Beginner's Guide to Field Service Management Software

by Andrea Davis

Related Articles

  • Find Top-Rated Pros
Working with Contractors
Table of Contents
  • Definition & Benefits
  • Problem & Solution
  • Cloud vs. On-Premise
  • Is the Future Cloud or On-Premise?
  • Do You Need FSM?
  • What FSM Can Do & Can't Do
  • Mobile is a Must
  • Choosing Your FSM & Vetting Vendors
  • Price Expectations
  • Migrating Your Business onto FSM
  • FSM Requires the Right Attitude
  • Conclusion
  • What is Field Service Management Software?

    Simply stated, it is software you use to organize workers out in the field. Generally speaking, this includes tools to help you manage work orders, scheduling, dispatching, employees, customers and inventory.

    Return to Top

    Benefits of Using Field Service Management Software

    The benefits of using field service management software are vast. The primary benefits include getting more organized, managing your business more effectively, winning more jobs and growing your business. This is simply how technology empowers small to medium-sized businesses.

    Return to Top

    The Problem

    Think of how a plumbing business was run 40 years ago. You'd call Joe's Plumber. Margie the receptionist would pick up and check Joe's calendar to see when he could be there. You pick a date and time. Joe shows up, fixes the toilet and hands you a clipboard to sign. Chances are that Joe's Plumbing is still doing business the same way 40 years later and hasn't seen any significant growth in his business over that time period.

    The problem is that Joe, like everybody else, will be forever constrained by time, and running a business on pen & paper takes a lot of "time".

    Return to Top

    The Solution

    Field service management software is nothing new. Enterprise businesses–those with hundreds of field workers–have been using them for decades. They generate millions in revenue and have been able to scale their work forces from 5 to 500 by using field service management software. Traditionally, this type of software has been both complex and expensive to set up, which is why it has been reserved for the few that can afford it. However, a new generation of software providers is about to change all that.

    Return to Top

    The Cloud versus On-Premise Software

    First, let's go over the basics of how software is delivered today. Unless you've been living under a rock you've probably heard about the "cloud". The cloud is simply a new way of delivering software to users via the Internet. There is nothing to install, and you simply access the software using any web browser or modern mobile device.

    The advantages of using the "cloud" is it's more cost-effective and implementation and maintenance tend to be easier. At the same time the disadvantages of the using the cloud is you are relying on a vendor to manage your system for you. It also requires an Internet connection.

    On the other hand there is "on-premise" software where you install a CD-ROM and set up the networking and hardware infrastructure to support the software. The advantage of an "on-premise" solution is that you can set up, install and maintain everything yourself. However that also tends to be the biggest disadvantage for most non-tech businesses.

    The biggest difference between cloud and on-premise software is the way they are purchased. With a cloud-based solution you pay a low monthly fee to use the software. The price includes the rights to use the software, upgrades, daily backups and managing the security and up-time of the software. On the other hand, on-premise solutions are sold as an annual license as-is. Future upgrades are purchased for an additional license fee.

    Return to Top

    Is the Future Cloud or On-Premise?

    A decade ago many experts would argue the cloud is better suited for small to medium-sized businesses, and that on-premise is better suited for the enterprise businesses with thousands of field workers. Today, that is no longer true. In fact, many enterprises have already begun migrating from their legacy on-premise solutions to the cloud. Oracle, SAP, SalesForce, Google and Apple have all been major players in the enterprise shift in recent years. It is safe to say the cloud is slowly phasing out on-premise software solutions. The future will be largely dominated by vendors offering cloud solutions.

    Return to Top

    Do You Really Need Field Service Software?

    There are plenty of good reasons to consider field service management software. If you or anyone on your team has ever had trouble finding a service order, customer history or form, then you could probably use some help with field service software. Do you spend more time than you'd like on creating estimates and handling your billing? If you answered yes then you probably need field service management software. Do your workers frequently return to home base to collect information, pick up new work orders or grab parts? Have you ever run low on parts at the last minute? If so, then you definitely need field service management.

    These are the types of pain points a field service management software solution can help you resolve. If you answered "yes" to any of the above then you could probably benefit from a field service software solution.

    Return to Top

    What Field Service Management Software Can Do For You

    Most packages today come with a comprehensive suite of tools to help you get the job done. Below we'll go over the most common benefits of using field service software.

