Adding more field-based autonomy to the app

Generally, the way that service management software works is that you have an office-based staff which handles the apportioning of the jobs, and the field workers go out and handle those jobs.

In some of our clients’ cases, they like to do it all out on-location. This involves bringing a laptop, because the CRM part of our system can be too large and complicated to work with on a phone.

Last week, we added the ability to put stock items directly into form subtables, so you could say where exactly the stock was used, instead of attaching it generally to the job itself.

This week, we did the same for the schedule of rates.

We think this is leading in a “bottom up” way towards being able to quote and order a job completely from the field on a phone. We just need to make sure this all links into the financial database parts of the system properly, and then we’ll be happy to call that a complete feature.

A step beyond that would then to be able to send an invoice directly from the app and have the client pay it via a payment system such as Paypal or Stripe. One of our juniors is currently looking into that at the moment, but I would not expect it to become an actual thing until early next year.

This is all leading towards being able to administer a large part of the system as a paperless office solution from the field itself, so the workflow management system handles as much as possible automatically, there is very little to do manually, and that little can be handled on your tablet or phone.

We already have at least one company where all jobs and customers are created by a team lead who is out in the field himself. He creates the jobs and customers on the field worker software in his phone, then he reassigns the jobs to specific members of his team.

It’s not a big step to prefix all of that with quote generation, where the quote can create an invoice through Paypal/Stripe, and a job is then created from the quote, either manually (where you get the go-ahead and want to just start working), or after payment (one of our clients would like to get paid before doing the work).

It’s all interesting work. We enjoy throwing new features in, then seeing how our users find ways to make use of them. The aim is to make FieldMotion into simple workflow software that has as much automated away as possible so you only need to use a minimal interface (like on a phone).

This ability to flexibly add new small features that may not have been part of the “grand plan” years go, without needing to rebuild from scratch, is part of the reason FieldMotion is the best workflow management software. When adding new bits and pieces, we always try to think of how this might need to change in the future. For example, we mention PayPal and Stripe, to make sure that when we write that bit, we don’t just hard-code a single solution in and make it difficult to stretch it later. We intentionally try to make the code accommodate much more than it currently can, so we can easily add new features later on that we haven’t thought of already.

In a way, it’s a living version of Donald Knuth’s famous saying “premature optimisation is the root of all evil”. If you write your software as if the plan the bosses came up with years ago is the absolute correct and only way the software should run, then you risk making it impossible to change later when it becomes obvious there are new features needed.

We originally planned the system so that jobs are created in the office, and the app is just for filling in the forms. But, we wrote the code such that this was not set in stone.

In fact, this flexible approach is the very reason FieldMotion exists at all in the first place. When I was hired to make the first version of the system, there were 2 or 3 specific forms for mobile devices that needed to be filled by the mobile workers. I could have just hard-coded those forms and then gone onto my next job. Instead, I made it possible to customise and create your own forms, and FieldMotion was born. We are now the best field service management software in the UK, and working on being the best in the world.

FieldMotion: the book of the system

I’ve been tasked with writing a book about this field service management system thing that we built. Most of the books I’ve written have been code-related and general in nature. Writing a specific “how to” of a single system will be a bit more challenging. Especially as the system we have is really so large that condensing it all into one book will probably make the book wither much too long to read, or much too dense to read.

So, I think the best thing to do is to write a general overview of the various parts within the system, and how to use them from a basic point of view. I will intentionally avoid detailing the use of the more complex parts of the workflow management software, and will return to those either in later chapters, or in follow-up books.

Why write a book?

I’m a big fan of written tutorials. I would much rather read instructions on paper than watch a video. Printed instructions and explanations can get a lot more in-depth than videos. Also, it’s easier to highlight lines in a book, or refer back to earlier pages.

Videos tend to have accents as well. Even within the single English language, there is enough disparity in accents that it can be hard for a person in the US to understand someone with a Scottish accent (for example). Written text does not have accents.

It’s also easier to translate a book than a video. With a book, it’s a simple matter of having the text translated by a technical writer. With video, though, the entire thing must be re-done.

I will be publishing the book in this blog as I write it.

When I wrote my other technical books, I stuck to a general prescribed format – about 13-14 chapters per book, each book should be 15-20 pages long, and all concepts should be presented with visual diagrams if possible. I’ll do the same here.

