Lessons from field service

Why is resource management in the corporate environment still a challenge?

 

You know the score. You’re faced with the need to find a quiet space to speak with a colleague or client, but didn’t book anywhere. So you grab what looks to be a free meeting room. And thus begins a logistical series of bumps and relocations. “Oh, sorry, didn’t realize you’d booked it,” you say. So you gather papers and move somewhere else, for a short time, at least.

Scheduling resources is possibly one of the most tantalizing opportunities offered by technology, but even the simplest of options remain outside our algorithmic grasp. Sure, options exist for meeting room scheduling — that’s not the point (and it leads to that other, standard part of office life — the “didn’t you check it was free on the calendar?” conversation).

Scheduling ourselves is also a huge challenge. This isn’t helped by the oh-so-close-but-not-quite compatibility between calendaring services from Microsoft, Google, and Apple et al. Those working within an organization can stick with one system (I can remember Microsoft saying the biggest problem it had to overcome, way back when it launched Exchange 5.5 was managing free/busy information). But right now, beyond sharing iCal data, there is little guarantee that a resource will be allocated.

Clearly nobody sent the memo that we’re working in ecosystems, not enterprises these days. Even if your company has a corporate standard, as soon as you try to book a meeting with a client or a supplier, you hit the challenge of knowing whether they actually received the meeting request. Oh, woe to all such services and a plague on their houses, as they try to drag you into a Skype session when no such facility exists, or offer a shared space only accessible to a subset of participants.

It should all be so simple, but it quite clearly is not for a number of reasons. First the complexity of resource scheduling, even for something as simple as calendaring meeting rooms, is beyond the ken of most of the tools corporate users have at their behest. Supply chain, fleet management and spares management companies have capabilities to deal with their specific needs, but these are as expensive as they are custom, and not suitable for the masses.

Not suitable yet, that should read. Consider Workwave for example, which offers field service management for organisations who rely on scheduling people to deliver their services, from home care to pest control, but whose heritage is in office efficiency. From Workwave and others we can see how field service is maturing, adding features such as video clips to be added to an invoice to show a job is complete, or location based mechanisms to enable more efficient routing.

In parallel, field service is looking towards analytics, to identify ways to become more efficient (or most likely, identify places where they are being inefficient) — such as using routing data to identify repeated bottlenecks. “You can get previews into customer experience hotspots, where possible issues are,” says Workwave’s CEO, Chris Sullens. The consequence is better orchestration, to the benefit of all parties — company, employee and customer. “For some categories, e.g. maid service, we can take a planned activity and make it on-demand,” continues Chris.

In other words, field service resource scheduling can move to real-time if the systems are there to manage it, increasing flexibility without adding cost. Such features clearly have a place beyond field service, as do more leading edge capabilities such as use of wearables. For these advanced capabilities to be effective however, they need to be open and integrated. “The challenge is, you want all or nothing,” explains Chris. “You’re going to have to hit a tipping point otherwise not going to get a benefit.” This is as true in the office environment as a food plant.

Technology has a habit of commoditizing, with features jumping from vertical-specific areas and into what might be termed ‘the mainstream’. In this case, our ability to orchestrate our time with each other and the resources we use appears tantalizingly close. But until either the majors address their compatibility issues (guys, nobody is going to walk away from your software if you integrate each others’ scheduling tools, really they are not), or somebody else comes up with an generalized mechanism for managing such things, we’ll have to stick with coping strategies.

Oh, sorry, did you book this meeting room? I’m just leaving…

 

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