Field Service Software in the UK and Ireland

While we have customers in many countries, the vast majority of our active users are in the UK and Ireland.

We have a screen which we use to measure lag from various areas, so we can figure out if reported issues are within FieldMotion (FM) or local networking issues. When it lights up a new location, I am sometimes reminded of a screen that was shown in the lobby of the Google buildings in Dublin that showed active search queries around the world and the location the query came from.

As I glance at the board, I see activity in London, Cardiff, Sheffield, Newcastle Liverpool, Bradford, Edinburgh, Derry, Dublin, Waterford, Kerry – and that’s just in the last few minutes. Field workers eventually filter down into every place you can think of. The workflow management system lets field workers work anywhere and report back easily. They simply receive their job orders on a mobile device and off they go. No need to go back to the office. Just fill in the forms on your phone or tablet, and it will do the rest. Doesn’t matter if it’s Android or iPhone.

Because we’re situated close to the Northern Ireland / Republic of Ireland border, we find it easy to relate to companies in both the UK and in Ireland. Personally, I actually live in the Republic itself, in Monaghan, and travel every day to Armagh and then Newry to get to work.

A light blinks on in Waterford. And another in Hull.

When I worked for a web development company about ten years ago, I used to enjoy recognising clients on almost every street. Nowadays, because FieldMotion is getting so large, I get to play that same game everywhere.

A few days ago I was getting off the bus in Monaghan when a van drove past with a Limerick company’s name on it. That was one of ours. I remember going on a five hour drive to their place of business (and back) a few years ago with one of our sales guys, who played the soundtrack of Frozen on repeat all the way there and back. It was …interesting. They already had a workflow system but it was complex and cranky. They were looking to replace that with a simple workflow software that worked better and let them do more. That was us.

I was in Dublin a few weeks ago and a large gas and electricity supplier was doing an ad campaign. Practically every bus-stop had an ad of theirs. One of ours.

We’re planning a new trick soon where our clients will be able to put QR codes on their vans which let other people scan the codes and hire them for jobs directly. This will make it easier to spot our field worker software clients everywhere.

A light blinks on in Preston. Wakefield. Antrim. Ennis.

It’s not just the large companies that we do. FM can be a workflow management system for small business as well as large. Any company with two or more users can benefit from our system.

A light goes on in Port Laoise.

We’re everywhere in the UK and Ireland. Join us.

route optimization in field service management software

We’re polishing off an upgrade to our dynamic scheduler, which is a field service route optimization system that allocates engineers to jobs based on a number of criteria.

The technical details of how exactly it works are a bit of a trade secret, so I won’t get very much into detail about it, but I’ll give some broad hints – the field service optimization software works by assigning “costs” to decisions (does the engineer assigned have the right qualifications, does it bring the engineer into overtime, is it at the requested time, cost of the engineer’s hours, total hours worked, etc), and trying to minimise those costs.

In route optimization, field service is not really well covered in the market. Most route optimization systems are very simplistic. For example, they might assume that all engineers can do all jobs, or that we can simply assign a time to a job and the customer will be happy to work that into their schedule. You know how phone installation engineers keep turning up at your house when you’re not it? Yeah – bad optimization in their field service management software.

In my head as I’m building it, I keep imagining the job criteria as “pressures” – each of the criteria we are balancing acts as a kind of spring or elastic, trying to push and pull things this way or that to bring everything into place. Another way to imagine it is like how bubbles are created – they minimise their surface area efficiently, based on pressure from within.

From the user’s perspective, this must all be invisible – they should simply create a job and have it automatically assigned to the right person, or select a load of jobs, click “Schedule”, and have the field service job management software sort them into a reasonable solution.

Solving all of this so that it’s easy for the user is not a straight-forward thing for the developer. I mentioned “costs” – but what values should they be? Deciding exactly how “strong” the springs and elastics in the model should be is a difficult problem in itself! We’re considering writing a system after the current phase of development which will use neural networks to try figure out the right answer to this one. In the meantime, we have some pretty good values that give us results that look right.

The final parts we’re finishing off involve making sure that engineers get home after their day’s work at a reasonable hour (no routes that spend 8 hours meandering them 300km away from home and leave them stranded), and taking individual work hours and holidays into account. The field service engineer management software needs to take all of these into account, or the engineers will not be happy.

