In order to establish a rationale for deploying any workforce automation system a four part thought process should be considered:
All efforts around assigning and managing work and work orders must be focused on meeting the minimum SLA of a customer, to be there when promised.
With Enough Time.
Placing the burden on the technician to manage the day will result in rushing to the next job. Work must be managed to ensure that enough time is given to do a job correctly.
With the right skill.
Sending an unskilled worker to a trouble call or install, guarantees failure in the form of an incomplete install or TC, a repeat or service after install trouble call, as well as calls into customer care, etc.
With the right equipment.
Algorithms that are in place for assigning work take many things into consideration, but rarely take into account the CPE that resides on a technician’s vehicle.
Another method to gauge work force activity, availability and productivity is analyzing much time spent
driving, in a customer home, at lunch and so on. This can be done by looking at the time stamps in the
billing system. Occasionally, this requires some process improvement in the tech/dispatch relationship.
Ensure that techs update instantly and a dispatcher inputs the correct time stamps. If a tech leaves a job at
9:15 a.m. and starts the next job at 9:30, it is logical to assume 15 minutes of drive time between those jobs.
By looking at these numbers, an average drive time can be determined, per tech. It is fair to assume that the
largest gap between jobs is lunch time.
The initial improvements and cost benefits that can be achieved with GPS are well understood. Reduction of idling is the absolute first area to evaluate and improve upon. But it doesn’t stop there. Taking each element and layering it into the reporting that a company manages will keep GPS front and center for all involved. At first, drivers may not feel that they are in control of their day, but they will soon learn that by working with the GPS information, their work day satisfaction will vastly improve and that the management of the company is invested in improving it along with them.
This is the next frontier and requires some additional forensics. When jobs are issued to a driver, the number one element that goes into the decision on which job to assign is the location of the tech in relation to the location of the job. This goes along with the route to be taken which is calculated by the WFM and GPS applications. It does not come as a surprise that drivers may wander off the shortest path in favor of a scenic route, an errand to be run or for other reasons. This insidiously adds up to many additional miles driven alongside other operational costs.
This table indicates a week’s worth of data from nine tech centers, comprising 117 drivers. In this one week, calculations were made on the shortest path between jobs and the actual distance driven. In a single week, almost 6,600 more miles were driven than potentially necessary. This is a typical week and not hard at all to achieve. Consider that after extrapolating this mileage and annualizing it, this group of drivers may be on track
to drive an additional 316,291 miles in a year. At an average 11.5miles per gallon (MPG) per vehicle, this equates to 27,500 additional gallons of fuel purchased and 243 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. A top ten MSO with 5,000 drivers potentially will drive an additional 13,500,000 miles, burning 1,175,000 gallons, costing
$4,114,000.00 (based on a fuel cost of $3.50 per gallon) and generating nearly 10,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. It gets bigger. Consider an oil change every 5,000 miles. For the top ten MSO, that is 2,700 additional oil changes. The vehicle is out of service for those oil changes and therefore there are 2,700 service jobs or installs that must be handled by someone else, or pushed out, causing a delay for the customer. At an average of $69.00 for an oil change, this is an added cost of $186,000 in vehicle maintenance.
How does route adherence slip? Analysis of a variety of routes indicate that while there is an occasional “scenic route” driven, or maybe errands are being run, the more prevalent issue is somewhat self-inflicted. That is, technicians regularly return to the tech center from a job site, either for materials and CPE or for other possibly
unnecessary reasons. A supervisor interested in managing this issue should first look for areas in which the workday scenarios lend themselves to extra driving (i.e., poor inventory management for techs) and work to remove them. Once that issue is resolved, then looking for the wayward driver should be next.
Scenic Route - Tech Concern
Poor Planning - Supervisor Concern
In general, techs want to get where they need to go and do not take the long way to get there. Often a trip to the tech center to replenish materials or pick up additional CPE, etc. results in additional mileage. If this is the case, then there is a whole area of materials management to be considered and improved upon. This is controllable at the management level by simply analyzing usage over time and ensuring standard issuance of CPE. With proper application, there will be a vast improvement over current methods.
The next item to look at forensically is one that drivers will appreciate, as it places the
burden to act on the supervisor. GPS systems with OBD connectors can provide
tremendous amounts of data indicating if an engine is suffering, if a battery needs
replacement or maintenance needs to occur. OBD codes can indicate if a cylinder is
misfiring, the fuel/ oxygen mixture is wrong or the engine is overheating.
