Is Your Knowledge Management Strategy Preparing You for Life After COVID-19?

COVID-19 is rapidly accelerating digital transformation for service organizations, and knowledge management is playing an enormous part. Companies will need to rely heavily on third-party contractors, and all engineers — both third-party and employees — will need to limit contact onsite by completing the fix the first time and as quickly as possible. In addition, the forecasted economic downturn brought on by the pandemic is creating intense pressure within service organizations to reduce costs and increase profitability.

In a guest blog for ServiceMax, AnswersAnywhere VP Bo Wandell discusses how companies can provide the digital training and deeper knowledge that engineers need onsite to improve accuracy and efficiency, while also reducing cost pressures.

 

Step Away from the Shared Folder: Why Knowledge Management Shouldn’t be an Inside Job

Digital transformation has been on the minds of field service organizations for some time now. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only underlined the important of being digitally enabled. It has also underlined the urgency to accelerate it.

One of the most critical areas in need of digital transformation is information accessibility. Not only are organizations having to rely more heavily on third party contractors in order to limit travel, but the aging workforce challenge that many organizations were already grappling with pre-pandemic has been expedited. In fact, a recent study found that significantly more American workers are going into early retirement, compared to previous economic downturns. For companies to stay competitive, they need to change the way they are capturing and dispersing knowledge, and they need to do it fast.

Which leaves field service execs scrambling to figure out how quickly they can get a knowledge management solution launched. The answer, more than ever, is outsourcing.

Why Should You Outsource Your Knowledge Management Project?

With the threat of a post-pandemic recession looming, it might seem counterproductive for your organization to outsource knowledge management when you should be pinching pennies. However, creating, delivering and maintaining an effective knowledge solution takes a combination of people, process and technology in order to be successful, all resources that are most likely in short supply within most companies right now.

Hiring a provider will save your organization a lot money, stress and wasted resources, while also delivering the accelerated digital transformation you need. Here are 6 reasons why hiring an outside provider reduces the risk of inefficient knowledge management:

Lower Operational Costs

As mentioned above, outsourcing helps organizations save costs related to labor, training, business operations, technology and more.

Mitigate Risk

Knowledge management technology is advancing rapidly. Companies mitigate risk by avoiding investment in technology and resources that could become obsolete quickly or fail to deliver adequate ROI.

Get Access to Latest Technology

Save your organization the cost of investing in-house by finding a knowledge management provider familiar with the latest trends and innovations, as well as the know-how to deploy it to your team.

Save Time

TSIA reports it takes an average of 12 days to publish just one new article in a knowledge base. Outsourcing allows you to focus internal resources on other projects and growing your operations.

Access to Experts

Creating an efficient knowledge management solution requires a blend of expertise, experience and technology. Plus, once launched, the knowledge will need to be kept up-to-date and optimized to ensure field service engineers are not working with outdated, inaccurate data. By outsourcing, companies have access to the most knowledgeable experts in the field. A knowledge management company worth their salt will have ample experience to draw from and well-developed processes in place.

Competitive Advantage

To keep ahead of the competition, businesses need to think strategically and efficiently. Outsourcing means you can focus on core business processes while turning over non-core operations such as knowledge management to the experts.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has caused many companies to fast-track their digital transformation strategy. However, if the strategy is going to be successful, knowledge management must play a big role. Working with a knowledge management provider is the best way to ensure you get an effective, and accelerated, strategy in place.

Everyone’s Talking About Parts Catalogs…

There’s a topic that keeps coming up at every field service event I attend…

Parts Catalogs.

There’s intense pressure to reduce costs and increase profitability in many service industries. And yet, equipment is becoming more complex and regulations keep changing. That’s why more businesses are looking for better parts catalogs.

Incorrect parts orders are one of the biggest challenges to increasing profits.

According to Aberdeen Group, one in four parts orders (25%) are wrong. The reason? Engineers cannot determine the right part from the information they have.

