Prettying your email templates in Field Motion

FieldMotion field service management software has many parts to it which generate and send emails. Up until now, we’ve kept the design of those emails to be very bare-bones, but over the last few weeks, we took it upon ourselves to add a personalised touch to the emails, making sure the paperless forms of your corporate letters look just like the printed forms.

We added a configuration page for creating email templates, in which you can design the emails as if you were creating a document in Word. You can add images, tables, etc. This lets you create your corporate letter-head feel for the emails. Dragging the office look into paperless mobile forms!

You can set one of those template to be the site default. When an email is being sent, this template will be chosen if no other is already set.

In the Forms section, you can set specific templates for each Form type. So, if you just finished a task in your job management app and an inspection report to send off, you can make the email look different than a time-sheet report, let’s say.

As an example, here’s one I just generated for testing purposes (image on right – click to view):

Pretty, right?

Because emails are part of any workflow management software and you won’t be manually sending every email that your customers receive, it’s important that you have some measure of control over how they look.

If you want a demo of FieldMotion’s features, contact us and we’ll be happy to arrange it!

Tracking your mobile workers in FieldMotion

FieldMotion’s field worker software automatically adds some geolocation data onto important events in order to allow measurement of distance traveled by the mobile workers, estimation of time to the next job (etc), or even just so the person in the office knows what field workers are near a job in order to be assigned it.

When a signature is take, the time and location is recorded. This is important, because a signature is a record of authenticity, so it is good to be able to verify not just that the recorded signature matches a person’s paper signature, but also that the person and the mobile worker were at a specific place at a specific time.

Photographs are datetime/location stamped in the field worker app as well, so we can say that a specific photo was taken at a definite time and location. For example, you will sometimes want the mobile worker software to verify that a photo was taken before or after a certain time or event, or that it was at a specific location. An example might be the taking a photo of a delivered asset, in order to verify when and where it was delivered.

We also stamp the events when you say you are on to way to a job, have started a job, or are completing the job. From a financial point of view, this is valuable information, as it allows the accountants to charge accurately for distance travelled and to figure out the mobile worker’s allowance, and allows the managers to manage field workers based on current locations.

In the office part of the field engineer management software, we encourage the managers to record the location of customers because it lets us set up route optimisation for the fieldworker, using our dynamic scheduler software.

Forms on Mobile Devices

Mostly when describing what we do, we’ve talked about the industry itself, “field service management”, but when you get right down into the details, what we’re mostly working on is putting forms on mobile devices so that engineers can fill in their report data easily in a digital manner so it doesn’t need to be done twice – once by the engineer in a notebook, and again by a clerk in the office through data entry. FieldMotion is mobile forms software.

Some mobile field solutions companies offer specific forms for mobile devices (such as the Fire Safety industry’s “Pas 79 2016”), and reports for those specific forms. However, this is a very constrained way of working – if you need to track further information related to the job, you are then forced to write it in a notebook, which is exactly what we’re trying to get a way from.

Instead, we offer the ability to create mobile forms custom to your needs. Whatever questions you need answered, you simply create a form that includes that question. And you then can either tailor your report to include the answer, or you can even have the information forwarded into a follow-up form and report.

A big part of form design for the mobile office is that the engineer must not wade through pages after pages of questions, when they are looking for a specific question. Instead, we offer two solutions – forms can be broken down into expandable sections (you just see the header, until you expand it), and we can also hide questions or sections depending on what’s already been answered.

image source

New features in the Dynamic Scheduler

This week, we concentrated on development of one of our flagship features – the dynamic scheduler.

The dynamic scheduler is a field service scheduling software tool that lets you automatically assign jobs to your engineers. It tries to find the shortest route in order to finish the jobs, based on a number of criteria.

The field scheduling software can set your jobs so that they require that your engineers have specific skills. You can set work hours for the engineers so they are not assigned jobs in the middle of the night or weekend. You can “stick” some jobs so they must be done at specific times.

The work this week was on enhancing the job scheduling software so it has additional new features. You can now:

Set work-days and hours for your engineers. Previously, it was hard-coded that jobs would be assigned Monday-to-Friday, 9 to 5, and anything outside those hours would be heavily discouraged by the heuristic. You can now set “shifts” for your engineers, and specific work-days.

