Field Service Management

What to Look for in a Field Service Automation: Features, Benefits, and Trends

10 min read

Did you know what 4 out of 10 field service companies consider their biggest challenge? Outdated or insufficient technology, according to IFS’s global study. It’s a shame since only companies that keep up with tech trends stay on top of today’s ferocious market. 

What benefits do these businesses get from being tech-savvy? More efficient work, lighter workload, and happier customers. How do they achieve this? Mostly with automation. Can you improve your field service this way and enjoy the same benefits? Absolutely. That’s the gist of this article, and we invite you to read it and learn everything you need about field service automation.

What is field service automation?

Providing field service involves juggling multiple processes and monitoring employees’ tasks. Every little detail must be registered, double-checked, and cross-referenced to ensure that the right employee does the right job at the right time and has the necessary resources. 

In the old-school way of doing things, this results in hours of manual, repetitive work and stacks of paperwork, either physical or digital. However, field service automation almost eliminates manual labor, handling tasks within seconds. 

Take, for example, a company renting agricultural machinery. When it’s time for a vehicle to undergo regular technical inspection, the system automatically assigns a technician. No need for managers to waste time tracking dates, finding a free tech, or scheduling an inspection.

And it’s just one of the many features of field service automation. When used to its full potential, automation software can handle manual tasks at every stage of the field service process. Let’s see how it does that. 

Key features of field service automation solution

You can take your team’s work to the next level with some of the most common features found in field service automation systems: 

Scheduling and dispatch

This feature allows the system to easily assign and dispatch technicians with the right skills to the jobs nearest to them. It works similarly to Uber or other taxi services, sending tickets to free technicians in the area. The only difference is that the system also checks if a technician has the necessary skills for the job.  

Inventory management

This feature provides complete visibility and simplifies inventory paperwork. For example, technicians can answer clickable surveys instead of manually describing all the details about equipment or vehicle conditions. The system collects, updates, and stores all the information, keeping it relevant and easily accessible. Plus, it can send automatic reminders for regular tech inspections or give a heads-up when supplies need restocking. 

Workload management

Automation isn’t just about getting the right tech to the right job; it also helps track and balance the workload. When a new assignment comes in, the system immediately sends a ticket to the technician with the necessary skills nearest to the job area. But if they aren’t available, it doesn’t build a task queue but reroutes the ticket to a free technician in the neighboring area. 

Reporting and analytics

Automation helps with reporting in two ways. First, it gives employees a convenient way to report their work as soon as they finish – think surveys or forms with auto-filled fields wherever possible. Second, the system collects, processes, and presents information in a neat format, offering insight into the company’s performance. So, instead of wasting hours compiling reports, managers can just click a button for the necessary analytics and easily track results. 

Integration and customization capabilities

Most automation systems allow users to customize their functionality according to their needs. This includes integrating third-party services, such as CRM and email services, to automate the entire working cycle. 

The benefits of field service automation

Automation features can produce remarkable results when tailored to the company’s working processes. Let’s examine these benefits in more detail. 

Increased efficiency

Automation gives a significant boost to work efficiency since it tackles all manual tasks in a snap:

  • Cutting down time spent on admin tasks such as scheduling, reporting, and data collecting
  • Minimizing manual errors leading to missed orders or double-bookings
  • Reducing paperwork 
  • Streamlining processes
  • Speeding up service delivery

Looking at this list, it’s no wonder that 94% of service professionals in top-performing companies see automated field service management as a major productivity booster.

Improved satisfaction

When efficiency increases, and manual work decreases, companies enjoy two benefits. First, their customers are happier with faster, error-free service delivery. With an automated system, they can get real-time service status updates. 

Second, their employees are more satisfied since technicians have all the details to work smarter and have less paperwork to handle. This is especially important, as a whopping 73% of field technicians feel like they’re drowning in paperwork daily.