Our field service management software features are already impressive, but we think that after this phase is finished, it will leave the competition smoking 🙂

We have a number of clients already using this in their day-to-day work. If you’d like to join them, contact us for a demo.

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.

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.

What is Workflow Software?

According to Wikipedia, a workflow management system “provides an infrastructure for the set-up, performance and monitoring of a defined sequence of tasks”. The words themselves are usually enough to give a good idea of what it is, but there is an actual industry standard that defines what is or is not a workflow system.

image: when workflow is designed correctly, the result ticks along beautifully

Workflow software has been around long enough that there are actual international groups that define standards for what they do. For example, the Workflow Management Coalition was set up in 1993 by IBM, HP, Fujitsu and about 300 other software companies.

A workflow system is broken down into abstracted categories of system:

Routing System
This is the part that most people think of when they mean workflow – it defines the order in which jobs happen, and moves information from job to job as needed. In FieldMotion, we define these sequences using the onComplete logic system and through “sources” in the form fields.

Distribution System
In a fully automated system this takes the role of a manager, dividing work out among workers so that no-one is under-utilised. In FieldMotion, this is handled through the Dynamic Scheduler.

Coordination System
This makes sure that there are no clashes – that people are not asked to do two jobs at the same time, etc. Our dynamic scheduler handles this automatically, but we also make this visually obvious in our Timeline view of jobs, where you can easily see overlaps.

Agent System
The agents are the “workers” of the system. In a field service application, the agents are the engineers that are out doing the work.

Assistant System
In a system that has some artificial intelligence built in, the “assistant” is an AI system that will offer hints as to what should be done, based on insight from the other data in the system. FieldMotion’s Dynamic Scheduler is an assistant system, as it offers a suggested order of events based on information such as geographic location of the jobs, the category of work and the skills each worker has, the the hours the worker is active, etc.

The original definition of Workflow Management System was defined for fully automated systems, like manufacturing plants or software workflow, but since the advent of smart-phones, the definition has been spread to include field workers and Field Service Management Software.

how we got into field service management

FieldMotion started out (under a different name) as simply a way to record and upload forms on the phone. I was asked in 2012 or so to build a simple piece of software that could do this, and quoted a measly few hundred euro for the job. We laugh about that now, as the job grew and grew as its potential become obvious. What we have now, I couldn’t put a price on.

I was asked to make it so that we could have different kinds of forms in the app for different job types. If I stuck literally to the letter of the request, I would have simply hard-coded the requested forms and moved onto my next client. But, instead, I noted that if there are two different forms requested now, there might at some point be a third or fourth, so I might as well save some time now and just write up a form generator instead, to let the clients design their own forms.

When I showed this to Jerome (FieldMotion director who hired me for the job), it suddenly opened a load of new possibilities. He didn’t realise I could do something like that. He asked me “what else can you do?”. I said I could do pretty much anything at all – if you’ve seen it done online, I can do it.

We didn’t realise in the beginning how big the field service management industry is. We didn’t even realise that was what we were entering. We were simply responding to whatever the clients needed. The first client we had was actually a mobile phone sales company owned by Jerome’s brother, so we wrote some of the early customer relationship management code and stock code as if it were for phone sales.

But, I’ve always had the opinion that if you write anything at all, it must be written as generically as possible. Whatever you create must be good for your current customer, but should also be flexible enough that it doesn’t need much tweaking for the next customer. I learned that while building content management systems (CMS) in the early 00s. There’s no point writing three systems for three customers when you can write one system that can be configured for all three.

Another thing that helped us greatly was that I built the system as a “multi-tenanted architecture”. This means there was one software installation, and multiple clients using it. This is the same approach used by “cloud software” these days, and I’d been using the method since about 2005 or so with my CMS engines. I did a talk at Google in 2011 about my approach (slideshow is here).

Multi-tenanted systems allow you to easily update many clients at the same time. The older approach was to have one software installation per client. Like how with WordPress, the usual method of installation is to download and install for a specific client. But, if you have 200 clients and you find that you need to upgrade them all, which is better – one installation per client, or one overall installation that they all run through? Obviously, it’s best to have one large multi-tenanted installation. Speaking of WordPress, Donncha O Caoimh was writing the multi-tenanted version of WordPress around the same time was I was working on my own multi-tenanted CMS. We helped each other out at some points to get things up and running. I think we ended up basically using the same methods.

