If you run a field service business—like a plumbing, property management, HVAC, gas, electrical, or fire and security company—the hardest part of your job may be juggling engineers’ schedules and routes as the jobs pour in.
Which engineer should you send, and when? How many jobs can you pack into the day without dropping any balls? Optimising your job schedule and your engineers’ routes is a science, but luckily there are software solutions that can make it easy for you. Read on: We’ll be answering all your questions about schedule optimisation software for field service businesses.
What is schedule optimisation software?
Schedule optimisation software (also known as dynamic scheduling or intelligent scheduling software) helps field service business owners and operations managers send the right engineer to the right job, by considering which engineer has the shortest travel time and also has the best qualifications or certifications to perform the repair or installation. Some solutions also offer a “map view”, where you can see where all your jobs are in relation to the one you’re booking at the moment.
What are the benefits of schedule optimisation software?
Before you commit to purchasing a solution, you need to make sure that it’s right for your business. Here are the benefits of schedule optimisation software for field service businesses.
You can fit in more jobs.
Schedule optimisation software lets you fit more jobs into each day; thanks to the route optimisation functionality, your engineers aren’t having to backtrack or drive long distances to get to a job. Of course, more jobs equals more profits for your business.
Your customers are happier.
When you use schedule optimisation software, your customers enjoy smaller service windows and faster service. They also get better service, since you’re able to send the most qualified field service engineer for each job.
You save money.
Because schedule optimisation software groups together jobs that are close to one another and send the closest qualified engineer, you save on fuel and maintenance costs for your service vans. Users of software that includes a dynamic scheduling feature see a 15% reduction in total travel costs—and also a 10% improvement in their first-time fix rate, which means they also save money by not having to return to fix a failed job.
You save time.
You already know that schedule optimisation software saves your engineers’ time by creating more efficient routes. Well, it also saves you time since you won’t have to do scheduling or route optimisation manually or using ineffective, cumbersome software solutions. In fact, businesses that use the Intelligent Scheduling feature in Commusoft save 10 hours managing schedules each month—per engineer!
You stress less.
No more freaking out when a customer cancels a job or an engineer goes home sick. Schedule optimisation software can not only create efficient job schedules and routes, but it can also adapt when changes happen. The software will reshuffle the schedule and then notify all the engineers of the changes.
What’s the difference between routing and scheduling?
Routing is determining the path your engineers take to a job: The distance, number of stops and turns, and so on. It sounds easy, but the more jobs and service vans you have, the more complicated it becomes. (In fact, calculating the shortest distance between multiple points, known as the Traveling Salesman Problem, has been studied intensely since the 1930s—that’s how difficult it is.)
Scheduling is determining which engineers to dispatch to which job, in order to make the best use of your man-hours. Efficient scheduling minimises travel time and overtime, saving you money.
So that’s the difference between routing and scheduling. However, while you can treat each of these functions separately, schedule optimisation software handles both at the same time: It creates an efficient schedule and takes care of route optimisation.
What are alternatives to schedule optimisation software?
Schedule optimisation software isn’t the only solution you can use to streamline your scheduling and perform route optimisation. Here are some other options, plus their pros and cons.
You may feel most comfortable using old-school paper diaries. This is great if you’re a sole trader or microbusiness not looking to grow. The main benefits are:
There’s no learning curve.
You’re already used to it.
However, a paper diary offers none of the benefits we talked about earlier: It doesn’t help you fit in more jobs, boost customer satisfaction, save time or money, or decrease stress.
The disadvantages are amplified as you field service business grows: If you’re overwhelmed now trying to schedule one or two engineers, imagine multiplying that by five, ten, or even more engineers. Route optimisation also becomes devilishly complicated the more service vans you have.
The Service Council’s report 5 Major Transformations Impacting Service Businesses revealed that a majority of service organisations know they need to work on addressing their technology needs, and 31% named “outdated processes” as a challenge. If you’re using a paper diary (or white boards or sticky notes) as your main scheduling tool, take heart that you’re not alone—and then work to adopt the tech tools that will improve your scheduling and your business.
The good news is that this is one step up the ladder to becoming a tech savvy field service company. Also, Excel is easy to use, almost every office already has it, and it lets you create a customised solution.
Here’s the bad news:
Schedule optimisation in Excel is not automated, meaning you have to manually enter in all the data.
The worksheet doesn’t take into consideration routing or engineer expertise.
This system won’t grow with your business.
So while schedule optimisation in Excel has some distinct advantages, it’s not the ideal solution for a field service business—especially ones that are looking to improve and grow.
Like paper diaries and schedule optimisation in Excel, this system is free and easy. The main drawback is that it’s manual, so it doesn’t continually optimise when the situation changes. If a customer cancels, the engineer can’t access the site, or the engineer doesn’t have the right parts to complete the job…you have to start the process all over again and then contact each engineer to relay the new schedule.
Free Scheduling Software
The main benefits of free scheduling software over paper diaries, Bing Maps, and Excel are:
It’s easier to move and change events.
You can “push” scheduled jobs out to your engineers instead of them having to come into the office to check.
It makes your business look more pro to your customers than scribbled notes.
As they say, though, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Finding and setting up free scheduling software that isn’t perfectly optimised for your business wastes time, effort, and ultimately money.
Not to mention, free scheduling software won’t integrate with your field service management system. (Even if you don’t use FSM software now, chances are you will as your business grows.)
Schedule optimisation software, on the other hand, is often integrated right into your FSM software so that the data flows seamlessly into all the parts of your business that need it (and vice versa).