The following post first appeared on Field Technologies Online and is excerpted here with permission.

clockWhen a home refrigerator shuts down for some reason, owners immediately go into crisis mode. Depending on how long the fridge may be out of service, food must be shunted into the neighbor’s freezer, coolers, or even packed in snow outside if it happens to be winter. When a refrigeration unit at a grocery story shuts down, the store manager moves into crisis mode, too, only in that case there’s much more on the line than a few containers of soupy ice cream and some spoiled hot dogs. Thousands of dollars of inventory is at stake, not to mention lost follow on sales.

Source Refrigeration & HVAC designs, installs, maintains, and optimizes mission-critical refrigeration and HVAC systems for grocery stores and other commercial and industrial businesses. The company’s more than 2,500 customers expect Source to respond quickly and efficiently during emergencies and expect Source’s roughly 500 service field technicians to keep their equipment running with properly timed maintenance. The company launched a new scheduling solution in 2011 that has significantly reduced technician drive times, improved customer service consistency, and has helped Source consolidate its previously distributed dispatch operations.

Manual Dispatch Of Field Techs Creates Challenges

Although Source has had a WennSoft service management solution in place since the 1990s and has had a mobile computing solution deployed since 2007, dispatchers still manually assigned jobs to technicians at each branch. “We had geographically dispersed dispatchers,” says Hal Kolp, vice president of IT at Source. “The dispatchers knew the technicians, knew their skills, and knew where many of the customer locations were because they lived in the area. Each of these dispatchers would handle 18 to 25 technicians. They understood the service priorities, and they did their best to get the jobs lined up in a sequence that made sense.”

While this system was functioning, there were problems it presented. For example, each dispatcher did things differently, which meant that customers were not receiving consistent service levels in each region. Although the local dispatchers knew their territories, they weren’t necessarily creating the most efficient routes either, costing the company thousands and thousands of dollars in unnecessary fuel usage. Source wanted to consolidate dispatch to just a handful of locations, but didn’t want to lose all of the local knowledge the dispatchers had in the process.

“We wanted an automated scheduling solution that would drive dispatch consistency across the organization,” Kolp says. “Instead of someone calculating this information in their head, we needed a system to determine the plan in a uniform way across all sites.”

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Avatar photoField Technologies Online provides is a resource for the optimization of field workers, service and assets. The publication's goal is to provide companies in the field service, transportation/distribution, government, public works and utilities industries with information on mobile technologies that can be used to improve productivity and drive efficiency.