Imagine if you could eliminate incorrect orders…

Your service costs would reduce. You’d deliver a faster fix. Your customers would be happier.

Most importantly, your business would be more profitable.

That’s why everyone’s talking about parts catalogs.

Many companies struggle with disparate data. Important technical information is often locked up in corporate silos and scattered across several different departments. It’s not unusual for parts lists, exploded diagrams, parts images and price lists for equipment to all resided in separate departments within a single organization.

Even if a company provides parts information for their engineers, there is no guarantee that it will make them more efficient or accurate. Often, engineers struggle to access any information at all because of connectivity issues onsite.

A limited system hinders performance and extends the time it takes to find the answer and information is often missing.

It’s not ideal. It wastes engineers’ time and your money.

So, what does the perfect parts catalog look like?

Four key elements will make a huge difference to your results:

  1. Offline access

Whilst onsite, your engineers might have online access to information via a mobile device. But what if there’s no signal? In this situation, your KPIs will suffer. Offline access is a game-changer.

  1. User-friendly information

Your business will have thousands of pages of parts information: technical documents, parts lists, exploded diagrams, and more. It’s one thing to collate it on a shared drive, it’s another to make it work for you. The perfect catalog needs to give answers – fast. Parts lists must display next to diagrams. Hyperlinks must link to other relevant information. Only then will you accelerate your service.

  1. Integration with field service management

Switching between screens is slow and frustrating. Integrated systems are a reality today, with impressive efficiencies. They reduce errors, they speed operations, they enhance service.

And they increase your profits.

  1. Up-to-date information

Is that part available or out of stock? Has it been recalled? Is it obsolete and, if so, what is the alternative part that’s taken its place? These are all possibilities in a parts ordering scenario.

Data can become outdated as soon as it’s published. It’s a huge challenge for many. Your engineers will stop using your parts catalog if they cannot rely on its accuracy.

The perfect catalog provides up to date answers every time.

Incorrect parts ordering can be overcome. Implementing a solution that offers online/offline, integrated parts catalogs is the ultimate solution to ensuring accurate parts ordering every time. It might not be a quick fix, but it is an important investment in the future of your business.

 

 

Why data-driven field service businesses perform better (and how to be one)

There’s no doubt that the best performing field service businesses are driven by their data.

Aberdeen Group says these organizations are reporting a 7% decrease in operating costs. Just one advantage to data directing your business operations.

But what does a data-driven business look like, and how can you become one?

Why is data so important?

That might seem like a question with an obvious answer. We all know how important data is. It provides us with facts to replace hunches and assumptions.

Working with data is certainly not a new thing. Far from it. But using data to inform, influence and predict the performance of your field service business is relatively new – and incredibly effective.

Data can help to better allocate your resources and identify knowledge gaps and training needs. It can also enhance your customer service and in turn, your customer loyalty.

Put simply, data can help to transform your field service operations. It can save you money, make the most of your time and ensure excellent service.

Savvy businesses have been working to harness the power of data for years. Back in 2012, an Economist survey identified that 63% of those ahead financially were also ahead on data usage.

And today, data is no longer past tense only. You used to learn what had happened with data, weeks or months after the event. Collection methods have revolutionized since then. We can now access data that tells us what’s happening right now, in real time. It helps us to become predictive, not just react to events of the past.

Where is it?

That’s the thing. Your data is everywhere. You’re probably drowning in it. Overwhelmed by the many sources and the sheer amount of it.

Having the data is one thing. Using it effectively is another.

It’s a major challenge for many large organizations. There’s no benefit in grappling unsuccessfully with large amounts of data without extracting practical learnings from it.

Many departments have access to data that could be useful. You might have machines that collect data, not to mention many service systems via mobile devices. Digital transformation has delivered the goods, we just don’t know what to do with it all.

Which data matters for field service?

The data of most use to your business depends on your objectives and KPIs.