Proposed chapter list:

  1. Introduction to FieldMotion
  2. General Usage
  3. Customers
  4. Jobs
  5. Assets
  6. Stock
  7. Using OnCompletes to setup WorkFlow
  8. Financial Reports
  9. Dynamic Scheduling
  10. Recurring Jobs
  11. Outsourcing Jobs
  12. Linking to Xero
  13. Using FieldMotion with Zapier

After completion, we hope to give out electronic copies of the book for free to people that ask us for a demo of our job scheduling software, and will give a free printed copy to all new customers.

service management software is all field

We have been calling our software “field service management software” (FSM software) for a while, because that’s technically what it is, with “field” meaning that the engineer would be away from the office for most of the day, potentially completely offline, so the system needed to synchronise data from disconnected sources, and needs to have all the information it needs so the engineer doesn’t need to call the office to ask questions.

The word “field” differentiates what we do from the “traditional” way to do service management, which is to do it through pen and pencil, or from software where the engineer needs to have a full-time connection in order to fill in data.

Anyone that is still doing it the pencil and paper way is wasting time and money. There really is no excuse – why are you wasting time filling in data two or more times, travelling back and forth to the office, wasting the time of other people that need to fill in your data?

And anyone that uses a non-field service management software is wasting money, is losing out on the flexibility that a modern FSM system brings, and may be stuck in a dead-end dinosaur of a system that will be difficult to migrate from.

Up until smart-phones were ubiquitous, it was common to either have physical paper forms, or to use clunky PDAs that you then had to synchronise manually with the office database each day.

But these days, everyone has a smart-phone. Along with the power that this brings, it allows us, as developers, to have a common base to work on. We can trust that almost everyone out there in engineer-land has a phone with either Android or iOS on it, and we can write software that we know will work everywhere. If your job management system doesn’t work when you get to where you need to do the job, then you need to talk to us so we can hook you up with our own!

Before, we would need to find out what PDA the client intended to use, then write software specifically for that PDA. As someone that has had to do that well before field service management systems were a thing, let me tell you that this made every single new job a nightmare. Not only would every system cost a fortune because of the learning curve we had to go through to learn each PDA’s quirks and languages, but we then needed to support every single system we had ever written.

With the ubiquity of iOS and Android, and especially Cordova, which lets us write one single software that works on everything, that nightmare is gone. We write our systems now safe in the knowledge that what works in the office will work in the field, and if there are any devices out there that don’t work, they’re so rare that we mostly don’t need to worry about them. We still get them every now and then, but they’re actually more an interesting puzzle now than nightmare-inducing. We solve the differences, and that’s yet another class of devices that we won’t need to worry about anymore.

A company that is buying their first software these days will go immediately for field service software instead of just service management software solutions. The main difference is that field service is designed to work everywhere, not just within a specific building or location, but that’s how most people work – it’s rare to find a service team that is located just in one small isolated area.

Even in isolated locations such as factories or ships, there is still enough movement involved that the engineers need to be able to receive and send data from disconnected points. There is no guarantee that they will be working in a desktop- or laptop- friendly environment, so it makes sense even in the most confined working environments that the service management software should work on a mobile device such as a phone or tablet.

Another difference is scale – field service management software tends to be written for large numbers of clients and users. This means that the systems can be flexible and relatively cheap to deploy. The flip side is that when service management software is written specifically for a customer, it tends to be inflexible and very expensive. Because our system is designed to be used by literally thousands of customers, we always take care when adding features that those features are either configurable, optional, or that they work in a broad enough way that they work for everyone.

All of the best field service software is designed such that it can be easily upgraded, and all the best field service management software companies will be constantly pushing out new upgrades. We release a new version almost every 6 months or so, and there are always enough new things in there that every year we are actually amazed ourselves at how different this year’s system is from last year’s.

image: even boats need to be serviced

Why does FM software update so frequently?

One of our clients asked us why we release new versions of our workflow management software app and CRM so often.

image: the Waterfall Model is the general model of software development we follow to ensure that our clients experience only the most stable version of FieldMotion available (Maintenance in the model), unless they choose deliberately to use our testing (Verification in the model) server

We don’t really. Yes, there is always a lot of development going on with the field service management software, but this only filters down to the public once it’s been thoroughly tested. The only exception is when we fix an issue (such as today, we fixed an issue where exporting job data from the job management software, while applying a custom filter based on the customer name, ignored the filter), but the system is really so well-used now that there are no common issues left. Even if we fix 50 issues, you will probably never have noticed any of them before or after, because they’re all to do with using the system in a way that is uncommon.

