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Automation: The Secret Weapon in Field Service

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Have you ever felt like you’­ve spent a full-day wor­king, wit­hout achie­ving anyt­hing mea­ning­ful?

May­be you were jum­ping between dif­fe­rent tasks and fixing mis­ta­kes that seem to hap­pen all the time (and will hap­pen again if you don’t keep your guard up.)

If you run a field ser­vice busi­ness, mis­ta­kes can be a cost­ly thing; not only in terms of money but also when it comes to your cre­di­bi­li­ty and your cus­to­mers’ trust towards you.

At Emvi­sa­ge, we help field ser­vice busi­nes­ses with high­ly complex workflows to auto­ma­te and stream­li­ne their proces­ses.

What we’­ve lear­ned from having wor­ked with dozens of field ser­vice pro­fes­sio­nals over the years is, that you can beat stag­na­tion and pre­vent being overw­hel­med with the right tools. One of the­se tools is auto­ma­tion.

In this article, we dig dee­per into auto­ma­tion and we’ll explain why it will help you to:

  • Reduce errors
  • Reduce mul­ti­tas­king and con­text-switc­hing
  • Impro­ve pro­duc­ti­vi­ty by making tasks fas­ter to comple­te or by eli­mi­na­ting them comple­te­ly
  • Unders­tand your busi­ness bet­ter by brea­king it down into com­po­nents 
  • Tran­si­tion into high-level thin­king

Table of contents

  1. The ulti­ma­te goal for any busi­ness
  2. The 5 bene­fits of auto­ma­tion that will help you save time & money again and again
  3. When do you need to auto­ma­te tasks?
  4. When should you NOT auto­ma­te a task?
  5. Auto­ma­tion is not a magic bul­let
  6. Examples of auto­ma­tion in Emvi­sa­ge Field Ser­vice Softwa­re

Your goal is to deliver value to your customers

Fun­da­men­tal­ly, the aim of any busi­ness is to deli­ver value in any form. Auto­ma­tion is one way for busi­nes­ses to impro­ve the process of deli­ve­ring value.

Are you reactive or proactive?

Befo­re we jump direct­ly into auto­ma­tion, it is impor­tant to remem­ber what beha­viour and principles any com­pa­ny should aspi­re to in order to ful­ly get the bene­fits of auto­ma­tion.

Let’s have a look at the dif­fe­rence between reac­ti­ve and proac­ti­ve lea­ders­hip:

Reac­ti­ve lea­ders­hipProac­ti­ve lea­ders­hip
Litt­le or no long-term bene­fitsSig­ni­ficant long-term bene­fits
Boring, not exci­tingCou­ra­geous, often exci­ting
Rou­ti­neIma­gi­na­ti­ve and crea­ti­ve
Fee­ling of over­loadFee­ling of accomplish­ment
Loo­king at the pre­sentLoo­king at the futu­re
Error-pro­neResi­lient to errors 
Low pro­duc­ti­vi­tyHigh pro­duc­ti­vi­ty
Focus on the day to day ope­ra­tionsFocus on busi­ness deve­lop­ment
Wor­king in the busi­nessWor­king on the busi­ness

Loo­king at the table abo­ve, one ques­tion ari­ses: What are the bene­fits of run­ning your busi­ness in a reac­ti­ve man­ner? None.

Howe­ver, beco­ming proac­ti­ve is dif­ficult in the short term, but the tran­si­tion is neces­sa­ry in order to ope­ra­te a success­ful busi­ness. But how does this reactive/proactive beha­viour rela­te to auto­ma­tion?

Auto­ma­tion is proac­ti­ve in its natu­re. Auto­ma­tion is about hand­ling problems and tasks befo­re they hap­pen. It is one of the most power­ful tools for proac­ti­ve field busi­nes­ses. Good auto­ma­tion can quickly ele­va­te your busi­ness to the next level.

The 5 benefits of automation that will help you save time & money again and again

1. Significant reduction of errors

Humans are error pro­ne.

Cap­tain Obvious

Jokes asi­de, the­re is no need to del­ve much into this.

