A number of organisations within the sector are looking at (or have implemented) field services to help manage and schedule repairs. But what is field services, what functionality could the sector make the most of and what are some of the challenges.
What is Field Services?
Field Service Management refers to using a resource (eg: colleagues/contractors) to fulfil tasks away from the office.
Within Dynamics 365 you can use field service to manage demand, plan work, enable people on the front line and engage customers by linking it to portals etc. These actions enable you to capture and analyse data and integrate with other products eg: ERP
What are the capabilities?
- Create works orders – via opportunities and cases
- Automatically generate work orders – this automation could be used for cyclical or planned works. Work orders can also be manually created or semi automated.
- IOT – Automate work orders using triggers from IOT devices such as the pressure dropping on a boiler.
- Scheduling – this enables you to assign the correct/available resource (colleague/contractor) for the task at hand. Scheduling can be manual, semi automated or automated.
Enables mobile working
- Field services is available via a mobile app so you can view your schedule, use GPS to navigate to the next appoint. While at the appointment you can complete tasks and ask customers to sign them off.
- Offline capability – this is a big one and seems to be a sticking point for many apps. When you’re offline any submissions will upload automatically when you get a signal.
- Completing inspections – This tool could be used for a number of processes from checking repairs that have been completed to various compliance checks.
- Customers can view and create works orders via a portal, they can track the contractor and receive text notifications so they know when they’ll be arriving.
- Lots of data from works orders and IOT will enable housing associations (if their data is good) to complete some great analysis and become a more proactive organisation. For example, if you have been replacing lots of kitchen cupboards in a certain area you may want to pick that up in cheaper planned works rather than lots more responsive repairs.
Field Service can come into its own when you add automation and remote assist to the process. Here’s a couple of examples.
The Self Diagnosing boiler
The pressure drops on a boiler IOT triggers a work order and schedules the correct contractor or leaves it in a queue ready to be manually assigned. The customer receives an update via their preferred method of contact and the boiler engineer visits to repair/replace the part before the boiler shuts down completely.
Helping colleagues on site
As you progress with the product you could use remote assist to help people out in the field. For example if you have a DLO you can offer support from the office to multiple contractors without having to travel all the way to the property. This is all done via a mobile device where the person providing the support can provide key bits of detail. You can also bring in more than one expert if required and use it all for training/upskilling. However, a word of caution. It does look like much of this could be done via Microsoft teams, so could be an opportunity to save on license costs.
This is a big one… as the data on repairs, their cost and frequency grows you’ll be in a position to identify the properties/areas you spend the most money, negotiate repair contracts or plan cyclical works.. This data can also be used to identify what parts of the system could be automated to make the most of its functionality.
How much does it cost?
Here’s detail about costs, obviously with the public sector pricing this may be cheaper. I’m not a licensing expert so its probably a good idea to speak to Microsoft if you need more detail.
- Here’s a really good Microsoft course on getting started with Field services
- You can also watch the #D365ForHousing – Field Service Q&A where Maria Wrzesniak (Technical Specialist at Microsoft) gave a great demo of the capabilities.
Rolling out Field Services
I like a proof of concept, especially when you’re looking at an application with a lot of functionality like Field Services. Here’s a few suggested steps that may help out if you decide to go down this route. Each one should be documented and lessons learnt picked up ready for full deployment:
- Configuration – This is probably the most important part of the process. Use KPI’s, colleague skill sets, resource categories, work order types and statuses to get the best out of the product.
- Update Dynamics 365 – You should add a geo code to properties impacted by the pilot. If your data is good then you should be able to do this using out the box functionality. You will also need to enable bing maps on forms.
- Users should be set up with dedicated skills so that Field Services can match the work order to the correct person. You can also add how proficient they are so you may want an expert to support a new tradesperson during a visit.
- Sounds obvious but each of these steps should be tested using the happy path (eg: booking added, scheduled, completed) but also down the not so happy path (eg: booking made, rescheduled, contractor arrives on new date but the customer isn’t in. On the way to another appointment the customer calls and says they are now in).
- Training – Another obvious one but it looks like Field Services will need two types of training. One for those scheduling and monitoring appointments and another for those using the app. All this could be done as part of one session so each role understands the whole process.
- Analysis – The pilot should give you some great data that will help you plan an extension of the pilot or a full roll out.
A bit of a gotcha (at the moment)
Some in the sector are looking to use field service to schedule colleague appointments eg: ASB visits, new tenancy visits etc. which makes perfect sense and can help enable things like patchless working. However, although you can see someone’s field service appointments in outlook the scheduling tool doesn’t integrate fully.
This means that while looking to schedule (manually/automatically) someone to do a new tenancy visit you wont have visibility of their current calendar appointments within Field Services. I understand that this functionality is on the Field Service road map. Until it lands it may be worth having a conversation the team at Fast.Lean.Smart (fls), a company recommended by Microsoft and currently making some great inroads into the sector. Their powerful scheduling tool can integrate with Outlook and Field Services which makes it look a tempting offer for those trying to mobalise all front line colleagues.
FLS will be taking part in Junes #D365ForHousing Q&A Session. Become a member (for FREE) or sign in here to join the Scheduling Q&A Session
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