ERP & FSM Software: Why You Need Both for Field Service

Written by Jason Stokes

Managing a field service workforce can be a complicated balancing act, especially without the right tools. Many organizations with a field service component use an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to support their field operations, service delivery, and overall workforce.

But field service businesses that only use an ERP system may face unnecessary challenges or miss out on important efficiencies that could help field workers and customers.

For an organization that specializes in field service, an ERP system can simplify important functions like accounting, resource management, and supply chain operations. But field service management (FSM) software provides deeper, more specific field service support—including a mobile-friendly interface, advanced scheduling, route tracking, and customer service tools—that closes the gap between the ERP system and real-world field service.

What is ERP for Field Service?

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a category of software that manages several core business functions in one place: finance, supply chain management, manufacturing, operations, and even human resources. ERP, often deployed as a group of integrated applications, is a single source of truth for different business functions that used to be housed and managed separately.

For many field service businesses, ERP is the system of record for supply chain management, order management, and manufacturing. Supply chain management is such a large part of field service that ERP systems must integrate with (or include features of) finance, HR, or CRM tools. But at the end of the day, ERP can be much more than just a finance tool or a CRM—it is a larger umbrella of business software that offers broad capabilities, including accounting and financial functions.

ERP is commonly used in the field service industry to:

  • Create and track purchase orders, including both new installations and repair orders
  • Manage inventory to track which equipment is in use and ensure the right jobs are scheduled when the necessary equipment is available
  • Track high-level capacity for work orders, depending on the number of workers and their general availability
  • Generate work orders that include the job details and a unique ID for tracking throughout the job
  • Generate invoices based on the type of job, time spent, or other relevant factors
  • Track accounting details, including specific details like the cost of a certain service and high-level data like the highest and lowest revenue sources compared to other assets

ERP vs. CRM for Field Service: What’s the Difference?

At its core, ERP software is designed to help organizations look inward to better manage their internal resources, such as inventory, product offerings, and work capacity. CRM software, however, is designed to help organizations look outward to better manage their external relationships with customers. A CRM platform is particularly helpful for field workers striving to better understand and engage with their customers, or sales teams looking to improve performance.

Some ERP systems include CRM capabilities, such as contact management, client interaction tracking, and marketing campaign management. Others integrate with leading standalone CRM systems, which typically have more advanced CRM features and are more user-friendly for Sales or Customer Success teams than what is built into the ERP system.

The Gaps in ERP and CRM Software

Using an ERP system to track your internal resources and a CRM to track your external customer interactions are both crucial to continued growth and success in field service. But even with strong ERP and CRM systems, elements of the field service equation are missing.

For example: How do you translate work orders into specific jobs on the team’s schedule? What are the criteria for assigning jobs to a certain team member? Once you have assigned the job to someone, how do you know where that person is on their route or if the job has been completed? How do you communicate changes in the schedule?

Field workers and their managers will find it difficult—if not impossible—to manage their day-to-day work directly through an ERP or CRM tool. Some of the key challenges of that approach include:

  • Lack of Visibility – While an ERP solution can offer some key tracking and reporting, it falls short when you consider everything you’ll need to fully understand your workforce. ERP and FSM systems prioritize different types of information.

A field service company can use ERP software to track their inventory across several different hubs and track them all the way back to the shipper or OEM, but the ERP system may not track inventory per technician. In field service, it’s critical that a manager know which technicians have the right parts or expertise to complete a certain job at a specific time. FSM software can fill this gaap by providing data on a per-technician and per-job basis for real-time review.

Limited Ability to Track Essential Job History – Today’s customer has high expectations that can only be met by personalized service, which can only be provided if your field workers are fully prepared. This requires the ability to capture and access detailed customer and job documentation (i.e. customer data, field notes, job site and safety information, etc.) even while in the field.

ERP systems are designed to capture and track certain information, and in many cases, FSM systems go deeper into the job history and asset history that helps technicians deliver great service.

FSM systems can also track more detailed information about the life of a large piece of equipment, like when it was moved from one location to another, when and how it was serviced by subcontractors, and the history of any subcomponents.

  • Inability to Schedule and Dispatch Field Workers – Generally speaking, ERP solutions do have some scheduling capabilities, like sending the customer an appointment time for installation once a purchase has been made. However, these tools don’t offer the intelligent, flexible scheduling and dispatching capabilities needed to efficiently manage your field workers.

Field workers often work on different schedules, have varying skills, qualifications, or job preferences, and need access to real-time schedule changes. ERP systems simply aren’t designed to dive deep into the dynamic schedules of field service workers— at least not to the level that dispatchers and managers need to keep customers happy.

  • Offers a Limited Single Source of Truth – It’s true that ERP software can capture, manage, and offer visibility into some data (like accounting details, purchase orders, inventory, and customer invoices). However, its capabilities are not robust enough—or specific enough to field service—to provide every data point you need to make good decisions about your field service operations.