Managing the data: Supervisors must evaluate this information with the intent of
improving maintenance and stopping vehicle breakdowns. Talking to a vehicle
maintenance facility, determine what items are leading indicators of a pending issue and
focus on those OBD codes. The key is to then schedule the maintenance before the
breakdown. This is a shocking problem at first, as there are many vehicles that have
been in service for a long time and which might pose a lot of issues. Some of the
analysis will indicate that an operator is paying for these repairs already, but not
proactively. For example, scheduling the replacement for a low battery voltage issue
costs the same for the parts, but saves the costs of the vehicle breakdown in the field as
well as all of the hidden costs that go with it (i.e. stranded workforce, delay in meeting
schedule, second employee or supervisor taking another vehicle to the stranded
Baselining: As before, capturing the total volume of code problems and low battery
voltage events for a period of three months will allow for improvements to be identified.
Remember that the burden to improve and act upon the issues that are reported is on
The benefit in managing this information is subtle. At the time of launch, employees may
believe that the burden is on them to improve by spending countless hours receiving
“coaching" when a report indicates they are doing something wrong. By managing this
data and acting upon it, supervisors can communicate that they are working to improve
the work conditions of drivers in order to increase their success at providing service to
customers. This directly matches to item 1 of the 4 part dispatch vision.
The GPS tools available today all provide alerts (text and email) to a supervisor that indicate in real time when a speeding event occurs. If not set up properly, these alerts can overwhelm a supervisor and, if not understood, can cause a stop to the work day to investigate. In order to set up how it will be managed, consider two items to baseline:
1. Drivers speeding 11 miles over a speed limit for more than two minutes
2. Drivers speeding over a posted speed limit for any duration of 15 miles per hour
A driver speeding 11 miles an hour over a posted speed limit for some duration may
possibly be passing a large vehicle and that should not last more than a minute. A driver
going more than 15 miles over a posted speed limit should be considered dangerous.
Managing the incident: When a speeding alert is received, don’t panic! The worst
thing to do (unless it is egregious) is to immediately contact the driver. Rather, save that
discussion for the end of the day. Once drivers realize that this information is being
taken seriously, two things will happen: they will self-correct going forward and they will
tell their peers, resulting in fewer overall incidents.
Baselining: In the long term, capture the number of events from a team of drivers (in
whatever way the company creates a team). It can be done weekly or monthly.
Managing the individual incidents will cause a natural drop in the numbers. If three
months of data is displayed prior to presenting it to the workforce, a typical improvement
looks like the following graph.
Do not underestimate the value of reductions in speeding incidents. The “moving
billboard” that is racing around town has everything to do with customer (or potential
customer) perception of the company. Drivers should always be communicated with to
make sure they know the importance of public image.
There is another reason for managing driver speeding; it is a safety issue. As speed
increases, the risk of injury increases dramatically. The chart above shows that the
faster a driver is moving the greater the chance will be for the driver to have an injury.
This is especially true once the vehicle speed approaches 50 miles per hour and keeps
escalating. Technicians may claim that they feel rushed in order to complete the day’s
work. Certainly the push to increase productivity can cause this consternation. In
managing speeding behaviors, it is important to let the driver know that their travel time
is built into the job and that more coherent routing, rather than speeding, will provide the
Forensic science is the application of a broad spectrum of sciences to answer
questions of interest to a legal system. This may be in relation to a crime or a civil
action. The word forensic comes from the Latin forēnsis, meaning "of or before the forum."
While operators initially expected GPS to show substantial “day of” information, they discovered that using the data in a forensic manner was best. Rebuilding the path a driver took on a previous day, comparing time of arrival with tech status for accuracy, and analyzing route adherence are all examples of forensic troubleshooting. GPS is best used as a forensic tool, helping to see how past performance can be changed to improve future results. Examples of forensics that can be reviewed are:
A. Time of arrival to a job compared to time that the job was actually started (tech
status). This should be within 60 seconds of time of arrival
B. Time of completion of the job compared to the time the vehicle started moving to the next job. This should be within 60 seconds of close of the job
C. Speeding - Real time alerts will deal with incidents as they occur. Looking at total incidents over time will show the improvements in speeding issues.
D. Route adherence - Evaluate if the best route was taken between jobs to reduce miles driven
E. Diagnostic errors can be reviewed to assess if vehicle maintenance is being
handled in a timely fashion. Evaluating items like low battery voltage or On Board Diagnostic (OBD)
*Note: Idling is not addressed in this post, as it is being presented by others.
Breaking workforce management into three areas, information from GPS proves its usefulness.
Supervising for success requires separating what is important from the mountains of information available today. With GPS installed in more and more vehicles, there is no end to the data that can be retrieved. Idling has been the “low hanging fruit” to manage creating an immediate improvement in costs (less fuel consumed), vehicle maintenance (less engine wear and tear) and better fuel efficiency (fuel burned while in motion vs. at a standstill).
