Managing a mobile workforce
Managing a field service operation in today’s marketplace is not an easy feat and businesses managing a large mobile workforce face an increasing number of challenges around its people, the work management, assets, tools and vehicles.
There are many elements that need to come together, barriers that need to be overcome and steps that need to be taken in order to execute a perfect workday. Jobs may run into overtime if they are more complicated than first thought, emergency work may come in which changes the day’s schedule, or traffic congestion and vehicle breakdown can cause delays or failure to meet an appointment. Additionally, with workers potentially calling in sick, starting late or getting delayed; all these factors can impact adversely on the productivity of the workforce.
With much field-based work becoming increasingly complex and critical in terms of timing, skills and consequence more importantly than ever companies need to ensure that their field service is not derailed by unpredictable dynamics of the working day.
It is therefore perhaps no surprise that in a recent survey by The Service Council, the biggest area of concern for those in field service is workforce management. Nearly half of organisations also highlighted their interest in investments in field service in the next 12-24 months, and companies with a strong grasp of the fundamentals of workers, technology, data, and execution, stand to outpace the competition and boost profits.
According to Aberdeen Group, companies that adopt these elements are also more likely to achieve the goals that top the list of priorities for field organisations. Of the field organisations polled by Aberdeen for its Field Service 2013 Workforce Management Guide, 56% cited increasing revenue as a strategic goal, while 52% and 45% cited improving customer satisfaction and increasing productivity respectively as strategic goals.
Developments in workforce management technologies have come to the fore with solutions able to transform the way in which work is performed, through intelligent scheduling tools and advanced performance analytics. This capability provides the stepping stones needed to help organisations measure, manage and improve their operations through optimising resources, offering real-time visibility and monitoring and giving warning of tasks at risk or showing the impact of work allocation decisions.
In a recent survey carried out by Trimble with managers working in field service roles, being able to make real-time decisions based on the information received was the priority for those managing field based operations with regard to using information from the field.
Managing the fleet
For any business running a mobile workforce with a fleet operation, the challenges can be multiple and complex. One key element in addressing these issues and achieving an efficient, effective workforce is having complete visibility of your operation so you can start to see the problems, trends, gaps and opportunities. No business can manage what it’s not measuring and having visibility is a fundamental step in determining this.
Improved vehicle utilisation means increased efficiencies and reduced operating costs and technology which provides visibility into the location and use of vehicles means more informed decisions can be made in the planning and allocation of work across a fleet. Aberdeen Group reported improvements of 32% on vehicle utilisation through the use of fleet management technology, for example. Audits can be run daily on vehicles to compare their use and the fleet manager is then able to pick up on any vehicles that are being under-used and which vehicles aren’t being used at all.
Businesses have a responsibility to ensure they are providing drivers with the means to operate safely. In addition, careless driving has significant costs. Many businesses look to online and practical driver training to help teach best practice and regular benchmarking and rewarding of the best drivers has also delivered great results. Driver safety solutions have risen to the challenge by providing analysis of driver behaviour to identify those drivers in need of training. By targeting those with the worst driving record, it is easy to take corrective action, resulting in fewer accidents and reduced liability therefore helping to manage the risks and costs associated with work-related driving.
Changing Driving Style - CASE STUDY
‘We were particularly impressed by the driver safety in-vehicle hardware that alerts drivers to behaviours outside set guidelines,’ says John Gavin, project and standards lead for operations support at Shred-it, the world’s largest mobile secure document and paper shredding company.
‘They are provided with real-time feedback about their driving behaviour so they can make immediate changes to their driving style. This has proven beneficial to accurately measure and mitigate fleet safety risks and we have seen a difference. Our drivers have slowed down in regards to speeding and we have seen an increase in driver score.’
Regular servicing and efficient management of vehicles help to extend the asset’s life and vehicle diagnostic solutions take routine maintenance checks a step further by providing information about the engine health before they become a major problem. Information can also identify how a vehicle is being driven and provide real-time data on fuel consumption, so exact fuel use can be monitored helping identify where fuel is being wasted on poorly performing vehicles.
With the continuing volatility of crude oil prices across the globe and the related unpredictable fuel pricing, fuel continues to be a major concern in meeting field service priorities. Field service companies can’t stop using their vehicles, so looking at steps to reduce fuel use is essential for any business to remain competitive. By monitoring driver activities it is possible to determine where fuel consumption can be reduced to cut overall fuel spend. Aberdeen Group reported that fleet management technology can reduce fuel consumption by up to 22% as businesses are able to optimise schedules and route planning, helping to reduce unnecessary mileage and improve fuel efficiency and driver proficiency.
Fuel Saving - CASE STUDY
Animal welfare charity, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) recently deployed fleet management solutions across its fleet and the charity calculated that it could save 80,000 litres (21,134 gallons) in fuel annually. CO2 emissions have also been reduced with the RSPCA estimating a saving of 60,500kg (133,380lb) after using the information from trip reports that detail fuel use based on travel and idling times.
Tom Gorman, president of OPXL, llc and a field service expert, comments: ‘At our company one of our goals was cutting fuel costs and we coached supervisors on how to reduce idling. Typically when a technician finished a job, they got in their vehicle and turned on the engine for 15 minutes while filling out reports. At lunch, they might eat in the vehicle while the motor is running. These were habits that needed to change.
‘It was just a matter of raising awareness and once technicians became aware of the costs of idling, the idling went from two hours to 30 minutes a day. That was $1million saved across the fleet of 1,100 vehicles.’
The key is information, not data
Essentially, technology is an enabler of change and through the information collected and analysis provided, stakeholders can use it in their day-to-day work. High-level trends and benchmarking can be used in performance management while real-time data means managers can make instant decisions based on robust and reliable intelligence.