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Using ERP Software to Run Field Service and Repair Ops: Pros and Cons

Posted by Adrian Montgomery on Tue, May 20, 2014 @ 13:05 PM

Field Service and Repair OpsIs your organization “all in” for service? Determine whether your ERP software alone for field service management is enough to be successful.

In the last decade, horizontal enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have grown in breadth of functionality and range of customizability as companies of various needs and industries adapt them for their daily business operations. Indeed, high functioning ERP systems can go beyond just number crunching to include features like purchasing, invoice generation, and inventory management.

Some horizontal ERP systems even offer industry-specific modules, like a field service module, that expand how customers can use the software. With a field service specific add-on, some service organizations are exploring how they might adapt an integrated ERP system to manage all their field service needs.

While this integrated ERP and field service set-up sounds appealing, service is an industry that asks a lot of its software. So before you make any important software decisions, you may want to ask yourself whether an ERP system, even with a field service management add-on, is enough. We explore the pros and cons of using ERP software for managing service.

Pros: Where ERP tools can help an organization manage field service operations

ERP systems now play a larger role than ever for companies in a variety of industries, including today’s field service organizations that benefit from several customizable and integrated ERP features. Here we’ve listed some Pros of using an ERP system for service management: 

  • Accounting and General Ledger (GL): Nearly every organized company today uses some sort of ERP system for accounting. Accounting is ERP software’s specialty, and it’s also obviously a field service need. With ERP software, field service organizations can see where their money’s going, where it’s coming from, and balance it, making decisions based on that financial information. Companies can add modules to the basic system, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, and GL, which track every revenue stream in or out of the organization. For service work, it’s essential that managers can monitor where their highest revenue sources are and make sure they’re making more than they’re spending. ERP systems do that revenue tracking for them, stabilizing the company’s financial status.
  • Purchase Orders/ Sales Order System: When companies sell equipment or service, ERP systems can create the sales order and produce a receipt for the customer. The system then schedules the order, but, as we’ll see later in the “Cons” section, ERP scheduling is not nearly precise enough to meet the needs of a competitive field service organization.
  • Inventory Management: Managing inventory is another important task ERP systems can perform for service organizations. Purchase orders entered into the system flow into inventory, alerting the right people of what parts are needed for each sale. Since ERP inventory management is generally used for sales rather than service, however, some of the visibility necessary for performing service tasks, like access to parts in technician vans, isn’t perfect.
  • Customer Information: ERP systems manage customer information, including contact information and sales history, which is useful for organizations selling equipment. Service needs, however, require additional customer documentation, so, if you’re doing service in addition to sales, you might need an additional integration to add information that wouldn’t be relevant in an ERP system alone.
  • Invoice Generation: When orders come in, ERP systems can create detailed invoices to send directly to customers. A service invoice is created by printing the sales order, giving it to a technician who records his hours and work, then the invoice is generated based on billable labor and parts.
  • User Defined Fields: One reason service organizations try to adapt ERP systems to manage their service needs is because user defined fields allow them to create fields for processes that aren’t originally included in the ERP system. For service, companies can create custom fields for capturing field service business information, for example. These user defined fields, adapted for a company’s specific needs, can be useful for organizations in which service isn’t their main priority. It’s important to remember, however, that these add-ons won’t be as functional as a“best-of-breed” system created specifically for field service.

Cons: Where ERP software typically struggles to meet field service needs

While ERP systems can perform some service needs, and user defined fields and add-ons contribute additional service management functionality, some processes can’t be accomplished through ERP software. Here are some of the “Cons” of attempting to use an ERP system for all your service processes: 

