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Guidelines for Optimizing Schedules

The Optimizer is appropriate for field service businesses that have a large number of engineers within a concentrated area. Generally, if over 30 percent of a service force is located in the top ten areas, then optimization is appropriate. However, businesses that have the following needs should consider optimization.

Centralized Dispatch Model

A centralized dispatch model, in which a team of dispatchers handles most dispatching for the full service business, is often driven by a follow-the-sun support. Customers can call twenty-four hours a day and are routed to an open call center somewhere in the world.

Customer support representatives need to assign engineers to a call even though they do not know the local requirements and rules. The Optimizer has constraints so that when central dispatchers submit the activity, it is optimized to be consistent with local priorities. Most activities can be scheduled automatically at a central location; any exceptions can be handled manually by a local service manager, eliminating the need for dedicated dispatch personnel.

Enforcing Contractual or Legal Constraints

Many companies must comply with strict limits on work hours and hazardous work. Union agreements may stipulate special conditions, such as fairness in work assignments. Having a system that can automatically track these constraints significantly decreases the burden on service businesses.

Working in High-Traffic Areas

The majority of wasted time in a service business is usually spent getting to customer sites. Many service businesses find that their employees are either spending too much time in the office or are on the road needlessly, driving back and forth between engagements.

By handling two calls in one area, traveling time is decreased significantly and performance is increased by over 10 percent. As service businesses move to a revenue base, a 10 percent increase in revenue can yield an even higher gain in profits.

Amount of Optimization

Is it possible for a schedule to be too optimized? A schedule with high utilization (little free time) is usually a good thing. However, past a certain point, further optimization may bring diminished cost savings. Furthermore, highly optimized schedules are easily corrupted; minor changes can cause problems to ripple throughout a schedule.

For example, consider a day's schedule for one engineer who is booked from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. with no free time. If just one appointment runs over, the engineer will not be able to complete all activities, leaving at least one (or more) to overtime or the next day. Plus, unexpected events such as a vehicle breakdown can completely disrupt this fully booked schedule.

The goal is to create a schedule that is optimized but still flexible enough to accommodate change. There are two ways to do this:

  • Create constraints limiting the percentage of hours booked.
  • Extend the duration of activities to leave extra time.

The first method is preferable as it allows managers to set up a dependable level of work. With the second method, managers are not sure of the true workload for their region.

The balance of working time and available time depends on the business needs. Businesses that require more flexibility (and therefore lower utilization percentages) have the some or all of the following business requirements:

  • High break/fix volume
  • Critical response (for example, a power line down)
  • Highly variable times for service delivery
  • Many short activities (especially in a high-traffic areas)
  • Tight contractual requirements

Service businesses with a need for higher utilization usually have the following business requirements:

  • Longer activities (and therefore less travel)
  • Preventive maintenance as the main type of service
  • Lower break/fix occurrences
  • Longer contractual response time

When determining the best level of utilization, consider your service needs and then set an approximate level. Then, adjust the optimization parameters to give the best results.

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