If you’ve recently expanded your field services team from one to many, it might be time to start thinking about a field service management app. From plumbers to electricians, technicians to engineers, keeping track of employees in the field only gets trickier as business starts to pick up and your field service team starts to grow.

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A good field service management app will help you schedule and dispatch employees in the field, keep track of their movements, and create invoices for completed work. But aside from these basic functions, what will make you and your employees’ lives easier when looking for a field service management solution?

What to look for

First and foremost, make sure that you choose a cloud-based field service management solution. In no other industry is cloud-based software as important as it is in field services. Why? The cloud lends itself perfectly to mobility, which is essential for managers looking to keep track of their employees in the field.

According to Yuri Margoulis, director at workforce management consultancy firm WorkForce Delta and contributor to our Q3 GetRank report on field service management, this type of connectivity is a big deal for the industry. “The most poignant trend in field service management software is the overall increased connectivity between the back office and technicians in the field,” he says. “It’s this connectivity that gives dispatchers and the rest of the back office unparalleled transparency into mobile workers whereabouts.”

This, in large part, is due to mobile apps and other connected devices. Whether fully mobile responsive or with a native mobile app, having mobile availability is key to ensuring efficiency and employee visibility in field services. This need will continue to expand even further as wearables and other connected devices start entering the picture, which is more than likely for many field service industries with things like smart glasses, smartwatches, and smart helmets.

As Margoulis notes: “The connectivity across devices may also require software to create seamless interactions as technicians move from device to device. For example, if a technician pulls something up on an onboard computer in their truck, then exits the truck, they should have the ability to continue with that information on their smart glasses, or perhaps on their mobile device and then to their smart glasses.” Depending on whether or not you’ll be using wearables in the field– now or in the near future– it’s important to consider if the software you’ll be using functions with all of the hardware.

Another important consideration is integration: if you’re already using something like a CRM system or an accounting software, you’ll want a field service management solution that integrates with them both. This will reduce duplicate work when it comes to keeping track of clients, as well as when creating and managing invoices.

Also, take a look at whether or not the solution is scalable, ie., is it just as effective if you have more or less employees than your current roster? Some solutions cater to small companies, others to large organizations, and some are only effective for one or the other. You want to make sure that the solution you choose fits your company without the fear of outgrowing it. This will be especially important for seasonal field services, like lawn care or pool maintenance, where the number of field service workers can drastically change from one month to another.

Finally, don’t forget to read user reviews in order to gauge other people’s experiences using an application. You’ll get a better sense of how it works from customers with similar sized businesses than you would from over-enthusiastic marketing copy on a company’s website.

What you need

If you’ve never used a field service management app, you might not be sure of what you’ll need. At its most basic level, there are functions like those previously mentioned which every field service management app should have in order to help you and your team work efficiently and effectively.

Scheduling and dispatch: Scheduling is a definitive function of any field service management app, as you want to be able to appropriately allocate resources based on skill and availability. For those looking for more advanced options, there are apps that can help you sort and schedule employees based on their current location, as well as ones for assigning jobs based on skill level. This is useful for assigning tasks on the fly to help you keep track of who’s where. Also consider how easy the scheduling functions are to use: something with drag and drop functionality can be more useful if you’re constantly having to change assignments around.

GPS tracking: If you are looking to schedule staff based on their location, GPS tracking is a necessary feature. Not only will you be able to spot where your field service workers are, but you can also see if your workers are running ahead or behind schedule, and make sure that they’re not wasting time in between jobs.

More importantly, it’s also useful for customers, who expect their field service workers to be on time. Justin Guinn, market research associate at Software Advice, says: “The transparency enables dispatchers to be proactive in routing mobile workers to the most appropriate job, ensuring appointment times are kept. Given [that] our study on GPS tracking for field service industries found that 67% of consumers won’t tolerate lateness up to one hour, punctuality should be a high priority for service companies.” The more information that customers can have about the location of their field service worker, the better.

Billing and invoicing: Billing and invoicing back at the office and on-the-go is an important part of the field service management process. If planned works change, for example, you’ll want your field employees to be able to make those invoicing changes immediately. Again, this function will be even more useful if the application is integrated with accounting software.

Similarly, as wearables start entering the field service market, they could serve a useful purpose for collecting payments too. “[Field Service Management] software may also evolve to enable NFC payments via smart watches. Mobile POS systems are seeing increased adoption in field services, but smart watches can accept payments too. This could be a great way for service companies to easily collect payments at the point of service rather than invoicing and waiting for that money to come in slowly,” says Guinn.

Document manager: An integrated document manager for things like PDFs and manuals could be indispensable for field service staff that need access to materials, especially on the road. Again, this will become even more useful when hands-free wearable devices become the norm and workers can pull up and follow manuals without having to flip or swipe through a document.

Customer service: An often overlooked but important consideration is the availability of an application’s customer service team. If you’re frequently dispatching field service workers on weekends but your software provider doesn’t offer weekend support when something goes wrong, you’ll want to take that into consideration.

Offline mode: As important as connectivity is, it’s just as important that you and your field workers can use the application when there’s no connection. There’s nothing worse than having to record something, only to realize that it was not saved because you weren’t online. Having an offline mode means that work process won’t be interrupted and can be synced later when a connection is once again established.

Apps to check out

A good place to start when looking for a Field Service Management app is GetRank, GetApp’s quarterly ranking of the top field service management software. The ranking is based on five data points– user reviews, integrations, mobile app availability, social media presence, and security– and will give you a good sense of some of the leading contenders in the industry. See the top five below, or check out the full top 25 list here.

  1. GeoOp
  2. HouseCall Pro
  3. GoSpotCheck
  4. Jobber
  5. Synchroteam

If you’re interested in more future trends in Field Service Management software, check out our Q3 report, Operating in Cloud: Key Trends for 2015 for insights and expert commentary.