  • Contracts management: Contracts management is the core of service management. From managing the right contacts and customer information to processing, scheduling, and billing work orders, managing contracts is what makes a service organization tick. With service work orders and contracts, you need to be able to track not only parts, but also warranty, labor, preventative maintenance, service level agreements (SLAs) renewals, scheduling, etc. Without the ability to perform these functions and perform them well, it will be nearly impossible to succeed in an ever more competitive service world.
  • Mobile for field technicians: ERP systems are designed to serve businesses that exist within the confines of a building. And in their defense, most businesses and ERP users do work within four walls. Field service, however, inherently does not, which is why it’s so important for service organizations to have high functioning mobile software that’s run natively and works offline. Most ERP systems do not offer mobile and those that do, aren’t as well supported or complete as a mobile application built and supported specifically for field service. Without mobile, field service workers are missing the key component that connects field work with the rest of the system, leaving them at a disadvantage for achieving field service success.
  • Technician resource scheduling: While ERP systems can perform general scheduling tasks like booking an installation date after a purchase order comes through, its functionality is nowhere near the level that’s needed to efficiently schedule technicians in the field and stay competitive in the service industry. For example, there’s no data to allow the scheduler to filter by skill-set, location, or availability. Scheduling in an ERP system says nothing about service timelines and provides no insight into tech status or location. If you’re serious about service, the lack of advance scheduling in ERP systems will make it difficult to keep up with customers’ expectations of short arrival windows and high first-time fix rates.
  • History for customer-owned equipment: ERP systems can handle inventory on hand and how many parts are spoken for, but they don’t have visibility into equipment history or needs. Technicians can’t see important equipment information to keep their customers informed or make crucial preventive maintenance contract sales. With an FSM system, techs can provide advice based on equipment information that they wouldn’t be able to do without being able to see the equipment’s history.
  • Asset tracking/warranty information: Similar to the lack of equipment history, ERP systems don’t have a way to track asset and warranty information for equipment. ERP software knows when the part was bought, but techs can’t tell if it’s under warranty. When techs don’t know information about the assets or have up-to-date warranty information, the quoting process slows and can lead to errors in billing. These errors can not only hurt the service business’s bottom line, but they can also damage customer relationships by billing customers incorrectly or not repairing something covered under warranty.
  • Labor-based quoting: When technicians are using mobile technology in the field that syncs with the back office, their labor automatically syncs with the work order when they update it on mobile device. Labor then integrates with payroll and creates labor-based quoting for billing customers. ERP systems aren’t made with service labor capabilities, so it’s difficult to factor labor costs into the quote.
  • Granular performance analysis based on accounting statement: Because of the variety of service types and workers performing jobs in a range of environments, it’s important to be able to analyze service data on a granular level. ERP systems don’t allow for utilization analysis, which makes it difficult for service organizations to determine where their revenue is coming from, where they need to improve, and what they’re doing well. FSM systems can drive GL account distributions based on many factors, such as type of job, division, line of business, etc. With this information, you can make business decisions like where you want to focus and spend more resources in the future. Since these measurements are driven by a certain type of work, it’s difficult to distinguish those differences to measure utilization in an ERP system. 

Field service is a customer-centric industry. Therefore, the software service organizations use needs to be created and run with people in mind. While ERP systems are useful accounting and business management tools, they’re generally focused on dollars, not people. This difference in focus and priority is the major distinguishing factor between FSM and ERP systems and should help you decide whether an ERP system is enough to manage such a valuable entity of your organization, like service.

Conclusion: Don’t settle for what’s convenient

Which would you use to pull your dogsled: team of well-trained huskies or a team of miniature poodles? Sure, if you had enough poodles and the sled was light enough, you might be able to get the sled from point A to point B. But wouldn’t it be wiser to invest in the huskies to pull your sled quickly and efficiently every time? Similarly, if you consider yourself a service organization, you shouldn’t be treating your service processes as second rate. Service, when done well, can be a huge profit center for organizations in a variety of industries from construction to HVAC to equipment distribution. But in order for service to be done well, you need to have the best tools available to make it run like clockwork, keeping customers happy and operations and employees productive.

