2018 plans

It’s been about 6 weeks since my last post. In that time, we concentrated mostly on identifying and closing as many bugs and other issues that we could, to bring 2017 to a satisfying end. We deliberately avoided adding new features, so that we could make sure the year ended with a tidy and clean field service job management software.

We got the entire team to point out everything they found to us, no matter how small. Near the end, it was almost like the Red Queen race in Through The Looking-Glass – we were fixing issues at the rate that we were finding them, to the point that I would also work on them at home and on the bus, just so I could keep ahead of the influx and get a sense of progress.

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
Through The Looking-glass, by Lewis Carroll

We persevered, though, and finished the year with only the most obscure and unimportant bugs left to work on in the field service management software this year. I just checked and we completed 125 issues in December. That’s an incredible number of issues to complete in such a short time.

The most obscure of these was what we call a “sigma 6” issue – something that normally only one in a million developers might ever encounter. When we figured out the cause of the issue (a database lock that happened when a client tried to import thousands of jobs at once, and when that appeared to be slow, tried to do it again) and then solved the issue, there was a real sense of elation. Serious! We love solving problems.

One of my friends in Google says that because of the sheer volume of users that they have, they encounter these kinds of issue every day. He recalled one incident where a cosmic ray flipped a bit in a running process and caused a huge database to delete itself instead of simply adding a row as requested! The anecdote is on page 13 in this transcript. Luckily, we’ve never had anything like that happen, and it’s incredibly unlikely it ever will happen. As John said, how do you protect against cosmic rays?

I get bored at Christmas, so it’s generally the time when I get some work done on FieldMotion that I was too busy to work on during the rest of the year. So over this Christmas, I sat down and wrote a multilingual framework for the job management software. What that means? It means my personal account in FieldMotion is now in Irish, where anyone else viewing the system sees it in English.

Once I’m happy that I’ve gotten all the nooks and crannies that I can see, it’s a simple matter to extract the list of translation strings and pass them to a linguist to give me back German, French, Spanish, or whatever.

This is exciting for us, as it means not only that we can offer FieldMotion’s field service software in many different languages, but also that we can provide country-specific dialects (American English vs British English, for example), and even company-specific wording. As an example, one of our clients, a car-wash company, insisted that they wanted the word “Wash” used instead of “Job”, because they were afraid it might confuse their employees. We can provide that level of configurability now.

This coming year looks really exciting to us. Translations is just one of the things. We have a large internal document full of plans for the service management software solutions, which we’ll announce as they get close to completion. Contact us for more details!

FieldMotion the Mini-ERP

We were talking to some people recently about how the system works, and one of them said something that got us thinking. He said “This is so much more than just a field service management system. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something else there”. I turns out the something else is that we’ve been gradually growing the system well beyond its original humble beginnings as the best FSM on the market, and are now pushing for world dominance in the ERP world (enterprise resource planning).

It wasn’t intentional, really. We just respond to market needs and give our customers what they want, but in the course of doing this, we went further and further into total business management than we originally intended.

A few years ago, we drew a concept map on a whiteboard to represent what we currently do and what we intended to cover over the next few years. A few of the ideas we scrubbed were things like purchase orders, inventory management, personnel management, but it turns out that these subjects have been growing in FieldMotion’s ecosphere despite us not intentionally planning them as major features. We simply add a little thing here or there because they make sense to do, and suddenly we have a whole new feature we can tout.

From a development perspective, we develop FieldMotion in two ways

  1. From a top-down way. Eg: we deliberately added Xero integration, both public and private API versions. For this, we start with the high-end concept “integrate with Xero”, then break that down into the tens of steps needed to accomplish this.
  2. From a bottom-up way. Eg: by fixing an issue that meant rewriting a workflow management system import script that was a little “off”, we grew an SFTP file importer that can import XLS/XLSX/CSV files and “map” them into objects we have in our database. The power this gave us meant that we suddenly had a new large feature where we were just supposed to fix a small annoyance.

The bottom-up way is what has brought us towards ERP. We didn’t deliberately strategise about entering the ERP sphere. It just happened.

In a very correct way, it’s like biological evolution. We started out trying to make better service management software, and accidentally created an enterprise resource planner. This is similar to how insects developed little nubs to dissipate heat, that grew through trial and error until eventually they discovered they could fly with them and they were no longer land-bound.

We thought we were right at the pinnacle of the hill of Field Service. We’re now discovering that we’re half-way up Mount ERP.

This is thrilling for me, because I can now look at every other ERP out there and start expanding our field worker software to do whatever they do, but cheaper and better! Talk to us to find out how.

First, though, let’s finish off the next few months of planned development – can’t go running off into the future yet!

Xero, purchase orders and customer imports, oh my!

This week, we finished off the public-authenticated version of Xero. We already had a private-authenticated version running well before that, but Xero demand a public-authenticated method in order that we partner with them, so we did it. Personally, I don’t understand why they insist on that. Public-authenticated methods only allow for about a 30 minute login window, which means that if you do something in the morning and in the evening that both need to push to Xero, you’ll need to authenticate separately for both of them. With a private authentication, you basically set up a key that gives your FieldMotion account permanent (until you delete it) permission to push and pull information to your Xero account.

