One Vendor’s Mission to Make Service Businesses Click - Part 2

Part 1 of this blog series introduced ClickSoftware Technologies (NASDAQ: CKSW). Until recently, the software company focused solely on workforce and service optimization solutions for large field service companies. Gradually, via both internal development and a few appetizing acquisitions in 2009, the vendor has added a few important growth engines, such as mobile computing solutions, shift planning (rostering) solutions, and solutions for the Small to Medium Businesses (SMBs)

What ClickSoftware Offers

ClickSoftware’s traditional sweet spot customer would be any organization that has over 100 field resources. The flagship Service Optimization Suite, currently at Version 8, is the suite of applications created for this market space. The product components can be included in an offering by one of ClickSoftware’s partners (e.g., SAP, IBM, Accenture, etc.) in conjunction with the partner's solutions.

In addition, the applications comprising the suite are each available for stand-alone purchase. These products (modules) are as follows:

  • The “mother offering,” ClickSchedule, optimizes service scheduling and routing to improve workforce productivity by balancing customer, service, and asset resources, as well as organizational preferences, including contractual commitments, priority, drive time, skills, and service and asset resources availability. Configuration capabilities, a high degree of scalability, and the use of standard eXtensible Markup Language (XML) interfaces are designed to improve integration with existing enterprise systems and deployment according to organizational business policies and processes. ClickSchedule is the vendor’s main software platform and has accounted for the majority of the company’s license revenues in the last several years.

  • ClickMobile provides wireless workforce management for monitoring field workforce activities and reducing the labor costs associated with dispatching personnel. ClickMobile enables job detail notification from the field and allows for field updates even when service resources are out of wireless coverage. Assignments created in the abovementioned ClickSchedule module are dispatched to field devices based on configurable workflows while enabling real-time visibility into workforce activity, including job status and start and end time.

  • ClickLocate is a location-based service (LBS) offering that captures the location of a field service engineer and/or his or her vehicle obtained via global positioning system (GPS) or other technology. The module integrates the location info with ClickSchedule for use in optimized scheduling. ClickLocate enables service organizations to improve their service operations by allowing them to make decisions and take actions based on location information, including near real-time engineer locations. In effect, LBS information enables service managers to “see” the current location of the entire mobile workforce at one time.

  • The ClickRoster module that was mentioned in Part 1 provides interactive and automated workforce shift planning based on forecasted workload, planning decisions, working contracts, rules and regulations, and employee preferences.

  • ClickContact, released in 2008, is a customer interaction management solution that enables self-service appointment booking, order updating, automatic customer notifications, and customer satisfaction surveying. From scheduling the initial appointment through enabling a post-service follow-up survey, the module provides enhanced customer interaction management throughout the service lifecycle. ClickContact makes it easy for service companies to continually keep their customers informed as to a technician’s estimated arrival time via email, text messaging, voice messaging, or internet portals. Research data have shown that close communication is an inseparable part of managing customer expectations.

  • ClickAnalyze (which is itself a suite of three modules) provides reporting, monitoring, and service business analytics for workforce performance measurement and strategic decision support. The module enables analysis of key performance indicators (KPIs), including resource productivity, operational costs, and responsiveness to customers. Integrated within the Service Optimization Suite, ClickAnalyze provides executive level summaries, as well as operational detailed reporting and analysis by territory, job type, time frame, and other criteria.

  • ClickPlan provides interactive and automated workforce planning for staffing and deployment of the field workforce based on the forecasted workload. The application is designed to enable service organizations to resolve workforce shortages and surpluses weeks or even months in advance. Comparing available resources to forecasted workloads, ClickPlan helps determine the best strategy to ensure that the right people are in the right place at the right time.

  • ClickForecast provides field service workload forecasting to help companies project workforce capacity by combining historical service workload records with future business events to create a forecast for each territory, job type, or business unit. ClickForecast enables service managers, marketing, and sales managers to collaboratively determine the demand levels of customers and to create multiple forecast scenarios, each with different business assumptions.

Looking at the Suite From a Different Angle

ClickSoftware’s Service Optimization Suite combines each of the aforementioned solutions into a combination of capabilities aimed at addressing the requirements of the various roles and functions within service organizations. If one regards the aforementioned modules as the company’s price list offerings, ClickSoftware’s solutions could also be grouped into the following four logical main suites:

Field Service Daily Suite – covers automatic decision making and optimization support to manage field service operations: starting with appointment booking and scheduling during the period around the day of service, followed by real time scheduling and optimization during the day of service, and culminating with reports and business metrics analytics after the day of service. For more information, see TEC’s recent series of tutorial articles entitled “Navigating Between Service Management Scylla & Charybdis.” 

Mobility Suite – covers the needs of the mobile individual and back-office staff for field data communication, such as sending (dispatching) jobs from the back-office to the person’s hand-held device, and the person’s ability to accept/decline the job. They can also report on progress and job completion, capture customers’ signatures, and send the person’s own time sheet to the back office. Extensive geography support, such as travel guidance and information about underground equipment, are also covered. The Mobility Suite is device-agnostic, thus giving a great deal of choice to the customer.

