There are many reasons service organizations initiate a process to review, purchase and implement new field service management software. Regardless of the reasons that bring your service organization to that tipping point, there are several critically important ways to organize your buying process that can eliminate the unexpected and significantly increase your chances of success with your new system.
Taking into account decades of field service experience, we’ve combined business software-buying best practices, software functionality and technology know-how into 7 Best Practices for Choosing a Field Service Software System, a practical guide to help you identify vendor differences and put you in control of the buying process.
Tip #1 – Understand your Business Case
What will we measure vendor systems against?
Any field service system that can make a real difference for your business will require an investment of time and money on your part. Understanding, documenting and communicating the business case for your new system – the improvements you expect to achieve – is a critically important step in not only justifying your own investment, but in directing your vendors as well. Good field service system vendors will ask you about your business case, and work to understand those objectives in detail. By clearly communicating your specific business objectives, vendors will no longer just demonstrate their system, but rather how that system can (or can’t) help you meet your objectives.
- Document the business processes where you require improvement.
- Determine how you will measure success for each process, and for the project as a whole.
- Ask your prospective vendors if they can help you calculate your return on investment.
Tip #2 – Ensure an Apples to Apples Comparison
I know these field service systems have differences. How do I bring them out?
At the outset, it’s not uncommon to become overwhelmed at both the sheer volume of field service management system choices, but also the degree to which they sound and look the same. To determine which system is right for you, it’s not enough to only investigate what the system does. The time you spend and questions you ask in determining “how” the system operates will draw out the differences and uncover the weaknesses which may not be apparent. Each system is different, but if you don’t organize the functionality you need to see and how you want to see it, those important differences could become expensive “gotchas” when you begin to use the system.
- Organize your “project team.” The more eyes and ears on a potential new system, the better. Your colleagues may ask important questions that you would not.
- Develop a software requirements document with sufficient detail. Separate “must have” features from “nice to have” features.
- Make sure each vendor addresses all of the areas on your document.
Tip #3 – Engage the Field Technicians
My service technicians are on the front lines. How do I get them as excited about this as I am?
Your service technicians are not just the ones performing your repair, maintenance or inspection work, they’re also the ones interacting with your customers most often and living the methods you utilize to record work. Involve your service technicians in your field service management software buying process – from building the business case to evaluating the software. Doing so will not only reduce “field resistance” to the new system, but it may also uncover some unexpectedly great ideas about how to do things better. Mobile device, network and mobile application technology has made a quantum leap in recent years. Involve your techs in the mobile field service software discussion in particular, or they may create their own solutions in the van without you.
- Identify service technicians that are a representative cross-section of the entire fleet to serve on your new system committee. Involve veterans and technology-savvy young technicians alike.
- Get your technicians’ feedback about a strategy for mobile devices.
Tip #4 – Get up to Speed on Field Service Software Technology Trends
Technology buzz words abound. Understand what they mean and what they do.
When researching and speaking with field service software vendors, the technology buzz words are guaranteed to be flying fast and furious. Don’t discount those items as ancillary or assume that all vendors already do, or will eventually accommodate these important new technologies. Chances are you don’t want to invest in a system that will be technologically obsolete in a couple years. While independent research is strongly encouraged, here are a few of the technology trends you need to dig into with each vendor you’re considering:
Software as a Service (SaaS) – Vendors have begun to offer their systems in the SaaS, hosted, cloud-based model, requiring only an internet connection, and negating your need to purchase and maintain hardware in your office.
Mobile Field Service – Service technician access and recording capability for customer, site, asset, warranty, inventory and inspection information utilizing a mobile device in the field.
Ruggedized –Robust mobile devices specifically engineered to withstand difficult industrial and commercial business conditions.
Integration – The ability of a field service management system to pass data back and forth in an automated fashion with ERP, CRM or other home office-based business systems.
Portals or Web-Based Interfaces – Ability to access and interact with field service system information from the internet in a limited or focused manner. Common examples include customer, technician and executive portals.
- Determine your preferred field service software deployment model – either on-premise or Software as a Service (SaaS).
- Familiarize yourself with mobile operating systems and device options.
- Document which (if any) of your home office systems and data the new field service software will need to integrate with.
Tip #5 – Take a Deep Dive into Customer Support
You’re going to get stuck. Will tech support be there when you need it?
Your field service management system literally runs your business, and like most service organizations, you probably have team members that like to figure things out themselves, and others that want more personal hand-holding. In either case, you want to make sure that when they get stuck, the field service management system support you need is accessible, capable and affordable.
Will software experts be available over the phone, or are they call center employees that simply log your call for later? What will you be interacting with – people or a phone system? Are there specific parameters to be aware of that determine whether support is included or paid?
- Ask what support is included with your software license, and what is not.
- Find out the level of experience and training of those in “front line” support.
- What happens when major software bugs are encountered?
Tip #6 – Check References
How does the vendor sound from the perspective of an actual user?
An extremely important, often-neglected step in software selections is reference calling. Don’t let your enthusiasm over a new vendor let you lose sight of the importance of hearing from companies who use the system every day. Make the most of your reference calls by asking a wide variety of questions, from system usability and stability to customer support and communication. Additionally, you may ask to speak with management and operations users from the company.
- Spend time developing a list of questions before you make reference calls.
- Find out how long the reference has used the system, and how it compares to their past vendor experiences.
- Don’t limit the conversation to software only – ask about how well the vendor supports and communicates with the reference.
Tip #7 – Have an Implementation and Training Plan
It may not be fun, but with the right plan, it can go smoothly.
Successful field service software implementations are not a sure thing, and are never as easy as your vendor makes them sound. They are a major exercise in organizational change management, and should be planned for accordingly. The good news is that the time and effort you put into running an organized software selection process as outlined in Best Practices 1-6 should positively affect the implementation. Beyond relying on the implementation and training plan as proposed by your field service system vendor, there are several steps you should take to galvanize your team around the system rollout project.
- Name an implementation team leader. Make it official and communicate it to your vendor and implementation team.
- Communicate regularly and formally with your service team before, during and after the rollout.
- Your service department personnel’s day jobs will not go away during the rollout. Work together with your vendor to come up with a realistic timeframe.
Scores of field service industry research reports prove the real and lasting business benefits of a capable, properly-implemented field service automation system. These include higher technician utilization rates, higher first time fix rates, better management visibility of field activity, and better competitive differentiation. A thorough and organized software selection and implementation process can help you realize these benefits for your service organization as well.