ATCO Frontec - from paper-based to digital field service support with ServiceMax

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez July 23, 2021 Audio mode
ATCO Frontec has some words of wisdom for when it comes to jumping from manual processes to a cloud-based system like ServiceMax - go slow.

Image of an ATCO Frontec field service technician
(Image sourced via ATCO Frontec)

ATCO Frontec has rolled out ServiceMax to support and service over 45,000 assets and north of 200 technicians and field users. The move to the cloud-based system, which is built on the Salesforce platform, is enabling real-time updates delivered to technicians, as well as the rapid creation of dashboards on how assets are performing. However, the jump from paper-based processes to a mobile, digital-first system is a large one and ATCO Frontec has some words of advice. 

ATCO Frontec specializes in operational support services, facilities management, logistics and consulting, remote site turn-key accommodation and disaster and emergency response solutions. It manages assets and supports companies in the resource sector, as well as government and military operations, with innovative power generation solutions, water/wastewater systems, hazardous waste services, airfield operations and first responder services. 

We spoke with Raza Anees, Senior Advisor of Technology Innovation at ATCO Frontec, about how the company is using ServiceMax in the maintenance side of the business - where it supports organizations that range from locations in the Arctic in Canada, to the desert in Nevada, and even NATO bases in Europe. This diversity of projects can make support and service challenging, but getting it right is essential given that ATCO Frontec can suffer contractual penalties for late work or downtime. 

In addition to this, nothing that ATCO services is its own. It doesn't manufacture or produce anything, all of the assets are owned by the client. This brings its own challenges too. Anees explains: 

That's one of the most difficult parts of our job. If we won, let's say, a government bid on a site that's been operational for 70 or 80 years, depending on the record keeping, we may or may not get the most accurate information on those assets - warranty information may be long gone or the warranties may be long expired. 

Even OEM manuals and things like that may not be available. In that case we do have people in the company who would research these OEMs and manufacturer recommendations, add them into the system as we do an exercise that we call asset verification, which is quite an involved process depending on the project. 

It could take three to four months at the start of the project. And then in other cases when we are creating that facility as a temporary modular construction, it's our sister company who often does construction and then hands it over to us. And then we have a lot better documentation. 

For years the ATCO Frontec relied on paper-based processes, as well as Excel, to support its clients in the field. This is clearly not efficient, but also prone to error. The company did spend some time in recent years dabbling with various computerized maintenance management systems, including IBM's Maximo, but soon realized that it needed a solution to support its field workforce that was cloud-based, mobile and truly digital in nature. This was in part being driven by client demand. 

The implementation

Two years ago ATCO underwent a market evaluation, where it assessed six solutions, before finally settling on ServiceMax, which it began implementing in 2019. Anees explains how the project began by ATCO Frontec selecting one of its more difficult sites as the pilot, which would then be the blueprint for scaling across nine other projects. He says: 

So we picked a site that Frontec has had for about 30 years without a computer management system to start out as a pilot, in 2019. The first four to five months were just process mapping and converting that to the system in terms of how the configuration would go. And we did end up configuring ServiceMax quite a bit to meet our particular facilities maintenance scope, expanding on the field service part of it but also getting into the contractual management and asset management part of it. 

We also had to focus on change management, the introduction of technology to staff, and I would say that was the first major milestone to meet in terms of immediate challenges. Making them comfortable with mobile phones and the technology in general. 

The maintenance business has 10 operating projects at present, all over North America and Europe. It used this pilot to learn the lessons for the rest of the organizations, which it could then apply and scale-up. The implementation had to be paused for a period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the verification stage and the training worked best in-person and with site visits, but was later progressed as restrictions eased and completed on 23rd June this year. 

And the ambitions are clear, Anees says: 

One of the biggest goals we have for ServiceMax is to just have a lot more and better insight and availability of data for our maintenance activity and our assets. Whether it was the paper system or the Maximo system, none of the data was timely or in real-time. At best practice, all the data would be entered at once at the end of the day by all the technicians. In between the day there would be no updates on critical actions, or whatever it is. And then at the not best practice end, it might be a couple of months before you find out if something was actually done. 