Set daily end-points for your jobs. Previously, the routes would be calculated from a “work-base” (for example, the engineer’s home) and radiate outwards from there, but there was no guarantee that the routes would lead the engineer back home at the end of the day. Because European law says that field-workers need to be paid for the hours it takes to get to/from work, this means some routes could end up with the company paying overtime as the engineer simply drives home from the last job of the day. The route planner now designs the routes so that routes end up every day at the work base. Basically, routes are loops now where they were previously strings.

The system would try its best to stop at 8 hours in a day. But if jobs are four hours each and there is 30 minutes travel between them, this could cause the planner to assign just one job per day. We have added in overtime rules to allow the planner to assign jobs that might stretch the daily work hours a bit.

We have also added a new feature to allow you to add any overdue jobs to the pool of jobs being scheduled. So you can say “I want to schedule jobs assigned between Tuesday and Friday, and put any overdue jobs into that mix as well”. With pest control scheduling software, you don’t want to have to wait too long for a job to be rescheduled, if it has already been put off once.

Some jobs require that a specific engineer do them. Maybe the customer likes the engineer, or they have specific knowledge of the job. You can now “stick” a user to a job so the scheduler doesn’t try assign the job to someone else. this is particularly useful in service industry scheduling software where the product being services is unique.

how to: paperless office

We created an online savings calculator a few years ago which calculates how much money you can save by going paperless with our field service management software.

It measures a few important metrics, but I think one of the most metrics is how much time is spent filling in documents, and the cost in paper for these.

In a traditional services company, the engineer goes to the office to get the orders for the day, fills in reports when out on the job using notepads, and then returns to the office with those filled notepads to have the details re-typed by a clerk. One company I worked with literally had shelved rooms with boxes on each shelf, each filled with notepads of reports.

Apart from the cost of those notepads (minor) and the cost of storage (grows year by year), the biggest issue here is that a notepad that sits in a box in a room is not readable by the customer or by the engineer. If you go visit that customer again and need to recap on what was done last time, you need to dig out that notepad.

And so companies invest in clerks whose major role is to retype those notepad reports into a digital format that can be stored in a database or folder of documents, and emailed out to the engineer or customer when requested.

The cost of a clerk is prohibitive – why are you paying someone to type up something which has already been written?

With service management software, the report is filled in on an app, using your mobile device, such as an Android or iOS phone or tablet. Because the information is stored digitally, there is no need to retype it. Simply take the information from the phone and store it in the database!

The next waste of paper is with the reports that you send to your customers. Do they really need a typed report? Most companies these days are perfectly happy to accept digital copies of your reports, which they can store in their own databases, and which can easily be regenerated by yourself if the customer loses their copy.

A clerk is traditionally needed in order to create these reports, as the format that an engineer writes in may not be readable to your customer. And a report can run for 60 pages or more, such as the PAS 79 2016 form used in fire risk assessment.

With field service software, though, the information can be entered into the mobile device in one format, and neatened up and output in another format automatically when it comes time to send the report.

With FieldMotion, we completely automate the process – the engineer fills in the details of their report as they work, and then when they have the customer signatures entered (again, using the mobile device), they mark the job complete, the report is automatically created by the workflow management software, and the customer has the report in their inbox within minutes of the job being done.

With our own office, it has gotten to the point that when I needed to draw something up to illustrate a point to one of my programmers, I had to go search for paper, and then had to go search for a pen afterwards.

Paperless office solutions such as FieldMotion not only reduce the storage requirements (and associated fire risk) in your office, but also speed up your job to the point that we have one testimonial which states “The best was when we measured from receiving a call – job to engineer- job completed- job invoiced took 25 mins in total – never known before within our company!”

Why certification is important

We’re working through certification at the moment for some ISO standards and some computer security standards, in order to prove to ourselves and our service management software clients that we’re doing everything correctly and by the book. At first, we were exasperated at the need for these things, but there are really important reasons why certifications are necessary, as I’m sure you are already aware!

It’s not good enough us saying “your data is safe with us”. Anyone could say that. But if you are to use our service, you would be much happier to hear that a third-party who has no reason to lie has assessed our business and pronounced it safe.