It’s important to keep in mind that field service modules for ERP systems are just that: modules. They don’t have the full functionality, accuracy, or specialization of a “best-in-breed” system created specifically for field service. If you want to be taken seriously as a service organization—if you want a team of huskies pulling your sled—service management software is not something you want to skimp on. By settling for what’s convenient, like a field service add-on or managing your service needs through an ERP system, you risk running a service organization that’s only mediocre at managing service.

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Topics: Scheduling & Dispatch, Service Contracts & Warranties, Mobile Field Service, Inventory & Assets

How “VAR” Can You Go: 6 Best Practices for Partnering to Provide Field Force Automation Solutions

Posted by Adrian Montgomery on Fri, May 16, 2014 @ 14:05 PM

Field Service Hand ShakeAdd mobile apps to your enterprise software offerings by partnering with a field service software provider.

As an ERP value added reseller (VAR) and consultant, your customers trust you to provide sound and reliable business advice. And it’s in your best interest to keep their trust because the more faith customers have in your services, the more software you sell.

As experts in a cross-industry product like ERP systems, you know your product well, but because you work with many verticals, you don’t always have a complete understanding of all your clients’ industries, which is why it can be so beneficial to partner with experts in various vertical markets. When you have reliable software partners to which you can introduce your customers, you open unlimited market potential and make yourselves more reliable resources for customers who need specialized software or advice.

One industry in which partnering is especially useful is mobile or field force automation software. While you may be an expert in back-office ERP accounting software, many of your current and potential clients need mobile or field-based solutions to link the work they do outside the office to their back-office processes.

Help your clients with field force needs improve results by following these best practices for partnering with field force vendors. The question is, as businesses’ most trusted software consultants, how “VAR” will you go to help your field force customers achieve best results?

6 Best Practices for Partnering with Field Force Automation Software Vendors

Choosing a service management software company that’s a good fit for your company is an important decision. Here are several strategies you can set in motion to make sure you partner with a strong field force vendor and get the most new sales, greatest benefit to your company and employees, and provide the best support for your customers. 

  1. Research vendors’ integration into your ERP system

    • There are many different ways one system can integrated into another. You want to make sure that the partner you choose has a full integration with your ERP system so you can offer your customers a complete solution.
    • For example, integrations can transfer information one-way or two-way; obviously, you want the two-way version if possible. Companies can also claim to be integrated with an ERP system, but really only offer one or two connected features. A fully developed integration will have two-way information transfer for features like customers, equipment, site, parts, work orders, etc.
  2. Enter into a formal written agreement

    • Once you’ve determined a field force company will be a valuable partner, don’t just assume everyone’s roles are understood. A formal written agreement, which outlines the terms of the partnership and the steps required for each of your joint efforts, clears up any confusion as to who’s doing what. Some points to address include:
    • Term (length of agreement)
    • Process for identifying and “registering” prospects
    • Roles and responsibilities regarding sales and marketing efforts
    • Ownership of the prospect relationship during the sales process
    • Length of time for the prospect to be sold
    • Use of each other’s logos and trademarks
    • Use of brochures and other corporate marketing materials (and who pays for them)
    • Commission to be paid (amount and timing of payment)
  3. Ask the right questions

    • One of the most important things to look for in a mobile software partner is also one of the most basic: make sure they have a quality app. Here are a few questions to ask your partner candidates to see if their product is worthy: 
    • Does the mobile app work offline? If not, they may not be able to offer your field service clients working in remote locations the solution they need.
    • Does the field service app run cross-platform? Consider the number of mobile platforms and devices available. If the app vendor you partner with can only run on one of those, you can only help a fraction of your clients looking for mobile.
    • How configurable is the app? You want to see if the mobile app is flexible enough change as your customers’ needs dictate. With a configurable solution, you can assure your field service clients that the app will meet their needs now and in the future, even if those needs change.
  4. Make sure the vendor has significant ERP experience