    • Grow Your Business - Technology is an enabler. By design, technology is designed to help its end-user become more efficient and effective. In business, the side-effect is business growth.
    • Deliver Better Service - Customers love when you can quickly get them scheduled. They also love when you show up on time, provide status updates, deliver accurate estimates, give them convenient payment options and make it easy to request your services.
    • Get Better Organized - Software helps you make sense of all the noise that comes with running a service-based business. Instead of reaching in 10 different directions and fumbling through dozens of pieces of papers, software consolidates all that into a system that simplifies everything.
    • Automation - A good FSM solution will help you automate many back office tasks such as scheduling, invoicing, dispatching and more. Instead of doing things by paper or even a legacy system, it will help you speed up these tasks.
    • Reduce Costs - One of the greatest benefits of using a FSM solution is that it will save you costs in areas like overhead, fuel and missed opportunities. Schedule optimization, routing and electronic forms are features that can really drive down your costs.
    Return to Top

    What Field Service Management Software Can't Do For You

    Understanding what an FSM solution can't do for you is almost as important as understand what it can do.

    • Improve Your Sales- Many first-time buyers make the mistake of confusing an FSM solution with a CRM solution. An FSM solution is focused on the service-side of your business. A CRM solution is focused on the sales-side of your business. While many FSM solutions will help you manage your customers, it is not meant to be used as a tool to manage sales. Some FSM solutions will offer light sales tracking capabilities.
    • Replace Your Workers - FSM solutions augment your workers by giving them the tools to improve the way they work. It isn't meant to replace them.
    • Automate Your Marketing- FSM solutions do not focus on marketing. It won't email blast your customers, send thank you cards or even generate coupons. However, most do integrate with marketing automation solutions.
    Return to Top

    Mobile is a Must

    A typical small business using FSM software is generally made up of one or two dispatchers headquartered in the office with several workers out in the field. Naturally, any FSM solution should provide both connectivity and visibility between dispatchers and field workers.

    Dispatchers should be able to send jobs to the field worker's mobile device, where the field worker can perform tasks such as:

    • Update the status of the work order
    • Accurately keep track of the parts they use
    • Track their time and materials used on a job
    • Access a customer's service history
    • Communicate important updates back to the dispatcher
    • Create estimates and invoices out in the field

    There are two main types of mobile apps available.

    1. Mobile Web Apps - These are browser-based apps that rely on the devices web browser. They typically have no access to the device's hardware like GPS and camera features. So you can't track the location of field workers or take photos to send back to the office.
    2. Native Mobile Apps - These are usually free apps that you download on Apple's iTunes or Google Play. They can run in the background and are typically faster than mobile web applications. In addition, native apps have full access to all the device's hardware features. The device can track the real-time location of the field worker, and also allows the field worker to take photos and attach them to the jobs while out in the field.

    Native mobile apps beat mobile web-based apps in the areas of functionality and performance. However, it is more important the FSM solution you choose give you at least one of the two options. If the FSM vendor does not have either, this is a red flag. In fact, the only FSM solutions that lack this basic feature are legacy solutions.

    Return to Top

    Choosing Your FSM

    Before shopping for a field service management solution, it's important that you first understand your needs. We recommend starting with a short list of pain points. The goal is to identify 3 to 5 pain points that you are struggling with in your business. Are you frustrated with your scheduling process? Have you lost one too many service orders? Is your billing process too slow? Do you suspect your field workers could complete more jobs each week? Identify 3 to 5 pain points and then research solutions that address them.

    There Is No Silver Bullet to FSM Software

    Why should you only identify just 3 to 5 pain points and not everything? Unless you are prepared to pay the big bucks to hire a seasoned programmer to build a dream solution for you, most commercially off-the-shelf solutions won't do everything you need. The goal of purchasing an off-the-shelf product is to find something that meets 80% to 90% of your requirements. It's not practical to find something that solves 100% of your pain points. So don't let that missing 10% deter you from moving forward. Going back to pen & paper is worse than giving up the 10% you are trying to solve for.

    Match Your Pain Points to Features

    Once you've made a list of the top 3 to 5 pain points you'll want to find solutions that can solve them. There a few ways to quickly determine if a product is going to be a good fit for you. Below are just a few ways to shop.

    • Just Ask: It might sound silly but the easiest way to determine if a product is a right fit is to simply ask the vendor. Most vendors will make it easy to request a demonstration of their product with a live person. If not, look for a toll-free phone number on their website and request a demonstration with a live person. Instead of spending hours trying to figure out if a product is going to be a good fit, take 5 to 10 minutes and ask if their product can solve your 3 to 5 pain points.
    • Independent Software Directories: Independent Software Directories such as Software Advice and Capterra can be very helpful in finding the right product. These directories allow you to filter through a vast list of vendors to find exactly what you need. Most directories allow you to select the features you need from a list of options. Then they will produce a list of vendors that are a good match. From there, you can request a demo or give the vendor a call.
    • DIY Research: If you have the time and prefer researching on your own, then you can simply refer to a product's website. Look for a website's "tour" and "features" pages. Most vendors will also offer a free trial or a complimentary demonstration with a live person. Take advantage of that.
    Return to Top

    Vetting Vendors

    Choosing the right vendor is like choosing the right partner. As with any partner, you always want to consider things such as stability, security and reliability. These are just some of the most important considerations when choosing the right vendor. Once you choose a vendor you want the peace of mind knowing they are going to stay in business for the long-term. There is nothing worse than using a software product in your day-to-day operations and then one day getting an email that your vendor is closing shop. Here are a few questions that will help you vet your vendor:

    How long have you been in business?

