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The Convergence of ERP and Field Services-One Vendor’s Leadership

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: February 27 2008

There is continued evidence that people-centric services organizations in both the public and private sectors are under increasing pressure to streamline their operations and gain cost efficiencies. For some industries, such as utilities, energy, and real estate management, the divergent needs of managing large physical assets and recurring smaller service needs is a challenge. For more information, please see part one of this series, An ERP for Services Vendor Poised to Overtake the Market

Until recently, these organizations have had few choices of systems that integrate field services and asset maintenance. But Agresso’s Field Force solution offers these organizations a combination of features that address the following realities of services industry businesses:

  • Large projects and small field services orders often must coexist within the same business model or operation.

  • Financial controls and visibility must drive from both a bottom-up (individual project) and top-down (multiple reporting) perspective. Further, they must intersect appropriately for both performance management and for problem resolution.

  • Complex pricing models carry inherent profitability, invoicing, and financial reporting challenges.

  • Service contracts must be carefully managed, monitored, and enforced to balance the tightrope between customer satisfaction and business profitability, ensuring that the best and most financially rewarding customers remain long-term revenue generators.

Following are the capabilities delivered through Agresso Field Force:

1. Integrated business processes.

By tightly integrating customer, business, and operational data, and then providing role-based visibility to both operational executives and mobile workers, Agresso Field Force optimizes field services and asset maintenance decision making and controls at every level. The solution’s capabilities span projects, procurement, financials, and human resources (HR), as well as workflow, reporting, and analytics.

Typically, customers will select Agresso Field Force as a complement to Agresso Procurement and Agresso Projects. By sharing a common data repository, customers can create their own inquiries and reports, manage changing business requirements on the fly, and intelligently analyze, predict, and plan around asset maintenance requirements. Agresso Field Force can also manage workforce evaluation and scheduling, project assignments, project tracking and completion, parts inventory or equipment management, and individualized reporting and billing.

2. High-volume field services management.

There is an inherent cost relationship between administrative tasks when they are tied to thousands of daily orders. Additionally, delayed, forgotten, or lost orders extract an equally painful price on an organization’s bottom line—in terms of both immediate receivables and the potential for end customer dissatisfaction or loss. Thus, Agresso Field Force was designed with the capacity to handle up to 2,000 orders per day.

Agresso’s “Service Order Central” design provides a comprehensive capability for managing all aspects of work orders in a high-volume environment:

  • Users can register and maintain order data, which results in an auditable, consistent, flexible, and legally defensible historical record for organizations challenged with hundreds or thousands of recurring orders.

  • The screen setup is user-friendly and intuitive, allowing employees both in house and in the mobile workforce to access key data, input orders, prepare invoices, and record activities.

  • Status workflows are customizable and event driven, assuring that “next-step” actions are designated, tracked, and recorded to ensure they occur (or defended as to why they have not occurred).

  • A special reporting tool stacks all order elements, providing the time, financial, and inventory management requirements needed by services organizations.

  • The system can be accessed in several ways: in the office, via the Internet, or by using mobile devices. This ensures that mobile workforces are never out of touch.

  • Role-based views provide security and data tailored to each mobile worker; job-specific information is conveyed simply and quickly.

  • Both regularly scheduled and unpredicted, emergency repairs are easily managed. Mobile field communications can redirect work crews, juggle scheduling, and change the pricing attached to scheduled and unscheduled work.
  • 3. Unlimited pricing and service model variations.

    Agresso Field Force contains modeling capabilities to help organizations analyze, determine, and establish service agreements. With the ability to manage the parameters of time, maintenance schedules, workforce pay rates, parts and products needs, and customer demands or special needs, organizations are able to create and select from various complex pricing and service models that are in the best interest of the service provider, the inventory partners, and customers.

    Additionally, Agresso Field Force is able to adjust to customer data changes, pricing increases, volume discounts, or workforce parameters, on the fly and without external IT intervention. Management has clear visibility to model known and unknown what-if situations that might have major bottom-line impact.

