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Mobile workers kept ‘Appy

31 March 2012

Graham Whistance

Graham Whistance talks about workforce management software and its role in the workplace today.

Tough economic conditions have highlighted the need for companies to pay close attention to the way in which their mobile workforce is managed. Old-fashioned, paper-based systems not only cost money in wasted man-hours as the workforce have to travel to and from the head office, but also leave them open to auditing or customer service issues resulting from lost information or incorrect data input. Organisations looking to overcome these issues have turned to online workforce management software solutions which work to offer visibility and reduce costs in the long run.

Over the last ten years, workforce management software has become a business need rather than a nice-to-have. It has also moved from the early adopter markets such as courier and expanded into areas such as field services. Many companies also find their customers are now demanding this technology is in place. For example, one of our customers needs the software for efficient performance monitoring ahead of bidding for Government contracts.

Back when workforce management first became available on the market, companies were only interested in reducing admin costs and doing more jobs per day. This certainly still applies but now the market is so competitive businesses are becoming more concerned with the softwares’ ability to prove to customers that the work was done on time, at the right location and sometimes requiring photographic evidence to back that up.

Perceptions and common mistakes
When looking at workforce management software, a lot of companies make the mistake of not getting buy-in from those who will actually be using it. People can be very resistant and if there is a feeling the software is being forced onto them and they are being monitored in a ‘big brother’ way, they will find a way of not making it work. Another common misconception is companies thinking the software is too complicated for them and assuming their engineers don’t have the skills to be able to use it.

Those that do embrace the idea of workforce management software sometimes have the tendancy to over-spec. They see the introduction of this kind of system as a fundamental change to how they’ve always done business and can therefore over-complicate things trying to link everything together in one system to including accounting and billing. These systems can be linked up eventually but the more sensible approach is to introduce the change gradually. Once the field based workers are used to the basic functionality, it is much easier to add more complex features later rather than over-loading them at the start and risk losing faith in their ability to use it straight away. We refer to it as ‘biting the elephant’ – just get the minimum you need to benefit from and then just add features as needed.

On the flip side, some companies put off investing in workforce management software for as long as possible to try and save money. Effectively, the longer they put it off, the more it costs taking into account the kinds of savings they miss out on each day in terms of wasted man hours using old systems.

In the current market, at the SME end of the spectrum, its mainly paper-based systems businesses are working on. Paper is used out in the field and there is usually several office staff who retype completed job sheets into a spreadsheet or, if they are a little more advanced, the jobs are retyped into a software programme, such as Sage. One of the most frustrating things we see are companies that have spent a lot of money on service management packages they use in the office for managing service history, job details etc. but they still then print off paper job sheets for the engineers to go out into the field with, meaning they are missing out on a whole range of further benefits by only choosing a half-way house system.

Some companies also go down the ‘IT expert’ route doing something in-house or take half-baked mobile solutions from their existing ERP supplier. They end up stuck with old software on out-of-date devices which they can no longer buy, resulting in an inflexible solution which is no longer relevant to their everyday process.

Including SME’s
The main concerns companies have when first looking into workforce management software is that once they sign up to something, they’ll be locked into long-term contracts. When meeting with various companies of all sizes we found most of them wanted to be able to trial something without the commitment.

In today’s climate, small companies are constantly trying to differentiate from competitors and offer something extra whether that’s customer satisfaction surveys, detailed job data collection or just the ability to offer a faster, more efficient service. They also want to pick up as much information as possible and some workforce management software enables them to email receipts to customers rather than print them. This helps companies to retain information to use at a later date to try and secure add-on sales and keep them updated with company news.

Another concern for small businesses is making sure their mobile workforce is using their time effectively. It’s something larger companies have done for a long time and it’s only since smaller firms have been feeling the squeeze that they’ve seen the value in investing in this area. GPS tracking devices lets companies know where their workforce is at any time which helps with job scheduling and performance monitoring.

Going mobile
Despite a company’s size and function, there’s one common dominator across them all - the use of mobile phones. Since the launch of smart phones and Android devices, there’s been little need for additional tools employees need to equip themselves with when out on the road. Everything from emails to web-based systems can be accessed through a single device and workforce management shouldn’t be any different.

Taking all feedback into account, Momote worked on developing a workforce management app for Android and Windows phones that was inclusive for smaller companies.

MyMobileWorkers, launched in 2011, is the UK’s first pay-as-you-go workforce management app. Instead of the standard software model, companies pay 25p-a-job via an app on their mobile phones where daily jobs and details can be tracked and recorded. All required data can be captured in real time on site, including job faults, any parts needed and, if required, a customer signature which is then fed into a back office system which allows staff to monitor what their mobile workers are doing and gives an overview of jobs completed.

Apps in practice
Although the pay-as-you-go aspect of MyMobileWorkers may appeal to small businesses, it can also be used for larger companies that may have seasonal fluctuations. Harveys, the home furniture and furnishings dealer, uses the app when it has to take on contract drivers if there’s been a large advertising campaign that may cause a spike in sales. This is so it doesn’t have to spend more money and time setting up additional users on a larger workforce management system and can stop using it when it’s no longer required. Household electronic retailer, Comet uses the app in the same way indicating the need for flexibility at a corporate level.

Smaller companies such as MC Contracts, based in Suffolk has already saved 45 man hours a month because engineers no longer have to travel to and from the head office to drop off paper job sheets. The company assigns the jobs in the morning via the mobile device and engineers can get straight out on the road.

Managing director of MC Contracts, Mark Calver spoke recently about how the app has helped the company: “The model of paying per maintenance visit has allowed us to improve the speed with which we can attend maintenance call-outs which benefits us as a business and also benefits the customer.

“The app means the engineer can access all the correct job information instantly at the touch of a button which saves them having to contact the office repeatedly for job details. We didn’t think a company of our size could run software such as this but we were really surprised by the pay-as-you-go model. As an SME, it’s vital we are as efficient as possible, especially in the current economic climate.”

The future of workforce management

The face of workforce management is constantly changing as demand from businesses and their customers continues to rise. Smart phone and apps can be a key tool in putting in place an effective solution enabling employers to keep offering their customers more using an everyday tool that is inclusive to all.

In this increasingly competitive marketplace, productivity is king and waiting for field workers to touch base and administrative staff to upload job sheets to centralised IT systems just doesn’t cut it anymore. The introduction of affordable workforce management solutions means we’re getting increasingly closer to being able to file those paper job sheets once and for all!

Graham Whistance is founder of Momote, the software company behind app, MyMobileWorkers.

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