Tips for a greener mobile workforce

Simon Morris of ClickSoftware shares some practical tips for organisations that have a large mobile workforce to contribute to quality, profitability and greenness.

1) Burn less fuel when driving

Reducing fuel consumption involves strategies such as regular service of vehicle engines and tires; training drivers to avoid fuel-wasting behaviours (eg excessive idling, aggressive driving); minimising vehicle aerodynamic drag; and, if the financial analysis justifies it, switching to more energy-efficient vehicles altogether.

Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration, and braking) can lower fuel mileage by 33 percent at motorway speeds and by 5 percent around town. Replacing a clogged air filter can improve fuel mileage by as much as 10 percent, not to mention extending engine life.

Managers of fleets should be interested in finding out whether their drivers use the vehicles in the most fuel-efficient manner; avoiding unauthorised stops and planning routes effectively.

Some companies have installed GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers, in the vehicle or in the driver’s handset.

These provide visibility of drivers’ locations to contribute to workforce security, increased responsiveness to urgent customer calls and of course a reduction in fuel consumption.

2) Find your way better along your route

If you can’t find the best path to drive between the destinations along your route, you’re not only wasting your own time and your customers’ time, you’re also wasting fuel.

Today’s technology has gone beyond printed maps carried in the glove compartment, you can choose between many solutions.

You may opt to print out the path for your whole route as you start your work day. You could deploy navigation technology providing maps and turn-by-turn driving guidance to help drivers to take the best routes.

Even just adjusting the driving directions based on current road conditions is an important feature to have available.

3) Plan better routes

Fuel costs can be better managed by planning the right things, with the right engineers, at the right time.

Making a better assignment of tasks to mobile workers can reduce travel by 20% or more.

A correct schedule will meet commitments made to the customer and will deliver the right service in the right place at the right time, but it isn’t easy to create.

The quality of a schedule depends on many issues, but often the major factor is the total drive distance dictated by the schedule.

If we can create an efficient schedule where total mileage is minimised, we’ll be making substantial savings on fuel costs. Fortunately, there exist automated software solutions for achieving this goal of creating correct and highly efficient schedules.

4) Avoid that second visit: do it right the first time

Whenever a task isn’t completed, the result is the dreaded “repeat visit”.

You can reduce multiple visits by paying close attention to their causes and changing your organisation’s processes to reduce their impact.

Using the Pareto analysis process, you may find that 80% of repeat visits are only due to a few types of causes and devise measures to address these causes.

These might include the dispatch of technician with the wrong skills, a lack of spare parts of tools required for the job, or the customer not being at home by the time the technician arrives.

5) Avoid that first visit: early resolution

How can we identify those problems that can be solved without the dispatch of an engineer?

Realistically, we can’t extend each phone conversation by several minutes in order to cover all possibilities for immediate resolution.

However, usually there are one or two questions that can be asked quickly and still cover the most frequent situations where there is no need for a dispatch.

Technology can also help, if the asset or equipment that you are servicing is connected to the Internet, you might communicate with it and find out more about the problem.

This capability is already available in electricity utilities for some devices such as Smart Meters that allow companies to read power consumption remotely, and it is becoming prevalent in other sectors.

Asking questions and communicating with the device will increase resolution before proceeding to dispatch.

Even if you determine that a dispatch is required, these methods may gather enough information to predict what spare parts would be needed and how long the task is expected to require.

6) Use fewer spare parts

Does the following scenario sound familiar?

The engineer, facing the pressure of having to solve the problem quickly and fully, resorts to “shot gunning” or replacing several parts in the hope that one of these parts indeed caused the problem.

Once the problem goes away, the parts that were pulled out get marked as faulty, and they all are sent back for refurbishment or to be thrown away.

Such practices may be effective in terms of solving the problem but are certainly not efficient in terms of part costs, inventory carrying costs, and environmental costs of needlessly transporting, storing and re-testing good parts.

How can we use fewer spare parts and still be sure of fixing the problem? First, ensure that the technician with the correct skill set is dispatched to the site.

Technicians who have not been trained for efficient problem resolution for the specific model used by the customer are far more likely to replace the wrong part.

There also exist software-assisted solutions for raising technician proficiency such as computerised training, technical manuals accessible on the technician’s mobile devices, and intelligent software guiding problem-resolution as well as learning from experience.

7) Handle unforeseen situations more effectively

Technicians will get delayed only to find that the customer is not at home when they finally arrive, and spare parts will not always be available when needed.

From a business perspective there could be damage to an organisations performance (profitability and customer satisfaction) and increase environmental impact of higher fuel consumption due to unnecessary journeys.

Help can come from at least two directions. First, the same software that generated this morning’s immaculate schedule should also be capable of continually adjusting it throughout the day in reaction to all those surprises.

Second, you might want to review your processes and business rules to provide more flexibility in meeting such challenges.

To take one example, let’s suppose that each engineer is assigned to a relatively small area around their home base.

Within their region, they know most of the roads, and they may also know many of their customers. (These region-assignment rules are a great way to reduce mileage.)

However, when unexpected workloads arise in one area, we discover the dark side of these rules. Unfortunately, there is no flexibility to send different technicians to this area.

Therefore, relax these rules, intelligent scheduling can find the best routes even when there is much more freedom in deciding who goes where, and navigation technology can help technicians find their way in unfamiliar territory.

8) Reduce unforeseen situations through analysis and planning

Driving extra engineers from other regions to firefight unforeseen jobs leads to more mileage.

There are however ways to predict expected workload, days, or even weeks in advance, that will reduce the environmental impact of ad hoc journeys.

Technologies are available that can consider many complex factors beyond the capabilities of the human mind to provide fleet managers with an idea of potential demand.

Seasonal fluctuations, planned maintenance work, engineer vacations, historical data and input from marketing and sales can be computed to predict demand patterns that will allow management to even out workloads and reduce carbon emissions.

9) Keep equipment in top shape

Equipment that is not at its best possible maintenance status wastes more energy.

Managers of technical workforces in electrical utilities know that cables, generators, transformers, etc, should be kept in maximum efficiency, and old infrastructure should be replaced in order to reduce emissions of driving to fix faulty equipment.

This is a goal of various electrical-network revitalisation initiatives around the world which requires advanced workforce planning and management.

10) Measure, analyse, set goals, and improve

In all of the above, it is clear that helping the environment goes together with improving operational quality and efficiency. Examples mentioned above include mileage, use of spare parts, and repeat visits.

Choose the environmental factors that are relevant for you. If you’re not already measuring them, decide how you could collect the data.

Software for Business Intelligence and analytics can help draw your attention to “environmental hotbeds”.

Now, follow the good old advice of management handbooks: set goals for improvement, implement actions to achieve these goals, measure how well you’re doing, and repeat.

Even when you aren’t facing any legal and regulatory requirements, you can deliver a strong marketing and positioning message which will differentiate yourself from your competitors by the care that you devote to green themes.

Lastly and most importantly, you, your employees, and your community will all appreciate knowing that you are striving to make everybody’s world just a tiny bit better.

Simon Morris, is vice president of marketing operations, ClickSoftware.

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