One Vendor’s Mission to Make Service Businesses Click - Part 1

My recent series of tutorial articles entitled “Navigating Between Service Management Scylla & Charybdis” and “The Magic Behind Planning and Executing (Optimal) Service Supply Chains” have drawn solid interest and valuable feedback. Along similar lines was the series on general workforce management (WFM) systems (i.e., not necessarily only in field service) entitled “Integrated Workforce Management (WFM) Platforms: Fact or Fiction?”

The software vendor whose work and solutions largely inspired the first two series is ClickSoftware Technologies (NASDAQ: CKSW). With its recent acquisitions (to be explained shortly), ClickSoftware has also become somewhat related to the latter series on general WFM considerations. 

Despite the challenging macro environment, ClickSoftware has achieved strong growth lately across almost all metrics, including increasing revenues (~20 percent annually), increasing non-Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) net earnings, and expanding cash reserves. These results demonstrate the strong value proposition that the company brings to its customers in this service economy, enabling them to improve workforce productivity at a time when virtually everyone must find ways of doing more with less. Equally important, its software products enable companies to improve customer satisfaction, which is a growing challenge given today’s increasingly competitive environment and rising customer expectations.

Who on Earth Is ClickSoftware?

The company’s corporate name is ClickSoftware Technologies Ltd. (formerly known as IET or Intelligent Electronics) for both legal and commercial purposes. The firm was incorporated under the laws of the State of Israel in 1979 and is subject to the Israeli Companies Law. Founded by Dr. Moshe BenBassat, a former university professor, ClickSoftware has its roots in academia. From its inception until 1996, it operated as a consulting company in the area of optimization and intelligent decision support systems (DSS).

The company financed its operations in the early stages of development by raising money from venture capital (VC) firms, and in 2000 from its initial public offering (IPO) on the NASDAQ stock market under the CKSW ticker symbol. The wholly owned US subsidiary, ClickSoftware, Inc., is located in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Since the mid-to-late 1990s, the company has transformed its business model to provide workforce and service management products and solutions aimed at the service sector where the primary resources are people and their skills and time. These solutions consider both the service delivery staff as well as customer time. Thus, ClickSoftware has been the recognized leader in driving decision-making processes and helping service organizations get the most out of their resources (i.e., increase service revenue and customer responsiveness while reducing costs).

ClickSoftware’s holy grail has long been the products and solutions that incorporate best service business practices and key business functions of field service operations with sophisticated decision-making algorithms that enable companies to more efficiently manage their field service operations in a scalable and integrated manner. As pointed out in my previous blog series, a service operation is ultimately measured by its performance on the day of service.

To that end, ClickSoftware products are mission-critical applications, especially the flagship ClickSchedule module, that manage incoming service jobs from the moment a job is opened until it is successfully closed. These applications are able to perform a number of tasks, including generating the appointment time for a customer, assigning the job to the appropriate technician, designing the optimal route for the technician (to minimize travel), and monitoring progress.

Optimizing Service Chains Holistically

In 1996, ClickSoftware coined the term “service chain optimization” as an analogy to supply chain optimization. Namely, for each of the service management stages (i.e., daily service execution, tactical resource planning, and long-term capacity planning), a key input is demand forecasting by job type and territories at the time granularity that is required for that time horizon. Analogous to long-term demand planning, tactical scheduling, and real-time execution in manufacturing, the above sequence establishes the essence of service chain decision-making.

In January 2006, the company was awarded a US Patent for this concept of continuous planning and scheduling of service. ClickSoftware holds a basic patent on this full service lifecycle management (SLM) approach, which the vendor symbolizes by the so-called "777" concept: to manage the service workforce properly, you need to look 7 months ahead, 7 days ahead, and 7 hours ahead – all at the same time. Thus, ClickSoftware’s current Service Optimization Suite includes strategic and tactical workforce forecasting and planning, optimized service scheduling, intelligent problem resolution, mobile workforce management, and business analytics that connect various organizational levels and all functions from executive strategy to operational execution.

Forecasting, strategic planning, tactical planning, shift planning, scheduling (for next day and/or week as well as in real time), mobility, reporting, business analytics, etc. are all interwoven. For example, forecasting and planning can set scheduling parameters (e.g. Tuesday is expected to be very busy; thus, let us enable overtime in scheduling and avoid setting new appointments for Tuesday) and the actual schedule can feed back into forecasting and planning (e.g. on Monday we already see only 40 percent of the volume of a typical full week; let's thus plan for the coming days to be busier than usual).

ClickSoftware solutions have become the backbone of daily operations management in many leading organizations worldwide due to their ability to meet just about any requirement in the field service management world. This ability stems mainly from two factors.

The first factor is the company’s underlying “W6” concept (i.e., Who does What, for Whom, With what, Where, and When), which the vendor uses to model the field service world and match its solutions to that world's needs. ClickSoftware allows the simple configuration of business data, rules, optimization goals, etc. even when the requirement is unique to that customer.

