Service Channel, Corrigo, Big Sky, Office Trax, SMS One, Facility Source, Hyve
and many more…
So what is the purpose of these work order management systems (WMS)? What are the benefits, drawbacks, and overall solutions that you can expect? Well, be cautious of the salesmen, there are two sides to every story and these systems might impact you in more ways than you think or you’re told.
Ok, so WMS platforms have one main purpose – to consolidate, organize, and manage work orders to vendors so you, the end user, can see all of the information in one spot. Invoices, notes, updates, schedules, etc. This usually comes with the ability to sort and filter by location, trade, equipment, etc.
Sounds great right? It is. But only if used correctly. You see, the other side of the coin bears the requirements and procedures that a service vendor needs to follow in order to facilitate this ability. Is it as easy for them as it is for you? And, if not, how does that effect service or price?
When we were first invited into the work order management systems it was completely foreign and intrusive. Why do we need to check into an IVR system, we already check in with management. What are the status updates for, we already do that in our system. Why do we need to wait 3 days before we can submit an invoice, the manager already signed off on the work.
Believe me, we were resistant at first. But it seems like every year another platform comes out so we had no choice but to conform. It didn’t take long for us to realize that, even though it was more work for us, there was value in it for the users.
IVR system verifies we were there for the amount of time we billed. Status let you know where the work order stands. Pending approval provides a 3-5 day cushion for the user to ensure repairs were done correctly. Then, after that, it allows the user to approve all invoices before sending to accounting.
The Flip Side
By this, of course, I mean the viewpoint of the vendor. This isn’t talked about, or at least is made to sound simple if anyone actually inquires, but is it really? Let’s see.
Check in/Check out (IVR) system is completely dependent on the technicians actually doing it. That is, using the phone from the site location, or the mobile app (provided one is available for that platform). Something that they don’t have to do on 80% of their other work orders. It’s natural to arrive, check in with the manager, and begin the work. Adding another step isn’t always as easy as it sounds. What if they remember halfway through the service call and then it only logs half of what the full labor charge is for? How does that look on your end? Probably like the tech is overcharging, even if he’s as honest as Abe himself. Or what if he forgets all together? Then the Facility Manager is flooded with requests to manually complete work orders, but not before verifying that the vendor was actually there.
Status Updates seem simple enough. When the tech checks out, just select if the job is 1) Complete 2) Incomplete or 3) Needs Quote. But what if the tech forgets to check out? Does that warrant not having to pay them or delaying payment? I don’t know about you, but I forgot to hang my truck keys on the rack the other day. Should that mean I shouldn’t be able to drive my truck? And what happens when we realize that what one system calls “Incomplete” another calls “Needs Followup” and yet another calls “Not Done”, “Reschedule”, “Finish Later” and the list goes on and on. See where the confusion comes in? Suddenly, checking out of a job isn’t so easy.
Pending confirmation, waiting approval, under review. It’s all the same and translates into the same thing to a vendor, a cash flow killer. Let me explain this carefully because I know everyone pays attention to cash flow. You sell food, or a product, and the customer doesn’t leave without paying for it, right? But what about a service vendor? We leave and you get 30 days (sometimes more) before you have to pay for that service. Do you know what is paid by the vendor before they ever receive compensation for the work? Payroll, insurance, taxes, parts, material, gas, phone, data, admin, and even the cost of the work order management system itself (yes, vendors are usually charged, per work order, to have the pleasure of using the WMS). So to delay the ability to invoice a job, even three days, is devastating to a vendor.
NTEs (Not To Exceed) are a wonderful tool. And all work order management systems give the users the ability to set NTEs. You might be thinking, that’s a great way to control costs! Well, you’re right, it can be. But if the proper caution isn’t taken, this could translate into a much bigger loss than you realize. These systems prevent vendors from invoicing until the final invoice matches, or is lower, than the stated NTE. In order to raise it, they have to either 1) Submit a Quote (which means your first-time fix is pretty much gone) 2) manually request it (could take days or weeks to raise) or 3) make an executive (unauthorized) decision that the repair is necessary, justify that decision after-the-fact, and then wait for the NTE to be manually increased if the FM agrees with the vendors decision. Fingers crossed!