As a field service operator, that’s likely to focus on delivering excellent service: first time fixes, rapid response times and maximum job completion per day.

Your field service management software is likely to collect the most valuable data for you. That’s to say, your field technicians working alongside your customers. They’re on the front line of your operations.

Thanks to digital transformation, field service data is often available in real time. And with the right software, you’ll be able to gather even more.

Such knowledge enhances performance too. AnswersAnywhere Analytics recently uncovered that the top 20% best performing field service engineers were also the most frequent users of the knowledge base. A useful insight for the remaining 80%.

Remember: data is for everyone

There’s a myth we need to dispel. Data is not just for top-level managers when it comes to field service. Every level of your business will benefit from being better informed; from chief executives right through to the field service team themselves.

And getting buy-in at every level is powerful stuff.

Take the example of HVAC and parts ordering. If your parts managers have access to data that highlights key seasonal peaks in demand for particular parts, they can manage their stock accordingly. Hold more when demand is high, and less when it’s not. The result is two-fold: less cash tied up in stock and faster fixes for your customers.

Spread the love of data across your entire organization. If you get the right facts into the right hands, you’ll transform your operation.

How do I start?

It probably seems like an enormous task. As with many such challenges, starting small is often the answer.

Choose some core KPIs – just one or two if you like. First time fixes, jobs completed per day and mean repair time are all common measures of performance. By engineer, by machine and by customer.

Let’s say you decide to monitor first time fix rates.

So, gather data to understand which engineers have the highest first-time fix rate. And monitor which pieces of equipment get fixed first time. This might throw up some training gaps on certain equipment, or the need to have more parts available to speed the fix.

Monitoring first-time fixes by engineer might uncover some best practice to make more widespread across your field service team. Do your better-performing engineers use certain tools or resources to speed their work? Do they follow a different fault diagnosis process?

If you cannot gather the field service data you want to see, talk to your field service software provider. They might guide you towards analytics that already exist or help you with relevant reporting.

Should you have gaps in your field service data, consider new methods of collecting it. Such investment could make a significant difference to the future performance of your business.

How AnswersAnywhere helps your field service data analysis

At AnswersAnywhere, we’re acutely aware of the importance of data-analytics. It helps to drive our customers in many ways.

And that’s why we’re constantly developing new capabilities in our mobile software. We want our customers to have direct insight on how their engineers are using AnswersAnywhere. For example, the products or manuals they access most frequently, and the customers that require this type of on-site support.

Such clarity will enable AnswersAnywhere users to understand where to focus their development of this parts and technical data tool. They’ll also appreciate the knowledge that’s being under-utilized, prompting important training opportunities.

Without doubt, data analysis is helping field service organizations get ahead of their competition. The effective process must achieve three things though. You need to be collecting the right data in the field. You must then process it correctly. Finally, you must get it into the hands of those who can learn and act on it.

Achieve this, and you’ve just found one of the most powerful tools (to date) in the 21st century.

Improving Field Service Training with Knowledge Management

There’s no denying field service organizations pour a large amount of time and resources into training new talent. In fact, it’s estimated corporations spent around $19.7 million last year on training expenditures alone.

Effective training increases employee retention – this is a no-brainer! According to a survey by Society for Human Resource Management, one third of newly hired staff quit their jobs after the first six months, with the majority citing lack of skills one of the major reasons they leave. Considering the fact that the Millennial worker is twice as likely to leave a job after two years than their predecessors, it’s no wonder field service organizations are putting more emphasis on training than ever before.

What is Effective Training?

So now the question is, what does effective training look like? Companies have long known that the typical “one and done” onboarding process doesn’t work, and this is especially true for field service. Training needs to be an ongoing process and companies need to figure out how to provide new workers with continuous support in the field, in an effective and cost-efficient manner.

Some companies rely on new staff calling support centers for questions and guidance. But let’s be honest, call center staff are already busy, they don’t need the additional burden of providing support training as well!