Mac­hi­nes never get tired and are ext­re­me­ly con­sis­tent as long they are cor­rect­ly pro­gram­med. What emplo­yee ope­ra­tes on this kind of level? Nobo­dy!

Rework is most­ly crea­ted by human errors and it costs time, it is distrac­ting, and can poten­tial­ly affect moral as a lot of rework gives the impres­sion of being stuck in an unpro­duc­ti­ve loop.

2. Less multitasking and context switching

Mul­ti­tas­king is ext­re­me­ly cost­ly, and very hard to avoid, especial­ly with new tech­no­lo­gies and open works­paces.

Inter­rup­tions are beco­ming inc­rea­singly omnipre­sent: emails, smartp­ho­nes, brow­ser noti­fica­tions, co-wor­kers and even your watch are trig­ge­ring con­text switc­hing. Con­text switc­hing requi­res brain-power and reduces pro­duc­ti­vi­ty as most of the time is was­ted when switc­hing between tasks.

Alt­hough switch costs may be rela­ti­ve­ly small, some­ti­mes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to lar­ge amounts when people switch repea­ted­ly back and forth between tasks. Thus, mul­ti­tas­king may seem efficient on the sur­face but may actual­ly take more time in the end and invol­ve more error. Meyer has said that even brief men­tal blocks crea­ted by shif­ting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someo­ne’s pro­duc­ti­ve time.

Sou­rece: APA

If you auto­ma­te repe­ti­ti­ve and anno­ying tasks, the­re’s less need for con­text-switc­hing and you can focus on the work that mat­ters most to you and your team.

3. Higher productivity by making tasks faster to complete or eliminating them completely

As said, con­text switc­hing is expen­si­ve, in terms of ener­gy and time. Eli­mi­na­ting simple tasks can be tre­men­dous­ly bene­ficial, even though the task may take a few seconds to accomplish.

If you can’t ful­ly auto­ma­te a task, it is still use­ful to speed up the task’s comple­tion; especial­ly if it occurs frequent­ly or takes a lot of time. We’ll del­ve into task frequency, dura­tion, and other details later in this article.

4. A better understanding of your business by breaking it down into components

Have you ever thought you unders­tood a mat­he­ma­tical concept, only to rea­li­se that you only get the basics of the concept, but you are still unable to apply the concept in order to comple­te ques­tions?

Auto­ma­tion will force you to unders­tand eve­ry com­po­nent.

You can’t auto­ma­te a task wit­hout cla­ri­ty. Get­ting the neces­sa­ry cla­ri­ty will often unco­ver pre­vious­ly hid­den steps and prompt new ques­tions.

5. Transition to higher-level thinking

Auto­ma­ting your busi­ness’ proces­ses will help you to get a new pers­pec­ti­ve. Ray Dalio desc­ri­bes his busi­ness as a “mac­hi­ne”. Loo­king into a mac­hi­ne helps you achie­ve hig­her-level thin­king:

Hig­her-level thin­king isn’t somet­hing that’s done by hig­her-level beings. It’s simply see­ing things from the top down. Think of it as loo­king at a pho­to of your­self and the world around you from outer space. From that van­ta­ge, you can see the rela­tions­hips between the con­ti­nents, count­ries, and seas. Then you can get more gra­nu­lar, by zoo­ming into a clo­ser-up view of your count­ry, your city, your neigh­bor­hood, and final­ly your imme­dia­te envi­ron­ment. Having that mac­ro pers­pec­ti­ve gives you much more insight than you’d get if you simply loo­ked around your house through your own eyes.

Excerpt From: Dalio, Ray. “Principles.”

This concept of wor­king on your busi­ness ins­tead of wor­king in your busi­ness is explai­ned in many dif­fe­rent forms throug­hout the busi­ness lite­ra­tu­re. As busi­ness owners, we unders­tand how hard it is to dis­socia­te our­sel­ves from day to day ope­ra­tions in order to achie­ve hig­her-level thin­king.

Howe­ver, we belie­ve that success­ful busi­nes­ses are the fruits of hig­her-level thin­king coupled with great execu­tion. And auto­ma­tion, of cour­se!

When do you need to automate tasks?