Recalls are dreaded by customers AND vendors. They are hated equally. These systems give the user the ability to determine what is a recall and what isn’t. You can decide if this is good or bad, but from the vendors perspective, not every issue with the same equipment within 90 days of the last repair is a recall. 75% of the time, it’s something completely unrelated, but the user only sees the equipment working or not working. The vendor is the one that actually knows or sees the hundreds or thousands of different mechanisms that allow the machine to function. So these “recalls” are tracked, recorded, and auto populate with a $0.00 NTE. I’ve even seen “recall” work orders assigned to new vendors that have never worked on the equipment before. As well as it taken months to get the NTE raised as a result of that miscommunication. Not a great way to start a new relationship. But the point is that sometimes this can make vendors feel that they are guilty, until proven innocent. And weighs heavy on morale.
Reputation is something everyone in business wants to keep intact. Seems fair. But what happens when the power to review is put into the hands of the people that use the equipment, not the people who understand it. 1 star – “The tech didn’t fix the problem” – Well, no, it’s a special order part. It needed to be quoted and approved by you facilities team. Unsatisfactory – “The unit stopped working and the tech was just here last month” – Well, yeah, you washed the unit and shorted the electrical. The problem, though, is that once feedback is left, it’s out there. That’s who people think the vendor is now. And in some of these systems, the rating is public, but not the response. Makes it tough to uphold a good name and could actually deter future business or potential customers.
And finally, the redundancies are never seen by the user, but felt hard by the vendor. Here are a few examples:
- Notes – This is such a common thing that all techs are trained on. What did you find, how did you fix it, is the unit running? I’m a huge advocate for notes. But, do you know that vendors have to do it twice, sometimes three times? Once in their internal system, once in the work order management system, and then once on the invoice. Copy, paste, copy, paste, copy, paste. Not bad if you do a few a week. Not great if you do a few hundred.
- Quotes – A tech does a quote in the field, it is reviewed by the office, and then duplicated when submitted into the WMS
- Invoices – Same as above
The result is this: You get your organization of work orders, and your visibility into the jobs, but it is still dependent on human behavior. Your polices are one thing, but to enforce those policies on vendors that already have their own policies could have adverse effects. Vendors are now having to follow their policies, the WMS policies, and the the customers’ policies within those WMS systems. No wonder communication is a constant struggle.
To manage, update, maintain, and duplicate these work orders takes time. Time that, if a provider billed for on an invoice, would be questioned and contested relentlessly. So this does translate into higher service costs because the vendor will find a way to be compensated for it, I promise you. But along with that comes possible animosity, resentment, and ultimately, a strained relationship.
Yes, there IS a solution. Please don’t think this is meant to turn you away from using one of these platforms, it isn’t. The value of managing & organizing work orders is immeasurable. You just need to be aware of the impact of perspective when you sign on the dotted line so your relationships don’t sour and you can see the improved results you were promised.
Don’t look at a WMS as an alternative to classic communication. Don’t look at it as a cure-all. And don’t think simplicity for you translates into simplicity for others. Look at it for what it is: a platform to organize and consolidate all of your existing services to gain greater visibility into your expenses and trends.
So talk to you vendor first.
Tell them to increase their rates anywhere from 1-5 dollars, depending on the WO volume, to compensate for the added admin expenses and expenses they incur from the platform itself. This immediately results in appreciation instead of resentment and will pay dividends for years to come, believe me.
Remember, your vendors are not just another tool in your toolbox. They live, breathe, struggle, and serve as a daily practice and weigh value on relationships, not platforms, to fuel their business.
Work Order Management systems can be a very good thing. But it all depends on maintaining close relationships, having a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s operation, and the willingness to recognize that the dream of automation is still completely dependent on human behavior and cohesive decision-making.
Josh Zolin, CEO