For that, you need FSM software that covers the information required for preventative maintenance, labor-based quoting, performance analysis, and utilization.

  • Doesn’t Enable Streamlined Communication – Part of ensuring a great employee experience for field workers is providing tools that streamline communication with back-office workers and customers. Though ERP software makes it easier to share information among administrative departments, it doesn’t offer the direct and contextual communications that help field workers remain productive, or help the organization and customer remain informed.

    Field service management software includes out-of-the-box tools for communicating with employees in the field, such as SMS notifications, push notifications from a mobile app, or location data, all of which are crucial for employees working out in the field.

Deskless workers are connected to systems in fundamentally different ways than in-office workers. They are less likely (and in many cases, not able) to access the CRM or accounts payable system directly during their day-to-day work. And even if they could, it’s far too much data for a worker to sort through in between jobs!

Workers in the field need a seamless connection between the system of record, aka the ERP system, and their day-to-day work lives. This is where field service management (FSM) comes into play.

Field service management helps to balance the different needs of (1) the business, which needs operational efficiency, (2) the customer, who wants the promise of great service in a timely manner to be kept, and (3) the employee, who needs a smooth, simple work experience.

How Field Service Management Software Bridges the Gaps in CRM and ERP Systems

FSM software is built with field service workers (and field service organizations) in mind. Its unique capabilities offer next-level support, which, when paired with ERP and CRM systems, can help to better manage field service operations. By implementing an FSM solution, your organization can reap some key benefits that your ERP and CRM solutions alone can’t offer:

Create a system of engagement to complement the system of record

One of the key differences between field service management and ERP is that FSM is a system of engagement, whereas ERP is a system of record. 

A system of record is the authoritative data source for a certain area of a business. For example, HR software is the single source of truth for employee information, including hiring details, compensation, time off, and more. CRM software is the single source of truth for customer information, such as job history, payment history, and customer feedback. ERP is the single source of truth for supply chain and order management information, a crucial part of a successful field service operation.

A system of engagement is a platform used directly by workers to find and share information, including communicating and collaborating with others. Systems of engagement, like email and learning management systems (LMS), bring essential information to employees in a much more approachable, user-friendly way than traditional systems of record.

In some cases, the system of record might be the system of engagement! For example, an accountant who is updating budgets and expenses on a daily basis may work most often in the finance section of ERP software, or in a dedicated accounting tool. The accountant’s day-to-day role requires updating the single source of truth, which makes the system of record the most commonly used tool.

But for most of the organization—especially for workers in the field—there needs to be a system of engagement that pulls together the necessary information from each system of record. Otherwise, field workers will spend an inordinate amount of time tracking down the right information from ERP and CRM, which is not only time-consuming and inefficient, but also dangerous for a worker on the go.

Field service management software is the system of engagement in these cases, allowing field workers to see (and act on) crucial data, all in one platform. Within an FSM platform, a field technician can pull the work order from the ERP system to see what work needs to be done and where; see customer history from the CRM platform; find product data from the supply chain database; and see the quote and invoicing details from order processing. At the same time, their manager can use the FSM scheduling tools to find the right person for each job, based on unique qualifications, availability, and job location.

Increase transparency across field service operations

Intelligent FSM software offers a modern, mobile-first approach, with tools that are dynamic enough to support employees in the field. Where ERP and CRM solutions might provide limited mobile functionality to collect field data, FSM software is an end-to-end solution that enables real-time, accurate data collection. Even at a customer site, field service workers can capture crucial details, like time spent on the road and with customers, customer and employee feedback, schedule adherence, and more.

These deep insights across all operations improve workforce visibility, resulting in a better, more unified view of what’s working, what’s not, and where you’ll need to adjust. And with increased transparency, you’ll benefit from more accurate resource and capacity planning, more efficient scheduling decisions, reduced costs of service, and improved customer loyalty.

Easily track job history and customer preferences

We know that your ERP system can track and store some basic customer details (like contact information) and your CRM software can help you manage client data to build relationships and, in turn, increase sales.

But FSM software is built with the totally unique goals of field service organizations in mind: to meet customer expectations during every field service delivery. It tracks detailed data—like a customer’s previous invoices, receipts, and preferences—that CRM and ERP systems simply can’t, all in one centralized place.

If a previous customer requests information on past maintenance or wants to schedule an appointment with the same technician who serviced their equipment last time, an FSM solution enables the user to quickly access those details—all without having to dig through paper documents or customer files.

Streamlines workflows

Part of running a successful field service operation is making sure processes are running as efficiently as possible. ERP and CRM solutions can help track and organize certain business functions (e.g. accounting, marketing and sales efforts, etc.), but they don’t offer the holistic capabilities required to streamline operations.