A lot of our risk assessment software clients are risk assessors for the fire industry, or inspectors for pest control. In those industries, it is important for their customers to be able to point to their certificates and say “We were inspected by independent experts, and pronounced up to standard”. This is especially important when you watch the news and realise what can go wrong if you’re not up to standard. The recent fire in London’s Grenfell Tower is an example. An example certification in the fire risk assessment industry is the PAS 79 2016, which we do as standard in our fire risk assessment software.

Our own industry involves data management and data security, so we spend a lot of time working on security. We use vulnerability checkers such as Nessus and Metasploit in order to find issues in our workflow management software that might already be known about elsewhere, and we use penetration testers to find the issues that software can’t find.

Of course, it’s not enough to simply say “I tested my software and it is secure”, which is why we deliberately hired penetration testers (good hackers) to try break into our systems. So far, not a single crack in our wall has been found.

Our fire safety and pest control software clients provide certification of a different and probably more vital importance – if you go to a restaurant, you want to know that the restaurant has been inspected by a pest control company and does not have bugs or rodents walking all over the food. And if you live in a house or work in a building (which you probably do), then you would like to know that the building has been inspected by a reputable third-party fire and risk assessment company and found to be safe.

There are advantages to choosing certification companies that use FieldMotion. We have proven over and over that we can cut down on the time it takes for an inspector to finish their inspection and write up their documentation. And, because everything done through FieldMotion is recorded digitally, there is an easy-to-search history of everything that your inspection company has ever done relating to your property.

Also, because we provide our job management software clients with “customer portals”, which allow their customers to click in and see all work relating to them, it is possible that you’ll have your certification printed and placed on your wall within minutes of the engineer finishing the inspection.

Improved reports for risk assessment industry users

This week, we concentrated on improving the creation and output of reports for risk assessment software.

These reports tend to be 60 or more pages long (the PAS 79 2016 report, for example), and so can normally take hours of tedious work for the engineer to fill out. By using FieldMotion, you cut that down to just the click of a button.

We overcame two difficulties this week – the first is that some service management software reports may require a mixture of landscape and portrait pages, and the second is that there can be a lot of repeated sections in reports, where the details may change, but the layout stays the same (header, title, questions, etc).

We already were able to provide mixed landscape/portrait pages when creating reports in PDF format, because the way we created those pages was more like painting than writing – each element on every page was precisely formatted and positioned. But with the newer risk-assessment type forms, we needed a more flexible format, so created a method of report-generation that produces Word-style documents, which are flexible and can be as long as they need to be.

The problem with generating Word-style documents (could be OpenOffice, Word, WPS, or any other similar format), is that they’re not really designed to be created by a server, so we need to generate them in HTML format, and then convert to Word by using third-party conversion software, such as libreoffice, phpdocx, and other conversion methods. There is always a loss in the translation.

In a way, it’s like trying to write a book in German by first writing it in French and then using an online translator such as Google Translate to convert from the French to the German. There will always be a loss in either meaning or nuance.

This week, we found a way of improving the existing Word document conversions so that they retained our instructions to switch to Landscape or Portrait at specific points.

The next big breakthrough this week was in how we are now able to easily create large repeatable sections in custom-formatted ways, in a way that’s much easier for our end users than the previous method we had.

It’s hard to describe in text when I mean by this, but I’ll do my best.

In risk assessment reports, there will be parts of the report where you must itemise each risk, such as fire hazards, doors, combustibles, gas canisters, and must provide some information about each of these, including how the company mitigates risk for them, any expiry dates, etc.

The same is true of other similar industries, such as pest control, where there will be bait boxes inspected, etc., and reports drawn up about them.

This kind of item investigation is predictable – you know that if you have ten fire extinguishers, then there will be ten sections in the report which look similar.

Before this week, we had no way of providing an easy way to enter this into the risk assessment or pest control software such that there could be an arbitrary number of items investigated and reported. Field management software is filled out on mobile devices, which by their nature do not have keyboards or other methods of easy mass-data-input, so anything we could do to improve this was needed.

This week, we came up with a method of drawing up a layout of how the data should be shown, and then telling the report “output the data using that format”, applying the rule to specific tables filled in on the app.

This allows us to have arbitrarily large numbers of items entered into the form and printed to the report in an easily-formatted way.