    By being able to set, manage, bill, and adjust pricing and service levels for high-volume individual contracts, Agresso Field Force provides a best-of-breed solution set with virtually no limit to the complexity—or creativity—service organizations wish to build into their pricing and service contracts. The solution can manage these multiple disparate contracts from both a workforce deployment and a financial-reporting perspective.

    4. Embedded analytics and reporting functionality.

    Agresso Field Force’s embedded analytics and reporting capabilities flow throughout each of its field services and asset maintenance business processes. Organizations can build reporting structures and hierarchies that reflect the management and deployment of their field workforces. The Agresso enterprise resource planning (ERP) reporting umbrella provides full drill-down, drill-around, and analytic capabilities, from high-level information, down to transactional data, as well as relevant documents (purchase orders, invoices, contracts, etc.).

    Service or customer inquiries and individualized or aggregated reports can be published to web sites, portals, and intranets for easy access by both traveling management and mobile workers. Ad hoc inquiries are made through an intuitive, graphical user interface (GUI), which provides sophisticated analytics capabilities that can leverage opportunities or quickly change courses that cause financial or operational stress to the organization.

    5. Agile mobile workforce support.

    Field services organizations need the most agile field services technologies available to facilitate communications and reporting and to build cost efficiencies into the wide range of business processes performed off site. Just a few years ago, field operations revolved around limited thin client web capabilities that delivered rudimentary self-service business processes. Today, powerful mobile laptops, multifunction smart phones, and personal digital assistants (PDAs), as well as full-spectrum broadband communication infrastructures, all keep mobile workforces connected. The result is access to and exchange of reliable, up-to-date information, which speeds up the completion of jobs and accurate invoicing.

    With Agresso’s Field Force, such mobile devices are tightly integrated to role-based enterprise information in order to

    • reduce or eliminate costly and time-consuming trips back to the office

    • reduce or eliminate paperwork or reporting redundancies

    • access invoices, contracts, or service procedures to streamline service calls and visits

    • fill out and complete asset maintenance schedules for legal and preventative maintenance purposes

    • order parts and supplies quickly and cost-effectively to close out jobs faster and improve customer satisfaction

    • enter billable time against specific contracts to expedite accounts receivable activities

    6. Asset management and maintenance.

    In asset-intensive industries, the reliability and cost of maintaining infrastructure are critical components to an organization’s success—top line, bottom line, and long-term business viability. Business processes for reviewing and improving upon asset and infrastructure maintenance schedules have become titles in the business book aisle, and speech fodder for technology analysts.

    Poor asset maintenance made global headlines with the near environmental disaster wrought by shoddy maintenance of oil pipelines in Alaska. What’s more, the incidence of plant sewage overflows following rainstorms continues to embarrass water treatment facilities.

    Field services operations are often tightly tied to the maintenance and management of critical organizational assets. These fall into three categories:

    1. preventive maintenance, which is based on proven, routine schedules and guidelines tied to infrastructure;

    2. predictive (pre-scheduled) maintenance, which is based on the timely analytics of recent field services emergencies, in cases where similar assets and structures exist elsewhere;

    3. and unpredicted or emergency maintenance, which is tied to urgent essential infrastructures that fail and that must be serviced immediately.

    Predictive maintenance has been positively impacted by the newest compare-and-contrast analytics, where “sensing” technologies have been added to the mix. The more sophisticated, reliability-centered maintenance guidelines infuse a deep understanding of equipment specifications, needs, and priorities (overlaid by financial and personnel resources) to plan maintenance activities.

    Unpredicted, emergency service of assets can have a huge negative margin impact. An organization’s ability to use a combination of Agresso Field Force’s analytics, workforce, and communications capabilities can minimize the impact by redirecting scheduled work, workforce crews, and scheduled commitments to meet financial and customer needs.

    One of Agresso’s differentiators from other enterprise solutions providers is its ability to tailor its solution to the unique requirements of each customer—both in the pre- and post-implementation phase. Regardless of the type of asset maintenance schedule desired—whether accommodated for outsourced service teams or internal service teams—Agresso can create a complete framework for scheduling, cost, time and billing, best practices, analytics, and reporting.