The next tricky part involved how to make it really really smooth for people to get information back from the app to the servers. When you write something for people that are not computer geeks, you need to get rid of anything that might be confusing. I try to keep things as simple as possible for people so that they don’t need to ask me questions and I don’t need to repeat the answers. There was a choice between making the app transparently push data to and from the server, or restrict it so that the user had to deliberately synchronise their apps in order to keep up to date.

From the software point of view, the simplest method was to require a manual sync. But it was much more important that the user doesn’t need to do anything other than simply fill in the forms. If they have to remember to check for signal and click an actual sync button every few hours, then two many people will simply forget and then blame us when their forms are not uploaded and sent to the customers. So, we try to keep it as absolutely simple as possible for the clients.

The method we chose was to have the app “poll” the server periodically, looking for any new information, or pushing any stuff that’s been updated on the app. It was very very complicated stuff, and I’m not going to write about it here other than to say that it took months to get it right, and I’m glad it’s all behind me 😉

I had written an app before all this for a windmill servicing company. They chose to use a manual synchronisation method instead. It meant that the engineers needed extra training specifically on how to use the app itself. We didn’t want to force anything extra on the clients in our new field services management system, though, so we took the time to make sure it was robust, seamless, and invisible to the user. As far as our clients are concerned – jobs just appear on their devices, they just fill them in. That’s all.

We built a customer relationship manager (CRM) very early on, because our main client at the time (Jerome’s brother’s company) was very big into sales. This turned out to be a very good thing, as we built some things into it (callbacks, notes, custom fields) that would not have occurred to us if we’d just listened to the smaller companies. As we expanded, we were able to show new clients the tricks we’d built, and a lot of those tricks were useful in helping them expand their own work. Callback reminders, for instance, are a very obvious thing in hindsight, but when you start up a company and get a client, it’s not always obvious to you that you should call that client back a few months after you’re done with their jobs, to see how they’re doing. And if you have hundreds of clients, it’s best to have some software remind you to make the call. Otherwise you’ll forget and miss out on some new work!

The next big things were skip logic and workflow. We’d been looking at some features of other FSMs (field service management software) and more general service management software for a while, trying to decide what tricks to expand into, but we didn’t want to simply copy any other particular system. We wanted to grow according to demand and be innovative ourselves. But as our customer base grew, it became obvious which new features we needed to add.

Skip logic is used in questionnaire-type forms to “skip” over blocks of questions that are not needed. For example, if you are filling in a vehicle-check form that asks whether there was damage to the passenger side cab door, and you answer “No”, then the skip logic code should hide the “Please describe the damage” question that might follow that.

Workflow is what happens when the job is finished – is there a new job to be created? Should emails be sent off anywhere? Workflow management involves setting up what to do next after you finish each job. We created an “onComplete” workflow software system that could manage logic flows and set up sequences of events. We expanded that so that after any job was finished, we could have other jobs (of any type, for any user) be created, and have the filled-in data from this one pass through to the new ones.

There is a lot in the system that I haven’t mentioned. I just wanted to give an idea of how we’ve kind of organically grew to where we are.

You can see from all of this that we’ve been growing in a customer-directed fashion. As the market dictates, basically. The strange thing is that even when we think we’ve got the full system and better stop developing and start tidying up, we seem to “accidentally” develop some new awesome part of the system, and suddenly the market expands again. Last year, the new awesome thing was our dynamic scheduler (a multi-vehicle routing system which is really easy to use). This year, I think we have a really amazing one that I’ve never seen done anywhere else at all. I’ll not get into detail yet, but we will very soon be able to give our clients lists of potential new customers, based on who they’ve managed to sell to in the past. It’s based on some artificial intelligence work I wrote for ourselves, that we realised would be easy to make usable by our own customers as well.

Every year brings something new! I’m always excited in this job.

Workflow management

In the service industries, workflow management involves setting up a flow from job to job based on overall plans, or whatever was discovered during each step.

