By Danny Wong
Work order management is one of the true unsung heroes in the business world: It paves the way for all of the various units of an organization to service customers efficiently and create sustainable growth. It’s also an intricate process that requires coordination among multiple departments, precise scheduling, and accounting for almost any possibility that can arise in the course of a job.
Disorganized or nonexistent work order management is like sticking a wrench in the spoke of any of your core processes. One of the best ways you can prevent such occurrences is to implement a strong, standardized work order management system (sometimes abbreviated as WOMS and referred to as a Computerized Maintenance Management System, or CMMS). In essence, a work order management system is any codified set of procedures that are designed to catalog facilities’ requests and create action plans. The level of technological sophistication can vary wildly from system to system.
Thanks to the abundance of options currently available, many business owners and facility managers are turning to work order management software in order to take advantage of innovative tools that streamline the process and remove inefficiencies. Some of the tools with these software solutions include smart scheduling assistants, parts and inventory management, mobile apps that allow for updates from any location, detailed work order histories, product databases, and more.
According to a customer service satisfaction study of over 550 companies that utilize maintenance management software, those businesses experienced approximately a 20 per cent reduction in both equipment downtime and materials costs, among numerous other benefits. These software programs also allow for remarkably accurate record keeping, which makes it easier to diligently track your progress in accordance with your operational goals. You can also create a hub of information for any future questions about a particular project.
When choosing a work order management system, there are several important factors to consider, such as the technological skill level of the end-users, whether the system has a history of success in your industry, and if it has a customizable suite of features that can be configured for your business. Once you decide on the most effective solution, there are a number of best practices to apply throughout the work order management system that will reduce response times, save resources, and help control the quality of the work being done.
Good habits are cultivated at the beginning of any process, and the first step toward ensuring efficient work order management is to create a work order for every project. It sounds elementary, but we all know that busy employees will eventually want to bypass protocols for small requests in hopes that they can get the issue taken care of even more quickly. Using a standardized work order initiation process for everything from a busted light bulb to a major maintenance request helps create a cohesive system that operates predictably and reliably in any circumstance.
What happens in the following stages of the process will largely depend on the type of work order request that is created, so it’s necessary to have a well-defined set of categories that make it easy for end users to choose what type of work is being requested. The software needs to allow for changes to be made by management when necessary. That’s because inputting the correct category has a significant effect on the efficiency of the process as well as the efficacy of metrics collected from the event.
To avoid delays and complications, all orders should be subject to approval prior to actual execution and assignment. Approval will likely be contingent on all required information fields being accurately completed, as well as a review to ensure that any additional budgetary or safety concerns don’t need to be addressed before assigning the work. Upon approval (or cancellation, or a request for revision), a notification can be sent to the end user to inform them of the status change for their request.
Access rights work best when they are doled out judiciously, as fewer hands in the jar usually results in fewer opportunities for mistakes, errors, and delays. Innovative WOMS software solutions create the possibility for intelligent access management; you can create and maintain groups of users who can be granted access to modify certain components of the work order based upon categories. Access can also be granted to end users for functions (such as adding comments and viewing status updates) without giving them the ability to modify the core functions of the order.
Successfully prioritizing your work orders is a key tenet of system efficiency. This is why it’s imperative to employ a standardized set of rules for prioritization that lead to consistency throughout the process. Of course, people often want their request to be a higher priority than it actually should be, which is why it’s crucial to develop a rubric and stick to it. Any work request that is necessary to remove a risk for injury or significant asset damage can be evaluated immediately, and the routine requests that occur every day can be addressed at the appropriate time.
Scheduling is one of the tasks that benefits the most from smart software; these programs have the ability to use algorithms to erase inefficiencies and reduce instances of over-scheduling. Not only does this make a facilities manager’s job significantly easier, but it also results in technicians’ time being used more effectively. With the availability of mobile apps offered by WOMS software providers, managers can view and update schedules from any location through a mobile device.
Once the preliminary planning has been taken care of, any effective WOMS needs to have a mechanism in place for competently executing the order. All the necessary information needs to be shared with the assigned technician or team, and clear instructions should be available for how to proceed with the job. Information pertaining to the work should be automatically updated in the system for tracking purposes so any authorized user can see real-time status reports on the progress being made.
Inventory management features provide new ways to intelligently keep track of parts and service equipment. These tools eliminate the need to check manual inventory records before approving a work order, which allows the end user to be instantly notified if their request necessitates a part or piece of equipment that is out of stock or unavailable. Software solutions can even automatically create purchase orders for products that aren’t currently in stock. This allows facilities departments to be better prepared for the variety of requests they frequently receive.
Software databases can also be turned into information hubs where authorized parties can instantly see any information about an area or product, including a detailed service history, warranty information, parts lists, and more, that has been worked on. In the past, many of these variables had to be manually located (often from multiple locations) and reviewed before the approval of a project; however, now all of this information can be automatically displayed any time a corresponding work order is requested.
One of the ways that WOMS software platforms allow you to connect with customers in innovative ways is by enabling automatic notifications. Users feel more comfortable—and engaged in the work order process—when they have an idea of how things are progressing. New programs can keep them in the loop when there’s a change they should know about, or when there are simply routine developments as part of the process. In general, sharing more with the customer and being transparent are worthy practices, and WOMS software facilitates clear communication between the stakeholders.
Advanced budgeting systems are able to integrate functions such as labor and inventory costs within the work order management system, creating a streamlined database with figures that change in real-time. When a work order is approved, and it results in a technician working overtime, these additional funds can immediately be added to the labor costs and be reflected throughout the organizational budget. Similarly, when orders are generated for new parts, the costs can be shared with the accounting software and the budget can automatically be updated.
When it comes to work order management, more information is almost always preferable to less. All results of the WOMS process, from the most serious to seemingly inconsequential, need to be documented in order to facilitate accurate record keeping and systemic improvements. When a customer has a positive experience with a technician, when an accident results in injury, or when the incorrect part was ordered for a job, it should always be noted in the software system for future edification.
Like any business process, work order management needs to have achievable goals that can be measured using data. Through a successfully implemented WOMS, it is possible to track your progress on a daily basis. Of course, to increase operational efficiency, there should be routine assessments and revisions of goals. That way you may also challenge your team to work smarter, harder, and safer in service of meeting these goals.
The possibilities for data collection through the use of software solutions are astounding, so take advantage of everything these platforms can do and put the data to work for you. Analytics tools can look at trends in your company and help make your department more proactive, and user behavior can be studied in order to provide a more personalized customer experience. Choose the KPIs that make sense for your organization, and harness the power of real-time data to make detailed assessments concerning the state of your performance.
With proper analysis of your KPIs, and the effort you put behind these steps to organize your work order management system, your company will improve its customer satisfaction rates. This achievement will create happier customers and continued growth—goals every company should have.
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