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Even with solid back-office technology, things fall through the cracks

The customer is a thriving company that does installation and maintenance The company was capturing information and putting it into Excel Over the course of time, hundreds of service orders never got back to the office They didn’t find this out until an internal audit and the company lost a sizeable chunk of change This is all too common across the field service industry today

I wanted to share a recent call with a customer to illustrate what I see again and again with field service businesses. Despite best intentions and investments in technology, once a service order is in the service tech’s hand and into the field, there’s varying levels of liability over that piece of paper – and whether it’s correct or even if it  makes it back to the office.

The customer is a thriving 20-truck company that does installation and equipment maintenance.  They use QuickBooks as their accounting software, and about 12 years ago they had a family member write a Microsoft  Access database for them. The Access database had everything you’d expect  - the ability to quote new gear/services, schedule services, set up service orders every three months, etc.  It had nice reporting  – they could see rental equipment, customer’s equipment and service history, everything they needed.

The company was capturing all this information and putting it into Excel. Once they got their orders set up they’d print out two copies – put one in a folder and send one out to field with the tech. Over the course of time, hundreds of service orders never got back to the office. They didn’t find this out until an internal audit at which point many of the services weren’t billable and the company lost a sizeable chunk of change.

This is all too common across the field service industry today. Most companies have invested in technologies for the back office – accounting programs, customer databases, and scheduling software packages, that fill their needs:  What does the customer want? What am I charging for it? What’s it cost me?  When does the customer want it? What time do I have available?  With this information, they can send the service order out. They print out the order, give it to the dispatcher and then out to the field it goes.

The technology focus has been on the back office – some programs work together, but most do not.  This customer’s Access database is a great tool and has served them well. What’s needed is the ability to capture information directly from the field technician, so things don’t fall through the cracks and invoices are accurate and timely. Extending technology into the field isn’t a new concept, but without automating all the pieces, there is still the potential for missed opportunities and lost revenue.

This particular customer decided to use all of their existing back office systems and integrate that with a new, mobile component for the field. What they will have is an automated process from the back office to the field and back again. There is a lot more accountability that happens automatically because the work done in the field is now tied to the other systems. And, it’s not just accountability, there are efficiencies:  when a job is completed out in the field, an invoice can be automatically generated before the field tech leaves the site; services can be scheduled and dispatched in real-time. The list of benefits goes on and on.

The moral of this story is NOT “Keep family members away from technology”. In fact, the family member who wrote the Access database was part of the call we had and he was the first to jump on board with the integrated mobile concept. He didn’t realize the answer was right in the palm of his hand.

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