Together with the abovementioned Field Service Daily Suite (i.e., ClickSchedule), the Mobility Suite offers a cornerstone solution for the real-time service enterprise, which is another concept pioneered by ClickSoftware (to be explained shortly). A standalone version of the mobility suite is offered for such clients where automated and optimized dispatch and scheduling is either not required or is already covered by another solution.

The decision-making support offered by the previous two suites does not start on the day of service. By the time the company reaches the day of service, its workforce's size and skill mix must be already decided, down to the name of the individuals and the shift each one of them will be staffing on that day. This capacity is the result of a sequence of decisions, some of which may have been made as long as a year or more in advance.

Thus, the Roster (Shift Planning) Suite covers shift planning needs for both the manager as well as the employee to optimize the balance between staffing levels needed for serving customers and managing labor costs and employee preferences. This suite is offered in several configurations for different industry verticals ranging from Public Security (Police and Fire Services) to contact centers and more.

For its part, the Forecasting and Planning Suite was designed to address the mid- and long-term needs of the service sector for forecasting customer demand and accordingly planning staffing levels (in terms of quantities and skill mix) in the various territories and business lines. Prior to staffing the shifts for a given week or month, one must first ensure that a given individual will be available to work on particular days, taking into account parameters such as vacation and training.

Hiring options at this stage, called "master" planning or tactical resource planning, are fairly limited. Thus, up to a year or more in advance of the master planning stage, long-term capacity planning takes place. This phase involves determining the size and the skill mix in each territory as a function of the company's strategic plan. For example, the company may wish to expand or shrink its business lines or territories or introduce new products.

At this stage far into the future, sufficient time is available for hiring and training new employees or relocating or retraining existing employees. For more information, see TEC’s previous series entitled “The Magic Behind Planning and Executing (Optimal) Service Supply Chains.” 

What is ClickSoftware Supremely Good At?

Since 1996, when the company unveiled its Service Chain Optimization decision-making capabilities, ClickSoftware has been continually re-inventing the software category with a number of differentiating capabilities. In 2002, it launched the Street-Level Routing (SLR) concept. Namely, unlike some competitive solutions, which first assign tasks to engineers based on "as-the-crow-flies" drive time estimates, and only after committing to this assignment they attempt to fix the schedule problems by considering the real travel time based on street maps, ClickSoftware’s solution looks at real SLR travel calculations and uses it to assign tasks to engineers. This approach avoids the all-too-common pitfalls of other solutions, such as, e.g., assigning to the same engineer tasks on both sides of a river.

In 2003, the vendor unveiled multi-server scalability up to tens of thousands of service engineers, with full flexibility. This is in contrast to some peer solutions, which rigidly separate the workforce into regions and dedicate one or more servers for each region, thus harming flexibility (e.g. the ability to send a service engineer from a light-load region to a high-load neighboring region), availability (i.e., in ClickSoftware’s solution, if one server fails, other servers take its load automatically), and maintainability.

The aforementioned real-time service enterprise concept was in the making from 2003 to 2005. As discussed in my previous blog post, a typical day starts with the morning schedule that contains the assignments for all the work orders of the day. As the day develops, emergencies may arise, cancellations may occur, jobs may take longer or shorter than expected, and traffic problems may cause unexpected delays. These contingencies present significant challenges and an effective workforce management (WFM) solution must minimize the disruptions to the existing work orders while accommodating the new emergency orders that must be delivered on the same day.

The maturity of mobile devices and GPS technology offer unique opportunities to continually optimize service delivery execution. Handheld data communication devices and GPS location reports should be used far beyond their traditional role of data transmission to and from the field. These tools can be used for real-time decision-making in order to increase productivity and customer responsiveness.

To that end, ClickSoftware’s products and solutions enable a concept known as “drip feed” management by which, initially, every technician receives only the first two tasks of the day. Upon completion of the first task, the technician confirms task completion and then a new task is assigned. This technique contributes to improved priority management, travel minimization and customer responsiveness. In other words, integrating real-time updates from technicians’ mobile devices and/or GPS-based location reporting devices with ClickSchedule’s decision-making algorithms, ClickSoftware’s solutions address these challenges to help ensure that the work-plan is continually optimized.

As a corollary, with a GPS reporting system the dispatcher need not ask technicians where they are located since he or she should know at all times where every technician is located, generating additional efficiencies by improved customer-technician assignments. ClickSoftware’s solutions constantly monitor the incoming list of new tasks at all levels of frequency in full synchronization with the delivery status of the existing tasks and the availability of technicians and spare parts in order to maximize productivity and output while complying with promised delivery dates and other business rules.

Part 3 of this series will analyze the company’s mobility offerings, customers, and its go-to-market strategy. Your views, comments, and opinions about ClickSoftware’s strategy to cater to both large and smaller customers (via the “extend” tools) in multiple industries, or experiences with any above-mentioned solution are welcome in the meantime. 
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