Do the job quickly, do the job well, and get paid – the three basic tenets of field service management. When your technicians are in the field, the last thing you want is for them to be scrambling around trying to figure out which parts they used while the customer waits. A solid inventory management system can help you cut down on these scenarios, making it easier to bill promptly and accurately.
Using barcodes or QR (quick response) codes gives your business more flexibility and power than traditional inventory management ever could. Here are a few simple steps to help you get a barcode system setup for your business.
Getting the basics in place
If you already have field service management software, you might not need a scanner in the first place. Some fsm mobile apps can scan barcodes. For a small business with a small inventory, your phone or tablet might be enough. Even if all you have is five technicians, several scanners can add up fast: cheaper scanners, like most of those on this Amazon page, run from $40-80. The higher-end models can be anywhere from $400–600.
If you do want to invest in barcode scanners, first off, make sure your field service software will play nice with barcodes. As an example, ESC from dESCO has all the bits for barcode integration built in. All you need to do is label, scan, and run.
To actually get barcodes on the items you want to have access to, you’ll first print out labels that indicate what’s in the bag, box, or tray. Barcodes are just a way of presenting a basic amount of information, so you simply type the item number you want into your field service software or barcode printing software and out comes the barcode version of that number.
Once you have the labels, you’ll put them wherever you keep your inventory. Then your technicians can easily scan the items as they’re used, adding them right onto the invoice they create.
Setting up a scanner
Classic barcodes can be read in a handful of different ways. The old system is a simple laser, which just runs across the barcode and returns the information. Newer models feature area scanning, which can read barcodes and 2D images, like QR codes. You can also download QR reader apps for mobile devices, though these may not integrate with your field service software.
I like the handheld, cordless scanners – like the Motorola LI4278 – for field service jobs. These can be paired to mobile devices, keeping everything nice and connected, without having cords all over the back of the truck. Depending on your needs and price range, you can get scanners with rugged exteriors, scanners that are meant to be mounted or built-in, and scanners that work from 150 feet away.
One highly recommended scanner is the Tao Tronics TT BS016, which you can get for $66 at Amazon. 71% of Amazon customer reviewers give it 4 or 5 stars, and Nerd Techy called it one of the five best wireless bluetooth scanners for 2016.
If you’re looking for other cheap, well-reviewed options, here’s a list of scanners under $60 that have at least a four-star rating on Amazon:
Putting it all together
The key, now, is to figure out the best way for your team to work with the barcodes. Some of this will depend on how your inventory is physically stored, some will depend on what your workflow looks like, and some will depend on the software you use.
Generally, you can either scan as you go or scan everything at the end. By scanning as you go, you’re less likely to overlook something as you go, but you’ll be interrupting the flow of the job a bit. By scanning at the end, you can get it all done in one swoop, but you risk missing a part – especially if parts were taken from trays or storage boxes, which won’t have packaging lying around to remind you of their use.
Try both systems and get feedback from your techs on which one worked best for them. The key is to make their lives easier, so be sure to make them part of the decision process.
Creating a customer quote is more straightforward, as you can just scan as you go – no workflow problems to consider. In ESC, for instance, the mobile app lets you build a quote using the barcode scanner simply by selecting the Scan option.
To review, all you need to get going with barcoding in field service is a bit of software, a barcode scanner, and the time to get it all together. Managing your inventory with a barcode system isn’t rocket science and isn’t the latest fad – how refreshing.
For more tips for your field service guide, check out Capterra’s field service blog. If you’ve been using barcodes in your business, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
Header by Rachel Wille
Looking for Inventory Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Inventory Management software solutions.