By Mike Karlskind
March 22, 2012
Since 2009 the cost of fuel has nearly doubled, and a typical business trying to organize a mobile workforce is facing additional annual fuel costs of several thousands of dollars per year - continually increasing with rising fuel costs.
Faced with these and other cost pressures, service managers are acutely aware of the need to reduce fuel consumption, as well as procure fuel at lower costs. Obviously, fuel purchasing strategies (e.g. pre-purchase, fuel retail partnerships) provide a mechanism to reduce the price at which we acquire the commodity. However, reducing consumption involves strategies such as regular vehicle service checks, training drivers to avoid fuel-wasting behaviors like excessive idling and aggressive driving - and optimizing the routes that vehicles travel. But how much travel optimization can be gained?
Let’s assume a driver must stop at specific locations at specified times, and needs to use as little fuel as possible. Could he or she plan each individual route in a way where minimal fuel usage is the first priority, not merely a consideration? What if a company could decide which vehicle should be used for which tasks, in which order, using fuel economy as the guideline? This perspective lets us move from simply managing fuel costs to managing business operations and travel by doing the right things, with the right people, at the right time.
The value of the opportunity is extraordinary. It reduces both the cost per mile driven, and the number of miles driven. While total mileage may be reduced by a few percentage points; reducing unauthorized trips, helping drivers pick short routes, and improving the assignment of tasks, mobile workers can reduce travel by as much as 20 percent.
Imagine that you’re in charge of a team of several hundred mobile workers. Let’s say these are technicians installing and maintaining communications or some other type of equipment. You have a long list of tasks for your workforce to accomplish, and each needs to be performed at a certain location by a worker with specific skills, parts and tools.
Most critical is the time window in which each task must be fulfilled to meet the customer commitment. Some tasks are urgent (e.g. large equipment failure), or involve complex scheduling (e.g. ensure that multiple technicians appear at the same time). At the other extreme, some tasks may be scheduled to be completed 30 days out by whoever is “in the area at the time.” And between these extremes, we find appointments with end-customers who need a technician to arrive anytime in a specified time window.
If we create an efficient schedule where total mileage is minimized, we’ll reap substantial fuel savings. But an efficient schedule is not always enough. First, we must comply with our customer commitments for response and arrival. Unplanned events will occur throughout the day: cancelled tasks, jobs taking longer than expected, or technicians whose shifts are interrupted by traffic, personal matters, or vehicle failures. To keep the schedule both correct and efficient, it must be continually maintained and adjusted as these events occur.
With all of these factors combined, the challenge of maintaining efficient routes is daunting - but so is the opportunity for savings. Efficient scheduling creates opportunities to squeeze more tasks into a day - while simultaneously reducing the fuel cost per job. If we assume that the completion of each such task is worth $100, then an organization with 1000 engineers can gain $2 million in one year if each worker can increase their productivity by one more task done each day.
Saving on mileage is not only about efficient routes however. Once you start examining service processes and their impact on travel and on fuel consumption, you find ways to dig deeper-such as examining the losses from the dreaded “repeat visit.”
Customers dread the repeat visit because they have to wait that much longer for a problem to be solved and often must wait at home yet again for the technician. Managers dread it because it increases the mileage beyond the expected costs. The calculation is brutally simple: If 5 percent of your tasks aren’t completed the first time, you’re driving at least 5 percent more miles than you could. And now you’re now completing 5 percent fewer new tasks than you could have accomplished. And the opportunity cost of lost productivity usually doesn’t compare with the negative impact on the customer. Repeat visits cannot be completely abolished, but given this calculation, a gain of just one percentage point would translate into substantial improvements in customer satisfaction and your bottom line.
How do you avoid repeat visits? By paying close attention to their causes and changing your organization’s processes to reduce the impact of common sources. We must first ensure that the right technician, with the right skill, and parts and tools is assigned to the right job to complete it the first time. As new information comes in - traffic delays, canceled jobs, emergency calls, and technician availability - notifying customers of the latest technician ETA significantly reduces cases of “customer not at home.” Scheduling efficiency turns wasted fuel and dissatisfied customers turns it into a smooth, “all in a day’s work” handling of unforeseen situations.
After exploring all the savings created by efficient scheduling, you will still need to drive, and you will still need to fill up at the gas station. When you embark on a journey toward saving fuel, you’ll find additional benefits. Some are increased customer satisfaction, reduced costs and reduced effort wasted on battling unexpected events and customer complaints. Others improve the “green” perception of the company. These savings affect a company’s bottom line directly and significantly, and are being achieved throughout leading service organizations globally today and everyday by leveraging workforce management and optimization technology.
Mike Karlskind, vice president Service Optimization Strategies at ClickSoftware, has more than 16 years of experience streamlining process and optimizing decisions for service organizations. ClickSoftware is the leading provider of automated mobile workforce management and optimization solutions. Reach Karlskind at [email protected].