For more than a decade, UK utilities have done the hard work of wringing out efficiencies and changing behavior in field services. They have optimised routes and utilised flexible work arrangements, achieving the bigger benefits, but the savings are mostly maximised. It’s time to lead the industry into the next phase: scheduling the scheduler.
These achievements are largely due to software upgrades, better field equipment and a better trained workforce, but it’s time for another phase. What if schedulers could make decisions in the field? What if they had the tools to assume a dual role, working closely with other field workers?
If we look at the different stages of development that field service has undergone recently, we see several levels where utilities have plateaued in dispatching assignments. Some are still using paper-based systems to assign jobs, while most are using some form of automatic scheduling paired with a manual, drag and drop program.
Fully automated scheduling is a worthy goal, but to expect utility companies to jump straight to field service as advanced as a singular cloud service is a massive step. Many utilities feel unprepared for this innovation, however, there is a path to a fully automated system that allows schedulers to leave the office, make decisions in the field, and be up-close and personal with customers and field workers.
Currently UK field services use one of four methods for dispatching employees and assigning jobs:
1. Paper based – The oldest and least flexible scheduling system.
2. Manual scheduling – Schedulers can ‘drag and drop’ work orders into a technician’s calendar. Some automation is included at this level.
3. Semi -automated scheduling – An automated scheduling tool that still requires human interaction for some decision-making assignments.
4. Automatic scheduling & real-time optimisation – Machine learning algorithms build schedules and dispatches technicians to jobs based on pre-defined parameters.
Most utility companies are not ready to move from manual field service scheduling straight to the automated systems that remove human interaction and decision making from the scheduling process. There are “mature” companies that could see real benefits to automated scheduling software.
There is a tool that many companies could use to help span that gap of human scheduling to automated, and it would allow schedulers to work much closer to the customer, delivering higher level service—namely a collaboration feature that gives field workers access to inventory, instant communication and supports chatbots for further assistance.
It could also give their supervisors the ability to work closer to the field, and the customer. Instead of scheduling work assignments, supervisors become “exception handlers,” monitoring problem areas in the field. From a tablet, supervisors can chat directly with a technician at a separate site, while monitoring another project across town.
If additional technicians are required, or need to be sent to a site that suddenly has a higher priority, both can be accomplished by the supervisor from a hand-held device. The scheduler has a dual role, and is liberated from a desk, making decisions based upon real-time data delivered through a simple collaboration tool.
The ability to roam in the field from site to site liberates the scheduler to work closely with technicians, and to serve as a customer liaison. Customers who can communicate directly with a manager or supervisor have much higher satisfaction rates.
Changing work patterns also make this change a natural progression. Employees want flexible work opportunities, such as working from home. Customers are demanding less wait time for scheduled visits. With the tools available, technicians, and supervisors, can check their daily schedule from the breakfast table and head straight to a first assignment, never going to the office.
We’ve groomed our field service tools for this next phase. With it, your schedulers will be ready and focused for a dual role, and customers expect this level of service. And, they deserve it. It’s time to give everyone the tools that lead the UK utility industry into a fully automated field service system that promises greater efficiency and productivity.
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