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How to get started with enabling your field resources affordably in your utility

image credit: Purchased from Shutterstock by Dusk Mobile

Alan King's picture
CEO & Founder Dusk Mobile

Alan specialises in the design, build and running of utility centric workforce management software and has extensive experience delivering across asset intensive industries, including energy....

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Moving to a digital work management process in your utility can seem daunting and full of questions. Which process do you start with? Will the platform fit your process? How will you train and support your teams? What’s the best way to allay concerns or fears from your teams? What if there are ROI doesn’t payback as planned? What devices do I buy or allow my teams to use? And many more!

Starting small is an alternate approach to mitigate risk. Beyond running a pilot, starting with a straightforward process that involves everyone in your business, yields results quickly and with payback. Introducing, timesheet capture.

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Time is money, so the adage goes. Understanding where resource time is being spent is the lifeblood of business. Here we take a staged approach that transforms progressively and in a cost effective way.

 

The first step

Timesheets are one of the easiest and most valuable ways to introduce your resources to app data capture.

Leave requests from an app, which may sound basic, delivers a lot of value. Whether full time, part time, casual or contract, your resources all have availability restrictions. Perhaps they undertake training for their role, have Rostered Days Off (RDO’s), or just need to submit leave types such as Annual Leave, Carers Leave or Parental Leave.

 

Benefits for Resources

The value with resources managing their own leave requests is wide reaching, with benefits including:

  • Empowering them to manage their availability from anywhere
  • Planning a holiday with their family, they can submit the request from home
  • Feeling unwell, they can take care of all of it straight after the fact
  • They don’t need to call into the office or have someone else manage it in HR or Payroll via email or phone call
  • Requests are not missed or lost along the way

There may be peripheral activities that require a high admin overhead that are associated with timesheets. For example, paying km’s, expenses and other allowances. This self-service approach via an app with their management approving the workflow helps consolidate functions.

This eases digital change into your workforce with minimal room for error and plenty of support around them.

 

Benefits for Planners & Schedulers

Further value is gained in the office with resource visibility as it allows anyone in your Planning and Scheduling function to see who is available at a given time.

A lot of planning functions don’t have visibility into current resource availability. Planners and Schedulers often work from outdated data for reasons including;

  • Your HR software is different to your planning tool
  • Part digital such as a spreadsheet vs. paper
  • Whiteboards are the source of truth
  • Located in different offices geographically

Re-planning is undertaken more often than a lot of business users realise and if it isn’t easy to see who is available, the process breaks and improvising takes place with alternate methods!

 

The second step

After timesheets are bedded down, you’re ready to move onto capturing information at the job level, again centered on time. Your resources or crews may time confirm to customers and contracts. If you provide your customers with a cost to perform tasks, when was that cost model last reviewed and could it vary based on external factors?

We see many historical cost models that were not designed based on actual data, especially field based functions. The primary reason being that digital field data capture wasn’t in use and it was based on someone going out and coming back with the work completed. The completion of work may be solved by putting additional resources on the task or paying overtime. With those additional resources and overtime, if this isn’t captured centrally, the costs can’t be fed into your model.

The easiest way is to address this is to progress into Start/Stop or Check In/Check Out capability. This is less about looking to complete the task faster and more about the high likelihood that the task takes longer than has been budgeted for.

Worst case, if you’ve quoted your customer a fixed cost to perform the work based on your guide, you’re losing money!

 

The third step

Moving beyond time and into materials via job dispatch

What materials, equipment or assets were used? This needs to be quick and intuitive in the language of those that need to enter the information. Uncleansed data doesn’t help anyone. Consider conditional logic on your fields to continually reduce the available information and make your resources lives easier.

Data is the new oil as the saying goes. Your models can be optimised as you gather more current data, driving profitability and utilisation.

 

The end game

The final stage is rolling out the full solution, providing your resources with all the information to complete their work. From documents, to materials listing and location information plus the ability to complete all this in the field.

No more hold up’s in the office waiting for print outs, large colour ink bills, duplicate data entry or unnecessary visits. For those resources that can start from home, they are empowered to do so.

 

Takeaway Tip

Regularly review the information required by holding working groups with your resources in the office and field. Actively gathering this information from your resources 1:1 including “on the job” observation allows you to continually iterate your processes and maintain engagement across all parties.

Alan King's picture
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 7, 2021

Uncleansed data doesn’t help anyone. Consider conditional logic on your fields to continually reduce the available information and make your resources lives easier.

I think this is one of the key areas where sometimes things breakdown-- you need the workers out in the field to buy into why they're recording their data diligently and accurately, and if they aren't motivated then you risk them providing incomplete or inaccurate data and undermining the entire operation

Alan King's picture
Alan King on May 12, 2021

A great point @Matt and something I see all too often. Helping field workers to get their job done more easily and safely without sifting through data, just exposed from a core Enterprise Asset Management platform or similar. It leads into a whole other area around usability too! Having software engineers go out into the field is very valuable and yes it costs time but the experience in the long term is invaluable along with the relationships built.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on May 7, 2021

A continuation of Matt's comment:

Here is where my inner SCI-Fi geek is going to come out.  In the show Stargate Atlantis, Woolsey tries to get Ronon to document his missions in detail.  He gives him a recorder to make it easy but he still ends up a two-sentence recorded report :).  

I think a lot of this is about making sure your workers understand what value is behind recording their data diligently and accurately.  

Alan King's picture
Alan King on May 12, 2021

Thanks for the comment @Audra! I'm impressed at the inner geek! Absolutely agree with your point and that it is to help them. Beyond timesheets, take inventory management as an example. Recording the items used on a job in the field, enables them to be replenished on the truck by the warehouse ahead of the truck going out again. Then the next crew have everything they need reducing customer impact and maintaining productivity.

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