These days it seems as though just keeping current when it comes to technology isn’t enough for most field service organizations — managers who want to make sure they’re getting the most out of their service departments need to train their eyes on the future and what’s coming down the road.

Three areas in particular stand out as important for field service managers to consider if they’re thinking about how technology plays into their organization: Mobile phones and applications, automating schedules and dispatching, and moving toward software-as-a-service products.

Tom Devroy, the vice president of IFS, which sells “enterprise resource planning,” or ERP, software products, touched on current trends in all three of those areas in an interesting interview posted on IFS’ podcast page.

We’ve boiled down the interview into a few key points.

Mobile Still Evolving

It’s pretty easy to think that we’ve reached the pinnacle of the cell phone/tablet/ultrabook/rugged laptop era. (Those iPhones really are cool, huh?)

Anyway, the point is that the devices service techs carry with them into the field are still evolving really rapidly, and that they’re becoming more diverse — both in make and in the operating system they use. That’s why whatever software a service organization is running needs to be as device- and OS-agnostic as possible. In other words, it may seem like the iPad is the only tablet in town — but a year from now, there may well be a great new product your techs are all clamoring for. So be prepared.

Leave Scheduling to HAL

According to Devroy, dispatchers optimally handle groups of no more than 10 or so technicians at a time. After all, there’s a lot that goes into the decision to send Technician A to a job rather than Technician B: drive time, potential OT charges, respecting existing SLA commitments, who’s got the right parts on board, who’s skills match the job demands, etc. Being able to juggle that much information about dozens of field techs can get overwhelming pretty fast.

As a result, many organizations restrict technicians to geographical boundaries — be it metro, or zip code, or some other imaginary line, which limits their ability to share or pool resources, and is ultimately pretty inefficient.

Schedule-optimizing software can relieve a lot of that burden, by allowing a computer algorithm to crunch all the variables that go into scheduling, and make a recommendation. That way, one human dispatcher can easily handle a much larger number of techs.

“When you marry those three things together: A robust back-office service system, with a very easy to use mobility platform driven off an optimization engine, then you have a winning combination,” Devroy said.

Software as a Service

The final point is that for small or medium-size service organizations, the most common requests of a software product come down to scheduling and dispatching capabilities, call debriefing, and mobile connectivity to the back office. And they want it quickly.

Investing in an on-site IT department is almost surely too expensive for a smaller company. Service-based hosted software, on the other hand, allows small companies to tap into some of the advantages of automation on a more reasonable budget.

Meanwhile, larger enterprise groups are also turning to SAAS, although typically they’re interested in the ability to simply write up the costs as a consistent expense item, rather than worrying about a large and slow-moving corporate IT department.

Check out the interview here, if you’re interested.

Click here to download a free whitepaper, “Five Steps to Make Field Service Profitable.”

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.