Success Stories: How to Run a Medical Office Efficiently

Don’t get too comfortable.

That should be the mantra of independent medical practices. Doctors must proactively try to find ways of improving efficiency at their office, lest they end up with a big problem: not making enough money to cover costs and stay in business.

It’s a common problem, too. The number of solo physician practices in the U.S. has been decreasing for decades. Dental professionals are also under pressure as corporate dentistry chains compete against independent practitioners, forcing them to step up their game or sell the practice.

This article will explain why upgrading your office’s technology and updating its workflows can help your practice beat the odds. We know it’s possible because we interviewed someone who’s been in your shoes.

Dr. Bill Crutchfield is an orthodontist with his own award-winning solo practice in Northern Virginia. His success story shows that our recommendations can lead to some impressive results.

“The key to a successful health care office is an efficient, proper and timely delivery of care. Finely tuned Information Technology systems are imperative.”

Dr. Bill Crutchfield, D.D.S., Orthodontics By Crutchfield (OBC)

How Office Inefficiency Costs Your Practice

Entrepreneurs outside the health care industry might think the problem of low revenue has an easy fix: Just pack your daily schedule with as many patients as possible.

That’s a terrible idea! Many doctors already feel like they’re rushing through patient encounters and burning out in the process.

The real goal here is to reduce treatment times and eliminate administrative inefficiencies so you can see a manageable number of patients while improving care quality and maintaining a work-life balance.

How do you get there? Well, as any good doctor knows, you need to fully understand a diagnosis before moving on to the treatment plan. If the disease is that your practice isn’t making enough money to cover costs, here are some of the symptoms:

1. Little or no investment in technology. If you’re one of the (increasingly rare) physicians or dentists who only use manual methods to perform clinical and administrative duties, it’s time for you to join the digital era. But even practitioners who have some software might be due for an upgrade if it’s slowing them down instead of saving them time and money.

2. Underused staff. By this, I don’t mean that your staff isn’t busy enough—I’m talking about the way you use staff. Too often, they’re tied up with tedious administrative work that could be automated instead of getting the chance to work on higher-impact projects. If you’re not properly delegating to your team, chances are your care quality and productivity are suffering.

3. Unmonitored performance. Industry experts often describe small practices as being slow to track and leverage performance data, even though it’s essential to maintain the health of their business. How are you supposed to reach your revenue goals if you’re not keeping an eye on your practice’s collections, costs and workflows?

Of course, there are many more factors contributing to the problem of low productivity and profitability—such as declining insurance reimbursements or patients’ tighter health care spending. However, we’re focusing on the set of challenges described above since you have the power to address them right away.

Dr. Crutchfield’s Story: The Challenges


As an early adopter of health IT, Dr. Crutchfield is no stranger to inefficient workflows. He remembers when he had to switch between multiple floppy disks just to run separate applications, such as scheduling and accounting.

“I hated it!” he says.

Those floppy disks may be collecting dust now, but similar productivity challenges remain in today’s practices. For example, Crutchfield’s practice management software is Mac-based while his imaging systems are designed to run on PCs. The lack of integration between these systems slowed down the entire office and reduced his staff’s bandwidth.

“If I was using the PC-based software and a patient requested a piece of information—for instance, a copy of an insurance claim—I wouldn’t be able to produce that right away,” he explains.

“A person in my office needed to take the time to go ask another colleague for that claim information from the Mac-based software. That’s inefficient because it took two people to get one piece of information that should have been available right away, with a few keystrokes.”

Keep reading to see how Crutchfield and his team overcome this challenge.

Embrace Tech Upgrades To Increase Productivity


 THE PROBLEM:  Outdated technology keeps you from achieving peak productivity.

 THE SOLUTION:  A recent study cited in Dental Products Report found that switching from manual methods to electronic processes for routine tasks could save medical health plans and providers an estimated $9.4 billion each year. These savings mean you wouldn’t have to attract as many new patients to pay practice bills.

Plus, you don’t have to spend a fortune to start implementing time-saving tools that boost efficiency. You can start by getting standalone applications, such as billing or dental imaging, and continue building a full software suite as your profitability grows.

 THE RESULTS:  Dr. Crutchfield needed to make a tech investment to get his PC-based software to integrate with his Mac-native practice management system. It wasn’t just a matter of convenience—it was a way to boost his bottom line.

“In our business, the longer we take to treat our patients, the less money we make,” he says.

That means even minor interruptions, like retrieving patient data separately from incompatible systems, impact productivity and profitability over time.

Crutchfield was able to resolve the issue after working with IT specialists recommended by his practice management software vendor. Though he had to budget for the expense of customizing his office network, he says it’s been totally worth it.

“Now every piece of information I might need is right at my fingertips, which makes our delivery of treatment much more efficient. It worked out really, really well.”

patient

Dr. Crutchfield with a patient


Our Recommendation: Dr. Crutchfield sees technology as a multitasking partner at his practice and you should, too. Our Medical Needs Cycle report shows you which applications independent providers should invest in based on the stage of their practice’s growth.

Leverage Your Staff to Reduce Treatment Times


 THE PROBLEM:  Staff is usually tied up doing rote administrative work instead of higher-impact tasks.

 THE SOLUTION:  Whatever tasks you can’t automate with your new or upgraded health IT, you should be delegating to staff. According to registered dental hygienist Linda Drevenstedt, you’re wasting time if you’re performing procedures that, by law, could be given to an auxiliary.

Dental professionals can search for their state here to see a list of allowable and prohibited procedures for dental assistants. Drevenstedt recommends setting up a training plan with each member of your team. You can review their current workloads and set goals for when and how they can expand the scope of their duties.

By letting your staff handle tasks you’d typically perform yourself, you free up more time in your own schedule to engage in practice-growing projects. These may include improving your social media presence to expand your patient panel or earning extra revenue by offering telemedicine services.

 THE RESULTS:  A combination of tech adoption and staff training helped Dr. Crutchfield reduce treatment times “by a third” for patients who need braces. Unlike Crutchfield, some orthodontists are still applying braces the old-fashioned way by bending individual wires themselves while the patient is in the chair.

“That’s fine and dandy, but now I use the computer to bend wires,” he says. “Because [my process] is digital, I can delegate parts of that workflow to my staff.”

His staff uses imaging equipment to scan patients’ teeth and software to calculate the ideal bracket placement and alignment. Then, they call in Dr. Crutchfield to review and approve their work.

“I go ‘Yeah, I like that the way it is’ and boom—we’re off and running,” he says, explaining that he then has the wires made as per the software’s specifications and the wires arrive at his practice ready to be applied without major tweaks.

“It’s less invasive for the patient and it cuts down on treatment time. It’s also way more accurate since I can digitally fine tune the wires to a tenth of a millimeter on each tooth.”

staff

An Orthodontics by Crutchfield (OBC) staff member capturing dental images


Our Recommendation: Even if your staff isn’t quite ready to take on more clinical responsibilities as they have at OBC, you should still encourage them to come up with their own training plans and ideas for how they can better serve the practice. Make sure to set milestones to track their progress and tentative dates for them to increase the scope of their responsibilities.

Run Performance Reports to Make Data-Driven Business Decisions


 THE PROBLEM:  You’re not sure what aspects of your practice need immediate attention to start generating more revenue.

 THE SOLUTION:  As a medical professional, you know the importance of early detection when it comes to your patients’ health. The same concept applies to your practice’s financial health. The best way to prevent money problems is to monitor key aspects of your practice’s performance and take corrective action as soon as you see dips in productivity or profitability.

Here are some guidelines for how often you should be evaluating the following kinds of performance data. These timelines are inspired by some of author Kavita Sahai’s suggestions:

  • Practice costs: every two weeks. This may include support staff compensation (including overtime costs), office expenses (e.g., software subscriptions, rent, medical supplies etc.) and utility bills. We’d also add daily charges to this list, described by software vendor RevenueXl as “the total value of all services provided by your office each day.”
  • Financial metrics: every month. We have an in-depth guide explaining why and how you should run an Accounts Receivable (AR) aging report, a Key Performance Indicators report and a Top Carrier/Insurance Analysis report.
  • Workflow analysis: every quarter. This could include data on the length of patient wait times (which impact your ability to retain and attract patients), cancellation/no-show rates, number of referrals received per month etc.

 THE RESULTS:  The vast number of reports that Dr. Crutchfield can generate with his practice management system has been incredibly helpful.

“Metrics are very important on the business side of health care,” he says. “One can generate so many reports and analyze them in many ways, all of which will benefit the business.”

For example, his practice regularly evaluates how long patients are in treatment. They run reports that reveal how quickly particular procedures are performed, which team member is most efficient at performing those procedures, whether appointment times are too long or too short for a given procedure and more.

“If procedure times are monitored and the practice schedule is adjusted accordingly, then more health care be delivered in a shorter time at a steady and predictable pace.”

That’s the kind of data-driven decision making that can increase profitability. By keeping a close eye on performance data, Crutchfield can establish a benchmark for his team and easily identify areas for improvement.

front office

The front office at Orthodontics by Crutchfield (OBC)


Our Recommendation: Reporting tools in clinical and practice management software can take the hard work out of generating the kinds of reports that will help you make smarter business decisions. The next section in this article has resources to help you find the right system.

Tools to Help You Be A Success Story, Too

Dr. Crutchfield’s story shows that solo doctor practices don’t have to scramble to make ends meet. By adopting the mindset that you could always be making a greater effort to improve productivity, you can maintain a competitive advantage over larger providers in your area that may not be as agile.

Keep your independent practice going strong by providing a better, more efficient experience for your patients. Here’s a recap of our advice on how to do that:

Solving Medical Office Inefficiencies
efficient medical practice

Of course, a great deal of our advice has centered on the implementation and use of health IT. For practices having a difficult time evaluating the hundreds of solutions in today’s market, here are some resources that can save you weeks of research:

  • Compare vendor pricing, screenshots and reviews on our site
  • Download our Medical Software Buyer’s Toolkit
  • Email me at gaby@softwareadvice.com and I’ll put you in touch with our team of software advisors. They can give you a shortlist of 3-5 vendors that meet your needs and budget for free.

