How to Modernize Field Service Crew Management

David Goldstein

Technician crew management is a foundational element of field service. But for utilities and some other organizations managing teams of field technicians, the “morning shuffle” or “morning churn” is a tedious, mostly manual process that typically begins before sunup. Planners and dispatchers must collaborate to assemble crews of field service technicians prepared and equipped to tackle daily jobs, emergency work, and larger, long-term projects.

Frequently, the process is made more difficult by disparate systems that are neither aligned with one another nor up to date with workers’ most recent availability or skills. The result is planners are swivel-chairing between disparate software systems, email, and phone calls in an attempt to locate the most up-to-the-minute crew information in order to assign work.

Consider that an HR system may be used to track crew member shifts and hours worked to ensure compliance with applicable labor laws. A work order management system tracks the list of jobs. Then, a field service management (FSM) system tracks technician skillsets and who is assigned to each job, plus its foreman, anticipated completion time, etc. Add to that countless phone calls, emails, whiteboard sketches, and/or Excel spreadsheets, and a chaotic picture of the morning shuffle emerges. Even with teams ranging from a few people to more than 10, maintaining brisk “out-the-door” times for crews is difficult and depends on the day, job complexity, and mitigating factors like a storm or outages.

Notably, a lack of adequate technology is not usually the root cause. Personnel may struggle to consistently update systems when completing the work, providing the organization with full visibility into who is available, how much they’ve worked, and their skills/certifications. Without the most updated information, even an optimal system/set of systems will not improve field service performance.

Still, technological improvements can be made to speed up the morning shuffle. Cloud-based crew management systems can imbue it with more accurate and up-to-date information, rendering decisions easier to make and implement. The most common catalysts for such a change are that the company’s current software is no longer supported or it is increasingly difficult to use or maintain. Evaluation of the company’s options for a new system usually includes an internal assessment of strengths and gaps, compatibility with other systems in the company’s network, and what other companies are using. Even then, integration can be cumbersome if the systems in use do not easily share information.

To facilitate the sometimes-difficult change to a more effective crew management system, a system integrator or other external consultant normally is retained to help with internal valuation: what resources does the company have and where are issues occurring? Then, the consultant can recommend companies in the area capable of fulfilling those needs and can help with the RFP process.

The top technology candidate creators are then invited to demo for the company. This demo should envelop planners, dispatchers, and technicians — rather than just executives — to ask questions and drive negotiations. Their buy-in is critical; technicians bring a lot of in-practice (rather than theoretical) expertise and, if they walk away dissatisfied, it could kill the deal.

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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.