Field service management involves overseeing the delivery of services, ranging from equipment installation to inspection and maintenance at customer facilities or other off-site locations. It’s a rapidly evolving discipline, thanks largely to advances in technology that are streamlining operations and helping to keep customers happier. Mobile devices and apps are empowering technicians to work more efficiently from anywhere and stay connected in real time.

Cloud-based field service management software is enabling businesses to solve complex scheduling challenges and ensure that customers receive consistent, high-quality service. The convergence of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics tools is making the long-promised dream of predictive analytics a reality. Here are 14 top field service management trends that may prove to be instrumental in helping you build a competitive operation that customers will love.

What Is the Future of Field Service Management?

Technology is transforming field service management — and will continue to do so in the years to come — as mobile devices, cloud-based applications and advanced scheduling and routing algorithms help field service operations become more automated and efficient. Looking farther into the future, so many promising technologies are emerging that it can be hard to predict which will prove transformative. Certainly, the future of field service management will be impacted by artificial intelligence, IoT, computer vision, robotics and similar advances. Companies are experimenting with using drones to inspect infrastructure and deliver essential components to technicians in the field, for example. With networks of interlinked sensors monitoring safety conditions, companies will be able to predict problems before they occur and make offsite work less dangerous than ever before.

Key Takeaways

  • Field services management is evolving rapidly, due largely to trends in technology that are improving efficiency and increasing customer satisfaction.
  • Advanced cloud-based software is helping companies standardize and automate field service processes and optimize service schedules.
  • Mobile devices and apps enable service personnel to work more productively, accept customer payments and provide real-time updates and documentation.
  • Sensors, AI and sophisticated algorithms are facilitating predictive maintenance, which can prevent downtime, reduce cost and enhance safety.

14 Field Service Management Trends

Field services management is a critical supply chain function for many companies, from dedicated maintenance businesses and cable providers to retailers that offer installation and after-sales support. A broad set of technology-fueled trends is shaping the way companies deliver field services. Some of the trends, such as advances in mobile technology and knowledge sharing, focus on empowering workers on location. Other trends address management functions, such as optimizing schedules and routes, monitoring business performance and standardizing business processes.

1. Assistive Technologies

“Assistive technologies” is an umbrella term for tools or devices designed to augment the capabilities of field service workers, helping them perform their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Assistive technologies include the tools technicians carry with them — such as smartphones that provide them with customer information, facilitate collaboration with team members, capture real-time documentation of service visits and even process customer payments. Some technologies can be very industry-specific — for example, the tools used to detect the strength of the signal a customer is receiving from an internet service provider. Companies are also exploring more futuristic technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) glasses that display helpful information about the equipment technicians are servicing.

Multiple assistive technologies are, increasingly, being combined to enhance the benefits they deliver. For example, some companies are using electronic gas detectors to measure the levels of different gases. Like a modern, digital equivalent of the canary in the coal mine, these devices detect toxic gases that can pose a danger to worker safety. When these sensors are internet-connected, they can pool their data. Advanced analytics tools can then be applied to the pooled data to identify patterns that might be too subtle for humans to spot — such as slight anomalies in gas levels that indicate emerging problems.

2. Performance Management Tools

Performance management tools are software systems that track the performance of employees at the individual and group levels. They help companies analyze process efficiency, spot problems early and identify areas for improvement. These tools are used in many different workplaces, from warehouses to call centers and hospitals. Until recently, though, it was hard to apply these tools to field service management because of the difficulty of collecting data on employees when they’re out in the field. Mobile technologies are solving that problem by enabling companies to collect efficiency-focused data that can be fed into performance management software. And, as a result, companies now can more easily track field service metrics and KPIs, such as average repair times, travel times and service profitability.

3. Predictive Maintenance

Traditionally, field service has focused on fixing machines when they break, in conjunction with regularly scheduled visits for inspections and maintenance. But what if the machines could tell you when they were about to need maintenance? The combination of IoT sensors and predictive analytics is finally starting to make that possible.

Predictive maintenance relies on collecting data from sensors that monitor temperature, vibration or other conditions. The collected data is then analyzed using machine-learning and other statistical techniques to identify patterns and trends. This helps identify potential problems before they become serious issues.

The idea is that fixing machines before they break makes life easier for everyone. Customers experience less downtime, repairs are less expensive and workers have fewer unpleasant surprises. In cases where machine failure is dangerous, predictive maintenance may also help improve safety.

Predictive maintenance is especially useful for field service maintenance because the machines are typically located at sites where customers may not be well equipped to deal with problems or disruptions. In some industries, predictive maintenance can even be a decisive factor in improving customer loyalty.

