Approaching Field Service Management Software Development
March 1, 2016
It’s a known fact that employees who have better tools at their disposal are more productive and effective on the job and in the field.
Advancements in management software development, machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things are equipping mobile workforces with the ability to make more proactive decisions when it comes to diagnostics, maintenance and repair.
According to research from the AberdeenGroup, 82% of field service organizations planned to implement or expand mobile initiatives in 2015. You may be considering implementing a mobile solution, but aren’t sure how to approach it. Before getting started, be sure you’ve explored the value you hope to provide. Having “shiny and new” mobile software is sufficient for some organizations, but without a deeply intentional purpose, the applications won’t gain adoption or provide return on investment (ROI).
So where to begin?
Start with your end users.
What do they want in a tool? What are their biggest pain points while in the field? Can a software solution address any of these challenges?
“The biggest mistake made by executives purchasing field service management software is not talking to experienced field technicians to properly assess their requirements.” – DeWayne Lehman, Independent IT Consultant to Fortune 500s
Don’t strictly interview field technicians; observe them too. Ride along with them in the field to truly get a sense of what their day looks like, how much time is wasted on repeatable tasks, where processes can be improved and where efficiencies can be made.
Campaign for stakeholder support.
Who are the internal audiences that will be affected by implementing software? Who is required to sign off on the project? What do they want to achieve from the software? Do these audiences want to boost efficiency and productivity? Have company leaders mandated IT departments to reduce costs or increase profitability?
Be sure your stakeholders all agree on the business objectives your product intends to address immediately and in the future. Developing a product that is architected to scale over time is critical if you intend to add more users or significantly increase features in the future.
Determine your budget.
Unless you have internal development teams with the capacity to take on new projects, you will likely need a development partner. Make sure you have the budget set aside to adequately address the needs of the project.
Compile your requirements.
Now that you’ve determined what your budget is and what your users want to see in an application, it’s time to decide what features are critical to success. Do you have a tight deadline? Maybe you want to integrate smart forms preloaded with customer information that allow field service employees to reduce the time they spend on routine tasks. Perhaps you want to leverage a software solution that optimizes scheduling or provides electronic proof of attendance. Whatever you want to achieve, deciding what features are mission-critical up front will help your team both deliver the product on time and plan for future phases of development.
Plan for back-end systems integration.
Enterprise software rarely works in isolation. Likely, your field management mobile product will need to share information across multiple systems. But what are those systems? Are they all proprietary or are there third-party integration considerations? For example, should other departments be alerted in order to have job-specific parts ready for the field?
Choose a development partner.
This is a tricky task, no matter the size of the project. As for non-technical managers, evaluating the expertise of developers is almost impossible. Meet with the team in person, if possible. If you are going to work with the developers over a long period of time, you’ll want to make sure the chemistry and communication is good between your two teams. Ask for references. Have previous client projects been delivered on time and within budget and scope? Did the development team go above and beyond to ensure their client enjoyed the experience? How sound is the product?
Beyond customer satisfaction, does the development team have the capacity and scalability to work with you over time? Do they have full-stack capabilities? What processes do they have in place to deliver a quality product? Make sure they can plan, design, develop and deliver within your timeline. Ask lots of questions – development is a big commitment! For more on how to choose a development partner, read this piece.
Don’t forget about training.
No matter how good the end product is unless employees understand how it functions, how to use it and why it matters, they won’t realize software’s full value or integrate it into their workflows.
As software replaces archaic processes, it will take employees time to transition from “the old way of doing things.” Look for management experts in your organization who can help you socialize the product roll out. A large-scale roll out of a new product can impact company culture – so make sure you first ask for their buy-in, then teach them how to use it and finally, demonstrate the product’s potential.
What does success look like? Benchmark baseline data and determine what key performance indicators (KPIs) are important to your employees and decision-makers. If you know how to measure the effectiveness of the app, it will be easier to design and develop a solution that will be seen as a good investment.
Assign ongoing maintenance.
Software requires updates, bug fixes, general maintenance and new feature releases during the lifetime of a product. If you’ve outsourced your product development, your internal teams should be able to handle ongoing maintenance once a strong architectural approach is developed by your external product team.