    • Don’t be lured in by a company with a fancy looking field service application, but no ERP experience. Sure, you want to offer a great mobile solution to your customers, but you also want someone who understands ERP systems on both the business and the technical sides. If you can partner with a field force automation software vendor who has both, you’ll set yourself up to offer a quality mobile solution with a company that knows how to work with and develop solutions for ERP clients.
  5. Support joint marketing efforts

    • To get the most out of your partnership, you should target efforts to market your joint solutions to the right clientele. Work with your partner’s marketing department to come up schedules, calendars, and assignments for the following: 
      • Brochures
      • Whitepapers
      • Case studies
      • Recorded demos
      • Webinars
      • Social media/ blog/ website
  6. Participate in sales collaboration

    • Sales collaboration is one of the biggest benefits of partnering with a field force vendor, both for the company and for individual sales people. Stress that you want concrete terms and rewards for various levels of sales success. For example, if you refer 25 companies in one year, you should get a larger percentage of the profits than a VAR that only refers 10 companies.

Take Advantage of Field Force Software Vendors’ Mobile Capabilities

As we mentioned earlier, a mobile solution is something field-based customers are increasingly demanding in a business software solution. If you can’t offer advanced mobile options to support a large, complex field workforce, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to grow your market pool beyond office-based businesses.

Lucky for you, you don’t have to be experts in the ever-expanding field service industry. Simply find an awesome third party field force automation vendor and create a lucrative partnership by following the best practices above.

Once you’re running a stable partnership with joint marketing and sales efforts, you get more sales, your partner gains a larger market-base, and your customers receive better software and results. It’s a win-win-win! 


Guide to Understanding the ERP VAR’s Opportunity in Field Service Management Software

Mobile advancements help field service organizations realize the business efficiencies long promised by field service management software.  As their trusted ERP VAR, help them integrate mobile into their software solution. 


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Topics: Scheduling & Dispatch, Service Contracts & Warranties, Mobile Field Service, Inventory & Assets

10 Reasons to Give your Technicians a Mobile Field Service App

Posted by Adrian Montgomery on Thu, May 15, 2014 @ 13:05 PM

As evidenced by Sage’s software surveys, companies investing in mobile technology for their remote workers are receiving excellent results. Mobile field service apps are becoming the most powerful tools in the service technician’s toolbelt, helping them boost their productivity, improve service delivery, and increase customer satisfaction, among other benefits. Here are 10 reasons why it’s time for your field service organization to equip your technicians with a mobile field service application:

  1. Get Paid Faster
    • A good mobile field service app will allow your techs to easily record their time, parts and tasks against an equipment asset and work order, and sync that data into your billing system upon work order close-out, accelerating your service to cash cycle.describe the image
  2. Impress Your Customers with your Knowledge and Tech Savvy
    • Show up at the customer site fully equipped with the service history of their equipment. Customers like to work with companies that make their interactions fast and productive…would your customer would be more impressed if they approved your work order on an iPad Air, or paper and clipboard?
  3. Assign the Right Technician, Right Away
    • Mobile apps for service technicians are automatically connected to centralized service scheduling software, helping schedulers make rapid work order scheduling decisions and assignments based on actual technician location, availability and skill set.Field Service Scheduling Map
  4. Stop Flying Blind – Make Decisions Based on Today’s Information
    • Does your service organization have some big business decisions to make? Data-driven decisions are better than educated guesses, and real-time data is better than month-old data, or worse. This morning’s field work can become this afternoon’s business intelligence with a mobile field service app like Service Pro Mobile.
  5. Run a More Lean Spare Parts Inventory
    • Find yourself having to stock each service van to the hilt with spare parts, just in case? Instead of guessing what your inventory levels should be, collect data and use parts analytics to plan inventory purchasing, stocking, and allocation. With a mobile field service app, field spare parts consumption can be visible from service van to office, warehouse to service van and van to van, providing the intelligence you need to run a more lean inventory.Sage 100 Field Service 2
  6. Turn Tech Observations into Actionable Business Intelligence
    • Are your service technicians only collecting the bare-bones data in the field your need to bill the customer? Start taking advantage of the service technicians’ privileged position at the customer site to gather competitive, business development and other intelligence that can propel your service business forward.
  7. Trust but Verify
    • Make requiring evidence of work performed fast and easy with photos, customer signatures, inspections and other service app-integrated means of backup for work done at a customer site.
  8. Reign in the Rogues (aka; Be More Consistent)
    • Old school means of field data collection, like paper and disconnected spreadsheets, make it tough to enforce consistency. With Service Pro Mobile, it’s easy to build and centrally modify standard field forms such as inspections, checklists, audits and more, requiring the data you need in order to close out work.
  9. Keep your Team Connected, Without all the Busy Work
    • Tired of having to make dozens of phone calls just to get the information needed to get the job done? An always-connected mobile field service app can connect technicians and the work they’re doing with the scheduling and service management group continually, making for a more connected, more accountable team.
  10. Realize More Profits by Leaving no Task Untracked
    • The more you know about the specifics of the work your technicians need to do and how long it takes (ie; specific tasks to complete the work), the more profit you can realize with each work order, particularly in the case of those with a preventive maintenance call. Hook up your service packages with detailed mobile task tracking to accumulate rich data on package cost, productivity and profitability.

