA solution as one that is comprised of the following five major components and their respective application modules:

  • Customer Service - including transaction management, billing, contracts and entitlement management.
  • Workforce Management - including forecasting, workload management and monitoring and control.
  • Logistics - including parts planning logistics and reverse logistics.
  • Communication - including wireless support and integration capabilities.
  • Business Intelligence - including analytics, reporting and data mining.
While the market analyst firm also suggests that "not all modules may be required in all systems or markets", it does affirm that "wireless connectivity is necessary to reap all of the benefits of some field service applications" as long as its users "let the needs of the application drive the wireless decision" - and not vice-versa. As such, Gartner makes it quite clear that wireless technology, alone, does not make field service operations work.

There's Wireless, and Then There's Wireless FSA

Wireless FSA solutions are no longer news to the services industry - they are a fact of life. What is still news, however, is how easy they are to implement, and how quickly the benefits of going wireless begin to pay back. All it really takes today to build a viable FSO is the appropriate suite of mobile and dispatch software delivered to the field via handheld computers; reliable and inexpensive wireless data communications; and the Internet, to furnish a "seamless data connection" among the organization's field technicians, office personnel and customers.

Through the convergence and cross-breeding of wireless technology and FSA software, today's wireless FSAs allow information from each service order to be directly entered into the system, automatically generating a customer invoice, and updating the requisite company financial logs. As such, technicians save significant time while in the field, and the overall accuracy and speed of invoicing also improve dramatically. What used to take days, if not weeks, to accomplish can now be done instantly - and, even more important - accurately. Both time and personnel resources can thus be reallocated to more productive tasks and activities.

While there may be a wide range of technologies presently available, not all wireless applications are equal contributors to a service organization's bottom line. Essentially, the proliferation of wireless technology, coupled with solid advances in FSA software solutions, has led to a present environment where some wireless solutions simply outperform others. Nonetheless, the highest level of mobile capability will ultimately be the one where users can clearly benefit the most - a classic case of the whole yielding far more value than the sum of the individual parts (i.e., chocolate and peanut butter vs. a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup).

There are five distinct levels of mobile capability that presently shape the FSA market; but only one that offers truly wireless, real-time functionality. Each of these levels is outlined and defined in Figure 1, in terms of their respective features - and limitations - in a real-time FSO environment.

Benefiting from Wireless FSA Solutions

In the past, field technicians have had to rely primarily on outdated tools, such as pens, clipboards, pagers, and cellular phones, to support their customers. However, many of the newer wireless-based FSA solutions not only facilitate, but also enhance field-to-office communications; automate and streamline processes; and eliminate paperwork and lost work orders. As a result, wireless FSA solutions can often yield near-immediate returns simply through the automation of otherwise costly, time-consuming, and paper-intensive processes historically associated with running an FSO.

Accordingly, we see the principal benefits of wireless FSA applications as basically focusing on the following:

  • Enhanced customer satisfaction - providing instant and continuous communication between the field, dispatchers and customers for faster and more efficient service delivery and performance.
  • Increased productivity - eliminating hours of unproductive time, and increasing the number of service calls that can be made on a daily/weekly basis.
  • Lowered operating costs - dramatically reducing the need for extraneous and/or redundant communications devices (e.g., cellular phones, pagers, etc.).
  • Increased cash flow - automatically capturing timesheet and customer billing information, thereby reducing or eliminating inaccurate data entry, and expediting the customer invoicing process.
  • Increased profits - providing field technicians with the capability to electronically record and transmit additional sales and/or service opportunities in the field for headquarters follow-up and action.
What Does the Future Hold for Wireless FSOs?

We believe the future of wireless FSOs is bright. Why? Because the value proposition is clear - and universal - across all participants involved in the services transaction:

  • For services management - it provides a set of configurable tools, working in real time, that are required to run a successful services organization;
  • For field service professionals - it provides immediate access to valuable data and information;
  • For the organization's services customers - it provides the ability to initiate service requests and monitor call status directly via the Web;
  • For the logistics organization - it sets the stage for controlled inventory that helps keep costs down; and
  • For the back office - it facilitates the streamlined flow of information between and among dispatch, finance, purchasing, and parts/inventory.
The technologies are available; the market demand is here; and the positive impact on the bottom line is quite compelling. Just like the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, the market doesn't really care how the chocolate and the peanut butter are engineered into the final product. They just know that it tastes good, and the two ingredients work well together - just like Field Service Operations and wireless communications.

William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based services consulting firm specializing in strategic business planning, services marketing, CRM consulting, market/survey research, and customer satisfaction measurement and tracking programs. Bill may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at wkp@s4growth.com.



[Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are the # 1 selling candy bar in the United States and the Reese's brand is the most successful brand owned by The Hershey Company.]


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