Salesforce today unveils the first update to its field service management (FSM) product since the acquisition of FSM vendor ClickSoftware, which closed in October last year. New features include dynamic optimization of field service schedules, AI-driven recommendations for parts and equipment, and automated messaging to let customers know when technicians will arrive. There's also a new asset management product created in a surprise partnership with Salesforce ecosystem partner ServiceMax, and a minor branding change to drop the word 'Lightning' from the product name, which from now on becomes simply Salesforce Field Service.
Many of the new features will help field service teams cope with the new demands arising a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Paul Whitelam, Senior Director of Product Strategy, Field Service at Salesforce:
This is our first opportunity since the Click acquisition to announce this next wave of field service management capability. So, of course, it's all in the context of COVID-19.
How COVID-19 has affected field service
There's been a twofold impact from COVID-19. First of all, procedures have changed to include new pandemic-related safety requirements, such as wearing masks and practising social distancing. That has demanded flexibility from FSM platforms to update checklists and workflows with new protocols, policies and procedures. Having these documented in the FSM system helps ensure that they are auditable, Whitelam explains:
You can prove that your staff are going through the appropriate steps, your customers have got some assurances that things are going well, and you're communicating those things to your customers effectively.
The second impact is simply the extra volume of work that has built up, not only to deal with new demands due to the change in people's work patterns, but also because routine maintenance checks were put on pause during the lockdown period. This has led to field service teams being busier than ever, says Whitelam.
We're seeing the levels of activity on our Salesforce Field Service platform 20% higher than they were prior to COVID, as people are trying to catch up with that backlog. And so it's really important that you're prioritizing the work that needs to be done.
These factors also increase the importance of making each visit count, he adds:
You've got to make sure that you do it right first time. You've got to make sure you've got all of the parts there and you don't have to make repeat visits. This is even more problematic.
You need to be able to tell customers when you're going to be arriving so they can prepare for the arrival of the masked person to be able to help them. And you've got to make the most of revenue opportunities and entitlement management and things like that.
Four new features announced today
Two of the new features are focused on maximizing resource utilization. Scheduling and optimization — a core specialism of ClickSoftware — now has a feature called dynamic priority. This automatically schedules or reschedules work orders, taking into account various factors such as SLA commitments and how critical each fix is, along with technician availability and travel times. The underlying algorithm constantly recalculates as each individual factor changes, and work orders can be changed either automatically at set times or as dictated by the dispatcher. This takes the burden of calculating priorities off dispatchers, helping them focus their decision-making on the most urgent issues, Whitelam explains.
They don't have to do all the mental arithmetic themselves by saying, 'Well that's the due date, that's the SLA requirement, and that's the customer VIP level — Ooh is that more important than this one?' This [priority scoring] does that for them.
The second feature relating to call efficiency is the introduction of an AI-powered recommendation builder. Based on what's been required on similar calls in the past, Salesforce Einstein machine learning technology recommends parts technicians should take with them on a service call.
Automated alerts to customers to advise when the technician is on their way is the third new feature. This uses live status updates and GPS data to keep customers informed, allowing them if needed to vacate the premises in a timely way as a COVID-19 precaution, or complete other preparations, before the technician arrives.
The final feature being announced today is Asset 360, a new set of asset management capabilities that helps service management teams keep track of the equipment customers have installed and stay up-to-date with warranty and service entitlements. Read more on this in my colleague Stuart Lauchlan's separate story.
Some customers have had early access to the new features. For example, female healthtech company Hologic is now able to track products at customer sites in the field service app, rather than relying on a separate Excel spreadsheet as previously. Australian property valuation and advisory firm WBP was able to rapidly launch virtual viewings after COVID-19 restrictions set in, scheduled and tracked using the Salesforce FSM system.
Adoption of new technology
Take-up of the field service product has been strong since Salesforce first launched it in 2016, based on technology developed by ClickSoftware. Now that the two companies have merged, there's the issue of migrating a significant backlog of ClickSoftware's pre-merger customers who are still using on-premise versions of its software. Those versions continue to be supported, but many customers are keen to make the move to the cloud to gain more up-to-date capabilities, says Whitelam:
The bulk of them are on the [on-premise] Service Optimization product. Those are the ones who are more enthusiastically embracing the cloud. I think there's such a big delta, to when they bought their field service management capabilities some time back, to what you're able to do now with more modern technology, frankly.
The introduction of AI-powered features can't be rushed, however. Distrust of AI means that it's important to introduce the technology into the field service realm in careful steps, says Gary Brandeleer, Senior Director of Product Management for Salesforce Field Service.
When you look at the field service industry, many people are still sometimes afraid of using AI or even the optimization engine because for many dispatchers, they have been doing that for the last 30 years. So they feel like they will always have a better plan than the optimization may show.
Of course they don't, because the computer is better at calculating all the travel time and all the different permutations that can be done. But it's important to use AI only where it's really critical to use AI. The reason I'm saying this is because, if you use simple criteria in creating it, then the dispatcher can really say, 'You know what? I can understand what's going on, I can understand what other criteria that you have set up there. And if I would take the same criteria into account I would have reached the same decision to actually put this job as a high priority. So it's very easy for me as a dispatcher to trust this.'
The point here is that the machine intelligence is taking on the routine tasks but the skill and experience of the dispatcher or technician is still important to deal with complex or unexpected events, he explains:
Now the structure is much more like flying a plane [that is] flying automatically. But when there are surprises, you can tweak and push on different buttons to react to the surprise. I think that's really where the value is of having a dispatcher. Because if you have good dispatcher, they will know exactly which button to push on to solve the surprises that you get every single day in the field service world.
When Salesforce first launched its field service management app in 2016, the Lightning user interface was also freshly launched, and so the app ended up with Lightning in its name. This probably always was a misnomer in branding terms, and risked conveying not only 'quick and easy' but potentially 'lightweight'. In any case, the Lightning experience is now the rule rather than the exception across the Salesforce portfolio. So it's appropriate, now that ClickSoftware has fully joined the Salesforce fold, to update the branding to reinforce the message that this is a full-function FSM offering — even more so with the asset management piece contributed by ServiceMax.