It was a good week for our workflow management system – two big advances that reduce the work needed by both the end-user, and by the implementation team that generates the report templates

Iterative development

From our own point of view, and from the points of view of our customers, it is nice to be at a point in our service management software development where we are developing iteratively instead of coming out with new tricks every week.

image: clean, rinse, repeat

While I love it when we develop something new and exciting, it can be nerve-wracking for us for the following weeks, as we try to find out what these new shiny toys have done to our solid, stable, well-tested field service management engines.

New tricks never affect the existing workflow management system customers, because they are on servers that we do not edit except for the occasional bug-fix. The only customers that get to see the new shiny stuff are those that specifically asked for it, or those that asked for other new things such that we were forced to place them on our testing server while we worked on the next release.

FieldMotion is now so flexible that whenever we’re asked to develop anything new, it more than likely ends up that we already are able to do it, so my job is sometimes simply to listen to the request, and then point out how it can done already with the workflow management software.

Sometimes, though, we are asked to do something that’s just slightly beyond what we can do at the moment. It’s never far away; just slightly.

For example, today I was asked if it was possible to do a certain thing with RFID tags. After thinking about it, I suggested a way we could do it that would involve adding maybe only 20-30 lines of code to the field service management app, and yet it opens up our possibilities to yet another broad channel of potential customers.

This kind of thing happens often enough that every six months, we have enough new little tricks that we can release a new version of FieldMotion’s field service engineer software, confident that there is enough newness in there to merit the release, and yet it is similar enough to the previous release that our current clients won’t be shocked at the difference.

Iterative development allows us to “tune” the workflow system to fit better with the customers, knowing for sure that the system already works very well for them, and we’re just adding enhancements, not adding whole new sections that need manuals.

I was explaining earlier today to a new developer that when we create a new widget or page for the field management software, we need to make sure it is as absolutely simple and obvious as possible. He was telling me how he liked the power that the CMS Joomla gives him when he creates a website. Yes, it gives you a lot of power, but it’s at the expense of usability. Every time I have to work with a website that uses Joomla as its engine, I have to learn all over again how it works. That is bad user experience.

When you use any part of FieldMotion’s workflow software, it is straightforward and obvious how it works, whether you’ve been using it every day since you got your account, or this is your first time ever seeing it.

In my old life as a web developer, I would say to clients that “If you need a manual, I’ve built it wrong”. I stick to that slogan and make sure that everything we produce in our system is clean and obvious.

This is also why I love iterative development – instead of developing more and more and more stuff that piles up on the field service software like turrets and walls on a fairy-tale castle, we carefully expand the system just enough to fit the new trick in, and then just as carefully make sure that it is seamless and easy to understand.

Customer Relationship Management

At its heart, all companies need to manage customer relations.

For the smallest of companies, this can be as simple as meeting a customer in the shops and waving hello, or calling up someone you haven’t spoken to in a while to tell them of someone that might need their services (and to remind them you exist and hint that they give you more work).

For larger companies, the customers necessarily become more remote – you may deal with so many customers that you are not able to remember the names of most of them and you need customer relationship management software to keep on top of things.

As the company grows, it becomes important to manage your customer relations – to make sure that your sales and public relation teams are always reaching out to make sure everything is going well, to get feedback on any pain points that might have arisen, and to point out new features in your product that they may not yet be aware of. In short, you need to remind them that you exist, just like with smaller companies.

To help with this, FieldMotion has customer relationship management built right into the core. We use it ourselves to manage all of our own customers, and are constantly working to improve this.

Your sales team can use the Customers section of our core (which we call the CRM, by the way!) to set reminders of who to call, write notes about your customers and any phone calls, upload files related to the customers, create jobs related to those customers, etc. Think of it as sales rep management software.

We find the “callback” feature to be particularly useful when building up a pipeline of work or sales.

Smaller companies are usually unaware of the potential of building up a “pipeline” of work so I should explain.

When you call up a potential lead for the first time, they are probably unaware of you and just want to get off the phone. This is natural. You might have been given their number by someone that knows the CEO, or maybe an employee of the company passed on the details, or maybe it’s even just a cold-call. Either way, the first phone call is usually a dud.

For inexperienced sales people, this is the end of the line. They got rejected, they give up on that number and go onto the next.