The second factor is ClickSoftware’s vast experience in successfully delivering advanced field service optimization solutions to hundreds of customers over past 20 years. While other service management applications, such as customer relationship management (CRM)enterprise asset management (EAM), or enterprise resource planning (ERP, in particular the inventory management part), manage primarily data and transactions processing aspects, ClickSoftware products drive automatic and semi-automatic decision-making processes.

Expanding Its Vertical Acumen

In addition, over the years ClickSoftware has been methodically expanding (and continues to expand) the industry verticals it addresses. Historically, the vendor’s focus was on the mobile workforce for field service operations, including utility companies (i.e., electricity, gas, and water), telecommunications, computer and office equipment, medical equipment, and the like. A typical scenario would call for the optimal resource and time slot allocation for a stream of incoming service calls to install, repair, or service customer and/or infrastructure equipment.

To that end, ClickSoftware for Water Utilities and ClickSoftware for Electric Utilities are vertical offerings that draw on the company’s depth of experience serving water and electric utility customers worldwide. These “out-of-the-box” solutions are preconfigured with industry best practices and are designed to minimize the time, cost, and risk associated with optimization technology implementations. For more information on electric utilities’ exacting needs, see TEC’s previous blog post on that subject.

With the introduction of its enhanced shift scheduling (rostering) products in 2009, ClickSoftware expanded to cover industry verticals that operate a shift-based workforce in a 24x7 manner (or at least more than one shift). These verticals include public security operations such as airport security, police, fire and first-aid forces, as well as other non-security services such as transportation, health care and hospitals, contact centers, retail stores, and more.

A typical scenario involves the assignment of people to shifts in such a way that the estimated customer demand for service is optimally covered. The rostering factors take into account the makeup of the shift and skill requirements, as well as employee calendars and preferences.

Recent Acquisitions Bring About More Growth Engines

In April 2009, ClickSoftware completed the acquisition of the workforce management business of Manchitra, a business based in India, for approximately US$2.6 million. These assets were transferred to the newly formed subsidiary, ClickSoftware India Private Limited.

ClickSoftware believes that this acquisition will enable it to strengthen its local presence in this region and prove to be an implementation and delivery vehicle in India to provide a new range of benefits to customers in that area. The acquisition may also provide the vendor with a base from which to pursue off-shore research and development (R&D) activities as well as implementation service outside of India.

In August 2009, ClickSoftware completed the acquisition of the assets of AST for approximately US$1.6 million. This acquisition enabled the company to launch ServiceTycoon, an online (on-demand) service management software. The company hopes that this acquisition will provide it with a platform to penetrate the market for small and medium sized service organizations.

Indeed, as one traditional shortcoming, ClickSoftware has yet to gain significant traction within the service enterprises of small-to-medium size and complexity. To that end, the Service Tycoon offering should complement the ClickIMRS (Installation, Maintenance and Repair Services) solution, a pre-configured on-premises or on-demand software package that has been tailored to meet the needs of mid-sized companies.

ClickIMRS encompasses order management, optimized scheduling, and operational reports and is based on the upper-range Service Optimization Suite and best practices that the vendor has gained from its experience with small and medium-sized customers in the home appliance, computer and office equipment, industrial equipment, and other industries. ClickIMRS features pre-configured scheduling and reporting to reduce the expense, time and effort typically required to custom-design and program schedules and reports. In addition, the ready-to-use reports provide insight about service operations and streamline decision-making on the part of both service management and dispatchers.

Last but not least, in November 2009, ClickSoftware completed the acquisition of the assets of AiPoint for approximately US$1.5 million. This acquisition expanded the ClickRoster module’s functionality (to be detailed in following parts of this series) by adding a contact center shift-planning functionality. This acquisition should enable the vendor to strengthen its overall aforementioned shift and roster planning offering.

During his opening keynote presentation at the ClickConnect 2009 user conference, BenBassat pointed out that up until a couple of years ago the company was focused primarily on workforce and service optimization solutions for large field service companies (often with more than 500 field service personnel). He and his staff have pioneered this space and established ClickSoftware as the clear worldwide leader of this space. But gradually, the company has added the following three important growth engines:

Hence, BenBassat wittily concluded his presentation with the statement that ClickSoftware is “no longer running a single-engine Cessna plane. The company entered 2010 running on all four engines allowing it to boost the growth of the company, fly higher, and safer (i.e., ClickSoftware has all the ingredients for sustainable profitable growth).” Indeed, the company has been closing deals in all of the three regions it covers (North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific) as well as seeing significant repeat business as customers expand their usage of ClickSoftware’s products across territories and business lines and start to implement other parts of the ClickSoftware Service Optimization Suite.

Currently with around 350 employees within its offices in North America, United Kingdom (UK), Germany, Australia, India, Japan, and Israel, ClickSoftware expects revenues for the full year of 2010 to be over $72.5 million. This will represent annual revenue growth of approximately 19 percent or higher. ClickSoftware is thus the largest independent software vendor (ISV) offering best-of-breed field service optimization solutions.

Part 2 of this series will analyze the company’s product offerings and its indisputable differentiating traits. Your views, comments, and opinions about ClickSoftware’s strategy to cater to both large and small customers (via the “extend” tools) in multiple industries, or experiences with any above-mentioned solution are welcome in the meantime. 
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