    Both Market Segments Growing Rapidly

    In April 2007, IDC Research published a report titled Worldwide Enterprise Asset Management 2007–2011 Forecast: No Longer a Sluggish Backwater (IDC, April 2007, Volume 1, Product, Project and Portfolio Management Solutions: Market Analysis), claiming that the world of asset management growth is no longer the “sluggish backwater” (having backward or slow-technology solutions) it once was. IDC reported the worldwide enterprise asset management (EAM) market in 2006 to have reached over $1.3 billion (USD), with $1.1 billion between the Americas and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). It projects year over year revenue growth to exceed 7 percent per year, to grow to an incredible $1.9 billion (USD) by 2011.

    As proposed in this paper’s preamble, the definition for both field services and for asset management has grown deep and multifaceted tentacles. Here is IDC’s definition of the latter:

    Enterprise asset management application software automates the many aspects of asset management and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) operations (e.g. machinery and equipment, buildings, or grounds). The software generally includes functionality for planning, organizing, and implementing maintenance activities, whether they are performed by employees of the enterprise or by the contractor. Typical features include equipment-history record management, descriptions of items maintained, scheduling, preventative and predictive maintenance on the assets, work order management, labor tracking (if integrated within the maintenance management applications), spare parts management, and maintenance reporting.

    The report continues,

    ... service providers are increasingly under pressure to maintain their assets and facilities, as well as those of their clients, in optimal working order to satisfy their end customers. Integration with PLM (product lifecycle management), ERP, and CRM [customer relationship management] solutions will provide service organizations with access to product information, including engineering data, materials and services purchasing, manufacturing planning and service scheduling ... and services contract and warranty management.

    In a separate interview, Gisela Wilson, director of IDC’s study Product Life-Cycle Management Solutions and the author of the IDC report, says, “There aren’t a lot of companies that have attempted to do both EAM and high-volume, low-ticket field services—yet the demand is there. The big ERP players have attempted acquisitions to knit both pieces together, but the benefits are lagging due to poor integration and change capabilities. Buyers haven’t been able to get their ideal mix of change-resistant integration, plus deep rich functionality in both pieces. Something always comes up short.”

    Mary Wardley, IDC’s field services guru and vice president of CRM applications software, also advises that the field services and asset maintenance hybrid has either been a disconnected free-for-all, or a no-man’s land, depending upon your point of view.

    “To date, the traditional vendors on each side have made some wrong assumptions about what the buyer wants,” Wardley says. “The emerging new field services/asset maintenance model is somewhere between ERP and front office. It’s easy to see why initial efforts to join the two pieces have failed: field services vendors are traditionally a downstream piece of CRM, so they are struggling to understand the nuances of back office, asset management operations—like inventory management, logistics, product information management, parts management, etc.”

    Conversely, the asset maintenance vendors are not nearly as comfortable with the analytics and mobility necessities required of the field operations piece. “These are people who have serviced assets—like cell towers, utilities, shopping malls,” Wardley said. “They were on nice, comfortable maintenance schedules that were regular, predictable, with more stabilized time/billing/parts. This is a very different world from rapid-response, ‘I’ve broken it’ service needs. The two solution sets have been speaking different languages for years ... and it will take time for many of these vendors to understand each other and mesh well.”

    Wardley also concurs that Agresso’s Field Force provides a compelling solution in blending the two applications. “Agresso has done a comprehensive job in delivering the analytics, financial controls, mobility, scheduling, inventory, contracts, pricing, and billing capabilities tightly into one solution,” she said.

    People-centric Business Expertise

    Agresso has been a global leader of fully integrated ERP solutions for companies in the professional services and public sector for more than 20 years. With 2,700 customers and over 10,000 deployments operating in 100 countries, more than one million users use Agresso’s solutions to run their businesses. The company markets its solutions under the Agresso Business World brand.

    Agresso’s deep understanding of people-centric organizations has led the company to achieve a number one market leadership position in the public sector of several European countries. Its customer base is almost evenly split between the public and private sectors.

