Deb Mielke and Alasdair McKenzie of FieldAware reveal the top five things CFOs should consider when extending business software to field service personnel.
Field service is taking on a big role for manufacturers and distributors of equipment. In the past, field service was often viewed as overhead and a cost center on the balance sheet. Today however, field service is not only a profit center, it’s a proven way for companies to increase revenue (and profitability) and build brand awareness and loyalty. An even more attractive facet of the field service business is the recurring revenue generated by service and maintenance contracts.
Field service organisations are critical components for manufacturers and distributors. However, because these organisations operate remotely, require a subset of the information resident in an ERP system (inventory, customer location/contacts, pricing and work history), and need capabilities that are rarely found in an ERP system (scheduling and dispatch, electronic signature capture, task lists, photo and video capture), they’ve often been excluded from participation in the ERP solution.
And with the cost of mobile ERP licenses always a consideration, field organisations often find themselves on an information system island that requires lots of manual data input and spreadsheet integration to get the job done.
However, today’s cloud-based, made for mobile field service management solutions are bridging the gap. Designed to work with existing ERP, CRM, accounting and other business systems, today’s mobile field service management systems enable CFOs to provide the information the field needs – when they need it. Further, they can add the capabilities the field needs (like scheduling and dispatch and electronic signature capture) at a cost that’s often significantly less than the purchase of mobile ERP user licenses.
Here are five things to consider before choosing to extend ERP information to the field:
- What does the field really need to know? Spend time up front making sure that the field gets the information they need, but not more than they need. For example, if your company is going to allow field personnel to generate on site quotes or work orders (for additional products or services), they’ll need to be able to include pricing information and inventory availability. They won’t need cost or profit margin information
- How does the field service management solution integrate with existing business systems? If it’s going to take 12 weeks of programming plus a year of professional services to configure the system, your return on investment might stretch out over years instead of just a few months. Look for a solution that includes an API (application programming interface) that is based on today’s web technologies (JSON), and a company that has experience integrating with systems like yours
- Is the mobile user interface easy to use? Another plus for mobile field service applications is that they were designed for use by field service personnel. ERP systems weren’t. As a result, field service management systems gain wider user acceptance more quickly and reduce end user training requirements. That means the field personnel spend less time training and more time generating revenue in the field
- What about the devices and device management? This is always a big question and there’s no one right answer. It all depends on your company’s unique business requirements. Some companies choose to let field personnel use their own smartphones or tablets (the industry term for this is BYOD or Bring Your Own Device). If BYOD is how your company chooses to move forward, then you’ll have to decide how software updates will be managed (by your company using mobile management software, outsourced to a third party service or by the users). You’ll also have to decide how to secure any customer data resident on the device – especially when field personnel are no longer employed by your company. Other companies provide field personnel with company smartphones and/or tablets and manage the devices, software and customer data using internal management systems or through a third party mobile management service
- Is the solution certified by your company’s ERP, CRM or accounting system provider? Nearly every ERP system provider has a process to certify third party application integrations. If the mobile field service management solution you are considering has met the criteria of the certification process, chances are good that it will work in your company’s environment as well
Extending ERP data to field personnel can help make your entire organisation more productive and profitable. However, before purchasing any mobile field management solution, it’s important to design the right fit of people, data, devices, APIs and applications.
Deb Mielke is director of partnerships, and Alasdair McKenzie is director of international at FieldAware.
About Robert Lovell
Business and finance journalist