Field Service Management - Where Logistics Meets Location Technology

By Joe Francica

ClickSoftware_Review_final ClickSoftware teams with MapInfo to provide the best of scheduling optimization and routing

Routing is a wonderful function that was developed for geographic information systems (GIS) when these software solutions started to incorporate street networks as part of the total package.The true purpose of routing vehicles along a street network is to get from point "A" to "B".And to do what? That's where GIS systems fell short.

The missing piece was a solution for routing vehicles whose purpose was to deliver goods, do repairs, and meet customer service level agreements.How often, as consumers, have we been disappointed that the service technician arrived two hours after the appointment was assigned? That piece, by necessity, must include a component of scheduling these vehicles.This type of functionality falls far from the realm of expertise of most companies providing GIS software.

ClickSoftware, a company that knows logistics, set out to solve the scheduling piece first.This effort included the ability to solve problems for workload forecasting, workforce planning, service schedule optimization, predictive analytics, and wireless communication with field service personnel. Then, to help visualize and refine the plan that was proposed for vehicles and personnel, literally where the "rubber meets the road," mapping technology was integrated to help construct the physical geography and spatial extents of the daily service delivery schedule.

Supply Chain vs.Field Service Management
There is much speculation in the technology media today about how Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) will affect the efficiencies of the supply chain.From raw materials to finished good, RFID has been touted to be imbedded into everything.Wal-Mart has thus dictated, or so it seems.But the return on investment is sketchy at best because so much infrastructure has yet to be built to monitor, track, and analyze the data from RFID-enabled warehouses, pallets, containers, etc.

Not so for the field service management solutions.Optimize a delivery schedule where you can increase the number of service stops for a field service technician or remove a delivery truck altogether from the schedule, and you can realize immediate revenue and/or costs savings. ClickSoftware's president, Dr.Moshe BenBassat says that ClickSoftware's suite picks up where the supply chain leaves off.At the point where finished products now enter the pipeline for delivery as well as post delivery support, variable costs can eat into profits. This is why it becomes extremely important for large delivery and support companies like DecisionOne, telecommunications companies like Knology, and utility companies like Siemens Westinghouse, to turn to ClickSoftware.

Engineered to optimize at every step
Optimization is the key to every step of the process in providing the best solution for scheduling and routing of field service technicians and drivers.Dr.BenBassat notes that once a change in the schedule occurs for just one driver, it throws everyone else's schedule off and the entire plan has to be re-optimized.BenBassat's background is in mathematical modeling.Each component has an optimization algorithm to come up with the most optimal solution.

Forecasting service demand is one feature of ClickSoftware's ServiceOptimization Suite.It is a field service workload forecasting solution for cutting excess idle time in the field workforce.ClickPlan, another solution in the ClickSoftware suite determines the best deployment strategy to maximize the coverage of your workload, and minimize the cost to do so.For business analytics, ClickAnalyze, transforms raw data into business intelligence to allow a manager to better understand and evaluate the actual to the effectiveness of the optimization and re-evaluate further forecasting improvements. ClickSoftware has integrated MapInfo's MapXtreme Java and Routing J Server technology to do the route optimization resulting in superior performance in optimizing route planning according to Joe Arcuri, ClickSoftware's Senior Systems Engineer.

ClickSoftware evaluated many GIS systems and found MapInfo to be the best for their scalability needs for speed of information requests. Speed is important when call centers are inundated with requests. Routing, geocoding and improved of coverage, especially for including Canada, as well as the U.S., were reasons for switching to MapInfo from MapQuest.Arcuri said that performance improved significantly when they switched to MapInfo.

Gantt chart interface
ClickSoftware employs a Gantt chart interface (Figure 1) to show the user a list of the available technicians, their immediate service schedules and planned appointments.Jobs are color-coded according to availability and completion status.Each service technician can have his or her previously assigned jobs, skill set and work shift taken into account as the schedule is built.The entire service network's scheduling can be re-optimized for load balancing if, as Dr.BenBassat pointed out earlier, a service call needs to be extended, a vehicle breaks down, or an emergency call is received.


Figure 1 (Click for larger image)

Map interface and routing
ClickSoftware believes that it has an advantage over its competitors by using MapInfo technology to optimize travel based on street level geocoding.While other solutions use "as the crow flies" or rigid zones for distance weighting, ClickSoftware evaluates an accurate street network to find the closest available resources during load balancing (Figure 2).Although the system can show the user an "as the crow flies" routing scenario (Figure 3), schedule optimization relies on street level routing.

ClickSoftware provides a unique view it calls a "straight line" routing map that shows a pre-optimized pattern of the network.This is a map irrespective of the geography that can reveal inefficiencies in the route plan.Also unique to the mapping interface is symbolization for multiple jobs at a single stop and the ability to fade the map background to reveal more of the individual stops in the schedule (Figure 4).


Figure 2 (Click for larger image)

Figure 3 (Click for larger image)

Figure 4 (Click for larger image)

Geography objectives for service optimization
One of the advanced optimization features is the ability to set certain criteria and geographical objectives for route planning.The software allows the user to set a weighting preference for such parameters as travel time between consecutive assignments, minimizing the travel time from a field service representatives home base, and task priority.When the user goes to optimize the schedule, these criteria are then considered proportionally.

Rules and objectives
The user can set many other rules and objective criteria.This article mentions only some of the geospatial considerations.ClickSoftware is a comprehensive suite that provides for situational flexibility.For example, in recently-released version 7.5, the software allows companies to build contingency plans into the application that will automatically relax certain constraints to permit automatic scheduling of a job which would otherwise fall outside the parameters of the primary optimization criteria.This feature enables the application to optimally schedule a higher percentage of daily calls, minimizing the need for human intervention

Summary
A logistics solution, such as ClickSoftware with integrated geospatial technology from MapInfo, is an excellent example of the integration of location technology with a business analytics solution.It is best characterized as the starting point where the supply chain ends and the service chain begins.It offers one of the best demonstrations of a return on investment and fully demonstrates how location-based information is a critical component in business process management for logistics.

Published Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

Written by Joe Francica



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