The simplest example might be a flow where one type of job is always followed by another. For example, when a pipe needs to be laid in the ground, the flow will involve planners getting permission from various authorities, followed by diggers creating a trench and shoring it, followed by the installation of the pipe, then the joining of the pipe to the existing network, filling in the trench, and then resurfacing.
Each of these steps might involve a different team. FieldMotion’s field service software lets you create a sequence of jobs by using forms that, on-complete, create follow-on jobs set to start either immediately, or you can even set a delay in cases where you may need to allow time for settling or drying, etc.

A more complex example might be one where the follow-up jobs might be different depending on the conditions found during the current job.
The pipe-laying sequence, for example, might also take account of what to do if the trench-diggers uncover pre-existing wires or pipes. Obviously, that would affect the sequence of jobs, so a new follow-up job (investigation) would need to be dynamically created based on the discovery.
FieldMotion lets you create workflow logic based on data recorded in the job. This is especially useful for cases where some decision-making is possible based on exact numbers entered. For example, in the case of medical checkups, you may want a doctor to be booked automatically if the checkup notes a too-low (or too-high) blood pressure.

Sometimes even the job itself might change mid-job based on what data is entered. Consider the case of a form you are filling which asks for the details of three objects that are on-site. You fill in object one, and object two, but there is no third. Well, the form might have a clause for this, where you answer “Is the third object available for inspection” with “no”, and this automatically replaces the followup questions with different questions asking why the object is not there, or maybe it just skips on ahead to the next section altogether.

We call that kind of workflow “skip logic”, but it’s really just a small version of the larger jobs-based system of managing workflow.

The point of all of this is to reduce the administration needed on-the-job. Your field workers don’t need to be trained how to decide what course of action to take next if the system knows how to do it itself. Field service engineer software such as FieldMotion can dynamically assign work as existing job orders are completed.

If you’d like to talk to FieldMotion (one of the largest UK service management software companies!) about how we can help you with your own field service workflow, please contact us. Here are some field service management software reviews of us (Capterra, Finances Online) that you might read to help you decide.

Job-scheduling in the field with FieldMotion

As companies get larger, the jobs become more specialised. The person who used to do accounting and data entry now has someone to do data entry so can concentrate on accounting. The field worker who had to make on-the-spot decisions as well as carry out the jobs, is now a manager in charge of a team of specialised electricians, plumbers and whatever else is needed.

As the teams grow, you find that more decisions are being made back at headquarters based on findings made by the workers in the field, because there are too many workers to let them just decide for themselves and potentially get in each others way.

Example 1: availability-based job scheduling

As an example, let’s say you’re working on a job that involves doing plumbing and electrics. The team of diggers has finished up and the work area is ready for whoever’s next. Maybe the electricians are busy already? Or maybe the plumbers need to be somewhere in 5 hours so need to be first here?

With smaller teams, the managers might meet up and decide, taking time. With larger teams, you might have a site manager whose job is to make these decisions.

Why not just let FieldMotion decide? If you manage your jobs through our FSM (field service management software), then it already knows that the plumbers are due somewhere else, or that the electricians are busy. There is no need for a meeting between the managers. Using the FieldMotion Dynamic Scheduler, you can automatically order your jobs in such a way that everyone has time to do their jobs, with no clashes in schedule, no teams due on the other side of the country five minutes after finishing this one.

Example 2: decision-based job scheduling

Or let’s say that the job you’re doing involves making decisions based on the findings you make in the field. For example, let’s say your company does health-checks on house-bound people, and the decisions you make after these checks depend on what you find while doing your inspections.

You could hire a person and train them up to make qualified decisions on whether to bring in a doctor or optician. Or you could hire a person who just fills in forms and those forms are then read by a person who is trained to make the decisions. Obviously, it is more economical to train (and pay) 10 form-fillers and 1 decision-maker, than to train 10 field-based decision-makers.

But why are you paying for a decision-maker in the first place? If the decisions are based on simple rules (such as “how high is the blood pressure”, or “has the patient fallen recently”), then you don’t need a paid decision-maker for that. Just add the rules to the “on-complete” section of the form that’s filled out in the field worker software, and FieldMotion will make the decision automatically and book a doctor or optician for you immediately, and a recall visit will be created in a few weeks or months depending on the patient’s age or health.