How Software Could Solve These 3 #CustomerServiceFails

We recently looked at the power customers hold when they publicly shame companies on social media.

Here, we’ll look at three of these shameful moments, all brought to light by the Twitter hashtag #CustomerServiceFail.

We’re certainly not looking to add to the shame. Instead, we’re going to explain how companies can avoid it. Each of the challenges we highlight below represent a common problem, and each have clear and actionable software solutions that small and midsize businesses (SMBs) can adopt.

Tweet 1: @Virmata Might As Well Talk to the Hand

pain tweet 1

 THE PROBLEM:  Customer service queries falling through the cracks

Few things irritate customers more than repeating themselves or needing to resubmit another request for the same problem. Regardless of the apologies that may follow, the customer invariably remembers the feeling of having been ignored or overlooked, and that’s what characterizes their experience. Whether these incidents take place individually or cumulatively over time, these experiences will drive customers away.

Worse yet, when these bad experiences become high-profile complaints on social media, they can “infect” the perception others have of the same company. That’s how social media can amplify the significance of even a single lost query or dropped service ticket. The only real solution is to prevent such oversights from happening in the first place.

 THE FIX:  Customer service software and staff trained to use it

Of all the amazing things customer service software adds to an organization, the most important thing is organization itself. Ticketing systems are central to most service platforms and they’re what help companies stay organized and prevent requests (like Gauri’s above) from falling through the cracks.

Open tickets overview in TeamSupport Customer Service software prevents lost tickets
 

It’s worth pointing out that while organization is its own reward, it’s also necessary to improve efficiency. In fact, companies that request our help choosing their first customer service platform are twice as likely to mention efficiency problems as companies that already have a system in place.

It seems unlikely that a bank wouldn’t have any customer service software in place, so we’ll give HDFC the benefit of the doubt. But then, how can we explain the disappearance of @Virmata’s four requests? One possibility is that they have the software, but haven’t trained staff to use it properly. It’s also possible that the staff is properly trained, yet company culture has failed to incentivize the following of service protocols.

There’s some evidence of this in HFCD Life’s tweets above. Rather than ask @Virmata to recount her problem for a fifth time via DM, the bank could have searched their service software for recent tickets opened under that name. And that brings to mind yet another important reason to have customer service software: the ability to search for past and on-going queries with a variety of search tags and variables.

 OUR REPLY: 

software advice reply

Tweet 2: @KWilt96 Waits and Waits for Wi-Fi

pain tweet 2

 THE PROBLEM:  No communication between service department and third-party partners

As noted in the discussion of the first Tweet above, customer service departments need a high degree of organization. This is so true that an unorganized customer service department could be more accurately renamed as a customer disservice department! Organization really is key.

It’s one thing for large companies to run an organized department internally. What can SMB service departments do when they need to incorporate the activities of their third-parties—such as subcontractors, channel partners and shipping companies—into their organization’s activities? That’s when things get tricky.

 THE FIX:  Integrated customer service platforms

We can’t say exactly how Krystle’s ISP, Flow, dropped the ball. Nevertheless, there it is, rolling around on Twitter for all to see. We reached out to Krystle and learned she was told by Flow that a technician would arrive between noon and five. After waiting two days, she managed to fix it herself.

“They didn’t let me know they would be late or call to apologize. They followed up a week later […] only after I posted on Twitter,” she said.

Stating the obvious, ISP customer service agents don’t drive around fixing things themselves. They rely on the ISP’s own (and subcontracted) fleets of field service technicians to handle requests like the one Krystle made. Given that, how can a service department (or an individual agent within one) know what has and hasn’t happened out in the field?

The answer, of course, is software. More specifically, the answer is well-chosen, well-implemented software that connects cases across time and space. (Though that sounds like science fiction, that is literally what it does!) Not all customer service platforms can assist with these organizational challenges, but those that do can be lifesavers for companies that need to coordinate multiple schedules and service calls.

Mobile view of mHelpDesk’s interface for field service technicians
 

With a centralized system, the customer service department would be aware of the fact that Krystle’s tech missed the appointment, twice. They wouldn’t have needed to ask the customer to do their job, as they do below, requesting that she keep them updated on whether or not their own tech showed up!

customer service fail

“Oh hey, we also have this wobbly cell tower that no one has been able to fix.

Do you mind taking a look? Please keep us updated!”


 OUR REPLY: 

software advice cs fail response 2

Tweet 3: @jcara33 Just Wants His Donut Points

pain tweet 3

 THE PROBLEM:  Creating a social media account for your company then failing to monitor it

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, social media was just for people. Then later in the last decade, companies wanted in on the fun and signed up for social media accounts in droves.

That fun didn’t last long, as social media became a common place for customers to air grievances. For SMB’s, maintaining an active presence on social media can be particularly challenging. Social media operates 24/7 and billions of people use it. While deep-pocketed enterprises often have internal staff handling social media inquiries and complaints, SMBs need to rely more on the leverage of IT tools.

 THE FIX:  Social media monitoring and email integrations

Since we don’t know the full facts of the case of Jason and His Missing Donut Points, we can’t offer a judgement on its merits. Nevertheless, any customers who see Jason’s tweets are more likely to pass judgment on Dunkin’ Donuts.

Though Dunkin’ Donuts is a giant restaurant chain, the lesson here is as true if you’re a SMB: If you’re not responding to complaints on social media in a timely fashion, you’re guilty until you prove your innocence or apologize for an honest mistake.

Jason’s tweet accuses Dunkin’ Donuts of three offenses:

  1. Not responding to emails
  2. Not responding to tweets
  3. Losing some of his rewards points

Offense number 1 certainly seems plausible; after all, he wouldn’t have turned to Twitter if he’d received an emailed response.

Social media tool integrated into the Freshdesk customer service platform
 

Unfortunately for Dunkin’ Donuts, the charge behind the second offense seems stickier than a honey-glazed donut. Jason’s Twitter complaint was made on June 6th. As of writing this report, over a month has passed and the tweets still show no response from Dunkin’ Donuts.

Objection! Maybe the Dunkin’ Defendant isn’t even on Twitter! Oh, but they are. More problematically, their account was active on the days when Jason was Tweeting. While they were busy talking about donuts and coffee, what were they busy not doing? Responding to Jason’s tweet, it seems. The jury finds on behalf of the plaintiff: Don’t open a social media account for your business unless you’ll be able to monitor it and respond to the good and the bad.

Many customer service platforms designed for SMBs and their tighter budgets come with integrated email and social media applications.

 OUR REPLY: 

software advice cs fail response

Conclusion: How to Avoid Your Own #CustomerServiceFails

The three tweets above highlight customer service problems that are common, but don’t need to be. Solutions exist for each of the pitfalls and oversights highlighted above.

customer service problems solutions

Starting with a basic, centralized customer service platform for organization, SMBs can then add other applications as needed, like those for coordination with third parties and field techs and tools to help stay on top of social media.

If you’d like assistance choosing the best customer service software for your business, give us a call at (844) 852-3639. At no cost and in just fifteen minutes, our experts can help you narrow down the right software for your organization.

Or to learn more about customer service software selection and strategy, take a look at the following reports:


3 EHR Trends Small Practices Need to Know About

Technology has revolutionized the medical industry more than any other industry to date. Advancements have come in the form of both life-saving hardware and time-saving software.

Modern electronic health records (EHR) systems have tremendously streamlined medical practices for physicians, staff and patients. Due to the potential for advancement, it’s important to identify the latest trends that are driving the medical industry.

We’ve identified three of the latest trends in the EHR software market to consider as you evaluate your decision to purchase EHR software or replace your existing system.

Read on to find out how these trends are shaping the EHR software market and why you should care about them.

Trend #1: Mobile EHRs Are on the Rise

78% of surveyed physicians are using mobile-accessible EHR systems, while 60% of them used mobile devices in some form to enhance performance.

Source: Physicians Practice Technology Survey 2016

Why small practices should be interested: It’s no secret that long wait times drive patients away from a practice. You can make patient care more efficient and intuitive by incorporating mobile applications into your small practice.

Mobile applications, such as iPad EHR apps, enable you to control and manage various tasks with features such as:

  • Using your own customized layouts to view patient charts
  • Prescribing medications through proper drug references
  • Reviewing medical notes for existing patients by viewing previous visits
  • Using personalized templates and voice recognition to document medical notes

You will get more time to engage with your patients during their visits as you quickly dictate on an iPad or tap through a template. Using mobile EHR software, you can also educate your patients on their conditions by showing them charts, diagrams, videos and animations within the app.

drchrono mobile EHR (Source: MobiHealthNews)


When to opt for mobile EHRs: Many small practices will notice that their growth leads to bottlenecks within a few critical processes. A good way to understand when to go mobile is to consider what problems you’re encountering. Mobile EHRs can help with a lack of access to accurate data, inability to communicate internally and waning patient satisfaction. Let’s have a closer look at the benefits:

  • Accurate data at your fingertips. Mobile EHRs ensure access to the patient’s overall medical history is always at hand. In addition, if you update a patient record on one mobile device, it will get updated on all devices across your medical practice.
  • Enhanced internal communication. It’s important that you and your staff are able to contact each other constantly and view synchronized records and documents. Mobile EHRs centralize communication and guarantee individual access and sharing of all information with your medical staff.
  • Increased patient satisfaction. Integrating mobile EHRs into your medical practice results in higher patient satisfaction due to increased capacity for accessing data. In addition, patients appreciate the lower wait times while doctors access their data.

While the requirements of every medical practice may differ, looking for the bottlenecks that the above benefits resolve can make for a more efficient and effective medical practice.

Not sure if you need mobile EHR? Call us at (844) 686-5616 for a free consultation with an EHR

Vendors that offer mobile EHRs

Nowadays, most EHR software vendors offer a mobile app in addition to their software solution. Some of the top vendors that offer mobile EHR apps, either Android or iOS, are:

You can check them out before zeroing in on the final one that suits your requirements, as every medical practice has different and specific needs. We’ll look at some mobile EHR capabilities small practices commonly need and match them with the software vendors that offer those capabilities.

