Field service game changer: automation and dispatch optimisation
Paul Whitelam, SVP Global Marketing at ClickSoftware discusses the benefits of field service schedule automation and dispatch optimisation.
Workforce planning, scheduling disruptions and unplanned events are just some of the challenges field service managers must overcome on nearly a daily basis. When issues arise, the result, more often than not, is a poor customer experience. What if you could take the guesswork out of your scheduling and dispatching processes and give customers the service they desire? While there are many types of services organisations provide, your mobile workforce offers the greatest opportunity to exceed customer expectations. By optimising field service scheduling you’ll be able to maximise your first-time fix rate, reduce cost to serve and consistently deliver the type of service your customers expect.
There is a lot riding on making the best decisions for scheduling. The choices you make impact every interaction with your customers or the assets you are servicing. And margins are under pressure due to multiple factors: the need to accommodate VIP customers with urgent problems, unexpected traffic, issues with site access, customer cancellations, as well as many other challenges that arise on the day of service. Even the best planned schedules are invariably disrupted.
Regardless of the challenges, scheduling still represents an area where companies can achieve a major positive impact on their bottom lines by improving the efficiency of the scheduling and dispatch process. There are two levers to consider in this quest for efficiency. The first is automation – that is, making decisions in an automated fashion that improves response times and can reduce overall labour costs. The second is the use of machine learning to analyse historic data to make better predictions, creating optimal routing and scheduling decisions.
Optimise mobile workforce productivity and give customers what they want
Having the capacity to automate scheduling decisions can be a game changer for field service teams. By using artificial intelligence (AI) to immediately identify the optimal resource allocation, organisations are able to dispatch jobs in a way that maximises the chance of a first time fix, ensuring customer satisfaction, and also reduces the cost of service by minimising travel time and other elements. The ability to continually optimise a schedule as service requirements change also has a major payback. For instance, instead of leaving white space in the schedule when a customer cancels, an automated system will assign an alternative task immediately rather than leave a resource idle. This leads to improved productivity and more satisfied customers.
Another way automation delivers tangible benefits is by understanding the particular urgency of work and SLA’s. This way if an emergency comes up, low priority work like preventative maintenance can be automatically rescheduled to another time within the SLA window without adversely impacting customer experience.
Give automation a boost with machine learning
While optimal automation cannot happen without sophisticated artificial intelligence, there is an additional advantage that can be delivered through the use of machine learning (ML).
Machine learning is a type of AI that uses historic data to improve the quality of decision making without being explicitly programmed. One of the greatest attributes of ML is its ability to process large amounts of data from many different sources in a way that the human brain is unable to handle.
Through ML, organisations have the ability to use data about previous disruptions to help with future planning. For example, ML can analyse historical weather conditions throughout the year and, at times when there’s a higher probability for snow, the system can schedule lower priority jobs to preemptively mitigate scheduling disruptions should there be a storm, and therefore cancellations. With a solution that uses AI and ML to handle job planning, scheduling and execution, field service technicians encounter less downtime, fewer work disruptions, and are consistently assigned jobs that match their skill sets − which can improve productivity by up to 40 per cent.
When these technologies are strategically applied to connected equipment and sensor devices, valuable data about performance, environmental conditions and more is constantly transmitted and processed. ML can analyse the collected data to preemptively identify issues before they even occur, avoiding downtime and saving time and money for businesses and customers.
Exceed customer expectations with less manual effort
The most experienced dispatchers and service managers still have a limit to the amount of variables they can consider when making scheduling decisions. However, with AI capabilities, calculations and changes are instantaneous, adjusting in real-time to minimise disruptions and maximise the organisations desired outcomes and KPI’s. The majority of these changes and problems are addressed in the background without the need for human intervention. This level of automation enables an organisation to deliver an optimised and differentiated customer experience as compared to a field team that relies solely on manual processes.
AI can also improve customer communication, a key to a good experience. AI enables your team to share an accurate arrival time based on current travel conditions as well as send details about the technician and his real time status and location. This information keeps customers from feeling “in the dark” about the appointment and eliminates variables that can result in customer no-shows and last-minute cancellations.
Lastly, as the use of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors increases, field organisations can be alerted to a problem before the customer even realises that something is amiss. An alert can be sent to your FSM system and the schedule is automatically adjusted in real-time to dispatch a qualified service technician, while also filling in any gaps that might occur due to this change. While providing seamless service like this enhances the customer experience, it also enables field organisations to develop new revenue streams by selling monitoring services or up-time guarantees. Also, studies have shown that customers are willing to pay more for a better experience so this might provide some pricing flexibility for your organisation, helping to stabilise margins.
Manage the unexpected with automation
Delivering on a service request means having to deal with the unexpected. Factors like last minute cancellations, sick calls, changing weather conditions, and shifting traffic patterns will always remain out of your control, and will inevitably impact field service operations. While these variables can’t be eliminated, they can be managed through technologies like AI and ML. True AI and ML enable a scale and speed of schedule and dispatch optimisation that would be impossible with mostly manual processes.
The benefits of schedule automation through the use of AI and ML are real and only get better over time. The constant stream of inputs and refinements, and the feedback loop created by adherence to or deviation from the optimised routes and schedules, teaches your system to make better decisions in the future. The more data you provide, the more refined and focused your operations will be over time. The ability to run simulations and crunch massive amounts of data empowers service leaders to test drive process changes and weigh variables to understand what will work best. So, what are you waiting for?
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.