There are a number of other metrics that if set up and given a baseline will yield further operational improvements. Time stamps, safety and speed issues, engine issues and route adherence are some other metrics that should be considered. What does managing the data look like? While there are a myriad of directions a management or supervision team can pursue, there are only a few that need to be evaluated for operational improvements.
So what ensures success in implementation? If success is defined at an early stage,
then plans will be created to track and realize it. If success were defined as, “all vehicles
will have GPS devices installed”, then that would be an easy goal to meet. If success
were defined as, “all drivers will never speed”, then that would be both an unrealistic
and extraordinarily difficult goal to manage. Setting operational goals that work to
reduce cost, waste, wear and tear on vehicles are where operators get the most from
their deployments. Why is it being installed? It is to achieve certain operational
efficiencies and cost improvements. More than likely, the cost improvements are the
driver and the operational efficiencies are the means to that end.
Supervisor training: In most cases, the people employing the GPS information to
manage technicians are the front line supervisors. Take the time to train supervisors not
just on the driver application, but also on how the GPS technology works and who will
use it. Provide them the reasons for installing it and the goals that they will be tasked
with achieving. This is an opportunity to train supervisors on coaching for success and
to make them aware of the effort that will be required to manage the data. Answer
questions accurately and keep them focused on how to use the data applicable to them
for the primary purpose of helping their drivers carry out their jobs successfully.
Transparency: When installing GPS in vehicles, every driver must be informed of the
plan. Several items should be brought to their attention. Drivers should be made aware
of the costs and the benefits to the company associated with managing fuel and speed.
GPS is a tool that helps to create more coherent routing during their workday, effectively
saving miles driven and fuel consumed. In doing so, GPS will help cut down on the
number of times that drivers may pass each other going to jobs. Second, it will be
utilized to improve safety. Alerts indicate if a driver is speeding or, in some applications,
driving in an unsafe manner (i.e. swerving, hard stops, excessive accelerations). In
addition to these items of interest the GPS will also be capable of providing the
company with data for various items such as vehicle location, after hours usage,
congregating, and drivers outside of approved work areas. While this may cause some
initial consternation, access to this information will give a technician the time to correct
any driving behaviors that may otherwise be job impactful prior to installation. While
GPS can report on all of these information items, a supervisor will find out quickly that
they may not have the time to chase after every notification, but occasionally they will
discover information that requires their attention.
Baselining: The first and most important step toward improving an area of operations is
gathering information on the current state or “status quo” in order to show improvements
relative to that state. After educating supervisors, informing drivers and installing
equipment, the baseline data collection process is started. There will be a slight
improvement immediately upon install. Best practice is to install equipment quickly and
to temporarily withhold that information for up to three months in order to collect data on
typical driving habits. This purposeful lack of communication with drivers will show that if
there were bad habits, they would re-appear quickly and the baseline data can be
Setting expectations: After collecting data and creating the baseline the next step is to
present that information to the drivers. The direct addressing of individuals ought to be
avoided. Supervisors will find that by presenting the data, drivers will understand the
amount of visibility their supervisor has and most of the operational improvements will
arise from self-correction.
Two big mistakes are made during implementation. First, the “aha”- mindset of supervisor or manager will create an immediate barrier to success. Installing GPS gear from a point of mistrust, such as trying to catch an individual doing something wrong, will derail the project in no time. The primary concern of any driver is the “big brother” approach, in which they believe, or are made to believe, that they are being spied upon. When a particular parameter is violated, such as excessive idling, there is no value in informing a driver that they are in trouble for doing so.
This figure is an actual screenshot of two vehicles out in a farm area. The supervisor who discovered this situation reported that the trucks were together for over 45 minutes. They then proceeded around the corner and were stationary together for an additional 45 minutes. Were they doing something wrong? Based on this information, it is certainly possible. But it is also possible that there is a fiber run along this area, out of the way of heavy traffic, and they were doing some splicing. The information is not sufficient to make an informed decision. It does create an opportunity to have a great conversation with techs about where they should be and when, and how to best use their time. That simple conversation will ensure that if there was a misuse of company work time, it would not happen again. That is what coaching is all about. Second, and more importantly, installing the technology and not using it to evaluate, set goals and track progress will cause it to stagnate. Simple tactics are necessary to get the most out of it. It is not a panacea that will solve problems by itself. Left unattended, it will surely create new ones. An effort to improve operations and a focused understanding of what results will be achieved are imperative to collecting data and presenting it in a manner that will create action.