Stronger safety and compliance

Automation increases safety and compliance as the system reminds technicians to check their equipment regularly and follow safety protocols. Before automating processes, it is essential to establish clear documentation standards and accountability rules, which further strengthen compliance. For example, the system won’t allow new hires to take on assignments before they pass an accident prevention test and sign off on a corresponding form.

Better resource management

Automated systems come equipped with features like inventory, heavy assets tracking, and workload management, allowing companies to track and manage their resources without much effort. The system knows the techs’ locations and assignments during the day, meaning it can calculate fuel expenses and flag any suspicious activities. 

Cost savings and higher profit

All the benefits we’ve discussed lead to the main perk – saving costs and boosting profits. When you work more efficiently, make fewer mistakes, improve safety, and manage resources better, your costs naturally decrease. Your customers also become happier, which brings you more revenue. As a result, automating field service leads to higher profits.

Still, all these benefits hinge on choosing the right solution tailored to your company's needs.

Choosing the right field service automation solution

When selecting an automation solution, the first rule is to identify your needs and build your selection criteria around them. For example, a small, emerging business needs a solution with scaling options rather than an enterprise-sized package. Other criteria might be based on industry or company-specific needs, like focusing on tools for personnel or fleet management.

You should also pay attention to the universal criteria for any field service automation system. These include:

User-friendly interface

Your employees will need to learn a new way to interact with their working environment, which can be stressful, especially for those who are less tech-savvy. The least you can do to ease the transition is to ensure the system interface is intuitive.

Field service app

Availability of a mobile app

One unique thing about field service is that most of your employees are always, well… in the field. So, they rarely have access to a computer and need to be able to record and track their work using a mobile device. That’s why your automation system should come with a smartphone app. Technicians and other staff should find it easy to install and use this app, no matter where they are. 

Security features

Work-related information often ventures outside the office, so you must ensure that sensitive information can’t be leaked. A reliable system offers different access options tailored to employees’ roles and includes two-level authorization. And, of course, it employs security protocols and runs regular safety checks to prevent malicious attacks.

Advanced analytics

Analytics gives you a bird’s-eye view of your performance and helps understand how to improve it. Make sure your field service automation solution comes with advanced analytics tools that not only collect data but also present it in a visually compelling way as charts, graphs, or diagrams, offering data-backed answers to your questions. 

Customer self-service

This feature is essential if you want to keep your customers happy by keeping them informed. Think real-time updates on technicians’ locations, estimated arrival times, and accessible communication channels. Customers appreciate updates since they can better plan their time. By automating these updates, you save them from having to call your customer support and save time for your team.

Integration capabilities

Double-check that the new automation solution easily integrates with all the systems you’re currently using and has the potential for new integrations. Otherwise, you risk spending too much time and money researching how to integrate the necessary tools or migrate your data. 

Now that you know what to look for in an automation system, let's discuss how to implement it. 

Implementing field service automation

The success of field service automation depends on the system you choose and how you integrate it into your company’s workflow. Rather than just listing best practices, let’s first discuss what challenges they can address.

Challenges of adopting new technology 

You might say that these challenges are universal for many companies. So, let’s zoom in on them to see if your business might face one and how to solve it. 

Budget constraints

Investing in new technologies can drain your budget with direct expenses like buying software and indirect ones like engaging experts to choose the right software and training employees. So, companies on a tight budget often put off automating field service, thinking this will run them into debt. 

Lack of stakeholders' interest and resistance to change

Too often, main stakeholders, from field technicians to top executives, don’t quite understand why they need to change anything. Most people prefer to stick to familiar routines if they deliver results without significant issues. They also feel reluctant to learn new technologies and adopt new workflows. 

Work distraction

Adopting a new technology in a rush can disrupt the company’s work. Imagine this: your data suddenly gets scattered across digital systems and physical folders. Some employees have already grasped how to use an app, while others still struggle to download it and stick to familiar routines. Who needs this kind of chaos? That’s why some companies delay the transition forever, hoping for a slow day, while others jump right into it, praying that everything somehow works out. 