We are nearly done with the basics of our purchase ordering system. This is so our service management software users can order new stock items and manage their distribution as they come in. I wrote the basic draft myself, got 90% done on the spec, and realised there were some obvious bits missing, and went to do those. When I mentioned those parts to our resident accounting expert, he said that what I intended to do was something that even Sage doesn’t do. So I reigned back a bit and passed the project onto another of my developers to finish off so I could get onto the next big one.

We handle customer imports through API and through manual upload of files. Some larger companies, though, want our field service job management software to also handle imports via spreadsheets pulled from FTP servers. I’m working on that right now, making sure it’s something that can be used by any client that needs that kind of import. We have an upgrade planned for the manual file-based import as well, where we will be “mapping” fields from the uploaded files to our internal format. This gets rid of the need for our customers to follow our rigid file-upload format – they can upload in whatever format they want and we’ll just link to the right fields on-the-fly.

When these are all done, we’ll be starting on the next big project; linking to Quickbooks directly instead of through Zapier, as Quickbook’s Zapier plugin is …lacking. We looked at that a year or two back when we were starting on Xero, and decided to concentrate on Xero as it was the easier of the two to get going. Now that we have Xero going well, we’ll address Quickbooks, reusing as much code as possible to speed this long. I’m not going to put a date on this, but I expect it to happen very very quickly. Our field service management software UK users tend to use Xero, but in the US, Quickbooks is still king, it seems, so we’ll address that.

Another thing we’re doing is to add alerts for when a customer has remained as a specific customer type too long. This is part of our customer relationship management software which will let you set a customer to a specific “type” (for example, “awaiting forms”) and set a deadline for that. If the deadline passes and the “type” hasn’t changed to something else (for example, “in form-building”), then an email is sent to the customer manager to go find out what’s going on. One of the advantages of paperless office software solutions over the traditional systems is that we can automate this stuff so you don’t have to keep everything in your head.

There’s always something new being built here – talk to us and we’ll arrange a demo

1,000,000 jobs completed

A milestone moment.

A few weeks ago, we were doing a little analysis on our historic data and noticed that the number of jobs completed by our field service management software customers was getting close to a million. After a little work, we came up with a quadratic equation which closely modeled our growth. It predicted that we would hit 1,000,000 jobs completed over the weekend.

Well, this morning I checked and we were at 1,000,202!

It’s very difficult to find the exact job that was the one millionth, as they are spread out over all of our databases (we keep our customer databases separate to ensure there is no chance the data can “leak”).

Another nice thing we noticed based on the analysis is that our growth is accelerating. Unlike one of our competitors who has been advertising the exact same number of “completed jobs last month” since early last year, our numbers are growing.

Slow but steady wins the race.

The market for field service business management software is huge. It’s estimated by some that the industry was worth 1.76 billion USD in 2016 and will be worth 3.61 billion in 2021, 4.45 billion in 2022. Others are a little more conservative and suggest 4.1 billion in 2025. No matter who you believe, though, they all say the market is huge.

We have been working our way into this industry for the past 5 years, and are steadily getting more and more of the pie, simply because we work based on what the majority of our clients need, we try to keep it as simple as possible, and we started out right from the beginning with the most common issues in mind.

Our apps work whether you are online or offline, for example, syncing in the background automatically when data is available. There is no need for the user to know how that works – as far as they’re concerned, it just works. Other FSM companies have apps that only work when you are online (and how useful is that when your work is in an area that has no network coverage?). Yet more have a “synchronise” button that you need to press to upload your work and download new work (which the users forget to press).

On the CRM (customer relationship management software) side, we have a core set of features that we try to keep from growing. Yes, we do add some things when they are obviously useful, but we mostly try to not add everything we can think of, because that just ends up complicating the product. Paperless office software solutions, after all, are about getting away from complications – not making more of them.

We anticipate the next million to complete within a year, and the next after that in only a few months. The future is interesting. Talk to us about yours.

file attachments in the app

Files in the app can be attached in various ways, depending on the needs of the job or even the needs of the industry.

A file can be attached to a customer, a specific job, an asset, or even the user of the app. This adds a sense of granularity, and lets you access the files in your field service management software in ways that make sense.

For example, if you attach a file to a customer, then create three jobs for that customer, when you go into the jobs on the app, you will find that you can access the customer’s files directly from each of the job. You can have job-specific files as well if they’re needed.

This is useful in field service industries where documentation is needed for customer assets, and that documentation is needed for all jobs done for that customer. For example, for boiler servicing software, a customer might have a specific model of boiler. Documentation for that boiler model, then, should be attached to the customer in the boiler service software so that every time a job is allocated to do for that customer, you have the files you need.

The app itself doesn’t read PDFs, etc, so you need to have a PDF reader (or whatever reader, depending on the file type) installed on your phone or tablet in order to use the files.