FSM software, on the other hand, picks up where ERP and CRM systems leave off. It includes features that optimize scheduling, dispatching, routing, data collection and analysis, and more. And because everything is captured and managed in a single source of truth, every aspect of your field service business can run like a well-oiled machine—without having to duplicate administrative efforts or use time-consuming, manual processes.

Improves communication

Effective communication is an essential part of a strong field service operation. Field workers need mobile-first, dynamic communication tools to stay informed, prepared, and safe in the field, and managers want that real-time workforce visibility; CRM and ERP solutions simply aren’t built for that purpose.

Robust FSM technology puts the power of streamlined communication in the hands of field service technicians, without sacrificing on-site data that businesses need to measure productivity and success. They’re supported by a single app (which saves them the time of having to toggle between calls, texts, and emails), and can communicate with back-office workers and customers at the touch of a button.

Seamlessly integrates with existing systems

Some ERP systems do offer some field service functionality. But FSM software is built for field service and field service alone, and there are features that ERP and CRM systems just can’t replicate.

Modern FSM software complements your other technologies, so the tech stack is greater than the sum of its parts. Your ERP, CRM, HR, payroll, and other software each provide unique value to your business, and the right FSM solution can pull them all together to better fulfill the needs of field workers and customers, tearing down silos and generating interoperable data for better business decisions.

Essential Field Service Management Software Features 

As you consider field service management software to help fill in the gaps left by your ERP and CRM systems, it’s crucial that you choose the right solution. Modern, robust FSM tools can extend the capabilities of what your ERP and CRM solutions already offer to drive further operational efficiencies and success. Be sure to look for technology that offers:

  • Mobile-First Functionality – Your field service workers need tools that help them communicate, access up-to-date information, store key information, and more—all from a variety of locations. Make sure the FSM solution you choose is intuitive, user-friendly, and can work on any mobile device to improve worker safety in the field.
  • Easily Sync Data With the System of Record – Face-to-face customer interactions are the most important thing in field service, and field service businesses should want to capture everything that happens in the field for future reference. This requires a tool that is simple enough for workers to use in the field, but robust enough for managers and back-office staff to get accurate data in each system of record. Your FSM system should allow workers to capture photos, signatures, and forms in the field, which are automatically synced to the right system of record (ERP, HR, CRM, etc.). Ideally, look for a tool with offline functionality, so workers can take notes even without an internet connection, knowing they will sync to the system of record once they are reconnected.
  • Customized and Prioritized for Your Workforce – No two field service businesses are the same. With that in mind, no two FSM or ERP implementations will look exactly the same. Look for a tool that allows you to prioritize the information you need to be front and center. For example, if your top priority is customer service, you may want to prioritize customer service metrics in your default view (job history, payment history, feedback, satisfaction scores, etc.). If your top priority is efficiency, you may want to prioritize other metrics (arrival time, schedule adherence, jobs completed, etc.). Look for a tool that gives you powerful integrations that are strategically deployed for your workforce.
  • Automated Scheduling and Dispatching – A key part of any FSM solution is its scheduling and dispatching capabilities, which aren’t included in your ERP or CRM systems. The FSM tool you implement needs to handle complex scheduling elements, like matching the right worker to the right job (based on qualifications, location, preferences etc.), and should be updated in real time. It should be automated and scalable, so as your business grows, you’re not running into customer service issues, like cancellations, no-shows, or delays, that are often accompanied by manual scheduling processes.
  • Real-Time Communication – Field workers should be able to quickly and easily notify the back office of any job site issues or changes. Invest in FSM technology that enables field workers to communicate job updates in real time to ensure the best service possible on the customer’s end.
  • Optimized Routing – Estimated service windows are a thing of the past, and if you’re still using them to communicate appointment times to customers, you’ll likely be left in the dust. Eliminate frustrating, unclear scheduling slots with FSM software that provides field workers with the best job-to-job routes in real time. That way, appointment times are always precise, and customers always know exactly when workers will arrive.
  • Seamless Integration – You can only realize the full value of your software investments if all of your systems work together to provide workforce visibility and business insights. The FSM solution you implement should easily integrate with your existing ERP, CRM, Payroll, HR, and other systems to instantly access and connect otherwise disparate data sets. This will ensure that your field workers are backed by the power of accurate customer data (securely pulled from a variety of sources) and are fully prepared for every customer interaction.

Make the Most of Your ERP and CRM Systems

ERP and CRM solutions provide essential value to your field service business and can help empower your field workers as they serve their customers. But without implementing FSM software that’s purposely designed to support end-to-end field service operations, you’re likely missing out on key business insights, benefits, and overall success.

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About TimeLinx
TimeLinx delivers innovative project & service management software as a complete solution that perfects the sell-track-manage-support-bill cycle that services organizations must have to delight their customers; TimeLinx brings the cycle together in a single application that offers less frustration, better project management, complete reporting, and improved profitability – all specially designed for Infor and Sage.