However, if you ask “Can I call back in two weeks? Give you a chance to look us up?” (example – your wording will vary), then they are likely to say “Yes”. You then set a callback for yourself for two weeks from today, and a note about the call.

Two weeks later, you call them back and are able to say “Hi, we were talking two weeks ago, on the 17th, and I was wondering if we could go a bit further today”. You’ve established a small link with the company and are now able to talk a little about what you do.

The process is slow, but each phone call brings you closer to a sale. Every company and product is different, so it’s hard to put a figure on it, but if you read what sales people say online about it, you find numbers such as ten phone calls to get a face-to-face meeting, and ten more calls to get a sale.

If you are constant about it, you find that eventually your callbacks work out and you are getting a constant stream of sales.

It’s important that even if the pipeline looks like it is full of deals that will close soon, you are consistently adding new potentials to it.

Imagine the scenario: let’s say you have 20 jobs to do in the coming month and you think you’ll be so busy making money that you can’t make any phone calls. Does this make you happy? Well, it shouldn’t. Because you have been unable to make any phone calls, the month afterwards will not have as many jobs to do. Your pipeline will have stalled, and it will take another few months to get it back up and running.

You need to be constantly working on all three parts of the deal – qualifying leads to convert them to potential sales, then working on potentials to bring them to the sale, and finally making the sale and doing to work.

Even after a sale, you’re not finished.

You now need to set callbacks to follow up on the work and make sure the customer is happy. Call a month later. Call six months after that. Whichever schedule makes sense to you.

Not only does this keep the customer happy that you are on top of their business and making sure everything is well, but it also keeps your company on the tip of their tongue. If they are asked for tips on who to go to for similar work, they will mention you – especially if you do good work and are constantly checking in with them.

All of the above is easy to do through FieldMotion, and it doesn’t matter what industry you are in.

While our core business is field service management, the CRM part of our system is powerful and flexible enough to cater to all businesses.

Give us a call about our CRM, and we’ll talk you through how we work.

Field Service Scheduling Software

Scheduling is a big part of field service.

When a boiler is inspected, you may want to schedule a maintenance visit in six months or a year. If you are doing a health checkup on a patient and all is well, you might schedule the next checkup for a year from the visit, or for a month from the visit if something seems a little off. Or if you’re using FieldMotion as sales rep management software and your potential customer is busy for now “until after the 15th”, you can arrange to come back on the 16th.

In FieldMotion, you can set the date of jobs in a few different ways.

There is always, of course, the method whereby you create a job, and then set the date manually. For example, you create a job and set that it will happen on the 27th of August.

Then there are workflow-based follow-ups, where upon completion of a job, you can set one or more followups based on rules such as “7 days afterwards”, etc, and the workflow management system automatically books a job in for you.

Or if you know you need to do something on a periodic basis, you can set up a recurring appointment in several ways. For example, you might want to go out on the 6th of every month, or every Tuesday and Wednesday, or every 13 days, or on specific days every year.

Recurring jobs are tricky to manage in service management software. When you specify a definite single date for a job, there is one single entry in the database and that’s easy to manage, but with recurrences, it’s a lot more difficult. If you say “I want to go out there every Friday”, exactly how many jobs must be placed into the database? If you don’t put in an expiry date, then the answer is “infinite”, which is not easy even for the best field service software.

Our first solution to this was that when you set up recurrences, the follow up jobs would only be created after the first jobs were completed. So if you set up to see every Friday, then you’ll actually only see this Friday’s job in your list until you complete it, and then next week’s appears.

This wasn’t good enough, though. Based on feedback, we changed our workflow management software so that recurrences are calculated out 30 days in advance. So if you have something that happens daily, you can see 30 jobs ahead of you. This added complexity to the job scheduling software, though – what happens if you change your mind and want the recurrence to be three days a week? We had to adjust it so when changes happen to the recurrence frequency, the recurrences are recalculated.

But then some people need to see months in advance. So we recently added that you can set up your recurrences to calculate anywhere between 30 and 1000 days in advance, depending on your needs. So, if you like an uncluttered calendar that only shows what you need to know now, you can set it to 30. And if you need the field service software to show exactly where everyone will be 9 months from now on a Tuesday, then you can also set that up.

Talk to us about how you schedule your work.