Business need: Appointment scheduling

Vendors: AdvancedMD, drchrono and Kareo

Appointment scheduling in a mobile EHR enables physicians to view complete facility schedules and update availability statuses in real time. Some mobile EHRs, such as AdvancedMD, offer color-coded calendars to better manage physicians’ time.

Business need: Staff communication

Vendors: drchrono and Meditab

Staff communication features enable all internal staff and support members to communicate with each other easily. This facilitates proper and accurate flow of information within the medical practice and allows staff members to communicate with the medical billing team.

Business need: Data syncing and charting

Vendors: AdvancedMD, drchrono and Kareo

Data syncing allows physicians to automatically sync all medical data with their mobile devices. This data is useful in preparing medical charts. Charting features enable physicians to perform dynamic photo charting through the use of various drawing tools. Physicians can upload, edit and print patient chart documents.

Trend #2: Demand for cloud-based EHRs is increasing

Nearly 50% of surveyed IT leaders at health care provider companies are planning to move their EHRs to the cloud in the near future.

Source: HIMSS Analytics 2016 Cloud Survey

Why small practices should be interested: Medical practices of all sizes are planning to migrate to the cloud, and small and midsize practices don’t want to be left behind. Cloud-based software eliminates the excessive burden of installing and maintaining a personal data server. Choosing the cloud model lets physicians focus on patient satisfaction.

The HIMSS Analytics 2016 Cloud Survey dove into the major reasons why health care providers adopt the cloud. The below chart shows the motivating factors that health care providers considered when moving to the cloud. Each factor is measured on a scale of 1-7, with “1″ being a non-motivating factor and “7″ being a highly motivating factor.

Reasons for Adopting the Cloud


As you can see in the chart above, a cloud-based EHR offers both short term benefits (daily cost savings) as well as long term benefits (scalability), covering primary concerns for small medical practices. In addition, the deployment speed and regulatory aspects are also worth considering.

When to opt for cloud-based EHRs: Many small and midsize practices are finding cloud-based EHRs to be the perfect solution for their clinical requirements. Practices can opt for cloud-based EHRs if they are able to identify immediate value or benefits based on their specific requirements.

Some benefits that are specific to small medical practices are:

  • Simple and quick implementation. No hardware or software installation is required in cloud-based EHRs, as these technologies run on the web rather than a physical computer. Therefore, implementation is much quicker.
  • Cost savings. Cloud-based EHR systems require no software licenses or hardware installation, so implementation is just a fraction of the cost of installing on-premise. According to HealthFusion, purchasing an on-premise EHR system can cost $50,000 or more in the first year while, a cloud-based EHR system requires no installation or upgradation fees.
  • Better accessibility and enhanced security of data. Cloud-based EHRs enable small practice users to log securely into the system from any location where they have internet connection. In addition, cloud based EHRs are found to increase security of data and minimize operational costs.

Due to limited resources and budgets, small medical practices require quick software installation along with significant cost savings. Also, since cloud based EHRs offer enhanced data security, it would be advisable to adopt cloud-based EHRs early in the maturation of your practice—especially before you realize the risk of going over budget.

Not sure if you need cloud-based EHR? Call us at (844) 686-5616 for a free consultation with an EHR software advisor.

Vendors that offer cloud-based EHRs

There are various software vendors that offer cloud-based EHRs. Some of the top cloud-based EHR vendors include:

Let’s look at some cloud-based EHR features that are useful for small practices and match them with the software vendors that offer those capabilities.

Business need: Automatic software updates

Vendors: Practice Fusion

Cloud-based EHRs provide automatic updates so that medical practices continue to run on the latest version of the software available.

Business need: Meaningful Use certified EHR

Vendors: eClinicalWorks and Amazing Charts

Many small practices might also be interested in receiving an incentive payment through the use of an EHR that is certified for the EHR Incentive Programs. In such cases, a “Meaningful Use” certified EHR would be useful to implement.

Trend #3: Increased adoption of patient portals

60.1% of surveyed medical practices are investing in patient portals, and the worldwide patient portal market is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.2% during the period 2015 to 2020.

Source 1: Physicians Practice Technology Survey 2016
Source 2: Meticulous Research, 2016

Why small practices should be interested: Smaller medical practices may wonder if implementing a patient portal is worth the effort on a limited budget. Practices conducting a cost-benefit analysis of patient portals should stomach the cost and try to keep an open mind to the numerous benefits. The fact remains that portals are a valuable medium for patients who want access to more medical data and, most importantly, for practices that want to save time.

Patient portals enable patients to fill out paperwork at home, saving valuable in-office time and yielding increased patient satisfaction as a result of speedier trips to the doctor. In addition, patients with critical illnesses can benefit from 24-hour access to portals by viewing consolidated lab results from different medical specialists and act accordingly.

According to a research conducted by athenaResearch involving more than 1,100 medical practices of different sizes, it was found that practices of all sizes are adopting patient portals at a nearly equal rate.

Patient Portal Adoption Rates by Number of Provider Offices


As you can see in the chart above, medical practices with 1-2 provider offices have nearly the same patient portal adoption rate as the larger ones with hundreds of providers.

When to opt for patient portals: Patient portals are a powerful and convenient way for patients, physicians and other administrative staff to work in collaboration. Small practices should opt for patient portals when they encounter issues such as excessive paperwork or telephone calls, low patient engagement and patient no-shows—these can all be addressed by patient portals.

Small practices implementing patient portals should expect the following benefits:

  • Enhanced patient engagement: Patient portals increase patient engagement as they are able to access critical information, such as lab results, readily and stay more informed. In addition, patients become more responsible regarding their overall healthcare.
  • Reduced number of patient no-shows: Portals significantly reduce the number of times patients forget to visit physicians during appointments. This is because many patient portals offer email reminders to patients regarding their upcoming appointments.

To remain in business, small medical practices must increase their patient engagement as well as reduce patient no shows. If you feel you are lagging behind your competitors in terms of engaging patients, then it must be the best time to adopt a patient portal.

Not sure if you need a patient portal? Call us at (844) 686-5616 for a free consultation with an EHR software advisor.

Vendors that offer patient portals

Several EHR software vendors offer a patient portal in addition to their general software solution. Some of the top vendors that offer patient portals are listed below. You can check these out to decide on the one that suits your requirements.

Let’s look at some patient portal capabilities that are useful for small practices and match them with the software vendors that offer those capabilities.

Business need: Improve patient engagement

Vendors: athenahealth, Allscripts and Epic

Higher levels of patient engagement results in enhanced patient care and increased patient satisfaction. These vendors offer patient portals that drive engagement and reduce staff work since patients can view lab results, make payments online and make or reschedule their own appointments.

Business need: Achieve Meaningful Use requirements

Vendors: athenahealth and Allscripts

Patient portals help medical practices identify patients who are missing important information for the purpose of achieving Meaningful Use measures. The above vendors ensure that patients get maximum meaningful information to the portal.

Read What Makes a Great Patient Portal? Top Benefits, Features and Implementation Tips to understand more about portal benefits, top portal features and how to select a patient portal.

Conclusions and Next Steps

Based on the above trends, it is clear that mobile EHRs, cloud-based EHRs and patient portals are here to stay and will continue to serve small medical practices. All these technologies enhance the overall working of medical practices, creating better experiences for physicians and patients.

If we think operationally, mobile EHRs help reduce patient wait times, decrease administrative work and provide real time access to data on the go. On the other hand, cloud-based EHRs save a lot of money, which is a high priority for small medical practices. Additionally, patient portals improve the relationship between physicians and patients through better engagement.

However, the specific requirements and budget of your medical practice would play a crucial role in adopting these technologies.

To remain competitive, it’s essential for small medical practices to be aware of these trends and develop a plan to adopt relevant solutions mentioned in the trends. You can call us at (844) 686-5616 for a free consultation with a software advisor.

Or, to receive custom price quotes via email, fill out this short questionnaire, and we’ll send you the details.


5 Ways Manufacturers Can Take Advantage of the Industrial Internet

Big data is not just for predicting election outcomes and mapping genomes. General Electric (GE) is betting on the so-called Industrial Internet – a term they coined – to help manufacturers boost performance, streamline processes and better compete in the global marketplace.

Essentially, the Industrial Internet (II) is a network that connects scores of sophisticated machines embedded with sensors and manufacturing software to other machines so manufacturers can gain real-time insight into everything from production bottlenecks to pending maintenance issues. The result is a transparent system that enables businesses to make more informed business decisions, curb production hiccups and cut costs.

“Ethernet-enabled devices are so widespread now that everything is connected to everything else,” says Jim Pinto, author of “How to Win in the Automation Business” and a consultant specializing in industrial automation. “Machines are now capable of talking to each other.”

The potential benefits of the II are massive. A recent GE report reveals that II applications could add $15 trillion to the global GDP by 2030 through productivity improvements. By combining remote sensors, radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology and sophisticated software with wireless networks, the II can extract data from connected machines to enable real-time resolution of manufacturing change orders, quickly detect production bottlenecks and estimate time-to-complete production cycles with increased accuracy, among other productivity-boosting activities.

With capabilities like these, a billboard manufacturer can suddenly determine where they’re running short on certain sub-components, at what speed steel I-beams are being mounted on poles and if electrical wiring processes are about to fall out of accordance with electrical codes.

Automation has long helped manufacturers streamline processes, but the increasing popularity of cloud computing and declining instrumentation costs are rapidly ushering in the II era. Here are five ways in which manufacturers can take advantage of this high-tech industrial revolution.

1. Gain efficiency.

GE is putting its money where its mouth is with the recent opening of a $170-million advanced battery manufacturing plant in Schenectady, NY. The 180,000-square-foot facility produces GE’s next-generation Durathon batteries, which are half the size of traditional batteries but last ten times as long.

What makes the plant truly remarkable is that its sophisticated machines have been outfitted with 10,000 sensors that are connected to a high-speed internal Ethernet, according to an article in MIT Technology Review. The facility relies on these sensors to track details such as local air pressure, energy consumption, temperature range and which batches of powder are being used to produce which batteries.

