The Importance of Data Integrity in Field Service Management
Effective field service management depends on data integrity more than any other variable. That might sound like an exaggeration, but without a careful and complete record of everything that happens, there is no way to manage anything consistently. Everything from cost controls to compliance suffers when data is not accurate.
Unfortunately, field service businesses face a massive obstacle when it comes to data integrity: the field itself. The disconnect between the office and the technicians on job sites accounts for most problems with data. Having to collect data in one place then organize it in another causes daily issues and long-term liabilities (which we will explore later). And as field service businesses become increasingly driven by data, integrity issues will have even greater consequences.
That is why everyone in the industry needs to confront this issue now. Are data integrity issues compromising your business in more ways than you realize? More importantly, what is the solution? We will cover both those topics below.
What We Mean By Data Integrity
It is important to define this term because there are many misconceptions. People assume that data integrity refers to the number of errors that information contains – the more errors the less integrity. An error could be a figure that was recorded incorrectly, a field that was left blank, a signature that was not collected, or a form that went missing. Any mistake, basically.
But data integrity has a bigger definition. It is also about the degree to which data is integrated, accessible, actionable, and insightful. Data has integrity when it is a tool that decision makers – whether in the office or in the field – can call upon at will to answer questions, make plans, and expedite workflows by removing unknowns. Alternatively, data lacks integrity when it is scattered, hard to find, difficult to manage, or untrustworthy in any way.
In that context, most field service businesses grapple with data integrity issues to a troubling extent. Think about how much work goes into managing information – getting everything in one place and extracting meaningful insights – given how much remains uncertain, vague, or inaccurate entirely. This is not to say that most businesses have no control over their data. Rather, many see data as an obligation or hurdle when they should see data as an asset first and foremost. That is because of data integrity. And the consequences are worse than they seem.
How Bad Data Degrades Everything Else
Problems with data integrity lead quickly and inevitably to problems elsewhere. Realistically, bad information may cause almost anything to work worse or go wrong. However, there are a few areas in particular that you need to be concerned about.
- Compliance – Service providers face a heavy compliance burden, imposed by both regulators and contracts. Anything less than strict compliance can lead to fees, sanctions, lost business, and a tarnished reputation. Data integrity can put compliance at risk because a business must be able to prove (often under audit) that they have followed every requirement during every service engagement. Small data issues can put all of compliance at risk, forcing many companies to invest outsize resources into getting data audit ready. We wrote more about this issue in a recent post.
- Engagement – Today’s customers expect a seamless experience, where field service providers deliver on expectations without being asked. Delivering that high level of service requires every piece of data about the client relationship to be recorded accurately, collected together comprehensively, and available to everyone who interacts with the client, including techs. Data integrity issues can endanger any one of those efforts, resulting in imperfect experiences that hurt engagement and damage long-term loyalty as a result.
- Efficiency – You can blame a lot of business blunders on problems with communications, collaboration, or coordination. All those issues relate to data integrity in some way. Which makes sense – when team members do not share the same quality information, it leads to numerous points of friction and various process breakdowns. In an industry like field service, where there are many moving parts, bad data only keeps those parts from working as one.
- Insight – The clearest insights and best decisions come from quality data. Alternatively, incomplete, inaccurate, or unavailable data can only result in unpredictable, unwanted outcomes. For every decision that is based on data, from scheduling technicians to ordering parts to building next year’s budget, information can either point you in the right direction or point you astray. Insight and integrity are closely correlated.
One way to quantify how much data integrity inhibits your business is by estimating how much time people spend managing data every day, week, or month. Paper-based processes, manual data entries, and disconnected systems require hours of input, over and over. They are also magnets for typos and other errors. Improving data integrity would not just minimize those errors – it would also minimize how much time, energy, and other resources go to data management. To put it differently, better data transforms how your business runs and what it runs on, all for the better.
Field Service Management Software – Integral for Integrity
How does a field service provider tackle the issue of data integrity where there is so much data traveling between so many different sources? To start, you get everyone on the same platform. When every piece of data gets created, stored, accessed, and analyzed in the same place, integrity improves across the board. Here are some examples:
- Consistent Experience – Software can supply technicians with digital checklists (on a phone, laptop, or tablet) that tell them exactly how to complete a job, including important instructions for data collection. Techs know exactly how to collect data, and in many cases they are prohibited from doing things incorrectly, ensuring better accuracy at the point of creation.
- Single Entry – Someone has to enter data into the system one time for it to populate everywhere else, thus eliminating most of the time and work a team spends moving around information. Fewer entries also protects against errors because technology does not make typos.
- Instant Updates – Decision makers have access to the most complete and current data available since any change updates the system in real time. That means understanding never lags behind the present. Likewise, important details do not get lost in translation because the staff has to handle updates by hand.
- Integrated Understanding – True understanding requires all the facts from all facets of field service. A partial understanding of what is going on can only lead things awry. FSM software brings everything under the same umbrella so that each person, process, and department works in sync.
- Mobile Accessibility – Mobile technology lets us bridge the divide between the office and the field like never before. Techs have access to a world of information – presented in an intuitive and accessible way – through FSM software on mobile devices. Using technology as a conduit for information to and from the field bypasses where many data integrity issues originate: with techs who feel disconnected from the home office.
In a recent survey from Verizon, 67% of respondents said that having a single FSM solution was “very” or “extremely” important. The vast majority of providers understand first the importance of digitizing and second the need for an integrated solution that does everything. The same survey reveals a widespread desire to address data integrity issues; 61% said the most useful feature of FSM software was the “Ability to capture customer information and important job details from the field and automatically update records.”
Field service companies that have yet to digitize their processes end to end cannot address data integrity until they do. Upgrading to an integrated FSM software is the start of the solution. However, to turn this solution into a competitive advantage, it is important to take integration a step further than others.
NextService – Data Integrity Elevated
Most serious contenders for FSM software offer features for everything: Scheduling and dispatch, work order management, customer engagement, field mobility, reporting and analytics, inventory and returns, and beyond.
NextService is no different. However, what sets us apart is that we are are built on the NetSuite platform. That means the FSM software shares databases with the same tools that handle accounting, finance, and business management broadly. Our software was built inside the NetSuite ecosystem – the integration was not added on after the fact. As a result, data flows organically and automatically from one system into another.
It is hard to overstate the value of having seamless, interconnected systems handling all aspects of the business (check out an earlier blog for more info). Data integrity improves, among countless other things, since people do not have to move data manually, go searching for missing information, or manage third-party integration tools. Everything exists in one place, giving decision makers a top-down perspective where nothing escapes attention. And thanks to automation doing the data management heavy lifting, the best information is always at hand – along with lots of extra time to study those insights for operational improvements, strategic advantages, or overlooked innovations.
NextService software unlocks the potential to run the entire business, including field service, on the robust foundation of NetSuite. A tech-driven future awaits, and data will drive competitiveness. Our users are already at the front of the pack. Do not just improve data integrity – transform your business with NextService.