    What to look for:
    At least 5 years. Why? The typical technology startup fails within 5 years. Look for vendors that have past this threshold. Vendors that are just starting up tend to have a poor "product/market fit". That is, they are still in the phase where they are trying to figure out if the market really wants the product that they've built. It takes years to accomplish this in software.

    What do customers say about your product?

    What to look for:
    Customer Testimonials. Dozens of them. You should Google the company's name and add the keyword "reviews" to the end of the search term. For instance, "Software XYZ reviews". You are looking for real customer testimonials. Don't just look for the 5 star reviews. Look for the 1 star reviews. A solid company will have both a combination of positive and negative reviews. The positives should outweigh the negatives. Be cautious of vendors that only have 5 star reviews as it could be the vendors themselves writing the reviews.

    Do you have strong financial backing?

    What to look for:
    Strong customer revenues. Ask them how many customers they have and how much they charge. Do the math to see if they are generating healthy revenue. Look for financial backing from a well-established investor. You want to make sure the company is well capitalized for the future.

    What kind of experience is your management team comprised of?

    What to look for:
    A team of experts with proven experience. Almost anybody can launch a fly-by-night software company these days with little substance. You're looking for a management team with a proven track record in engineering, security and business. Where did the management team's previous experience come from? How many successful software projects have they completed. Who were their major customers in the past?

    How is my data secured and backed up?
    What to look for:
    The same level of security offered by online banking institutions. At a minimum the vendor should be using 256-Bit Encryption. Backups should be performed daily at a minimum. Also, look for an up time guarantee of at least 99%.

    What kind of support do you offer?

    What to look for: Toll-free phone numbers, live chats, email and online support. The more support systems a vendor has to offer the better. Many vendors hide behind a firewall making it difficult to reach a "live" person for help. As a test, you should try reaching a live person for help during the sales process. If your support before the sale is poor you can assume that the support after the sale will be worse.

    Return to Top

    Price Expectations

    Prices for cloud-based FSM software packages range from $25 per month to $25,000 per month depending on your needs. Prices for on-premise solutions generally start around $5,000 including hardware, with additional licenses to be purchased annually for close to the original purchase price of the first year's license.

    Why is there such a wide range in pricing? Generally speaking, the price points represent the size of the business the vendor services. For small to medium-sized businesses you can expect to spend somewhere in the lower range. For enterprise businesses with more complex needs you can expect to spend in the upper range.

    Return to Top

    Migrating Your Business onto FSM Software

    Getting started with any FSM solution is going to require a shift in the way you think about your business and the way you operate. More importantly, it is going to require that your entire team be on board. Most new buyers of FSM software find it hard to grasp the fact that what worked in the past might not be what works best in the future. You and your entire team must keep an open mind that there will be some process changes. These changes are for the better though.

    So how do you navigate through these process changes? How do you know what is best moving forward when all you know is the past? The vendor you choose should be well-equipped to help you manage the migration. In recent years, the best software vendors have realized the importance of establishing a Customer Success Department. This department is solely responsible for helping your team and you get migrated onto their system seamlessly. They generally handle tasks such as data migration if applicable, setting and training your team, and ensuring that you have access to ongoing support.

    Return to Top

    FSM Software Requires the Right Attitude

    Technology can be scary and the urge to revert to the old ways is all too common. The truth is, nobody likes change and migrating to technology really takes discipline. There's always going to be that one employee or field worker that constantly complains about why the new technology isn't working. Someone's always going to resist the change. It could even be you! The most important thing to keep in mind is that once you get past the initial hurdle, your effort will pay off in the long run. Technology, by nature, is meant to help you move forward, not backwards. So when you get the urge to quit and throw in the towel, take a deep breath and remember that it will all be well worth it.

    Return to Top


    FSM software isn't for everyone, but for most it is an absolute must. This "Beginners Guide to Field Service Management Software" was designed to help you think about the most important considerations when it comes to making the switch to FSM software. More importantly, this guide has armed you with some powerful knowledge to help you through the buying process. With the right knowledge and the right attitude, you'll be best equipped to make the smartest decision that is right for your company.

    Return to Top