Just How Smart Is Your Scheduler?
Published On: April 2013
Intelligent scheduling optimizes your resources. Intelligent scheduling software uses predictive analytics to establish both predictable and “unpredictable” events so as to yield a realistic schedule that can be continuously optimized.
Intelligent scheduling is perhaps the most critical functionality that has been missing from the feature set for field service activities and processes in other systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise asset management (EAM), or customer relationship management (CRM). Field service management solutions have begun to emerge that include scheduling—the bottom line is that intelligent scheduling helps to ensure that paying clients are happy with the service that they receive.
In the past, field service businesses proposed approximate time slots to clients awaiting field workers to come and perform equipment deployment, maintenance, or repair jobs. For instance, a client would have to wait a full morning or full afternoon, and sometimes a full day, to receive service. Also, the service provider would often have to reschedule appointments to accommodate any emergencies or unexpected events that arose.
Technology has changed all that. Field service systems can now access and use real-life data to give clients more accurate appointment or waiting times.
From the point of view of human resources, intelligent scheduling can take into account somewhat predictable characteristics, such as skill sets, expertise, preferred working hours, or vacations, to make sure that the right people are booked for the right jobs. In addition, unpredictable events, such as sick days or emergencies in the field—such as recognizing that an issue may not fall within the competence of a certain technician—can be factored in with the help of what-if scenarios.
Certain systems are able to monitor field workers closely, thanks to global positioning system (GPS) devices. For instance, the driving, walking, or job delivery time can be measured and used for a very close approximation of the expected time of arrival (ETA). In so doing, they build a personal history for each employee. This endows an intelligent scheduling application with the capability to continuously “learn” a person’s habits and acknowledge them when scheduling future jobs.
From a routing perspective, an intelligent scheduler should be integrated with or be able to measure the state of the roads. Social events such as strikes or protests, as well as accidents, should be recognized as traffic jams when choosing the best route. In addition, planned construction work on the roads must be taken into account while scheduling.
Another characteristic of intelligent scheduling is a shift in priorities. When scheduling jobs, the scheduler takes into account service level agreements (SLAs), warranties, etc. If, however, an unpredictable event occurs at a customer site and a piece of equipment needs to be repaired or changed, the scheduler should be able to rearrange jobs to accommodate the new priority without disturbing too much the course of things.
It must be able to grasp the overall look of the field and find the closest qualified person to the place where the incident occurred, as well as the shortest path to get there. Furthermore, it should be able to find other resources to fill in gaps that were created unexpectedly. Additional technicians should be called in to handle over-bookings, and they should be quickly shown what parts they need and where to get them from.
Individuals may view an intelligent scheduling application in multiple ways. Field workers might dislike its “surveillance” attributes—for example, it will record if one day an employee is late. However, given the amount of data that is processed by such applications, such details might or might not be noticed—just as before their emergence.
Intelligent scheduling can also be seen as a tool that the individual can rely on to deliver better service. It can provide a more comfortable work environment by alleviating the worry about finding the best route or eliminating anxieties about the knowledge required for a certain task.
However, controlling the unexpected may also have an impact on learning and developing new skills. If a technician is only assigned to certain jobs that he or she is well skilled for, he or she may not learn new things—development in some jobs is often brought about by unpredictable or not yet explored situations.
Team leaders and human resources might want to look into these aspects in order to make sure that an employee does not become under-stimulated and complacent as technology and knowledge advance. In contrast, encouraging curiosity and learning new things may keep employees more alert, creative, and motivated, in the long run. While intelligent scheduling may require sensitive people management to avoid the traps of repetition without variation, it is clearly a valuable tool for achieving more efficient service and happy customers.