Gaz Metro Plus automates back end scheduling across mobile network

Gas appliance services company Gaz Métro Plus said it has increased its personnel efficiency by over 25 per cent while slashing communications costs, thanks to the use of mobile data communications and automated back end scheduling.

Field service personnel, which the company equipped with Motion Computing tablet PCs two years ago, have increased the average number of on-site jobs per day to 5.5 from 4.5. The use of an automated back-end scheduler to push out job information across the mobile network has saved the company $15,000 per month in telephone calls between dispatchers and technicians.

The six-year-old company serves 30,000 customers in Quebec under its protection plan system, which offers cheaper service fees in exchange for regular payments. The company, which conducts 50,000 service calls each year, had been using a mainframe system to show the outstanding jobs. Paper-based work orders gleaned from information on the back-end system were assigned manually to workers at the start of the day.

This led to slower and more error-prone job reporting and inventory, said IT director Yvan Lefebvre. Technicians would have to pore through a 22-page parts book to update the inventory of parts in their trucks when a job was completed. “It takes time to find the part, especially if it’s on a filter and there are 50 types of filter in the truck,” he said.

Work orders would have to be manually filled out and returned to headquarters at a later time, meaning that customer information was updated more slowly. “We would end up with errors on the inventory and customer file,” he continued. “That was a problem, and time consuming.”

Three years ago, the company updated the scheduling system with tools from scheduling software specialist ClickSoftware, enabling jobs to be automatically prioritized and assigned. The software used criteria such as technicians’ proximity to the site based on information held by the scheduler about their current job location.

Work order and inventory information is updated using the tablet PC, which writes it to a local instance of Microsoft’s SQL Server database. When the technician connects to headquarters using Bell Mobility’s 1x network, job information is exchanged. Financial information is written to Microsoft Dynamics, although the company uses its own CRM system because the gap between Microsoft’s CRM and its own business model was “too great,” Lefebvre said.

It also becomes possible for technicians to sell protection plans more effectively to those customers that don’t have them. The technicians can conduct an inventory of appliances at the site, and return an instant quote for protection plan coverage by communicating the information from their PC back to the central host.

The company has been able to reduce the number of technicians needed from 59 to 50 while increasing their average daily job count, and has also reduced the number of dispatchers needed. Previously, in the morning eight dispatchers were needed to handle the influx of calls. Now, a maximum of two dispatchers (provided by an outsourced call centre) are needed to co-ordinate emergency jobs. Overall, said Lefebvre, the company saw an 118 per cent ROI on the mobile project during its first year of operation.

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