By enabling the plant’s 450 employees to access this real-time data via an iPad and Wi-Fi connectivity, GE can make huge efficiency gains, pushing their machines to their technical limits while being able to anticipate potential production snags.

Continental Tires is another manufacturer that has turned to the II to boost efficiency. The tire division of Continental AG deployed a Cisco Unified Wireless Network designed to track and manage tire assembly and material carriers across the entire manufacturing floor.

The solution enables fork truck operators to quickly find and deliver materials and tire components to the correct work station in accordance with customer orders and tight manufacturing schedules. By installing mobile computers and Wi-Fi tags on each forklift and connecting these to a wireless network, Continental Tires is able to help operators locate and coordinate the movement of parts and materials more efficiently, thereby cutting work-in-progress scraps by 20 percent and improving production efficiency thanks to tracking capabilities.

2. Reduce waste.

To make the most of power consumption at its multiple plants, Canadian paper company Cascades turned to OSISoft, whose software captures and analyzes data relating to manufacturing processes. Using this software, Cascades built an Energy Monitoring and Information System (EMIS) that helps their mills reduce energy consumption by limiting overuse.

The system monitors the energy performance of the mills in real-time using a combination of Ethernet network connections and an OSISoft server. By implementing this technology, Cascades saw a return on its investment in II equipment in less than two years through reduced energy waste.

Technology can help manufacturers decrease waste in numerous ways, according to Mark Davidson, a principal analyst with LNS Research, an industrial automation advisory firm. “Resulting reductions in waste can come from areas such as reduced materials, reduced energy and resource usage, improved quality, reduced scrap and rework, and reductions in manual labor,” he says.

3. Enhance machine productivity.

Given the steep competition within the automobile industry, an increasing number of manufacturers are embracing II technology as a way to optimize shop floor performance. One such manufacturer is Audi. The German auto manufacturer selected Forcam’s Factory Framework software to better manage its car component production. The solution works by extracting web-based performance data from machines and plants in real-time to minimize errors and waste during production.

Each machine’s output is carefully measured so that productivity killers like downtime can be immediately flagged, enabling Audi to better plan around these production disruptions in order to optimize the use of its plants and improve target planning. The results have been significant – Audi has realized a 20 percent boost in productivity since introducing Forcam’s Factory Framework software.

BorgWarner Cooling Systems, which builds engine radiator systems for commercial vehicles, is is another manufacturer that has improved its machine productivity using Forcam’s technology. The company deployed a custom-fit production management system for 40 machines that collects and processes machine and operating data. Operators at the shop floor level are able to view dashboards illustrating downtime information, points of failure along the assembly line, unexpected production disruptions and deviations from production targets.

“Manufacturers are always striving for ways to continuously improve their productivity and cut costs,” says Mohamed AbuAli, COO of Forcam. “With the right tool that can deliver the right information to the right people at the right time, manufacturing facilities can use objectively-measured data directly from their shop floors to complement their Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) and gain significant productivity gains.”

4. Identify maintenance issues before they occur.

One of the most common causes of machine breakdown is excessive wear and tear on a machine’s belt. With II technology, built-in sensors can monitor a machine’s usage patterns and output to alert a plant manager when a belt is about to reach its maximum threshold for usage and requires immediate maintenance.

The potential financial rewards are enormous. According to a November 2012 report by GE, a one percent gain in fuel efficiency and reduced unscheduled maintenance would result in savings of $30 billion within the aviation industry over the next 15 years.

The airline industry isn’t the only benefactor of technology capable of flagging malfunctions before they occur. Pinto points to Procter & Gamble as a hypothetical example of a manufacturer whose $83.68 billion dollars in 2012 sales would be significantly impacted if its diaper manufacturing plants began to experience glitches. “With these types of companies, if something jams, everything stops,” he warns.

Fortunately, today’s ecosystem of machines, people and data promises to change all that. “Maintenance up until now has been after the fact,” says Pinto. “However, II maintenance is really about predictive maintenance so that the Internet automatically tells you when a machine is about to fail.”

5. Cut costs in a tough economy.

Regardless if it’s a scheduled maintenance period or an unanticipated malfunction on the assembly line, plant downtime can cost a manufacturer hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. Attaching a dollar figure to this nightmare is difficult, but factors include labor costs, energy surges, inspection fees, wasted manufacturing space and production bottlenecks.

With II technology, however, these issues would occur far less frequently. Linking machines to sophisticated, data-gathering software can help identify a machine that’s not performing at peak levels and is in need of maintenance before a breakdown occurs. Increased productivity can also ensure manufacturers spend more time producing products and parts than tending to low-value maintenance tasks.

“As manufacturers use the Industrial Internet to create faster visibility of business and manufacturing information, their employee teams can work more productively and efficiently with aligned business and manufacturing goals,” says Davidson. “This can be a great source of cost savings.”

Whether it’s improving efficiencies or flagging machine malfunctions, the II promises to revolutionize the way manufacturers use big data. In the end, however, these companies must be willing to transform their key processes in order to embrace these new technologies and reap the benefits they can yield.


Study: What Employers Are Looking for in HR Positions

Note: This post was written in 2014 and is based on 3-year-old job listings.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of human resources (HR) manager positions is set to grow 13 percent by 2022, while HR specialist positions are projected to grow 8 percent. So, how can those in the HR field capitalize on this growth?

To help current and aspiring professionals seeking HR positions better understand the job market and how to ascend in their careers, Software Advice set out to learn what the ideal candidate looks like straight from the source: the job posting.

We analyzed 300 U.S. job openings for primarily upper-level HR positions posted in April and May of 2014. Here, we reveal which titles are most popular, which have the highest barriers to entry and what will be required of potential applicants to land their dream job in this growing field.

Key Findings:

  • HR job titles are changing to reflect a more business-focused HR department.
  • Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certifications are by far the most desired.
  • Annual compensation for HR jobs is $60,000—well above the national average for all occupations.

Changing Titles Reflect Emphasis on Business Processes

In order to research how candidates can climb the HR ladder, we combed through 300 job listings returned when searching for “HR manager.” Unsurprisingly, this title was the most common in our data set (although our search also returned jobs for various levels of HR professional). However, there was an interesting finding: the third most common job title in the search for open HR manager positions was “HR Business Partner.”

Much has been written recently regarding how the role of HR is changing to become more business-focused, and it seems that companies are beginning to reflect this trend in their job titles. Twelve percent of companies said they were looking for either an HR Business Partner (HRBP) or a Senior HR Business Partner, which the Society for Human Resources (SHRM) defines as someone who:

“…aligns business objectives with employees and management in designated business units. The HRBP serves as a consultant to management on Human Resource-related issues. […] The HRBP maintains an effective level of business literacy about the business units [sic] financial position, its mid-range plans, its culture and its competition.”

HR Job Titles

hr-job-titles

In comparison, an HR manager is defined as someone who is “responsible for hiring new employees, supervising employee evaluations, mediation between employees and bosses as necessary and general overseeing of the personnel department.” The HRBP, as compared to the more traditional HR Manager title, is therefore much more focused on business strategy.

An awareness of how HR fits into the larger business processes of organizations is becoming increasingly requested from employers—and this trend is reflected in other areas of this report, as well, such as preferred areas of study and requested certifications.

Most HR Jobs Require a Bachelor’s Degree

As is the case for most white-collar jobs, a bachelor’s degree was needed in order to be considered for the majority of the HR jobs analyzed in this study (85 percent).

However, it should be noted that 11 percent of job listings did not specify that any minimum education was required to apply. Given that large companies like Google no longer require an undergraduate degree, this may be a sign that the trend towards experience and skills over a four-year education is spreading to the HR profession.

Required Education

required-education

Although 11 percent of the job listings analyzed in this study did not specify that any degree was required, some job titles were more likely to require a four-year college degree than others. HR specialists—the most entry-level position included in the analysis—were the least likely to require a four-year degree, with one-third of HR specialist job postings requiring only a high school diploma.

Degrees Required by Title

degrees-required-by-title

In addition to analyzing what level of education was required, we also wanted to see what level of education was preferred. While 67 percent of the listings included in this analysis did not specify any level of preferred education, almost one-third of the listings requested an advanced degree: either a master’s or a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Preferred Education

preferred-education

Of the job listings that did require an undergraduate degree, many specified a preferred area of study. Unsurprisingly, human resources was the top-requested undergraduate area of specialization, while business administration was the second most requested.

This aligns with our previous research into the educational backgrounds of the 100 most successful HR professionals in the world. If you want to get ahead in the HR field—at any level of responsibility—a strong grasp of HR and business will go a long way.

Top-Requested Areas of Study

top-requested-areas-of-study

SPHR or PHR Certifications Are the Most Requested

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, HR certifications were an additional credential required or preferred by many employers. In fact, 42 percent of companies noted that an HR certification was either preferred or required.

HR Certification Specifications

certification-requirements

However, while 58 percent of job listings did not require a certification, certain job titles were more likely to request or prefer some type of certification. For instance, HR professionals seeking a job as an HR business partner are much more likely to need an HR certification in order to obtain work. On the other hand, the HR specialist and employment manager positions in our analysis did not require or request any type of certification.

HR Certification Specifications by Job Title

certification-by-job-title

Of the job listings that either preferred or required some form of HR certification, Professional in Human Resources (PHR) or Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certifications were the most frequently mentioned.

Top-Requested HR Certifications

most-requested-certifications

Interestingly, a Six Sigma certification, which is not exclusive to the HR profession, also appeared several times in the preferred qualifications—for the “HR Manager” title specifically.

Six Sigma professionals are trained to employ techniques—such as quality management and statistical analysis—to improve business processes. While only 1 percent of the job listings requested this credential, it is further indication that HR professionals are increasingly being expected to have a thorough knowledge of business processes outside of traditional areas of HR expertise, such as compensation and benefits management.

One-Fourth of Companies Request Knowledge of HR Software

Meanwhile, approximately one-fourth of employers specified that they would prefer applicants with knowledge of some form of Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS) software knowledge.

HRIS Software Knowledge Requirements

software-knowledge-requirements

As you can see, when employers specified a certain type of HRIS system, they most often requested that applicants have a working knowledge of Peoplesoft, ADP, SAP or Oracle.