Source: https://xkcd.com/1205/

  • The task is frequent
  • It can be auto­ma­ted easi­ly
  • It is dull or “pain­ful”
  • Its main­te­nance is low
  • Its impact is high

The­re are dif­fe­rent fac­tors to con­si­der when auto­ma­ting a task. From our point of view, the tasks with the most “fric­tion” are prio­ri­ti­sed. Fric­tion can be explai­ned, in frequency, length, dif­ficul­ty, error-pro­ne, dull­ness of a task.

When should you not automate a task

  • The main­te­nance would take as much time as doing the task itself
  • The task is frequent­ly chan­ging
  • The task requi­res hig­her intel­li­gence, such as preci­se ima­ge recog­ni­tion or ful­ly unders­tan­ding texts

In our expe­rience, if you can’t auto­ma­te a task because the natu­re of the task is always chan­ging or the main­te­nance is too high, it means one thing: you shouldn’t!

For hig­her intel­li­gence tasks, AI is progres­sing and is able to per­form very well on speci­fic tasks. But for ove­rall intel­li­gence and abstract rea­so­ning, AI is still far behind. The good news is that many of tho­se tasks can be per­for­med offs­ho­re with the right proces­ses and tools in place.

Why automation is not a magic bullet

Whi­le we belie­ve a good level of auto­ma­tion is a must for busi­ness, we are also awa­re of the risks and chal­len­ges of auto­ma­tion.

Different skill set required

Depen­ding on the complexi­ty of the task to auto­ma­te, other skills such as softwa­re pro­gram­ming might be requi­red. Hiring an inde­pen­dent pro­gram­mer is pos­sible, but keep in mind that any exter­nal cont­rac­tor coming from a dif­fe­rent industry might not unders­tand your busi­ness and its con­text well.

You should focus on what needs to be done, whi­le the cont­rac­ted pro­gram­mer should focus on how it is going to be done.

Higher upfront costs

It invol­ves get­ting a clear unders­tan­ding of what needs to be auto­ma­ted. The com­mu­nica­tion effort can be inc­rea­sed when wor­king with softwa­re cont­rac­tors as new cont­rac­tors might not have enough con­text to ful­ly unders­tand what needs to be auto­ma­ted. This is why very preci­se and clear com­mu­nica­tion is requi­red.

Maintenance costs

Some auto­ma­tion might need main­te­nance. Main­te­nance is often over­loo­ked. An example of auto­ma­tion main­te­nance could be to upgra­de the way to push invoices after your invoicing softwa­re upda­tes its pro­duct or adds new fea­tu­res.

Unhandled exceptions

“Out of sight, out of mind” is a ter­rible idea when it comes to auto­ma­tion. An auto­ma­tion task fai­ling wit­hout being detec­ted ear­ly can crea­te more rework. The later the disco­ve­ry, or the hig­her the frequency of this task, the more rework will be invol­ved. 

Examples of automation in Emvisage Field Service Software

  • Auto-gene­ra­ting and sen­ding of cus­to­mer emails (e.g. when plan­ning an ins­tal­la­tion, emails are fil­led and sent auto­ma­tical­ly)
  • Sen­ding of cri­tical remin­ders to your back-office staff and your tech­nicians
  • Auto-gene­ra­ting and sen­ding of docu­men­ta­tion to clients and other par­ties by email
  • Auto­ma­tic crea­tion of invoices in Xero (e.g.Invoices are pus­hed to Xero once ins­tal­la­tion is comple­te. All fields are fil­led using alrea­dy exis­ting infor­ma­tion in the sys­tem.

Are you already on your automation journey?

No mat­ter what work you do, at a high level you are simply set­ting goals and buil­ding mac­hi­nes to help you achie­ve them.

Excerpt From: Dalio, Ray. “Principles.”

If you’­re loo­king for a softwa­re to help you auto­ma­te dull or time-con­su­ming tasks in your field ser­vice busi­ness, let us help you with that!

We help field ser­vice busi­ness with high­ly complex workflows to auto­ma­te and stream­li­ne their proces­ses. Just drop us a mes­sa­ge at info@emvisage.com. Let’s auto­ma­te your workflows toget­her!

Field Workflow Software for businesses handling complex field work