For assets, you might want to attach specification documents or manuals. For customers, you might attach invoices or other info. For jobs, you might have photographs or annotated images detailing the work to be done.

outsourced labour in workflow

FieldMotion’s field service management software can send jobs to outsourced workers, including customer information and form fields. This means that your outsourcers fill in your form, and that is sent back to you as the outsourcing company.

As a bonus, we also tie the outsourcing into workflow. When an outsourcer marks a job completed, the job data is sent back to you, and your onComplete workflow can then do whatever you want – send emails to yourself or the client, create new jobs, etc. Field service job management software lets you decide for yourself what happens when a job is finished.

When a job is created through workflow, it is usually assigned to either no-one, or one of your own users.

We added that you can now have it that if an outsourcer marks a job completed, you can automatically assign a new job to them.

For example, let’s say you’ve got a job to go fix a boiler which should be followed up a few weeks later with a checkup, but you want to outsource it to someone not in your company.

With the new field service engineer management software feature, you can now assign a job to an outsourcer, and set it that when the outsourcer completes the job, the data will be sent back to your own company, and then a new one will be created and automatically assigned to the same outsourcer.

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

Exporting completed jobs through FTP

A third-party water management company that sends out jobs to a few of our clients wanted to receive the completed job information back in XML format sent through FTP. It made sense to us to automate the process in order to save our clients a little more time and effort.

Instead of writing something specifically for that third-party company, though, we wrote a general exporter that can be configured to send in a few formats, using a few connection methods.

This means that we can supply the job information in CSV format, for example, or XLS, XML, JSON. Whatever the recipient needs. Our client just needs to configure the connection methods in their field service management software (usernames, passwords, etc) and the format the end file should be given in.

This extends our workflow management software capabilities so that we can be part of other companies’ automated workflows as well – they send information from their workflow software which we import automatically, our clients do the work, and the completed data is sent back to the sending company automatically. In this way, we cut down on time and potential mistakes, because the jobs that the client’s field workers do is precisely, down to the letter, what the recipient company has asked for. No more 15 minute phone calls describing a job, no more misheard details or typos.

Four continents and growing

Today, we signed a client in Asia, adding to our collection of continents (Europe, Africa and North America are already mounted and stuffed on our walls).

We’re now working towards total world domination with our field service scheduling software. The image is a friend’s contribution to the cause, a poster to sell FieldMotion to penguins in Antarctica. It might work. Who knows? I’m sure penguins keep the ultimate paperless office already, but being so far from us, they’re also the ultimate mobile workers, and so we should at least try 🙂

We’ve come a long way from our humble beginnings, working in the back-office of a larger company, then growing to take over the entire building. And we’re still growing. By now, we must be about the, oh, fourth-largest workflow management system company in town! Although I couldn’t name the other three even if I tried.

Luckily, the team is up to the task. Our development team is careful to not race ahead and add everything that occurs to them (as head of development, I keep that rein firmly in check!), so we spend quite a large proportion of our time making sure that there are no known issues, and that the system has no growing pains either due to our scaling up. When an issue comes in, we tackle it immediately. The fact that we get any development done at all is a sign that no-one is reporting problems!

Having said that, we still do develop new tricks here and there. On Monday, I wrote about how we are adding to our Zapier capabilities. Today, we finished some work related to “F-Gas registers” (a record that all fire and risk assessment software should be able to show a history of). As usual, we wrote it in such a way that it is perfect for fire and security software solution, but it can also be used for adhoc purposes, allowing us to cater to anyone needing similar tricks.

FieldMotion as Pest Control Software

I’ve been looking at how people arrive on our website, and a lot of people are here because they’re looking for mobile pest control software, which I haven’t talked much about before on the blog.

FieldMotion does everything that a pest control engineer needs. We have quite a few clients in the pest control business, and some of the features of the system were actually built to satisfy their needs. In particular, the recurring jobs features are important for pest control management software and were developed with our clients.

You can set up recurring visits to customers, to run checks every 6, 12 months (or whatever you want), the job notes you keep for one appointment in a series will be available in the next, and notes about particular clients are available within the job details as well so you’ll never need to look in many places at once.

If your customers need to be kept informed, you can give them access to a customer portal, where they can log in and see everything you’ve completed, and download their reports.

We can record the GPS coordinates of the engineers when they mark their jobs done, and when they get signatures or take photographs.

Setting up your appointments is easy – you can create them from the app or from the online CRM, where you can create them in a list view, a timeline view, or a calendar view. Timeline and calendar views are drag-drop, so you can lay your jobs out visually. Or you can use the dynamic scheduler to organise the appointments for you, sending the right engineers to the right jobs, and saving you time and money.

Everything in FieldMotion’s pest control software programs is realtime. When a job is created in the office, it is immediately sent to the engineer. As an engineer updates the job form, the information is sent back to the database and immediately visible in the office.

FieldMotion even works offline. It’s completely seamless. When you’re online, information is synched with the pest software database live. When you’re offline, the information is “queued” to be uploaded as soon as you’re back online. No need to think about it. It just happens in the background.

Ask us for a demo