As you can see, there is no better way to improve customer service, increase field service technician utilization, and boost enterprise service efficiency than with proven, cross-platform mobile field service applications. By providing your technicians with mobile apps, you can start providing the best service possible to your customers, while increasing business profitability.

A Buyer’s Guide to Mobile Field Service Software: 9 Tips for Choosing a Mobile Solution that’s Right for You

In the market for a cross-platform or cloud-based mobile app for your field service organization? Learn important tips, guiding questions, and to-dos in our free, educational whitepaper: “A Buyer’s Guide to Mobile Field Service Software.”

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Topics: Scheduling & Dispatch, Service Contracts & Warranties, Mobile Field Service, Inventory & Assets

How to Make Field Service Management the next Logical Extension of Your ERP Business

Posted by Adrian Montgomery on Mon, Dec 09, 2013 @ 15:12 PM
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If you were the manager or executive of a company, you’d want to make sure your business processes were run as smoothly as possible to enable you to better compete in the field. For field service organizations, this means utilizing a field service management software that can automate and integrate both accounting and industry-specific tasks. As an ERP VAR, you can profit from field service organizations with both field service management and ERP software needs.

With integrated field service and ERP technologies, field service organizations don’t have to transfer data manually or learn how to operate two systems. And with companies adopting mobile solutions in growing numbers, field service organizations can no longer ignore industry-specific, field service management (FSM) software if they want to succeed in the field. So, the question is: how can ERP VARs make the most of this growing technology trend in field service?

A Major Business Opportunity

By embracing the emergence of mobile and FSM technology and integrating those solutions with ERP systems, ERP VARs can capitalize on the booming FSM market by offering to sell field service software integrated with ERP sales. VARs focused solely on selling ERP systems will fall behind their peers who are up on this trend in field service and able to integrate the two systems.

Tap into a Burgeoning Market for ERP Connected Mobile Users

According to a biennial Gartner study, “Magic Quadrant for Field Service Management,” field service software revenue is approximately $1.2B/year, up from 329M/year in 2011. The FSM software industry is clearly exploding! And by offering mobile or other industry-specific technology along with traditional ERP functionality, you open your VAR to huge year-over-year growth potential.

As caretakers of enterprise business systems for field service organizations, ERP VARs are uniquely positioned to help field service clients while benefiting from the growing mobile and FSM software market.

Field Service Repair Guide

How do you plan to take advantage of field service management and ERP integrations to increase this year’s profits for your ERP VAR? Download this free guide to learn more about the ERP VAR’s opportunity in field service management software.

Topics: Scheduling & Dispatch, Service Contracts & Warranties, Mobile Field Service, Inventory & Assets

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