Saturday, June 27, 2009
Building Custom Field Service Management Systems
Mobile Field Service Applications are coming into increasing demand. The practice of Field Service Management (FSM) (or Field Force Automation (FFA) or Field Force Management (FFM) as it is sometimes called) involves optimizing business processes that provide on-site repair, installation, replacement and other services. Building custom field service applications rather than using off-the shelf solutions may be necessary for some businesses where proprietary processes and organizational structure make other solutions unfeasible. Mobile Field Service applications are typically deployed on Windows Mobile devices, however, iPhone, Blackberry and other devices are sometimes used as well. Programming of Custom Field Service Management software is often developed by enterprise IT departments or outsourced to system integrators and custom software houses.
As Gartner suggests, "Accelerated business demand to improve field service execution will favor two types of software suppliers: those with multiple application components and an underlying process design tool, and best-of-breed vendors with strong functionality, whose software is service-oriented architecture (SOA)-compliant or delivered using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. These capabilities enable the best-of-breed vendors to fit logically into (and more readily integrate with) a service management suite." The reason Gartner emphasizes service-oriented architecture so heavily here, in my view, relates to the nature of FSM software and not just Gartner's penchant for SOA programming. Because of the wide range of program requirements and unique proprietary dimensions of FSM software needs within an enterprise, Gartner correctly sees a need for extensive customization.
When building custom field service applications, it is important to consider the basic functionality and architecture of field service applications as well as the optimal development methodologies for establishing proprietary advantage through custom software development and service-oriented architectures.FSM requires development tools capable of creating Rich Internet Applications (RIA) for PCs and mobile devices.
Field Service Management: Functional Requirements Overview
FSM systems optimize business processes and manage information connected with on-site service. From a process viewpoint, the basic FSM process usually begins with a Service Request. The incoming service requests are matched against the available service staff and equipment in the Routing/ Dispatch process. Once deployed to the field, the On-Site Service itself occurs, in many use cases, field-based access to knowledge resources are involved. Inventory Processes involve management of products, replacement parts and supplies and may also incorporate cross-selling or up-selling methods. The Close Work Order process is a key milestone and trigger in FSM. Time Accounting, Billing and Collections typically follow the close of the work order. Sometimes, Scheduled Service Calls, additional on-site selling or appointments for follow-up visits are made at the conclusion of a job as well. The existence of warranty requirements or Service Level Agreements may affect process requirements as well.
Looking at the business benefit / functionality matrix as a functional tree, one can see the major branches as a) Build Customer Loyalty, b) Increase Revenues, and c) Reduce Costs.
FSM will Build Customer Loyalty by improving response times, standardizing service procedures, normalizing customer service policies, increasing first-call issue resolution, and enhancing availability of product, service and customer knowledge in the field. Service calls often begin with an initial sense of dissatisfaction on the part of the customer. Goof FSM can create a customer recovery culture wear the focus is on creating a positive customer experience that wins-back customers, building loyalty and a "customer-for-life" brand loyalty.
FSM will Increase Revenues by improving the efficiency of field service processes to capture overlooked service revenues; facilitating cross-selling of services and related products; and leveraging service excellence as a strategic differentiator and business driver. Customer loyalty lays the groundwork for enhanced revenues but it is not tantamount to the same thing. A good FSM system will guide service personnel through a business process that incorporates selling, winning of new appointments, full completion of prior purchase and service commitments, and procurement of profitable service-level agreements.
FSM will Reduce Costs by creating more efficient business processes, increasing productivity of field personnel, improving control of assets, and reducing duplicated effort. Components of efficiency come through elimination of duplicated effort, tightest possible coordination of resources, and improved availability of information. It is often said that you can't expect what you don't inspect. A key component of process efficiency can often come through the application of geo-spatial information management. Geo-spatial information makes possible more efficient routing, tighter scheduling, and better deployment of human resources.
A detailed functional specification for FSM will include functionality related to: centralized administrative and management functions; geo-spatial functional requirements; service management dashboard and business intelligence requirements; and mobile field service functional requirements. Each business will have uniqueness in its products, service procedures and organizational structure that drive needs and requirements for unique internal and customer facing processes and capabilities of the FSM system.
For Additional Information
Magic Software Enterprises and our business partners are experienced in developing custom field service business applications and extensions for customers seeking best-in-class service capabilities and business efficiencies. For additional information on how services based on the uniPaaS application platform can facilitate the development of FSM systems, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.