FieldMotion is cloud-based field service software – we have maybe five different versions of it serving all of our clients. When we release a new “stable version” of the field management system (every six months or so), we start moving clients onto it from the older versions. Because we have many more field management software clients than we have internal developers, this means that the clients will sometimes do something we did not expect, and we then have to fix whatever allowed that to happen.

The stable versions are called “stable” because they are changed as little as possible. In the Waterfall Model of software development, these versions are called Maintenance versions because the only ongoing development they receive from the moment of release are maintenance updates. The only reason we change anything on the stable field service manager software servers would be to correct a bug. If a client insists that they need a new feature that we have not yet released on a stable field services management software server, then we move them to a testing server, because we do not develop new software on a stable field services management server. Of course, we only move them after first making sure that they are aware that the testing server is, by its very nature, not a stable server, and therefore they might experience glitches every now and then. This is their own choice to make. To wait for the new requested feature to be released within six months on a stable field service management systems server, or to jump the gun and move onto an unstable server that will have new features and tweaks almost every day.

With the app, we have “stable” points as well. Whenever we do anything new on the app, it’s added to a completely new repository version. Every repository version that we have has a specific purpose for its existence. For example, repo 73 was created to help speed up a form that a client’s field workers pointed out was slow. We spotted the issue, fixed it, and his mobile workers’ forms now load exactly 54 times quicker (yes, exactly). Everyone that upgrades to a new repository version gets the new enhancements that repository and all the preceding ones brings. This means that if you are on version 62 (optionally disable job ref editing on the app) and we upgrade you to 73 (speed up form-based calculations), then you also get the enhancements and fixes for everything in between.

We are always adding new fixes, features, and optimisations to our service software code, but we only ever upgrade people if it’s necessary (such as to fix a bug which we identify as possible affecting multiple people), or after we take a break at a certain repository version and decide to “rebase” everyone to it so we can have everyone on generally the same number again. Of course, we first put the app through yet another round of rigorous testing, but because later versions are by their nature more tested than earlier ones, we rarely, if ever (I really can’t think of a single case) come across an issue where we’ve broken something that previously worked.

To be honest, we probably update our stable servers much less than larger companies such as Microsoft do. I’m sure you are all familiar with Microsoft’s Windows telling you to please wait while it installs updates? Well, all software needs updates sometimes, but we try to make them in the background so you will never notice them.

So, to the client that thinks we release new versions all the time. No, we don’t. Yes, there are always new features being developed, and issues being addressed, but the only reason you would encounter all of those changes would be if you are a member of our development team, or if you are one of the few who are early-access testers for us.

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.

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.

Workflow Management System – 5 Must Have Features

There are many features available in even the most basic of workflow management systems. Choosing the right one is paramount in the smooth running of your business. Whether you are looking for a system to streamline your workflow or monitor your members of staff, it needs to be the best system for YOU!

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When you are choosing your Workflow Management System, make sure they have these vital features. Don\’t settle for a product that can\’t keep up with your daily operations. After all, the system is meant to make your life easier, not harder.

1. Cloud-Based

You are looking for a workflow management system, that\’s a step in the right direction. Choosing one that is not hosted in the cloud? That\’s taking two steps back! Your workers should be able to access data and reports anywhere and at any time.

2. Notifications

If your workers are using a system and aren\’t receiving notifications about jobs they should be doing, you are only asking for trouble. If they don\’t know what job they are meant to be doing, they can\’t do the job. This will only lead to abandoning the software and wasting even more money.

3. KPI (Key Performance Indicators)

When you start using a workflow management system you will discover that certain jobs or processes take longer than you anticipated. You may find that you are actually neglecting a certain part of your business. Either way, you will be able to tighten up on these areas as soon as you implement your new workflow management system.

4. Form Building

All businesses use forms on a daily basis and using paper is fast becoming obsolete in modern administration. Using a workflow management system will take away the pain of paperwork. Your forms will be entered into a workflow management system and you will be able to complete all forms on a mobile device, anywhere and at any time.

5. Simple to Use

The most important feature of a workflow management system is that it is simple to use. If you are implementing a new workflow management system into your business, you must ensure all of your workers are capable of using the system with minimal fuss. Think about it, no one ever complained because something was easy to use!

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So there you have it, the top 5 features that any workflow management system should have. You are going to the effort of looking for a workflow management system, why not make the effort to choose the best one for you!