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Optimizing inventory stock for smoother service delivery: A quick guide

Field service relies on the heavy use of inventory, which makes it a challenge for field service companies to store it. Inventory becomes risky and expensive when tools, equipment, and repair parts are spread over multiple locations. Field service management companies need to work with much less warehouse space and with inventory spread across many vehicles and locations. Tracking each item and assigning it to the right-field service expert becomes tricky and cumbersome, adding to the dispatch time and scheduling error.

This is a highly competitive space, with first-time fix rates and dispatch time being crucial to ensure profit and business continuity. Inventory becomes a challenge when it impedes efficiency and speed. When companies face poor visibility into inventory, their field agents do not have access to the right tools or material and they cannot complete their job. It becomes necessary to optimize inventory and have access to real-time inventory data.

Unlike a product-based company’s inventory, a field service company has to manage too many moving parts. The pandemic, with its insistence on cashless transactions and self-service, has taught field experts to be prepared for unexpected changes in customer demand and product supply.

Return visits truly bring down business in a field service company and one of the main reasons for return visits is the lack of part availability. Here are 6 ways to optimize inventory in field service.

1. Use field service inventory management and planning software

With field service inventory planning, you use software that helps you manage the supply chain of the inventory. Traditional inventory management algorithms cannot help field technicians because they determine their own inventory based on their experiences in the field and largely undocumented knowledge. This experience is invaluable but it becomes difficult to scale it up due to how the service supply chain keeps evolving. You need analytics-backed software to bridge the gap in process, data, and technology. This is a huge opportunity for field service organizations to improve supply chain performance and first-time fix rates. Field service inventory planning software optimizes the workflow and reduces disruptions.

These apps can give them immediate alerts when spare parts, equipment, or inventory reach a particular threshold level. This helps field experts plan better and locate the nearest spare part. You can use inventory management software to:

  • Track products and inventory locations across warehouses, vehicles, and stockrooms
  • Keep a check on inventory details like model category, serial numbers, and stock available
  • Collaborate with managers and technicians working with the inventory in different capacities and those responsible for maintenance
  • Check product transfers between different inventory locations, including shipments, tools in transit, and expected dates of delivery

2. Get access to real-time inventory data

It is important to get real-time access to inventory data, customer information, schedules, tasks, and tickets, on dashboards that show the entire workflow in real-time. When a field expert does not have the equipment or spare services on hand to complete the job, he or she needs to go on a return visit, which can cost the company additional expenses and valuable technician time.

Mean time to repair is another metric used by field service companies. This is the average time taken to repair equipment. MTTR is an important metric that drives business success. Visibility into inventories is an important goal to get at this metric. Companies also need to integrate this real-time visibility with mobile apps that help schedule a repair at the right time and with the right technician.

3. Optimize your real-time communication

Real-time communication about field agents, inventory, managers, supervisors, and customers across the service supply chain is important when dealing with inventory. It helps companies increase their first-time fix rates and keep those costs down.

Communication tools on a common dashboard can build important networks among field experts and they can sync their schedules and inventories to achieve maximum efficiency. Communication also extends to integrations with data warehouses, ERP, and CRM systems so that everyone involved in the service supply chain works collaboratively.

4. Automate your processes

With automation, field experts can operate at a higher level with their inventory. Automated processes ensure that a certain part is available for a job, along with response and back-end support from managers working backend. With automation, organizations can document service calls, update inventory, access photos, and inventory barcodes, and even capture signatures. Using automation can help field experts complete jobs the first time round and at a lower cost.

Companies can automate their receiving and pickup processes both in warehouses and in-service vehicles. If a repair item is not in stock, the system automatically produces a purchase order and alerts the field experts when the item is back in stock. When you automate inventory replenishment, for example, and tie it in with cost accounting, you ensure that there is less money tied up in your inventory.

5. Equip your field experts with native apps and tools

Mobile technology is transforming the way field agents work, making sure that they meet customer expectations in every way. With mobile apps, field agents, managers, and supervisors are constantly connected and have access to crucial data without having to leave their service call site. In fact, surveys reveal around 72% of the best field service organizations use mobile assets and native apps. Mobile apps and tools need to be integrated with back-end systems with real-time, continuous data exchanges across the field service workflow.

Field experts can use mobile interconnected management solutions that help them take stock of inventory, and plan their routes and schedule. Companies should make technicians part of the inventory management process by getting them to use mobiles and handheld devices.

6. Use analytics and a multi-echelon inventory optimization

When taking stock of inventory, field experts can use inventory planning and management systems that leverage analytics. Analytics can truly help optimize costs through inventory planning. You can use algorithms that deliver inventory forecasting through planning analytics. This reduces costs and also mines data collected from the field to improve inventory forecasts that send early warning systems to field managers. Forecasting tools can identify when parts may need to be repaired or replaced.

IBM recently implemented a system called Optimizer, which uses the multi-echelon theory to drive inventory optimization in field service. Multi-echelon inventory optimization is when you optimize inventory by integrating them across all distribution levels and networks. With an analytics-backed strategy that addresses all distribution levels in a service supply chain, companies can use algorithms and data structures to improve field service inventory and reduce inventory investment considerably. With this strategy, a company stocks parts and inventory at the most total cost-justified distribution level in its supply chain.

In field service, analytics-backed inventory optimization can save a company a lot of money by reducing return visits and increasing technician productivity. It helps companies improve part availability with field service inventory planning is the first step towards an increase in profits and efficiency.

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