4. Scheduling Optimization

Coordinating and scheduling workers out in the field is tough. The company has little control over the working conditions at many customer sites, and technicians may encounter unexpected obstacles — such as awkward working spaces or a power cable that was severed by another company. In addition, the company may have to manage the logistics of ensuring that the right parts are available at the right time so workers can complete timely on-site repairs. With all the unknowns, how can companies efficiently manage each worker’s schedule to maximize the number of customers they can service?

If you’ve ever been given a 12-hour delivery window or had to stay home all day to make sure you were there when the cable guy arrived, you understand the situation. But help is on the way. Some field management software includes optimization algorithms that help companies schedule assignments to maximize productivity, minimize delays and narrow the estimated service-delivery windows. Note that the performance of these optimization algorithms depends on access to comprehensive data, as well as valid assumptions — the more you know, the better the results will be. So it’s important to ensure that field service software solutions are integrated with performance management tools and data generated by other business applications.

5. Self-Service Apps

Self-service apps can reduce the need for costly and time-consuming field service visits. The idea is simple: The customer interacts with technology to do something that used to involve interaction with an employee. As a result, simple problems that once required an on-site visit can now be handled remotely.

For example, companies are increasingly relying on remote automated troubleshooting to reduce the need for technician visits. Customers may be also able to solve basic problems themselves by watching videos or following instructions posted online. Self-service apps and portals let customers report problems, request service and track progress.

Companies are also using ever more sophisticated software to generate pricing estimates, so there is less need for estimators to travel to customer sites. Prospective customers can enter the approximate attributes of their job, get a rough cost estimate and decide if it’s worth following up.

6. Route Optimization

Mobile field service technicians often spend a considerable part of their day getting from one job to the next. Route optimization software helps minimize their expected total travel time, so employees can spend more time helping customers and less time sitting in traffic.

Route optimization goes hand in hand with scheduling optimization. Minimizing travel time helps the company fine-tune its field service schedules. What’s more, entering information about scheduling options and constraints enables field management software to generate better proposed routes.

Route planning is particularly complex for field service organizations because they are typically trying to optimize many routes for multiple employees. Creating the most efficient route for one employee is no good if it causes an unworkable day for another employee. With the ever-increasing volume of data available, modern software is getting better and better at saving transit time. Algorithms can also come up with solutions that a human might miss, such as finding ways to reduce travel time, even if it involves driving more miles. For example, some companies’ U.S. fleets of delivery vehicles don’t make many left turns anymore, because left turns are not only more dangerous, but they take more time to execute than right turns.

7. Knowledge Sharing

Knowledge sharing benefits workers and companies in almost every industry, and field service management is no exception. But sharing knowledge in field service management is more challenging than in some other industries. It’s harder to collaborate and share knowledge when the team is geographically dispersed, constantly in motion and working on a wide assortment of problems. Because of these challenges, companies turn to technology, which plays an important role in knowledge sharing by providing mobile field service workers with access to information they need to do their jobs. Here’s how companies might use this information:

  • To prepare for site visits: Workers are arriving at job sites better prepared than ever — armed with automated transcripts of customer requests, instead of handwritten notes, and with photographs on their smartphones of the jobsite and the problem.
  • On site: Workers can use their smartphones to tap into the knowledge of colleagues, look for solutions online or contact the office for backup.
  • Longer term: Companies increasingly use customer relationship management tools to track every interaction over the life of each customer relationship. If a worker is heading out to help a difficult client or encounters a problem unique to a particular jobsite, they can learn vital information from notes created by other employees during previous visits, even if those employees are no longer with the company.

8. Cloud-Based Software

Cloud-based software is well suited to field service management because it lets companies access data and applications from anywhere, at any time, via an internet connection. Field service technicians equipped with mobile devices have access to a powerful array of tools for viewing and updating information. For example, mobile workers may be able to view information on upcoming jobs, get directions, communicate with customers and dispatchers and create invoices.

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9. Cashless Payments

Traditionally, managing customer payments for field service was challenging. If customers paid in cash, employees had to drive around in possession of a lot of money, leaving them susceptible to acts of crime or danger. Other solutions were just as imperfect — not every customer has a checkbook handy during a site visit, for example, and billing customers after the visit often meant a lengthy lag before receiving payment.

Today, for many businesses, those problems are quickly receding, thanks to e-billing and online, cashless payments. Invoices can be generated automatically from the company’s accounting or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Customers can pay through a website or via mobile payment apps. Field service workers can even collect payment directly, while on site, using credit card readers that plug into smartphones. These options add flexibility for customers, efficiency for companies and greater safety for workers.

10. Remote Work

In field services, remote work can take a variety of forms. As in other industries, employees may be based at home, rather than in the company’s office. Because they’re equipped with mobile technology, they may be able to perform their jobs without coming into the office at all. But remote work can also mean solving a customer’s problems over the internet, without the need for a visit to the customer’s location. It can involve the innovative use of other technologies, too, beyond computers and phones. For example, tasks, such as inspections and surveys, can be outsourced to camera-equipped drones, regardless of whether those drones are controlled from the office or by technicians on the road. Looking farther into the future, technology may help professionals perform even the most complex tasks remotely — thus expanding the definition of remote work. For example, surgical robots may allow doctors to perform surgery in remote rural locations without having to leave their actual hospital.

