Gaining Efficiencies in Field Services Though Workforce Scheduling

Posted on December 01, 2014
Posted By: Ashish Kumar Das
 

Overview
Asset Intensive organisation like Water, Gas and Electric Utilities heavily rely on their field staff to keep the operation going. There are numerous assets to be maintained by utilities spanning from their own production assets, network assets to public and private assets in customer premises.

With aging workforce nearing their retirement there is need to capture their knowledge on field works for the younger generations. Field service tasks-such as dispatching field personnel to do meter install, new service connection, and scheduling routine and emergency service calls-are activities that utility firms perform every day.

Effective field service depends on identifying the right people at right time at right place to get the job done .This can be briefed into 3 W's as listed below:

  • - What -Skills, equipment and capabilities needed to get the job done.
  • - When -Time window for the job to be done - earliest start and latest finish date.
  • - Where -Location of job, the site address, latitude and longitude of site.

Types of Field Works

Utilities today conduct all types of field tasks, counter reactive works viz. planned work, attend to emergencies and appointments. Typical works that are performed by utilities field staff are of following types as listed below:

Inspection works -This type of work will be booked through appointment with customer or contractors.

Planned Maintenance work increase asset life through preventative care and maintenance. This is usually carried over a period of time but is of non-urgent nature. These types of job are planned well in advance with resources, skills and equipment required to carry the task.

Reactive works
are more of attending to the problem reported by customers. This are usually initiated as part of service request logged at customer contact centres.

Emergency calls
claim the highest priority and should replace all low priority tasks that can be delayed from the schedule.

There can be linked jobs which has got dependencies to each other like excavation, followed by trench inspection, then backfill and reinstatement which are very common activities for any water and gas utilities. There can be cases where crew need to assist another crew for carrying out field works.

Workforce Scheduling


Workforce Scheduling is a nonstop process, driven by arrival of new work orders, unforeseen events like emergencies, site delays, weather conditions and changes in resource availability. It's really difficult and time consuming exercise planning day to day activities for the field crews keeping in account the changing circumstances. We need to release planners and dispatchers to take on value added tasks rather than spending their effort in rudimentary assignment works for day to day operations.

There is a need to create real time schedule adjusting the plan and people as condition change. Schedule should be so designed so as to fulfil the below requirements:

  • - Optimal assignment & routing of field personnel, jobs assigned to crew with right skills and equipment.
  • - Reduced travel time and distance resulting to decreased service cost.
  • - Plan unavailability of crews due to vehicle breakdown, repairs, meeting and leaves.
  • - Allocate and distribute work so as to minimise overtimes.

There is a need for real time information exchange - coordination between contact centres and field workers for effective customer service, visibility of what is happening on field to office staff. Service request normally get created in contact centre and send across to work and asset planning system to initiate the work order. This work order should result into field activity which can be sent to field and office staff should receive immediate and accurate status updates and completion information from the field.

Work force scheduling starts with planning horizon - the time interval over which the workers and activities need to be scheduled. Each worker has capabilities that enable him/her to carry out certain tasks.

A shift is a set of working hours in a day with specified start time and end time which determines the shift length. Each shift will contain tasks and breaks in it. A shift or task requires a worker assigned to it possess certain capabilities.

A work schedule over the planning horizon for a worker is the roster, which is a combination of shifts and days off assignments over a fixed period of time.

Shifts can be planned with crews comprising of workers with required skillsets, vehicle containing required equipment. This can be furthered be grouped based on the service area the field workers is responsible to cover.

Field activities can be planned with skills, equipment and number of resources required to perform the tasks. The activity based on site location will fall into one of the service areas and this information can be captured while planning the activities

The various steps involved in workforce scheduling process include:

  • - Workload Prediction - determine the staffing level - how many workers needed for each time slot in the planning horizon.
  • - Shift Generation - determine the shift structure, task to be carried out in the shift and the capabilities needed on different shifts, size of workforce required to solve the demand.
  • - Preference Scheduling - attempt to fulfil each worker list of preferences as well as possible.
  • - Days-off Scheduling - deal with rest days (unavailability) between working days including the assignment of vacations and training sessions.
  • - Staff Rostering - assignment of workers to shifts with the starting time and duration of shifts.
  • - Rescheduling - deal with ad hoc changes due to sick leaves or other no shows.
  • - Evaluation - evaluate the realised staffing level and worker satisfaction, if needed revise the work load prediction and shift generation and the whole workforce scheduling process to be restarted.

Scheduling process can be set as complex mathematical problem with objective function to obtain optimal cost for allocating the available resources to all available field activities over the period of planning horizon with constraints as listed below:

  • - Matching Capabilities (shift and job)
  • - Minimum Travel Time
  • - Minimum Travel Distance
  • - Minimum Overtime
  • - Minimum Lateness
  • - Minimum Wait Time
  • - Matching Service Area

The cost parameters can be set with each of the above constraints and function can be designed so as to achieve cost optimised solution. The cost parameters can be flat, variable or complex as illustrated here. There can be flat cost for utilising a shift, travel time cost and travel distance cost can be variable which is based on per unit usage and on the contrary late cost which defines cost of late arrival to an activity can be complex .The exponential function can be defined so that the late cost is insignificant for the first ten minutes but starts ramp up quickly thereafter. The customer will accept crew being 5 - 10 minutes late but will be annoyed with further delays.

The scheduling process assigns each task a scheduled date/time on particular shift of a crew. As part of the optimization process, a task may be assigned, unassigned and re-assigned any numbers of times until current scheduled shift starts.

The business benefits that can be realised with real time workforce scheduling are list below:

  • - Improves field workforce productivity.
  • - Reduces travel time and distance thus decreased service cost and lower vehicle emissions.
  • - Improves customer service with fewer missed appointments and working within regulatory SLAs.
  • - Decreases expenses and overhead.
  • - Improves operating margins.

Conclusion

We have seen effective schedule can be arrived at based on cost based optimization by accurately reflecting all key business priorities. Workforce scheduling helps to increase productivity, quality of service, customer and employee satisfaction. It helps to streamline the back office operation, reduce the planning time and release office staff for monitoring other valuable activities. It also helps to minimise the cost by creating optimised schedule based on rule based scheduling to produce efficient routes by grouping service calls for field workers working in particular geographic area.

Utilities today need a single enterprise wide field work solution which support a mixture of field activities and ensure most economical allocation of task to crews with optimal street level routing.


References

  • N. Kyngas, J. Kyngas and Nurmi (2012). Optimizing Large-Scale Staff Rostering Instances: Proceedings of the International MutliConference of Engineers and Computer Scientists 2012 Vol II, IMECS 2012, pp. 2.
  • Mobile Workforce Management and the Aging Utility Workforce: Oracle White Paper, July 2014.
  • Improve Field Performance at a Lower Operating Cost with Oracle Utilities Mobile Workforce Management: Oracle Data Sheet, pp. 3 - 4.
  • Scheduler Configuration: Oracle Utilities Mobile Workforce Management Configuration Guide, Release 2.1.0 Service Pack 4, E26616-05, October 2012, pp. 9 - 10.
 
 
Authored By:
Ashish Das is Delivery Manager for Oracle Consulting Practice focusing on  solution for  ERP and CX Suite for Cloud to Cloud and Hybrid Integration models including Cloud to On - Premise.He is also managing Pre-sales for PaaS for SaaS Solution Centre.He was Senior Manager for Utility Practice within Infosys Limited. He has extensive experience in service delivery and project management for medium to large scale projects primarily in the domain of energy
 

Other Posts by: Ashish Kumar Das

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