by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 4 April 2011
In a previous post, I reviewed a shift planning software. That's a pretty useful software for employees who are static i.e., people who are located in a single physical space. But, what happens if your employees are out in the field? Also, what happens if you have a dynamic rotation of jobs and customers? Managing employees out in the field would be very difficult, no? As with everything else, technology has the answer. In this post, I will review Connect2field, a software that helps you connect with employees out in the field and dynamically allocate them to tasks or services. We will look at its interface, functionalities, and how it can be of use to you.
Field services what ?
Sounds complicated, right? It is not so complicated, really. Field services management refers to a system that helps you dynamically allocate and manage employees out in the field either to sell or service your products. This includes everything from providing quotes to a customer to successfully delivering the final product to a customer. It is an integral part of business. Implementing a field services management system can be a complicated and expensive affair.
Connect2field is an integrated solution that enables you to do several things from scheduling quotes to connecting with your clients and managing and tracking your delivery schedules. To do this successfully, it must successfully help you schedule quotes, manage customers, track inventory and delivery schedules. In effect, it must include elements of a customer relationship management and field services management solution. These are the parameters I used to evaluate connect2field.
The basics: what does it look like?
For a solution that should execute multiple functions at the same time, Connect2field has a remarkably simple layout. A centralized dashboard greets you immediately after you login. From here, you have a selection of five tabs that help you manage and execute multiple functions. These tabs are: Clients, Suppliers, Job Central, Scheduler, Quotes, Reports, and Options. Because all screens are interconnected, you don't really need to start at a particular screen. In addition, entering details is simple and is a matter of completing forms on each screen. This is a fairly useful feature, especially for small businesses because they work under resource and knowledge constraints; this makes learning on-the-fly easier.
For example, you can enter details for your client and field worker while creating a job. Similarly, you can enter supplier details while entering your parts details. As a personal view, i think the UI designers could consider adding more tabs to better segment the multiple functionalities within the Options Tab.
The really though part is making field services management work
To be sure, field services management is a complicated process. To the credit of Connect2field's designers, they have tried to simplify the process by enabling you to begin anywhere within the system. However, if you were to follow the conventional path, field services management would begin with adding data related to your customers, suppliers, field workers, and schedules. Performing each of these tasks is fairly simple and straightforward in the system. After you have entered necessary data, you can begin creating jobs. What's more, you can allocate and schedule these jobs dynamically. This means that you can allocate these jobs to field workers via email or SMS alerts. So, instead of returning to base camp (either home or office), they can pick up, distribute or make sales orders on the go.
Integration between multiple modules such as data management and supplier management or quote management and client modules is important for field services management systems.
This is where connect2field could do with some enhancements. Dynamic data, that requires a combination of two or more modules, requires API development. This means that you will have to either work with the API or hire a programmer who can work with the API to make sure that you can simulate a dynamic supply chain system. In addition, files are exported in the .csv format by default. It may be a good idea to have multiple-format file export functionality. This will make it more useful for customers.
Supporting your systems
By any measure, field services management is a complex task, requiring knowledge and thinking of multiple modules. To help new users to quickly get started Connect2Field offers a wide range of support:
Is it for you?
Overall, I think connect2field does a great job of connecting customers, suppliers, and employees in a single loop. I did not perform stress tests; this means, I was not able to check if the system is scalable i.e., if it works well with an overload of data and schedules. Such tests might be pointers to its scalability and conflict resolution.
Of course, the plus part is that it is easy-to-use and, given that multiple elements work seamlessly, helps businesses be up and running in less than 24 hours. All said and done, I would recommend this product for small businesses because it is affordable. If you can customize this product to suit your exact individual needs, then my rating of the product would graduate from good to great!