Top-Requested HRIS Software Systems

top-requested-software-systems

Although only one-fourth of employers requested that applicants have HR software-related knowledge, for potential applicants to human resources jobs, an awareness of the most popular HRIS software programs would be a plus for many employers.

HR Managers Must Have at Least 3 Years of Experience

As is the case for across most white-collar professional, salaried occupations, applicants will need at least a few years of experience to be considered for an upper-level HR department role at most companies. For over half of the job postings analyzed in this report, employers requested at least 3-5 years of experience.

Experience Required

experience-required

As is to be expected, more senior-level roles—such as HR Director and Senior HR Manager—required more experience. The title requiring the most years of experience was Senior HR Business Partner, with a minimum requirement of 6 years of experience. Meanwhile, HR Specialist and HR Generalist roles were more likely to require fewer years of experience.

Experience Required by Title

experience-required-by-title

HR Manager’s Median Annual Wage is $60,000

Surprisingly, very few postings provided any information regarding a candidate’s potential salary. Only 24 listings, or 8 percent of the job postings included in this analysis, included salary information.

However, when we analyzed the salaries in postings that did provide compensation information, we found that $60,000-69,999 was the median projected income of potential applicants to these jobs. In addition, 60 percent of the HR jobs we analyzed paid $60,000 or more annually.

Salaries of HR Job Listings

salaries-hr-job-listings

While this salary is higher than the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ calculated median annual wage for all occupations of $34,750, it is significantly lower that the BLS’s projected median annual wage for HR professionals: $99,720. The only postings we found offering a wage of around $100,000 were for HR Director and HR Generalist positions.

Methodology

This study was conducted by pulling data from 300 national listings returned from Indeed.com using a keyword search for “HR manager.” It should be noted that although some job listings did not list degree or certification requirements, job seekers may nonetheless find there is a competitive advantage to having these—or, conversely, a disadvantage to lacking degrees and certifications.

To further discuss this report, or obtain access to any of the charts above, feel free to contact me at erin@softwareadvice.com.


Is a Hybrid Agile PM Process Right for Your Small Business?

As businesses increasingly become digital-first, the project management (PM) industry is seeing major changes. Business leaders are restructuring their practices to remain competitive in rapidly shifting markets. In the process, many are adopting agile PM to help drive innovation and continuous improvement at their organization.

The impact of digitalization on the PM industry is so great that Gartner, the research and advisory firm, predicts that this transformation will render standard PPM capabilities, practices and toolsets obsolete.

To better understand the impacts of digitization on the current state of the PM software market, we surveyed small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to learn:

  • How many SMBs are practicing waterfall vs. agile?
  • What is the current breakdown of agile PM methods?
  • How will current PM software users invest in the future?

This report, which highlights our findings, can help prospective PM software buyers make a more informed purchase decision.

Hybrid Agile More Common Than ‘Pure’ Agile Methods

Perhaps not surprisingly, waterfall PM is still used by the majority of SMBs—but just barely. Fifty one percent of respondents are using traditional PM methods compared to 45 percent practicing agile*.

More notably, 29 percent of SMBs are using a hybrid agile PM model. This far outshines the number of pure scrum teams (12 percent) and the number of pure kanban (4 percent).

Q: What is hybrid agile PM?


A: Hybrid agile PM refers to a combination of both waterfall and agile PM processes or a blend of multiple agile processes. Here are a few examples:

  • Iterative waterfall: Traditional, plan-driven teams that outline their requirements and then work in timeboxes, incorporating retrospectives into their workflows.
  • Scrumban: Scrum teams that follow a flow based approach during iterations and who add work-in-progress (WIP) limits to their sprint boards.

This tells us two things:

  • SMBs are taking a project-specific approach to PM, rather than practicing top-down, holistic governance. Meaning, they are letting projects dictate the techniques and tools, rather than having these considerations handed down to them by leadership.
  • Some or all of these SMBs are transitioning to agile processes and are using a hybrid approach as a stepping stone.

Respondents’ Current PM Methodology
 
current project management methodology

Chris Shinkle, director of innovation at Software Engineering Professionals (SEP), says that he’s found it often works better to introduce agile practices incrementally. He says that starting with a pure agile method can cause more problems than it solves.

“Starting with a ‘pure agile method’ often results in blindly applying a recipe from a book or consultant. It doesn’t take into account the situationally specific concerns.”

Chris Shinkle, Director of Innovation at SEP

One way to introduce agile practices incrementally is to start with one team, or one project, and then inspect and adapt before rolling your chosen agile framework out to the next.

Using a hybrid agile approach is not an excuse to put less effort into an agile transition.

Tina Behers, agile coach and solutions architect at AgileCraft, warns that it’s not uncommon for teams to think that using a hybrid approach means they can skip training on scrum or kanban practices or forgo coaching on how these frameworks should be rolled out at their organization.

She advises that teams:

  • Choose a framework that aligns where they are in their agile journey
  • Receive training and coaching on how to apply that framework
  • Modify their approach as needed (with the guidance of an agile coach) to help them achieve their goals.

“There is no silver bullet, the key is to keep in mind that they are frameworks, each as a core set of recommended practices,” she says. “Use the parts that work for your organization when you start the transformation, keeping an eye on where you want to grow your agile practices next.”

*Note: This survey was market-wide, and did not filter for specific industries. The number of agile teams/organizations is likely to be much higher in certain industries (i.e., software development and information technology) than across the market as a whole.

More SMBs Plan To Invest in Scrum Tools Than Kanban

It’s important to note that hybridizations occur within a team’s PM processes and not within the PM tool. As such, teams looking to implement a hybrid agile approach will still need to use either a traditional PM tool or an agile PM solution (e.g., scrum software or kanban software), and then adapt the tool to match their hybrid approach.

When asked about their future PM software investment plans, nearly 25 percent of respondents say they would look for a scrum PM solution, compared to 11 percent who would look for a kanban tool to support their agile PM processes.

Both scrum and kanban tools support agile teams as they incorporate transparency, inspection and adaption into their workflows. But how your team operates can make one approach preferable to the other:

  • Scrum tools are best for teams that break projects down into groups of related tasks and then complete that batch of tasks over the course of one timebox, i.e., sprint.
  • Kanban works best for teams that break projects down into a hierarchy of tasks, and then work on the highest priority tasks first, one at a time in a continuous flow.

The prescriptive nature of scrum may be seen as barrier against adopting this agile framework. However, it is precisely the strict “rules” that govern that methodology that make many experts recommend it over kanban for teams looking to transition to agile processes.

“I would characterize kanban as probably dangerous for beginners, something that only more experienced teams should venture on with,” states Andy Hunt, one of the founders of the Agile Manifesto.

Hunt goes on to say that the rhythm and structure of scrum workflows—i.e., sprint planning, daily standup, sprint review, sprint retrospective followed by another sprint planning session—is an easier environment for beginning teams to understand work worth.

This is because changes aren’t allowed mid-sprint, so teams gain a clear understanding of what they can and cannot complete within the timed sprint (typically, a two-week timeframe) and the effort and skill required for different types of tasks.

For more information, download a free copy of our e-book, “Scrum vs. Kanban: 6 Tips for Choosing the Right System.”

Respondents’ Future PM Software Investment Plans
 
future project management investments

The highest percentage of SMBs, 62 percent, say they would likely invest in a traditional PM tool.

While agile tools are considered “team-centric” and help teams collaborate and manage work visually, traditional PM tools can be broken down into two categories: user-centered or manager-centered.

User-centered tools focus on task and time management—PM software capabilities that are consistently rated as top-requested functionality in our yearly buyer reports.

Manager-centered tools, on the other hand, are more comprehensive and include additional oversight and governance capabilities, like resource management or portfolio management.

3 Tips for Implementing a Hybrid Agile PM Process

We’ve summarized the following tips to help you implement a hybrid agile PM process at your SMB and choose the best tool to support your hybrid processes:

1. Establish a change management team. This team is responsible for identifying the need for change, i.e., defining the near-term outcome you want to achieve and/or what problem you’re trying to solve by adopting hybrid agile processes.

Without a specific objective to work toward, it’s difficult to choose a tool to support your processes and apply metrics for measuring and tracking success.

Additional responsibilities of the change management team include:

  • Performing stakeholder analysis (helps inform the communication plans and training programs rolled out later in the implementation)
  • Identifying end users of the PM tool and their “must have” software capabilities
  • Defining and enforcing rules around the use of the tool
  • Ensuring the agile implementation has executive sponsorship

2. Select a tool. Behers advises organizations look for a PM solution that aligns with their chosen framework (e.g., waterfall, scrum or kanban), that can be configured to support teams using different processes at different levels of PPM maturity.

Additional considerations when evaluating tools for a hybrid agile team include:

  • Can roles be configured to remove or hide system components not used by some users, but used by others?
  • Does the tool have built-in process guidance or guardrails for pure scrum and kanban users? (For example, scrum teams will need to define “artifacts,” as well as track burndown and velocity. Kanban teams will need to set up work-in-progress limits and track their cumulative flow and lead and cycle time).
  • Does the tool offer the ability to roll up and report on all work, regardless of the process being used by the team?
  • Does the tool align with your current needs and near-term goals? The estimated life span of a tool is around three years, so while it’s important that the tool is flexible enough to be used by teams practicing different processes, don’t purchase a tool you’re looking to “grow into.”

3. Provide training and coaching and ensure you have organizational support. Both Behers and Shinkle agree that when agile implementations fail (hybrid or pure) it’s often the result of a lack of training/coaching coupled with the lack of organizational and management support/buy in for the chosen framework.

As such, it’s a best practice to offer your stakeholders training and coaching programs tailored to their unique needs to encourage user adoption of the new tool and hybrid agile processes. You need to both identify and close learning gaps at every level of technical literacy.

Moreso, hybrid agile implementations will likely not yield improvements on the same scale or timeline as a “pure” agile implementation.

