When the only tool that you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. While there’s a lot of truth in this observation, it’s one that many of us may inwardly laugh at. We couldn’t be so stupid as to make that mistake ourselves... could we? But when it comes to spreadsheets, think again.
Because it’s a fact that spreadsheets are one of the most widely-used software tools in business—but also one of the most widely mis-used software tools. Powerful, flexible, with excellent reporting capabilities, spreadsheets find themselves pressed into service in a wide variety of situations. Even when they shouldn’t be.
And rarely is that more true than in the world of field service management, where spreadsheets are in abundance —especially at the smaller end of the field service business size spectrum.
Spreadsheets are powerful, make no mistake. But the field service business problem just isn’t a nail for which the spreadsheet hammer is an appropriate tool.
Spreadsheets for field service management: not fit for purpose
It’s easy to see why field service businesses make this mistake, of course. The basic building blocks of field service job scheduling, for instance, are lists of outstanding service visits, and lists of clients to be visited. And aren’t spreadsheets just ideal list-processing tools?
Well no, actually. And nor with spreadsheets is it easy to add additional customer- or job-specific additional information to those basic lists, or do any meaningful job scheduling beyond simple sorting—sorting by due-date, for instance, or by postcode.
Moreover, spreadsheet-based scheduling makes it difficult to include any job- or customer-specific information that might have been captured on-site, or link to accounting and invoicing solutions, or print invoices while on customer premises.
Or, for that matter, carry out the kind of sophisticated inventory management or KPI-reporting capabilities that these days increasingly underpin drives to boost ‘first time fix’ rates and similar competition-beating initiatives.
Roll it all together, and spreadsheets are not only fairly ill-suited to the task of field service management, they also comprehensively lack the audit trail and data resilience capabilities that businesses are rightly demanding from their mission-critical software systems.
Spreadsheets for field service management: cheap fix
So why, then, are spreadsheets so widely deployed in a role for which they are so ill-suited? And what is the alternative?
Both questions are easily answered.
The widespread use of spreadsheets in field service businesses, for instance, is largely down to the attractive cost of acquisition—effectively zero.
Most businesses either already use and license Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet, or can easily download free alternatives such as Google’s Sheets, or LibreOffice’s Calc spreadsheet. And with the capability to cobble together some sort of a scheduling and field service management tool at no further investment, and without preparing any kind of formal investment justification, the temptation is obvious.
Spreadsheets for field service management: not the way to grow your business
As for the alternative to a spreadsheet-based tool for field service, that is equally obvious—a proper, enterprise-ready, full-service, richly-featured field service management system.
Granted, there’s a cost—albeit one that many (if not most) field service businesses tend to find to be highly affordable.
But set against that cost, there are the benefits of investing in a pre-written enterprise-grade field service management tool. Not to mention the costs of writing (and maintaining) that in-house spreadsheet tool in the first place.
Put another way, a proper enterprise-grade field service management tool delivers a proper field service customer experience, and proper field service management capabilities, such as optimised job scheduling, remote access, and ERP and accounting integration.
And for growth-centred field-service businesses, isn’t that a better way to target and sustain that growth? We think so.
View our latest blog: What the future of field service customer service should look like