11. Low- and No-Code Development

Many companies have specialized needs. For example, they may have developed their own field service processes to support specific customer or industry requirements. Software platforms that support low-code and no-code development can help these companies adapt business applications to meet these needs. Such tools allow companies to customize existing applications or even create simple applications from scratch, with little or no need to write specialized program code. As a result, nontechnical business users may be able to adapt applications to meet the company’s unique requirements without the aid of IT experts. For example, they may be able to adjust applications to better match the company’s workflows or add specialized data fields for the company.

12. Back-End Automation

Without automation, managing a complex field service operation can be an overwhelming job that quickly descends into chaos. Dispatchers must constantly adapt schedules to respond to ever-changing, often-conflicting demands, including emergencies, parts shortages, traffic delays and worker unavailability. This is a key reason why field service management software has become so essential. It automates labor-intensive, back-office processes like scheduling and invoicing.

Automation enables companies to save time, reduce errors and more easily handle business growth. Staff can spend more time making customers happy and less time dealing with repetitive administrative tasks. For example, the system can automatically send a customer a text message to say that a technician is just minutes away from arrival. Or, if the company gets an emergency call, the software can find and assign a nearby technician so the company can respond rapidly, with the least disruption to its service schedule.

13. Customer-Centric Approach

Field service is one of the primary ways that a company interacts with its customers. As a result, the field service experience can significantly influence customer satisfaction. That’s why increasingly, good field service management focuses on providing the best customer experience. And the more competitive a market is, the more businesses need to optimize the customer experience. One way to do this is to ensure technicians are equipped with the right personal skills to interact with customers. But technology also helps companies deliver customer-centric service. For example, software that tracks the customer’s service history helps ensure that technicians fully understand the customer’s situation when they arrive at the customer’s site.

14. Process Standardization

Process standardization can deliver benefits to almost any organization, but it’s particularly important in field service because getting everyone on the same page is an essential aspect of building a good, customer-friendly, scalable field service operation. Standardization helps ensure a consistent, high-quality customer experience — and it also makes it much easier for companies to manage their field service operations. If every field service technician and local office did things their own way, customers would be frustrated by wildly inconsistent experiences. It would be much harder to create reliable schedules and track the performance of the field service team. Training new people and sharing knowledge would become much more complicated.

Technology plays a vital role in process standardization. Field service management software can ensure that staff members follow standard, automated workflows so that tasks are completed consistently and efficiently. Technicians can use mobile devices to follow established procedures and provide updates in real time. Technology also makes it much easier to predict, track and analyze field service performance. By reviewing historical data and using route and schedule optimization software, companies can enhance technicians’ efficiency and provide customers with more precise estimated times for field service visits.

Streamline and Optimize Field Service Management With NetSuite

Technology is key to building a scalable, efficient field service operation. Field service management software built on NetSuite’s ERP suite helps companies efficiently schedule and manage staff, enhance customer satisfaction and analyze field service performance and profitability. Because NetSuite is a cloud-based system, technicians with mobile devices are continuously connected while they’re in the field. Real-time data flowing between field service personnel and the back-office ensures that companies can track progress, and because field service management is integrated with NetSuite’s business applications and database, companies can use a single platform to manage all their business operations, from financials and supply chain management to sales and customer support. Powerful analytics tools help businesses uncover trends, problems and potential efficiencies.

Evolving technologies are transforming field service management, creating a far more efficient world for delivering on-site services to consumers and businesses alike. Software-driven automation, mobile devices, analytics and optimization algorithms are making businesses more efficient and responsive to customer needs. As AI capabilities continue to improve, we can expect technology to play an even greater role in keeping companies productive and customers happy.

Field Service Management Trends FAQs

What is the future of field service?

The future of field service will almost certainly involve workers assisted and connected by a broad array of technologies, from seemingly mundane algorithms that help them organize their tasks and routes a little more efficiently to IoT sensors, mobile devices and predictive analytics.

What might the future of service management look like?

A major emerging trend in field service is the increasing use of IoT-enabled devices. IoT sensors provide real-time data on equipment performance, helping field service technicians to identify and resolve issues quickly, before they become major problems. In addition, AI will play a growing role behind the scenes, helping with a wide range of functions, from diagnosing problems to optimizing complex field service schedules.

What is a field service management system?

A field service management system is a software platform that helps organizations manage their mobile workforce and streamline their field operations. It provides tools for scheduling and dispatching technicians, managing work orders, tracking inventory and monitoring job status in real time.