A Crucial Component in Field Service

Enter Knowledge Management – organizations are starting to realize what a crucial role this plays in the training process, both initially and throughout the employee’s tenure.

A good knowledge management application will provide the digital training new hires need to learn the solution. It allows for scenario-based learning, which in turn makes lessons more impactful, especially when combined with the ability to refer back as needed. Additionally, some knowledge management platforms will allow trainers to monitor everyone’s progress by providing analytics to see who is accessing what information and work individually with those who need extra guidance.

Also consider that millennials are native tech users and expect access to information at all times. By embracing knowledge management, you’re being the kind of forward-thinking organization that millennials want to work for.

Making Knowledge Management a core component to your training process also makes new hires feel empowered. By giving them access to knowledge in the field, they will feel more confident to handle any task that may come their way. All of this leads to increased retention rates in the company.

Increase Adoption to Drive Efficiency

A common complaint we hear from executives who have implemented new software in the field is that workers “don’t use it”, either out of inertia, lack of training (or confidence in that training), or simply because they prefer the “old way of doing things”.

However, by making knowledge management an essential part of new hire onboarding, not only will it provide additional support in the training process, but it will drive adoption of that technology. We already know knowledge management is crucial in the field, reducing repair times by more than 50% and increasing SLA compliance by more than 26%. Ingraining the use of these tools early on will help companies drive efficiency like never before.

Ready to learn more about how knowledge management can make training more effective and empower your field service engineers?

service knowledge management

The 5 Knowledge Management Pitfalls to Avoid in Field Service

The knowledge experts at AnswersAnywhere have over 23 years of experience building and deploying mobile knowledge bases for field service.

This means they’ve seen A LOT of mistakes made by companies attempting to get their knowledge management under control. Here are the Top 5 most common mistakes they recommend companies trying to avoid.

1.     Not Collaborating

Knowledge management isn’t the task of just one department. Make sure the entire organization collaborates and all departments benefit from it. This is especially important for organizations dealing with an aging workforce. What better way to capture the information from the heads of experienced retiring workers throughout your company?

Here are more tips for capturing the knowledge of your experienced workers.

2.     Ignoring Your End Users

This seems simple enough, but you’d be surprised at how many field service organizations don’t talk to their engineers and support staff before launching a knowledge management system. Make sure you consult end users throughout the process and gather regular feedback after launch.

The best way to do this is through a survey. Contact us for a template!

3.     Not Keeping it Up-to-Date

Keeping a knowledge base updated, optimized and free from outdated information is not for the faint of heart! However, it’s also extremely important to your field service engineer’s job.

Here’s some useful advice on how to keep your knowledge base current and accurate.

4.     Not Going Offline

As field service goes mobile, engineers are running into this problem all the time. Accessing the information they need on site requires them to be online but the location they’re at has zero signal. Offline access is the only way for field service companies to be truly mobile without letting their KPIs suffer.

Psst. Did you know AnswersAnywhere works offline? Learn more!

5.     Doing Too Much, Too Soon

Where do I start? It’s a question we get all the time! When it comes to launching a knowledge management project, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, AnswersAnywhere CEO Jonathan Ralphs spoke about this very topic at Field Service USA 2019.  Check out his advice here. 

 

Ready to make a move to better knowledge management? We can help! Our unique service provides the people, process and technology needed for knowledge management success. In short, we do the hard work and you reap the benefits. Contact us today!

 

Is Your Field Service Knowledge Up to Date?

In field service, things change quickly. And that includes your company’s knowledge.

The ugly truth about knowledge management is that a knowledge base is outdated as soon as it’s published.

Installation manuals, parts lists, and technical information all need to be kept updated frequently.

Field service technicians lose faith in knowledge that’s inaccurate or outdated. Costly errors occur from ill-informed decisions. Incorrect parts are ordered. Time technicians don’t have is spent searching for the right answer.