When seeking organizational support for adopting a hybrid agile approach, be sure to do the following:

  • Be realistic in your estimates for how the change will impact things like quality, delivery time and/or employee satisfaction
  • Don’t over-promise on the value and improvements that using a hybrid approach will achieve, otherwise you may risk leadership pulling their support before the benefits are fully realized

Conclusions and Next Steps

There are those who will argue that combining methods and blending processes isn’t true agile. However, remember the core principle of “agile” centers around embracing change over following a plan in order to deliver the most value with your project.

Recognizing what combination and blend of methods works best for your team, rather than choosing to follow a “pure” implementation plan that doesn’t deliver value, is an agile approach in itself.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should cherry pick parts of waterfall, scrum and kanban and call yourself agile. You should learn the rules first, then adapt them if you find a hybrid process model to be the best approach for your team.

For more information about transitioning to agile or implementing a hybrid agile processes at your SMB, here are a few next steps you can take:

  • Head over to our agile PM buyer’s guide: Brush up on the similarities and differences between agile and waterfall PM processes and discover some of the top agile PM systems that can help support your team’s workflows.
  • Email me at eileen@softwareadvice.com. I’m available to answer any questions you may have about implementing a hybrid agile approach and can get you set up with a software advisor to discuss investing in a PM solution that’s right for you.
  • If you’d like more information about how to prepare your SMB for a transition to an agile PM process, check out this piece, which gives a rundown of some of the leadership skills you’ll need to develop to help with the transition and offers four best practices for introducing agile workflows (best practices are also summarized in a downloadable checklist).

Top Universities for Supply Chain Technology Education in 2017

Supply chains aren’t a new concept. In fact, they’ve been around about as long as we’ve been manufacturing products and shipping them to different locations to be sold. A concept that is slightly newer, however, is the idea that people can go to school to learn all about managing supply chains and come out with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree establishing them as experts in the field.

Three years ago, we put out a ranking of the top 15 undergraduate and graduate schools for supply chain management (SCM) degrees. Today, we’re releasing an updated version of that list.

Key Findings

  1. Penn State earned the top position for their undergraduate SCM technology program, followed by Western Michigan.
  2. MIT and Texas Christian University claimed first and second place, respectively, for their SCM graduate programs.
  3. Only three undergraduate and three graduate programs on our list offer courses that focus on enterprise resource planning (ERP) software—a factor that featured heavily in our ranking methodology.

Introduction

Before I get to the good stuff, I want to lay a little groundwork. Supply chain management has only existed as a major course of study for a few decades, and universities have been working constantly to ensure their programs keep up with the ever-changing (and ever-improving) technology being created (e.g., blockchain, Internet of Things and cloud-based software).

It’s a good thing, too, as careers in the supply chain are only growing in the U.S. Students holding supply chain degrees have quite a few options: they can become logisticians, a career with an average annual salary of $74,170 in May 2016; operations research analysts, who earned a median of $79,200; or purchasing managers, making an average of $111,590—and those are only a few examples.

I spoke with Dave Malenfant, director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation at Texas Christian University, and he had this to say about an education in SCM:

“It really gives students a very good perspective of how a business operates… What’s nice about getting either an undergraduate degree or, more specifically, a graduate degree in supply chain is that it makes you really understand the interconnectivity of the different functions within the business.”

Dave Malenfant, director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation

In an article for The Atlantic, economist James Bessen discussed the impact technology has had and will continue to have on manufacturing. He explained that, despite fears of machines replacing human workers in factories, managers are seeing the opposite problem: “In surveys, they report that they can’t hire enough workers, at least not enough workers who have the necessary skills to deal with new technology.”

For this reason, we focused our methodology for determining these rankings on the extent to which universities have oriented their curricula to teach students to use SCM software.

Software Advice’s Top Universities for SCM – 2017

Rank Undergraduate Graduate
1 Pennsylvania State University Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2 Western Michigan University Texas Christian University
3 Purdue University University of Wisconsin (Madison)
4 Georgia Institute of Technology Pennsylvania State University
5 Iowa State University University of Michigan
6 Arizona State University Arizona State University
7 University of Michigan The Ohio State University
8 Auburn University Michigan State University
9 University of Wisconsin (Madison) Georgia Institute of Technology
10 The Ohio State University Stanford University
11 University of Texas (Austin) Rutgers University
12 Michigan State University Purdue University
13 University of Tennessee University of Tennessee
14 Massachusetts Institute of Technology University of Texas (Austin)
15 Carnegie Mellon University University of South Carolina

Penn State and WMU Hold Steady, Purdue Moves Up

Compared to our 2014 ranking, Penn State and Western Michigan didn’t budge from their positions as numbers one and two on our undergraduate list. Universities such as Iowa State and Arizona State upped their game by increasing the number of required SCM credits and expanding their course offerings.

Despite this, Penn State’s Supply Chain & Information Systems program remains unmatched in this arena with 15 hours of required, tech-centric courses and 12 elective hours of the same—one of which introduces students to the functions and concepts of ERP software.

Likewise, we scored four of WMU’s required courses as mid to highly tech-oriented—including MGMT 3200: Managing ERP Systems—along with several elective courses that explore topics such as geographical information systems and data mining.

Since we last explored these programs, Purdue implemented changes that raised their ranking as well as their profile. Purdue now offers two different degrees for SCM majors: Supply Chain Management Technology, BS and Supply Chain, Information and Analytics, BS.

Both degree tracks are intensive studies—the former requires 75 major-specific credit hours to graduate while the latter demands 42 hours of management study with an additional nine hours of SCM-focused courses.

MIT and TCU Earn Top Marks

Two more changes from 2014 are MIT and TCU leading the pack for graduate programs this year.

MIT is another school that offers two distinct SCM tracks. They have a Master of Applied Science in SCM (MASc-SCM) as well as a Master of Engineering in SCM (MEng-SCM), both of which require 90 credit hours (60 of those being SCM-specific courses) to obtain. In these required courses, students explore such topics as database analysis, logistics systems and supply chain software; a course which features in-depth exploration of ERP systems.

Our number two program, Texas Christian University, also focuses on resource planning software with their ERP Systems in Contemporary Organizations course. Additionally, students can participate in an ERP simulation course that provides real-world experience managing supply chain through technology.

Why We Focused on ERP and Technology

Our views on ERP systems and their value in supply chain management haven’t changed much since 2014, so the inclusion and integration of these classes still weighed heavily in our ranking algorithm.

One thing we did notice during our research, though, is that more programs have begun to feature this specific software in their curriculum since 2014, indicating a broader adoption of the strategies that distinguished one or two universities in the past.

However, Malenfant cautioned against courses that spend too much time teaching students how to use specific software systems, emphasizing that, “It’s an enabler of what you do, not a replacement for your processes.”

This can be a tricky line to walk for universities that want to prepare students for the job market by training them how to use the technology that is likely to be part of their daily workload.

Malenfant summed up a university’s responsibility to its students in one simple sentence: “It’s education, not training.”

And we agree—the best supply chain management programs are those that teach students not just how to use software, but why they need it. Technology is designed to enhance certain processes, but it can’t replace human skills. This means truly integrating technology courses into a more comprehensive curriculum that trains its participants in every skill required to succeed—from mining data to making deals.

Methodology

For the sake of clarity and efficiency, I’m going to break our methodology up into three phases.

Phase I: Aggregating Rankings

The first step in identifying the leaders in SCM tech education was compiling a list of top contenders. To do this, we looked at Gartner, U.S. News & World Report and SCM World’s rankings and compiled the lists to figure out which universities we’d be exploring in Phase II.

We weighed each university according to how many of the above three lists it appeared on and where on each list it ranked. This process gave us a list of 15 undergraduate and 15 graduate programs that we called our “Reputation Ranking.” Here it is:

Reputation Ranking

Rank Undergraduate Graduate
1 Michigan State University Michigan State University
2 Pennsylvania State University / University of Tennessee (Tie) Pennsylvania State University
3 Arizona State University Massachusetts Institute of Technology
4 The Ohio State University University of Tennessee
5 University of Texas (Austin) University of Michigan
6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Arizona State University
7 Western Michigan University The Ohio State University
8 Georgia Institute of Technology University of Texas (Austin)
9 University of Michigan Georgia Institute of Technology
10 University of South Carolina Rutgers University
11 Auburn University Stanford University
12 Iowa State University Texas Christian University
13 University of Wisconsin (Madison) University of South Carolina
14 Purdue University University of Wisconsin (Madison)
15 Carnegie Mellon University Purdue University


Michigan State University ranked number one on U.S. News and SCM World’s lists, and number two on Gartner’s list. As you can see, its position on all three of those sites resulted in it landing the number one position on our Reputation Ranking.

A few things to note at this point:

  • The position of schools on our Reputation Rank did not affect where they landed on our Top 15 Ranking (explained below). This was simply a jumping off point to help narrow the scope of our research in Phase II.
  • Since SCM World did not produce two separate rankings for undergraduate and graduate programs, any schools that appeared on their list received the same score for both types of degrees, assuming they were offered.

Phase II: The Deep Dive

Once we determined which 30 programs we would be exploring, we looked at which schools feature software more heavily than others.

Just a reminder: there are plenty of factors beyond technology that can make or break schools’ rankings, but we choose to explore this topic from a technological perspective because we believe it’s one of the most important and fundamental aspects of an exemplary SCM education.

Once we compiled the above list of standout programs, we took a much closer look at each school’s curriculum to identify the following:

  • Required number of credits to graduate
  • Required SCM courses vs. elective SCM courses
  • Number of required/elective courses offered focusing on SCM technology
  • Whether or not a course entirely dedicated to ERP software was offered

After collecting these figures for each university, we took an even closer look at the technologically-focused courses. We examined their descriptions and syllabi to determine the depth and breadth of each class and graded them individually on a scale of one to three.

Phase III: Putting It All Together

Once the legwork of tracking down course listings and major requirements was done, all that remained was to do the math. All of these variables were plugged into a proprietary formula to produce a score for each university, effectively resulting in our Top 15 Ranking above.

Conclusion

After all the lists were aggregated, the courses scored, and the results reported, one thing remains clear above all else: Prospective SCM students have a lot to consider when exploring their degree options.