With ServiceMax all that's changed, where we have a lot more availability of data. All of our site managers and administrators have live dashboards that we've made up on on Salesforce that show them exactly the criticality of work orders, how many are outstanding, how many are due today, due tomorrow, are due in two days, who needs to be contacted, what their schedules look like, who needs to be assigned etc. 

All of that data availability and forward planning and forward thinking has improved a lot. With the dashboarding feature plus the use of the mobile app, it allows the technicians to put updates in, in real time, and that's been a really big benefit for us. 

Another thing that we're looking forward to now that it's been implemented is real-time updates on critical assets and critical equipment. A lot of our sites have very heavy contractual penalties for late work or downtime, so if we can get a sense of critical equipment failure before it fails, that would go a long way to make our clients happy. 


Interestingly, some of the biggest challenges that faced ATCO Frontec during the implementation weren't hugely technical in nature. What Anees and his colleagues found was that because of varying ages of its field service workforce, and the varying competence with smartphone technologies, a lot of the difficulties lay in change management. As well as support around learning new smartphone skills. He explains: 

A lot of our newer or younger employees have their own smartphones, they just use them in their private lives. So having another mobile app and figuring out where the buttons are, where to go, what to do, was pretty simple. We had to maybe work with them for half an hour or an hour, they just figured it out the rest of the way. 

But most of our workforce has been around for longer and for some of them it was actually the first time in their lives that they had an iPhone. They were switching from flip phones to iPhones, during this project. So yeah, at that point it wasn't about ServiceMax, it was…this is an iPhone. 

I would say for that category of staff, we probably spent about a month just working through the phone and showing them how a smartphone works, how an Apple ID works, resetting the passwords, setting security questions, and just that whole skill set that I guess we take for granted. 

When it got to learning ServiceMax, that wasn't actually as time consuming as learning how to use the phone from the beginning. What we found at the end of the day was just having somebody on site with them, walking them through it, and then letting them work on the phone, making mistakes in a sandbox, learning from those, and then pairing them up with their more tech savvy co-workers.

But this was a challenge that was overcome just by being with colleagues and going through the new tools and system, as Anees explains. And the benefits of using ServiceMax in the cloud are already beginning to come through, even though it's only been a month since the final project site was completed. He says: 

The biggest thing for us is going to be the work order completion rate and the work order quality, the level of information that's being recorded on these work orders. We now run monthly reports for each of the sites. Quantitative scores took about four or five business days to calculate by somebody in the office, but now with it being on Salesforce and ServiceMax, we have scripts that can calculate all this in about 10 minutes for a business day. 

That's been a big improvement in just being able to measure it. But we are looking to get into the high 90 percents for all of this. And then, better insights on things like inventory and materials and purchasing, that's something as well that we've linked up with the ServiceMax. 


Finally, Anees does have some advice for other organizations that may be going through a similar implementation - particularly if they are jumping from manual process straight to the cloud. He says that ATCO Frontec was perhaps a bit too ambitious and tried to pack too much in, in the early stages of the rollout. Anees' advice is to start simple and then expand as people get comfortable. He says: 

My biggest advice would be to keep the process simple at the rollout. ServiceMax is a modern cloud 21st century solution that can have X number of data fields and workflows, and do all these fancy things and calculate times on everything. We tried to put a lot of that into the process so that he couldn't measure time between work order stages - timestamps, geolocation, really encourage our workforce to put in this extra information. 

But maybe as an implementation, especially going from paper to this, it was maybe too big of a leap to make in one stride, especially where it's not only just learning what the phone is, but then what the app is, and then there's seven different steps involved to do the work order, because we want to collect all this data in the background. So I think what we would have done a second time around is make the process half of what it is today at the rollout and then slowly introduce the additional features in the following months. 

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