All of this lowers their productivity, increases your service costs and frustrates your customers.

Sound familiar?

There’s no doubt that knowledgeable decision-making leads to more first-time fixes. And better business for you.

Get your priorities right

Trying to capture and manage all knowledge can be mind-blowing. It quickly becomes impossible, unless you have a more technological system in place (like AnswersAnywhere, dare I say?)

So, in the short-term, focus on the knowledge that your field service team actually NEEDS in order to service and fix the equipment.

It sounds simple, but you’d be amazed by how tangled up many businesses can become at this point.

Our advice? Speak to your field service team and establish these priorities with their involvement.

How to keep it current and accurate 

Once your knowledge priorities are clear, identify the key personnel to involve. You’ll probably need to get different departments talking to each other and sharing resources.

This in itself, can be a big hurdle.

Try to develop a system that works for your business and your level of knowledge management. Ponder these questions:

* Where can updated files and documents be found?

* Who collates them?

* Who processes them?

* Should your documents be coded or tagged?

* Where will your updated knowledge be stored?

* How will this be communicated? To whom?

Look Towards the Future

Granted, it’s time-consuming to keep your knowledge current. Especially with limited technology and support. But the potential benefits to productivity, customer service, and profitability make it an essential task to master.

And consider this: future, game-changing technology such as AI is likely to depend on it.

Think about what your knowledge needs to look like. Would templates help the management process? Should lengthy documents be summarized? Scrolling through a 200-page manual to find the answer is hardly productive.

Also consider how and where you’ll store your current knowledge. A shared drive? A login section on your website? In the office, ready to support phone queries?

The more central, collated and systemized your knowledge is, the easier it will be to keep current and accurate. 

How to transform your knowledge management system 

If your present way of doing things is driving you and your field service team mad, consider a change that’ll make a huge difference. Ask me about our Discovery Workshop. It’s an affordable starting point for a daunting task.

Our knowledge experts will walk you through the process of identifying and utilizing your knowledge. We provide you with the people, technology and expertise needed for a knowledge management project. Essentially, we do all the work and you avoid all the stress!

The result is the ability to arm your field service team with the answer to everything. Instantly.

This is how you thrash those KPIs, once and for all.

Combating the Challenge of an Aging Workforce

We’re all getting older…

Something we’re hearing time and again from customers is the challenge of an aging workforce.

I spoke to an attendee at Field Service USA last month who told me how at his company, all the complex technical questions went to a handful of people who had decades of know-how in their head. Unfortunately, these people will all be retiring soon.

His story probably sounds familiar to you. Every company is grappling with this same question: How do you extract the information from their heads and into the hands of less-experienced, junior colleagues?

Yes, the Baby Boomers are retiring and there’s nothing we can do about it. But you can prepare for the changes this will have on your service organization and surf this wave successfully.

Develop your plan now.

The worst thing you can do is ignore the situation.

Get key people in your organization talking about this. What knowledge does our organization hold in manuals and other sources? And what resides only in the heads of our ageing workforce? Who are our aging Knowledge Gurus and what are the common questions they get asked?

Can older engineers help you extract their knowledge through workshops, mentoring and coaching programs? Is there a way to turn their knowledge into how-to videos? In fact, according to Forrester Research, 75% of employees would prefer to watch a video rather than read an email or web page.

A danger with these plans, of course, is if the younger engineer leaves you’re back to square one. Millennials are twice as likely to leave a job after two years and they’re only half as likely to be employed by the same company after 10 years.

This is why diversifying your field service workforce with new hires that include mature workers is a great idea.

One of the most important steps you can take right now is starting a project to collate all your knowledge from various departments and put it in one place. That might simply be on a wiki or shared drive for now or it could be something like AnswersAnywhere.

But by just starting the first steps, you’re already ahead of many!

Want to learn more about how you can address the talent gap and surf the silver tsunami?