It’s important to remember that our list represents a close study of the universities that had previously been identified by college, technology and supply chain experts, and we recommend individuals considering a career in this industry take the time to compare strengths and weaknesses of every program in order to find the best fit.

If you have comments or questions about the research we conducted, feel free to reach out to lisa@softwareadvice.com.

Disclaimer: Our interview with faculty at Texas Christian University was conducted after the ranking process was complete and had no effect on TCU’s placement in our list.


Smart Apartments: What Technology Matters to Renters?

Amazon’s personal assistant Alexa and smartphone apps are simplifying life in homes across the country. A/C units, door locks, home security systems and light bulbs are getting smarter.

By the end of 2017, Gartner predicts that 15 percent of households will have adopted home automation using smart devices—and that smart home automation devices of all kinds will be mainstream within five years.

I know! Property managers who offer smart technology now gain a huge marketing advantage to sway renters towards considering their units currently and well into the future.

We asked 300 renters for responses to 12 questions to better understand how property managers could use these popular devices to attract and convince tenants to rent. Here are some of the most important takeaways.

Key Findings

  • Almost a quarter of renters already own a virtual personal assistant (VPA), and find them least likely to compel people to rent.
  • Overall, condo and apartment renters are more likely to be compelled by smart devices compared to those who rent a house.
  • Half of those who say they’re at least “somewhat more likely” to rent for a free smart device are between the ages of 26-35.

Forget VPAs—the Most Commonly Owned Smart Devices

Gartner analysts have noted the incredible rise of VPAs and see this trend continuing into the future—sales for these devices are expected to grow by nearly 500 percent in just five years.

But what does this trend mean for you as a property manager? It means you’ll need to make sure the smart device splash you’re making is a big one.

Although VPAs are popular and fairly inexpensive, they’re probably not going to prompt more interest in your property due to their already-high adoption rate.

Jeff Rohde of Simple Condo Advice, a real-estate professional with 25 years of experience, notes that focusing on the right smart devices can truly add value to your rental properties.

“I can tell you first hand that ‘smart’ homes, apartments or condos can definitely give a landlord the edge when it comes to renting,” he says. “There’s clear cost-savings to the tenant, which is extremely important in today’s rental market, where pretty much anywhere you go the cost to rent is increasing year after year.”

The best way to gain an edge here is by offering up a uniquely valuable device. Here’s a breakdown of what renters have:

Devices Already Owned by Renters

VPAs (23 percent) are the most common device already owned by renters, followed by smart thermostats (17 percent). Another 23 percent don’t own any smart devices. We’ll see below that more practical devices that can cut costs are much more compelling to renters.

Offer Devices that Save Energy and Money

Our homes are getting to know us better. In as many as 4.5 million U.S. homes, you can return home to your preferred temperature, with lights that turn on just before you arrive, all because the system knows when you get home from work.

There are a couple ways smart thermostats and lighting can save you and your residents money.

A central control panel in your main office could allow management to view and control temperatures and wattage used for lights for all units, and adjust if necessary. This means you can keep tight control over the temperature in vacant units, and help renters program light schedules to significantly cut electric bill costs. Also, insurance companies often offer discounts for these additions.

Property managers can implement smart thermostats and lighting systems and promote them as exclusive cost-saving features, giving units an attractive high-tech advantage.

Because of this value, it’s no surprise that these types of smart devices—thermostats (20 percent) and lighting (19 percent)—ranked as the most compelling:

Most Compelling Devices for Those Likely to Rent

Let’s break down why these top two technologies are seen as valuable to renters:

“Smart home tech works well as an amenity because it appeals to so many distinct groups of renters,” says Brian Davis, co-founder and blogger at SparkRental.com. “For example, a smart thermostat helps reduce energy usage, adding appeal for eco-friendly renters. Smart thermostats also save money on utilities, which appeals to just about everyone.”

Market Smart Home Technology to Any Type of Renter

Since these cost-cutting smart devices are most compelling, we decided to dig further to see if the rental type made a difference. It turns out condo renters are overall “much more likely” to rent if the unit is marketed as a “smart home”, with 60 percent compelled by thermostats and 56 percent compelled by lighting.

Renters Highly Compelled by Thermostats and Lighting, by Rental Type
smart thermostat lighting rental type

Of course, the 46 percent for apartment renters and 41 percent for house renters is still a positive sign that this pairing of technologies is a strong selling point for any property manager.

Davis says adding two or three smart components to your properties and marketing it as a smart home is a great way to increase value.

“Landlords can spend less than $1,000 total on these upgrades, and can often recover that cost within 12-18 months in the form of higher rents,” he says.

Investing in smart thermostats and lighting can increase values and attract any kind of renter—the value and cost-savings is a win-win for property managers and tenants.

Invest in Smart Technology to Draw Millennial Renters

A survey conducted in 2016 shows that 86 percent of millennials say that they’re willing to pay more for a property fitted with smart technology.

“If you’re renting to millennials, offering smart devices as part of the rental package shows the tenant that the landlord is keeping ahead of the game and so gives it an edge in the rental market,” Rohde says.

Millennials, those roughly between 18 and 35, make up 68 percent of the renters we surveyed that were most likely to rent for smart technology.

Most Likely to Rent for Free Smart Device, by Age

Smart technology is an investment that strongly attracts the largest group of renters, but appeals to nearly any segment, and benefits your business in the long-run.

How Can Smart Technology Drive Interest in My Properties?

Dozens of companies offer smart devices and home automation solutions, like Nest or Honeywell for thermostats. G.E., Philips and even IKEA offer smart bulbs and lighting systems at various levels of sophistication.

After installation, you can use property management software to track the costs and, through integrations, track the energy usage to see how much you and your residents are saving over time. Finally, you can use property marketing tools to promote these new smart amenities to find new prospective renters.

View our list of top property management software vendors, or give us a call at (844) 688-1783 for a free phone consultation to help narrow down your options.


How Software Can Improve In-Person Customer Service

My dog once swallowed something he shouldn’t have. After a phone call where the vet convinced me that he was in no immediate danger, we decided to take a “wait and see” approach, which worked out. The following week we went to our annual check-up.

“How’s everything going?” the vet asked. “Anything new with you guys?”

I took a deep breath and recapped our experience of the previous week, then started daydreaming about all the useful things that could be accomplished with the computer on the vet’s desk. I also began to wonder if it was time to start looking for a new vet.

Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) can avoid this disconnect and the customer dissatisfaction it causes. In this report we’ll see how software bridges the gap between phone calls and emails (and other remote communications like live chat) and in-person encounters.

We explain how IT improves in-person customer service and make the case that more SMBs should leverage it to save time, provide better customer experience and leave a better impression.

How Experiences Create Expectations, Fairly or Not

Like dogs, consumers are conditioned by our experiences. When a business provides a customer with an above average service experience, that customer’s expectation of “average” raises.

Over time, the customer expects all businesses to meet the newer, higher standard, even in cases where that wouldn’t be practical. Think of how Uber and Lyft raised the bar for related but not exactly comparable businesses, like taxi services.


 
That’s exactly what happened at the vet. My expectations weren’t entirely based on my previous experiences at that vet’s office.

Instead, they were conditioned by my many experiences with a wide range of businesses. This might seem a little unfair. Nevertheless, it’s how consumers and the business world operate.

SMBs are expected to deliver services comparable to the world’s most well-resourced companies.

Free shipping and no-questions-asked return policies are examples of perks that began in the enterprise space but later became expected at even the smaller end of the spectrum. The good news? Software has made it easier and cheaper for SMBs to play along.

Customers Expect Seamless Omnichannel Communication

Omnichannel communication is a software capability that consolidates all of a customer’s interactions into a unified record. Years ago, it was very expensive and found only in very big call centers. But thanks to the increased ubiquity of cloud-based software, applications that offer omnichannel capabilities are affordable and easy to implement in even the smallest of offices.

ProsperWorks CRM (on right) integration with Gmail
 

Many online CRM platforms can automatically consolidate a customer’s queries across phone, email and in-person support. This “single view” of the customer is one important way in which IT can improve in-person customer service.

When I called the vet with my concern, a receptionist answered my call. If the office had different software, or perhaps different training or policies for staff to follow, my record would have been updated with notes from the call and the vet would have known about it when our appointment began. My dog and I would have had a much better customer experience.

Knowledge Management: Customers Expect Consistent Information

After explaining the situation, he put me on hold to consult with the vet herself, relaying the information to me after a few minutes’ wait. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Clearly, this was a situation where the accuracy of the answer was more important than the speed with which it was delivered.

But, imagine how I would have felt if I’d received different information at our in-person appointment. That would have been a serious cause for concern! What would have happened if the vet was unavailable when I’d called in? Would the receptionist have given a different answer? Hopefully not, but it seems possible.

Knowledge management (KM) applications are designed to prevent this from happening. They help create and maintain a central repository for information needed to handle common customer inquiries. They ensure that customers get consistent answers to their questions, no matter whom they speak with, when or on which channel.

Answering an emailed query from Astute Knowledge KMS
 

And KM tools do much more than improve the customer experience. They also improve more direct measures of a customer service department’s performance, like first-call resolution and time to answer.

According to Gartner, response time can be cut by 20 percent with KM tools. (From “Knowledge Management Will Transform CRM Customer Service“, available to Gartner clients.)

The same report showed that effective KM tools and policies have a positive impact and measurable ROI on a variety of other metrics, including:

  • A 40 percent reduction in inbound emails due to easy access to information.
    • A 25 percent headcount shift away from low-value calls due to self-service knowledge search.
      • A 40 percent reduction in talk time in a support center.

      Bear in mind that those statistics come from KM initiatives in the enterprise space and that SMB results may vary. Nevertheless, KM and omnichannel tools can be equally effective for SMBs, and can help you remain competitive with larger businesses.

      Like me with my vet, more of your customers are expecting the types of experiences that tools like omnichannel customer support and KM help provide. Thankfully, these tools are cheaper and easier to use than ever before.


      Software Needs Cycle for Field Service: Work Order Tracking And Beyond

      As field service operations increase their reach and customer base, their field service software capabilities need to grow with them.