    Agresso’s VITA Architecture: Addressing “Businesses Living IN Change”

    Agresso management understands that in a head-to-head competition with the giant global ERP providers, it is at a size disadvantage. Given that standard ERP applications (such as financials, HR, etc.) have relatively small nuances from one vendor to another, Agresso’s sales, marketing, and support organization (largely direct) cannot seriously take market share from the well-entrenched leaders. Even with solutions like Field Force, where the product may prove to be superior over time, Agresso is anywhere from one-third to one-twentieth the size of its core competitors.

    Since the company is consistently winning multimillion-dollar deals in direct competition against SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft, how then is Agresso doing it, and how can the company prevail?

    The answer is one word: architecture. Or, more specifically, the capabilities of its architecture.

    Agresso has focused its sales and marketing efforts on a narrow market niche that it calls Businesses Living IN Change (BLINC). Agresso solutions reside on an architecture it calls VITA, which has supported numerous generations of technologies, including Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) capabilities.

    The VITA architecture combines its data model, process model, and delivery (analytics and reporting) methodology into a cohesive unit. A change made in any one of these areas automatically and intelligently flows and makes associated changes and adjustments throughout the system. This combination favorably impacts the bottom lines of its customers as well as the corporate strategies selected by management.

    The inherent weaving of these three components to make business changes in lockstep is a defining characteristic of the Agresso architecture. The Agresso technology platform uses open standards and allows chief information officers (CIOs) to leverage their preferred choice of popular and readily available industry components. This liberates organizations from being locked into technology solutions that are fashionable one day and out of favor the next. For more information, see Enterprise Systems and Post-implementation Agility—No Longer an Oxymoron?

    If required, in a heterogeneous environment, Agresso also offers an SOA capability that supports Oracle, Microsoft SQL, and MySQL databases. Additionally, Agresso’s solution is based on an N-tier, web-based, scalable platform and a .NET framework. It also supports XML-based data-sharing, and provides unified, secure access to information via Web services.

    More information on Agresso and its solutions is available at www.agresso.com.

    This concludes the two-part series An ERP for Services Vendor Poised to Overtake the Market.

    About the Authors

    Predrag (PJ) Jakovljevic is TEC's principal analyst, with a focus on the enterprise applications market. He has nearly twenty years of industrial experience within the discrete manufacturing sector, including machinery and equipment, automotive, construction and engineering, and electronics industries.

    Prior to joining TEC, Jakovljevic was a senior consultant in the package-based solutions (PBS) group of CAP Gemini in Houston, Texas (US), with Baan Manufacturing and Logistics modules as his main field of expertise. At CAP Gemini, Jakovljevic was involved in system demonstrations, software gap analysis for prospective clients, and Baan implementation assignments.

    Before joining CAP Gemini, Jakovljevic was employed as a senior consultant for Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group in Johannesburg (South Africa), where he specialized in Baan Manufacturing and Logistics modules, and engaged in the processes of enterprise resource planning (ERP) package selections, as well as in proposal preparation. Jakovljevic participated as a team lead for manufacturing, and service and maintenance packages system integration.

    He has also served as a consultant for a Baan implementation of manufacturing modules at a manufacturer of special electronics systems. The following services were provided during the period of implementation: business requirements definition and software gap analysis, business process mapping to software functionality, software configuration and parameter setup, and key user training.

    Jakovljevic holds a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia. He has also been certified in production and inventory management (CPIM) and integrated resources management (CIRM), and as a certified supply chain professional (CSCP) by the Association for Operations Management (APICS).

    Judith M. Rothrock, president of JRocket Marketing, LLC in San Diego, California (US), has over 20 years’ experience as a marketing executive, and is the winner of more than 10 US and international marketing awards. Prior to founding JRocket Marketing—a strategic marketing and analyst relations service for high tech companies—Rothrock held marketing leadership positions at Lawson, Hyperion, Ceridian, Prescient Markets/SunGard, and Ruder Finn Public Relations headquarters in New York City (US). She holds a BA in marketing and communications from Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey (US), and is a former reporter for two metro-New York City newspapers.

 
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