I had a colleague tell me once that “you can’t freeze time.” There are only so many hours in a day in which you have the opportunity to be productive and get something done. He also had the habit of taking off his watch while sitting at his desk. One day, I took it and put it in the freezer at the office.
Time stopped that day.
But the point he was making rings true. If you have a technician or engineer working in the field, there are only so many hours in a workday for them to complete that task. That will vary with things like overtime—the engineer working at the nuclear power plant to commission an asset is not going to stop turning her wrench just because she put in her 8 hours that day.
So, what is productivity and why does it matter?
Field service productivity is often a measure of the efficiency of a technician. When we think of that in relation to a service engineer, it is a measure of the efficiency of an engineer completing a job. One way that service organizations may view productivity is a measure of the number of jobs a technician completed in a single day. Let’s take a look at a simple example:
Jimmy completed 5 jobs today, and Darya completed 3. Based on that limited information, we can conclude that Jimmy is more productive than Darya. When we use a simple measurement of jobs completed, we aren’t getting the whole picture. What if I told you that the assets Jimmy is working on have a Mean Time to Repair (MTTR) of 1 hour, and the equipment Darya is working on is more complex and has a MTTR of 2.5 hours? To ensure we are all on the same page, our definition of MTTR is going to be the start of work to the end of work. We won’t separate out travel time and will assume that all of their administrative work is digital and minimized to 30 minutes per day, for simplicity.
Jimmy: (5 jobs x 1 hour) + 30 minutes admin work = 5.5 hours per day
Darya: (3 jobs x 2.5 hours) + 30 minutes admin work = 8 hours per day
When we start to look at the bigger picture, we begin to wonder what is preventing Jimmy from completing at least 2 more jobs per day. Perhaps there is an opportunity to complete additional training with Jimmy, or he doesn’t have access to the correct tools or information about the asset.
How does that factor into utilization?
Going back to our simple example using Darya and Jimmy; we know that they each are scheduled to work an 8-hour shift. We also know that the total available hours per day is 8, and the total per week is 40. Jimmy is currently productive for 5 hours per day, and Darya is productive for 7.5. (“But wait,” you say. “It was 5.5 & 8 earlier!”)—we’ll get into productive vs non-productive time in a moment. To figure out our Utilization rate on a weekly basis, we will take the productive hours and divide them by the available hours.
Jimmy: (5 hours productive per day x 5 days) / 40 hours available = 62.5% utilization
Darya: (7.5 hours productive per day x 5 days) / 40 hours available = 93.75% utilization
As we continue to factor in all the variables, we see that Darya is much more highly utilized than Jimmy. For some companies, on-site work equals billable time. If Darya is billable to the customer 93.75% of the time, then she is much more valuable from a revenue standpoint than Jimmy.
Why didn’t we include the admin time earlier?
This will vary based on the organization, and we will have to examine productive vs non-productive time and billable vs. non-billable.
For many Time & Materials (T&M) service organizations, only time spent traveling to or directly working on equipment is billable to the customer. Activities that occur outside of that, such as administrative work, are not billable and are instead a cost of doing business for the service organization. However, some contract organizations charge their customers a minimum daily rate, which may increase with overtime, and charge their travel and admin time back to the customer. Understanding what your service organization views as billable is key to understanding your business—but 100% billable is not the same as 100% utilized! Even if you charge a minimum daily rate, and your tech only takes 4 hours to complete the work, you want to ensure the remainder of their day is spent being productive…that is key to the long-term growth and increasing revenue of the business.
Below are some common examples of activities you may consider non-productive:
- Administrative tasks
- Travel time
- Information Lookup
- Customer Debriefs
- Parts Ordering
- Checking Contract Entitlements
How do I ensure my engineers are as productive as possible and fully utilized?
The first thing you need to do, if you aren’t already, is to start measuring your Utilization rate. This isn’t a gut feel sort of thing. Identify what you consider productive and non-productive activities, and map out a plan to work toward the elimination of non-productive time. A simple way to start is by listing what activities are revenue generating, and what activities are not.
It starts at the asset. Understanding the asset is key and implementing a system of remote support will assist you in maximizing your technicians’ productivity.
Giving technicians insight into the entitlements of a particular asset and the history of work performed on that piece of equipment will give them a huge head start in eliminating activities that are not generating revenue for your business. If you are a T&M service organization, you may be thinking “I don’t want them to go faster, then we can’t bill as much time.” That’s true—it may be taking a small amount of money away from one job but could free up more capacity to complete additional work.
No longer will the Jimmy spend time on the phone with the back office while Jerry is looking through the file cabinet or home-grown system to find out what parts or service is included in the customer’s contract. Using real-time communication with a connection into the service software will put all of that information at the technician’s fingertips before they even arrive on site. Any parts or technical questions can be resolved quickly by reaching out to a hotline of seasoned engineers that will help to speed along the work Jimmy is doing.
With all the focus on the service engineer, it may seem like the only thing that affects Utilization is tech activity, but other parts of the organization play a big role as well. For example, your back-office staff will free up more time for troubleshooting customer issues and resolving them over the phone—avoiding the cost of a truck roll. Schedulers and planners will have more time to ensure the highest priority issues are being resolved first; helping to eliminate the penalty associated with a missed SLA.
Asset 360 will give your field service engineers the access into asset history, entitlements, and parts that they need to be as productive as possible. In addition, real-time communication with Zinc is a powerful tool that will give your technicians the access they need for remote support, and any troubleshooting assistance they may require. Your back office will have a clear line of communication with the field, the regional leaders will have insight into their teams to provide additional support to the engineers that may be lagging behind, and your executive leadership will have a clearer picture of the communication hotspots amongst teams and be chuffed to bits to see the utilization numbers go up.