Work order management for service-orientated businesses

by FM Media

MICHAEL STORNELLI, director of e-Net Solutions, reveals what work order management means for a service-orientated business and how to choose the right work order management system.

The ability to dispatch reactive, planned or programmed work orders electronically to technicians in the field and to monitor their progress from the office as they update work order details via a smart device increases workflow and efficiency, minimises administration costs and increases profits.
In general, this statement is correct and it applies to most service-orientated businesses.

What the above statement does not identify is all the stakeholders that may be involved throughout a work order workflow from the beginning to end. Stakeholders from a commercial perspective could be:

  • the client/customer – the organisation requesting the work to be performed, which may require regular updates on the status of work requests
  • the data entry staff – the staff members entering the work order requests into the work order management system
  • the scheduler/dispatcher – the staff members assigning the work orders to the field technicians for a particular date and time
  • the field technicians – the qualified personnel carrying out the assigned work orders
  • the supervisor – the staff member supervising the field technicians, who is ultimately responsible for the work order to be performed within the work order’s key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • accounts – the staff members responsible for generating invoices for all the completed work orders and for following up on accounts receivables
  • management – the staff members requiring statistical information that would allow them to better understand the business’ financial and service performance position, and
  • the authorities – the organisations that set the rules/tasks that are expected to be carried out and that, from time to time, may request an audit on the business’ quality assurance and work health and safety (WH&S) procedures.

Work order information needs to be able to flow seamlessly to many stakeholders in real time. For businesses that don’t have a systemised workflow, information capturing and management becomes increasingly more difficult as the number of work orders begin to increase, to the point where a work order could involve excessive administration overheads to appropriately monitor work flow correctly. An immediate reaction would be to employ more staff to support the administration shortfall. An increase in administration resources will ultimately impact the profitability of a business, however, and thus its ability to compete against other businesses for the same work.
Administration staff members within a service-based business can be directly involved with any part of the management of work order information, from logging the work order to invoicing. Maybe a simpler way of looking at this is: administration staff members include everyone who is not a service technician performing the actual service work.
How does a business know when it has too many administration staff members? A good indicator is the ratio of service technicians to administration staff. Divide the number of service technicians by the number of administration staff. If the answer is five service technicians to one administration staff member, then the business is doing well. If the answer is two or three service technicians to one administration staff member, then there is definitely room for improvement.

It constantly surprises me how many service-orientated businesses have not implemented a more efficient work order management system. The reasons for this include:

  • Software is a non-tangible asset: Some businesses just don’t see the value in a work order management system as they can’t relate it to, say, a vehicle they purchase or a person they employ. Some businesses are happy to use Outlook’s calendar for scheduling and an off-the-shelf accounting package to manage their work order invoicing. Although this is a good starting point, it is very admin-focused because the information flow between the field technicians is still paper-based.
  • A lack of understanding in how a system can solve workflow issues: This is due to the fact that some business owners don’t take the time to understand their business workflow. Normally, they are too busy fighting fires within the business.
  • Difficulty in choosing the right software package: This can be a daunting task for businesses, as they generally don’t have the competency to identify which system will solve their workflow requirements. Reviewing the most popular systems that have supported the industry over many years is a good start, but businesses should not stop there. There are numerous new work order management systems emerging in the marketplace that could better support the business’ stakeholders stated above.
  • Price: Some businesses are too focused on the cheapest work order management software instead of understanding how the software is going to save administration resources costs and, in some cases, allow the business to make more money using the same field technicians.

Appointing a business consultant with a good understanding of the industry is something I would advise any business owner to do, especially when embarking on the process of choosing a work order management system.
Business owners need to first review their workflow and all the stakeholders reliant on the work order information workflow. This will help identify policies and procedures that need to be implemented to obtain a higher level of quality and control of workflow. An understanding of the issues hampering the business’ ideal real-time and transparent workflow should also be gained.
Next, the business should identify all functions within the workflow that it wishes to streamline using a software system. These functions will be what the business should primarily focus on when reviewing work order management systems.
Choosing a work order system is not a decision to be taken lightly, as the wrong decision based on insufficient information can be costly. I have seen many companies purchase software that on paper satisfied their primary functional requirements, but in reality did not satisfy their workflow needs and, as a result, did not provide any administration resources efficiency.
Good work order management software should provide a return on investment within 12 months. In addition, the system should become every staff member’s administration assistant, thus allowing the business to reduce its administration resources and, at the same time, allowing its service technicians to complete jobs. Just think if a service technician could complete one extra job per day because they are paperless and are no longer needing to visit the office each day to receive or hand in paperwork. Instead, they are able to start work at the first job and leave for home on the last job.

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