If all decisions are based on simple rules, then you don’t need to train someone up to waste their time doing it – just let a computer do it for you, leaving you more time to go visit more patients.

Does My Business Need a CRM System?

Asking yourself that very question is a step in the right direction. It means you are serious about improving your business and make no mistake, a CRM system will undoubtedly improve your business processes. You are looking into a list of CRM systems, my advice to you? Give it more than a thought, weigh up your options and don\’t make a decision too hastily. You need to know what to look for in a solid CRM system and how it will help your business. It\’s important to ask yourself these questions:

Will it be difficult to implement?

When you are choosing a CRM for your business, it makes sense to look for a system that is not difficult to implement. This will allow you to save time with the technical side of implementing your new system. The easier it will be to implement, the smoother your transition into CRM.

Will it be difficult to train my staff on how to use it?

Don\’t be confusing yourself and your workforce with a difficult system. If it is too difficult to use, you will not use it! It really is that simple, a user interface that is simple to use will not only improve your overall business processes, your workers will be happy. A happy worker is a productive worker!

Will it integrate with our current systems?

If you are already using a system to run your business, you will need to know if it will be compatible with your new CRM system. If you are able to import your data from the old system into your new system then you are onto a winner. Easily integrating your data is a must for your new system.

How does it compare to other systems?

Take your top picks and compare them. Do they all do what you are looking for? If so, which system does it best? That is your best pick, it may seem obvious to say but you need a system that can do what you need it to do. What do you do? Do you pick a system that\’s cheaper than the others but doesn\’t have the same capabilities? Of course you don\’t, that would be counter-productive. When it comes to CRM systems, you get what you pay for!

Will it improve Customer Service/Satisfaction?

Any CRM worth buying will have the ability to store all of your customers\’ information all in one place and allow you access with the click of a button. With a decent CRM, you can improve your customer service and satisfaction with a series by knowing everything you need to know in advance of dealing with a certain client and their problems.

These questions are general guidelines for choosing a CRM system for your business. Ask yourself these questions and answer them truthfully, does your business really need a CRM? It\’s up to you to make that decision.

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Check out our Customer Success Stories to find out how our Workflow Management Software has helped them make the right decision when choosing a CRM system. Watch our video – Introduction to Workflow Management Software to see what our system allows your business to do.

Making The Most Of Your Field Based Software

Companies with field based workers apply methods they think will improve how they manage their workflow. As far as a solution goes, they are a long way off. Read our article about the 5 must have features of a workflow management system.

Important Field-Based Software Features

There are a lot of software solutions out there that are aimed at field workers. As time goes by, there is increasing pressure on contractors to have a more fluent means of completing paperwork. Here are some important features of field based software we think you should consider before choosing the best software for your business.

Instant

When your field based workers need to complete paperwork for a certain job they have to travel to and from locations before a job is started and upon completion. By using a field based system, it will enable you to eliminate the need to do such travelling which will save you time, money and a big headache.

Less Clutter

We all know the pain of doing paperwork, so much so we think it\’s a good idea to dismiss it with an “I\’ll do it later” attitude. This is no longer necessary, find out how our software has made this a thing of the past.

Mobile

Your company will be truly \’on-the-go\’. Allowing your field based workers to send and receive information to the office on a mobile device will be the best way to streamline your workflow. If you are able to send paperwork back to the office through a smart phone, you are already head and shoulders above your competition.

Simplicity

Using your field based software should be as painless as possible. There are a lot of software platforms out there that incorporate quite complicated usability. We don\’t understand why but it may be due to the rate at which software has progressed. Mobile workers shouldn\’t have to navigate difficult, backward technology just to send a piece of paperwork back to the office.

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Implementing a software system to streamline your workflow may seem daunting at first but in the end it will be greatly beneficial. Gone are the days where your field based workers will have to travel to and from the office just to collect a piece of paper with job details.

Businesses that have made the switch don\’t have to worry about paperwork, they are sending invoices as soon as a job is completed. As a result of using field based software, businesses are improving customer service and making big savings. In this current economic climate, that can\’t be a thing, can it?

Request a free demo of our software today or contact one of our friendly staff members for more information.