Best practices for introducing automation software 

To smoothly integrate new automation software, you should first get the whole company with its stakeholders on board. Take these steps:

  1. Research and calculate the potential ROI of adopting a field service automation system so that decision-makers can see its immediate and long-term benefits for the company and budget for it. 
  2. Highlight, summarize, and present the benefits of the transition for each group of stakeholders, from field technicians and managers to C-level execs. Once they see how the change will improve their daily routines, for example, by cutting paperwork, they’ll be more open to it. 
  3. Plan and complete data migration before switching to a new solution to be sure you have all the necessary data and won’t disrupt everyday work.
  4. Test the new solution with a small group of specialists, get their feedback, and fine-tune the system settings to ensure it’s convenient for them.
  5. Provide training for all employees on how to use the new system. 
  6. Prepare clear manuals and instructions to address any questions on using the system that might come up. 

These steps will clear the hurdles on your path toward field service automation, and you’ll quickly see the benefits of the change. 

Field service automation: Example from ElifTech

Wahoo Pools, a manufacturer of luxury pools for mansions, turned to ElifTech to develop a custom CRM and ERP solution that also doubled as a field service app. The solution consisted of web and mobile apps that helped the client’s field service workers (salespeople, construction workers, managers) manage leads, track sales, and process orders.

Typically in this industry, engineers would have to go to the construction site to take measurements, return to the office to draw up specifications, and work on a sales proposal. After all these calculations, the sales staff would draw up an invoice, contact the customer, and sign the invoice. Only then would construction begin.

Thanks to field service automation, workers can create proposals, convert approved proposals into active projects, and manage billing and invoicing directly from their work sites. Users can enter the necessary measurements and parameters, check material availability in the warehouse, and show the customer the final cost on the spot. This speeds up the sales cycle and converts more leads into customers.

In practice, such solutions benefit from custom modules that allow monitoring the construction status and managing field staff remotely.

Field service app development

The future of field service automation

Predicting the future is tricky, but through analyzing emerging trends, we can at least guess where field service automation is headed. Here are a few possibilities.

Rapid AI adoption

Quite a few field service automation systems already use AI, especially for analytics and resource management. However, as AI rapidly progresses, field automation will reach another level. For example, field technicians will be able to use sensors and scanners to feed real-time data into the system and get on-the-spot breakdowns of issues.

Rise of self-service

Today, as many as 67% of customers prefer knowledge bases, chatbots, online forms, and other types of self-service to the hassle of contacting customer support. Field workers also find them convenient, as they can easily access all the information about the customers’ problems on their screens and prepare the necessary tools to fix them. 

As automation systems improve, customers and technicians will increasingly rely on self-service tools instead of support agents as intermediaries. This demand will, in turn, drive the development of self-service tools such as chatbots and virtual voice assistants. 

Greater demand for flexibility

A whopping 99.5% of field workers use mobile devices on the job. Why not capitalize on it and provide technicians with some serious flexibility? With growing shortages of field technicians in Europe, the USA, Australia, and other countries, companies may offer greater flexibility as a significant draw for highly demanded employees, which has become a fixture in the post-pandemic world. Field technicians don’t really need to sit in the office waiting for new assignments. Thanks to automation systems, they can also send reports straight from their smartphones wherever they are.  

As the systems evolve, they will accommodate more flexibility while beefing up software security to prevent issues that can emerge when many employees connect from different locations.  

As a result, field service operations will lean heavily on technologies to improve customer and employee experience. 

Conclusion

Field service automation isn't just a buzzword – it's a game-changer for your company that offers many benefits. The possibilities range from optimized scheduling to better resource use and happier customers and employees. 

But remember: it’s essential to have the right software matching general requirements like advanced analytics, robust security protocols, and integration capabilities. To build one, you may need some help from a trusted field service app development company with a proven track record in field service management and integrating a field service automation system tailored specifically to the needs and challenges of your business.

If you're interested, we may offer you a consultation on how to transform your operations with field service app development solutions and get everything you need to streamline workflows and elevate your customer satisfaction.

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