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Field Service: From Task Management to Talent Management

Mobile workforce management solutions have traditionally been based around the efficient scheduling, allocation and completion of tasks. There’s no doubt that some significant productivity improvements have been achieved, particularly when replacing paper-based systems.

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But, at the same time, lingering doubts often remain. The hoped-for benefits have been harder to realise than was initially projected in the business case, and the productivity gains that have been achieved often don’t contribute as much to the bottom line as they should.

Your people are the product

There’s a growing recognition - highlighted in recent research by The Service Council amongst others - that simply automating the management of tasks can only ever be part of the story. As the report’s author Sumair Dutta points out “In the business of customer service and service delivery, people are the product. Those that work with customers to solve issues and add value quite often are the only organisation representatives that come in direct contact with customers.”

The implication is obvious: if we are to realise the potential of our field workers, we need to pay as much attention to talent management as we do to task management. But here’s the problem: typical approaches to mobile workforce management are simply incapable of giving management the visibility they need of what’s really happening at the front lines of their business. And they lack the tools to drive the desired worker behaviours.

As a result, many service managers are effectively “flying blind” - forced to rely on incomplete, inaccurate and out-of-date information; unable to reach out and influence their work force’s activities and behaviours.

What if?

What if an alternative approach was available - one that was designed to identify and promote best practices and winning habits across the entire workforce? What if it was easier to identify your top performers and to understand exactly what they do, so that you can replicate those behaviours throughout the team? What if mobile workforce management could be focused not just on tasks, but also on individual activities and giving a complete picture not just half the story? What if mobile workforce management systems could help you manage their talents, as well as their tasks?

We have been hearing these “what if” questions from a growing number of field service leaders - and most particularly from those innovators looking for new ways to further improve the performance of their field organisations. We learned of their frustration at trying to put these principles into practice without the right tools to support their initiatives.

By the way, these frustrations weren’t just being felt by service management. When conducting “ride-alongs” with field workers, we learned about their frustration with the inadequacies of their existing mobile applications too. These often prevented them from capturing what was really happening in their day-to-day tasks, and made it hard to explain exceptions to their management.

A fresh perspective

As we explored potential solutions, one thing became obvious: standard task-based workflow is a completely inadequate answer to this challenge. It simply isn’t capable of capturing either the context or the granular level of detail required by managers to truly understand what is going on, and how performance might be improved.

We decided to adopt a different approach. We re-developed the heart of our system from the ground up to embrace an activity-based method of managing workflow. And we focused a great deal of energy on the development of dashboards that enabled managers to identify patterns of behaviour and drive the implementation of best practice.

The early results have been impressive. Clients report much clearer visibility of what’s really happening at the front lines of their business. They are already seeing an improvement in the average performance of their field organisation - and are able to identify how they can continue to drive the process forward.

We’ve tried to capture the key principles in this short video. Please take a look and judge for yourself: are we on the right track? Please add your perspective in the comments below – we’d love to know what you think.

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