There are many things that every business does and there are accepted ways of doing them. Creating invoices, receiving payments, managing inventory and handling payroll are all activities that companies do and are largely standardised. But there are also activities that businesses do that are unique to them.
Software that supports those common activities is relatively easy to find. There are any number of cloud-based and on-prem solutions from major ERP vendors through to SaaS solutions that meet the needs of businesses of every size. But what about those tasks that are unique to your business? Where can you find applications that support your business in a way that fits your way of doing things?
One approach is to choose a best of breed solution that supports those specific business processes and operate it in isolation from those other common but undifferentiated business processes. This creates its own challenges.
Field service workers need specialised software that allows them to complete a variety of different tasks such as safety checklists, equipment servicing and repair work. While the field staff have an optimised solution, manual processes need to be created to update payroll with the hours contract staff work, inventory with the equipment used and CRM systems with details of the client interaction.
Alternatively, there are many ERP platforms that offer field service modules. But these modules are often very generic and lack the ability to be customised to meet the specific needs of different field service teams. This has often led to businesses needing to change how they work to fit the software. They have had to implement workarounds and kludges, or find other solutions that meet their business process, in order to integrate with the ERP and other core systems.
Fortunately, times have changed. The era of making significant, and often costly, compromises is behind us. It is possible to have a highly tailored and optimised field service solution that integrates with individual ERPs. Making that work relies on finding the right software and partner to support you in the journey. But where do you start?
1. Understand your workflow
Field service teams undertake a wide variety of different tasks. Make a list of those tasks and all the steps required to successfully complete them. This may include checklists, parts replacement procedures, or other specific information that’s pertinent to your business.
2. List the data the team needs to access and collect
When on-site, field service workers need access to significant amounts of data to complete their work. This starts with where they have to go, who their contact is, what they’ll need on arrival and site-specific information such as safety issues.
Once they are working, they’ll need to easily enter information, which could take the form of written/typed notes, photos, audio or checklists. And you’ll want to track the time taken to respond to a customer call and how long it took to resolve the issue to track performance against SLAs and for billing.
3. Look at data sources and destinations
Now that you know what data you need and will collect, you need to determine the best sources and destinations for that data. This is where a trusted partner that understands field service software and ERP solutions can help.
Not all the data collected on-site by technicians needs to make it into your ERP or vice versa. Understanding what is needed to ensure the back office has the data it needs to invoice and ensure customer service obligations are met requires expertise to ensure data can be easily shared between systems.
4. Look for software solutions that are made to work together
Given enough time, expertise and money, you can do almost anything. But every business has limits on its available resources. Working with vendors and partners that understand all the moving parts and listen to you, so they can determine the best way to match your workflow to the systems ensures the best possible outcomes for your business.
5. Always look to learn and optimise
Once you have systems that complement the way you work, establish regular processes so your feed service and back office teams can share ideas to further improve the way your different systems interoperate.
Although the initial integration of your best-of-breed field service solution with your ERP or business software may have been established and executed as a project, it shouldn’t be the end point. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) can help field service teams and software companies to regularly improve APIs – the software ‘glue’ that connects different systems – which means you can extract even more value from your investment.
Many businesses see their existing software suite and, faced by its limitations, spend time and money on complex workarounds that adversely impact productivity and service. But it doesn’t have to be like that. By choosing a field service solution that meets your needs, complements your back office systems and supports the on-site needs for field workers, it’s possible to have a solution that complements your workflow without unnecessary complexity.