      Excel sheets and paper job tickets might suffice a small solo operation, but growing businesses need at least basic specialized software with certain features, such as work order tracking, to keep operations moving.

      We’ve analyzed the many conversations we have with field service business owners to create a software Needs Cycle for Field Service Software.

      This article will help field service software buyers by showcasing top-requested applications and features within three sizes of business.

      With this data, we’ve put the nine most popular field service software features found on our field service software page in order based on what’s needed when you start, when you grow and when you need to optimize your business.

      needs cycle graphic

      3 Field Service Software Features You Need to Start

      This section is for field service businesses who are just starting their field service software journey with 1 to 9 software users.

      1. Scheduling and Dispatching

      What it does: Scheduling and dispatching capabilities enable field service companies to create and manage job schedules, assigning and directing technicians as needed.

      Why you need it to start: You need to ensure scheduling and dispatching capabilities are included in your first field service software purchase because they provide the organizational bedrock on which your service company is built.

      Calendar and appointment management are paramount if your business is ever going to take on more clients. With new clients and jobs coming in on top of existing work, just one missed appointment could result in significant losses.

      And providing technicians with their own schedule and tasks for the day enables them to prioritize accordingly and stay on track for the rest of the day’s appointments. Punctuality is crucial for service industries.

      Our data shows that 67 percent of customers will never rehire a service business if they’re over an hour late to an appointment. And 36 percent wouldn’t rehire after 30 minutes late.


       
      Key considerations:

      • Consider a system with Google or Apple Calendar integration, as these are common scheduling platforms that might require less onboarding for users.
      • Smart scheduling capabilities enable users to optimize technician routes based on several factors, such as the location of each job or the skillset of the technician.

      2. Contact Management

      What it does: Contact management capabilities enable users to input and organize valuable contact information (names, numbers, emails, social handles etc.) as well as track previous communications and even automate future outreach.

      Why you need it to start: Your clients are the lifeblood of your service business. And having easy access to their contact information is critical for efficient outreach. Contact management systems, if nothing else, offer an efficient means of storing, labeling and filtering this information.

      For example, many systems enable you to tag/label a contact so that they can be filtered for current, past or even potential clients.

      This level of detail enables contact management tools to offer automated outreach. This frees up operators to spend more time on getting quality work done. Automated contact, or even just contact reminders, also makes it easier for service industries to nurture past clients for future business.


       
      Key considerations:

      • Look for contact management capabilities featuring automated outreach through email scheduling.
      • Many systems contain notification capabilities to send reminders for customers that haven’t been contacted in some time.

      3. Work Order Management

      What it does: Work order management helps your service business track the status of a job from initial inquiry, through proposal and beginning, on to status updates and completion.

      Why you need it to start: Work order management capabilities take all those written job tickets and invoices and conveniently puts them into one easily accessible and manageable system.

      When a customer wants to check in on the status of your work, you can easily access the work order to see recent notes from technicians. This system also helps hold technicians accountable for staying on track with their work.

      Work order systems can also help technicians open new work orders for existing jobs. For example, what if when cleaning an air vent (the stated task for a work order) a technician finds that there are much bigger issues with an A/C unit?

      With work order software capabilities, the technician would be able to note this and (upon consent of customer) open a new work order to fix the major issues.


       
      Key considerations:

      • Templated mobile forms enable technicians to easily record details on valuable job and customer information. In the case of the example above, preset mobile forms could be used to record customer consent and open a new work order.
      • Work order software automatically organizes past work orders into easily accessible documents that can be pulled to reference past work for specific customers.

      3 Field Service Software Features You Need to Grow

      This section is for businesses looking to grow and scale their business with anywhere from 10 to 100 field service software users.

      4. Billing and Invoicing

      What it does: Manage customer balances and send invoices for payments.

      Why you need it to grow: Your billing and invoicing process is the final step between you and your money. It needs to be executed flawlessly. And if you’re looking to grow and constantly take on new business, that will put major stress on manual invoicing. This is a step that needs the efficiency and reliability of an automated system.

      Think about the potential stages necessary to close out an invoice. There’s the invoice generation, the initial sending, notification of receipt, potential followup communications or disputes, payment finalization and, finally, you close out.

      Well, what if it’s a repeated service for an account that pays a set monthly or quarterly amount? The point is that there’s a ton of moving parts to this most crucial task. It needs to be automated as soon as possible.


       
      Key considerations:

      • With customer consent, some systems enable you to save customer payment information so that you can simply complete the transaction once the job is complete.
      • Some systems actual enable technicians to take mobile payments. This eliminates the need for invoices altogether and gets money to your business immediately after a job is complete.

      5. Mobile Capabilities

      What it does: Enables communication between back office and customers with technicians in the field. Provides technicians with tools and information necessary to optimize operations at each job site.

      Why you need it to grow: Field service technicians are innately mobile, so it makes total sense that they’d be supported with mobile access to information and tools from your field service management system. These mobile capabilities might be phone-driven or tablet-driven, or even both.

      But regardless of the device, the capabilities and access to critical information are becoming crucial for the continued success of mobile employees.

      Just look at how impactful the ability to access contact information and contact customers can be.

      Customer Likelihood To Rehire Late Technicians If Notified
       

      Customer Attitudes Toward Late Technicians If Notified
       

      Obviously you don’t want your technicians to be late. But if they are going to be late, simply letting customers know is crucial to ratifying the negative implications. Mobile devices help with that.


       
      Key considerations:

      • Many field service businesses opt for ruggedized tablets and phones. These are designed to take a beating externally while keeping all the internal gears inline and running fine.
      • Determine how exactly mobile employees will gain internet access to use your business’ mobile apps. What would a data plan look like for that? Or would it make sense to enable WiFi in your vehicles so that employees aren’t using a ton of data?

      6. Reporting and Analytics

      What it does: Collect, store and analyze business data (customer/performance/financial etc.).

      Why you need it to grow: Data rules the business world these days—and rightfully so. Proper data analysis provides businesses with unprecedented insights and information for making the informed, strategic decisions.

      Reporting and analytics can also build crucial accountability into a growing field service business that’s bringing on new talent. These individual performance metrics can be compared against benchmarks to keep employees in the field accountable for their work.


       
      Key considerations:

      • Many systems come equipped with constant, easy to read dashboards that can be customized to showcase key metrics and business performance.
      • Mobile access to reporting capabilities can come in handy for checking up on the day’s performance without logging into a computer.

      3 Field Service Software Features You Need to Optimize

      This section is for firmly established service businesses looking to optimize their operations with more than 100 field service software users.

      7. Inventory Management

      What it does: Track and manage the quantity of products and tools used for service.

      Why you need it to optimize: Once you reach a point where you’re servicing a bunch of customers across a wide area, you’re going to need to have pinpoint accuracy on your inventory. If employees run out of a supply or a tool breaks, they need to know if they can come back to the business to re-up or if they need to acquire goods from a store.

      Some systems apply this feature on a vehicle to vehicle level so that mobile employees and the back office know what’s stocked in each vehicle in the fleet. This helps the back office with assigning and dispatching jobs throughout the day.

      For example, if a van doesn’t have a ladder listed on its inventory for whatever reason, it probably wouldn’t be the best to assign for climbing on a roof.


       
      Key considerations:

      • Many service businesses work with hazardous chemicals. These need to be carefully managed and possibly even regulated to meet compliance standards.
      • Inventory levels should be able to be set on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis so mobile employees are alerted if they need more goods or specific tools in their vehicle.

      8. GPS Tracking

      What it does: Track vehicles throughout the day to help with proper routing as well as ensure company property is being used effectively and efficiently.

      Why you need it to optimize: GPS tracking capabilities enable back offices to keep eyes on their employees and assets in the field. An accurate display of who is where and when allows dispatchers to orchestrate optimized job assignments and routing from job to job.

      This level of sight into the field also holds drivers accountable for meeting company standards while using company vehicles.

      Even though simple GPS-enabled consumer mapping apps might work for smaller operations, our data shows the impressive financial implications of adopting service-oriented GPS tracking software.

      Revenue-Boosting Benefits of Using Field Service Analytics for SMBs
       


       
      As you can see, GPS tracking capabilities promote positive, profit boosting performance. Many of these metrics also impact customer experiences, which promotes greater referral rates and retention.


       
      Key considerations:

      • Some GPS tracking systems feature driver monitoring capabilities to measure speeds, acceleration and other metrics to ensure safe driving practices.
      • Some in-vehicle GPS capabilities can provide alternate routing to account for traffic.

      9. Mobile Payments and Signature Capture

      What it does: Enable field technicians to process payments onsite upon the completion of a job, as well as record customer signatures acknowledging the work done.

      Why you need it to optimize: Invoicing for payment is an incredibly slow form of payment processing. Our previous report on the matter shows just how slow:

      Total Days to Receive Payment Based on Frequency of Invoice Submission
       


       
      So that’s four days at the very least that a payment will take, assuming your service businesses invoices daily. These unpaid jobs can put stress on a service organization. Not to mention they introduce risk of non-payment.

      One the other hand, the ability to complete the payment process immediately following the completion of a job enables businesses get that money as soon as the bank processes the transaction.


       
      Key considerations:

      • Depending on the nature of the job, mobile employees could upsell or schedule follow-up appointments and add that to the total.
      • Service businesses completing large transactions in the field on a regular basis might want to consider adopting EMV card readers to shed the liability of fraud coverage.

      Next Steps

      Congratulations! You made it through all these features, and should now have a better idea of what field service management software capabilities you need and when. This will make it much easier to assess all the field service management options out there and make the best software decision for your operation.

      We can actually save you even more time in your software search. Checkout the following resources to optimize and expedite your software selection process:

      • This free questionnaire will help us create a shortlist of the best field service management systems that meet your needs and suit your budget. Simply tells us about your business, and we’ll narrow down all the products in our database to those best suited for you.
      • Check out the FrontRunners quadrant for field service management software. This is our proprietary list of top performing service solutions based on value and capability scores.
      • Visit our product listing page to read user reviews from your field service operating peers. See what they have to say about the systems you are considering for your business.