A lot of small-scale field service businesses still sticks to manual scheduling, simply because it suits up to their day-to-day needs. Low operations volatility and slow business rhythm are the main reason why many still choose to schedule their field service crews manually instead of relying on any automated software.
Certainly, if a start-up company only has handful of technicians in the field, and only makes a few rounds into their client’s base, it is very reasonable to just use a manual approach to schedule technicians- as any unnecessary technology-based tools will only incur additional costs such as installation fees, hardware maintenance, and the recurring cost that comes with software updates and monthly cloud subscription fee (if the system is not installed on premise).
In this set-up, papers and pen make everything work. The paper is typically ruled into squares with technician’s names down the left-hand side and time slots across the top. All data needed for the particular job- tools, client’s location, etc. are all highlighted in each cell of the matrix. Though crude in form, it somehow allows the dispatcher to organise the work order and gives the technician prior knowledge about the job before he leaves for the visit.
The pen-and-paper approach could also be upgraded in the form of spreadsheets like Excel. But either way, the process is still manual and the decision-making process of which technician gets which jobs is still done by the dispatcher as they come in- thus allowing more control of scheduling activity. Like I have mentioned earlier, this approach is much more effective when there are only a few jobs that technicians have to attend per day, and there is a slim chance of change in job priority, sequence, or scope during the day.
It is when volume, job complexity or unpredictability that manual scheduling process starts to fail. For instance, a sudden change in job priority during the day is somehow too difficult to change, let alone recreate, given the number of dependencies, geographic distances, and demands of each individual piece of work that has to be catered.
Moreover, as the company grows, its need for additional technician also increases, in which a single dispatcher will not be able to manage effectively any longer. On average, a single dispatcher can only handle 15 to 20 technician during the day using a manual scheduling system- and the worst is that the dispatcher has a little or no time to do tasks other than scheduling.
Decision-making process also gets more difficult as the complexity of the process increases. In B2B environment, the service level agreement can make the decision-making process more complex as corporate clients are demanding high first-time fix rate and are more decisive to switch service provider.
Lastly, the time it takes for a newly-hired dispatcher to completely understand the field service environment and carry out the job fully and effectively is also very lengthy and costly with manual scheduling. Since the decisions made are not recorded in any enterprise system, the knowledge sharing only relies on some petty human interactions between the dispatcher and the technicians. All of these pain-points, along with its varying costs, can all be reduced once a company decides to move away from manual scheduling and dispatching.
Some companies cannot afford the time and effort it takes to manually drag and drop job orders in their scheduling system. To use the same manual approach in scheduling in a growing and thriving business might only result in missed opportunities and disparities in service provided before and after the company has to experience incremental growth.
A lot of automated scheduling solutions are offered in the market these days, and many companies have turned to these solutions to make their scheduling more efficient and streamlined. These more advanced scheduling solutions run in a highly precise algorithm to process not only scheduling task but other field service operations as well.
More often, automated scheduling is integrated to other core operations such as spare parts/inventory management, skills management, shift management, resource availability and other dynamics that are all changing real-time- thus, allowing up-to-date scheduling using all the latest data and field intelligence on hand.
It enables the whole field service team to be agile in adjusting to fluctuating service demands. It also gives the manager, the executives, and even the customer access to latest information which are available through smartphones. Hence, enabling better internal decision-making process, and allows the customer to anticipate the expected arrival time of technicians- totally changing the way how customers and clients exchange information real-time.
Some of the disadvantages of using automated scheduling software are the cost, dependability, and credibility. The cost of a standalone scheduling software can vary greatly. A SaaS (service as a software) program offers low-cost monthly subscription fee, but as the years pass by, you might realise that it is better to install the software on premise, which on the other hand requires a large upfront payment.
Dependability and credibility are another issue in some of the scheduling software services today. Many have been made up by programmers who have little or no idea about the different field service processes. So it is a vital task to carefully choose a field service scheduling software that has an intuitive user interface, yet has the capacity to manage all the scheduling processes that are unique in your organisation.
The disparity between manual and automated scheduling is huge in a number of ways. To deal with the ever-demanding field service market, it is advisable to invest as early as possible in a field service software that includes an automated scheduling solution to keep your workers on board seamlessly and efficiently. Although it sounds too much investment for a start-up field service business, there is no doubt that an automated field service scheduling solution is a long-term asset that will enable your field technicians to do their jobs more efficiently, and exceed your customer expectations faster and with higher quality.