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Final Mile

Infrastructure as a Service: Can BT Final Mile Solve The Headache Of Last Mile Service Delivery In An Increasingly Congested World?

Field Service News – Oct 15 2019 


In a move that eased their own last-mile service delivery problems, BT have implemented a vast network of smart lockers across the length and breadth of the UK. Simultaneously BT have utilised their expertise to establish a crucial solution for other field service organisations. Could this be the panacea to overcome the increasing headache of last-mile service delivery? Kris Oldland reports...One of the most important topics that we are seeing discussed currently within the field service sector is centred around the last mile of service delivery. This conversation is being driven mainly in two parts.


As our world becomes increasingly urbanised the traditional mantra of the field service management professional of getting ‘the right engineer, to the right place, with the right parts’ is becoming ever more challenging. Road networks are straining under the pressure of increased traffic and congestion. 


These factors are becoming a serious consideration for the effective and efficient dispatch of engineers. Getting the engineer to the right place at the right time can be a major spanner in the service delivery machine. With real-time traffic data now capable of being fed into dynamic scheduling engines, this is not, in and of itself, an utterly insurmountable problem.However, when we add in the extra burden that many engineers face of having to travel to a depot, or sometimes a wholesaler, to pick up the right part to complete the repair, then sticking to schedule on the day of service can become challenging. If we look at how best-in-class service organisations often manage to achieve significant efficiency gains that improve their bottom line by focussing on getting just one more job per day out of their engineers, then this is, of course, bad news.


The overall mega-trend of urbanisation would suggest that the scenario of congestion-based delays to the field service engineers’ work schedule is only set to worsen not improve. According to predictions from the UN, by 2050, over two-thirds of the global population (68%) will live in urban conurbations. When we consider this prediction, it seems clear that what worked in the past in terms of field service operations, very likely won’t work in the future. The evidence would suggest that what worked in the past is already beginning to fail us today.


Research from BT Field Service Solutions earlier this year revealed that 1 in 5 field service executives admitted that with regards to the day to day operations of their service delivery, managing their field workforce was more akin to managing a team of drivers rather than a team of engineers. 


The same research also revealed that on average engineers spend five hours per week collecting parts. Perhaps, even more, worrying though is that 31% of the companies surveyed had no understanding at all of how many hours their engineers spent picking up the parts they need to be able to complete their primary function of repairing and maintaining client assets.


The research from BT highlights a significant area of concern, particularly when juxtaposed against recent research which indicated that ‘Technician Utilisation’ ratios were one of the most prevalent core KPIs being tracked within the field service sector.


Today’s business economy is being termed the experience economy in some quarters; it is a world in which exceeding customer expectations is becoming the new norm. A world of instant gratification fuelled by the likes of Amazon and Uber. It is a world where the covenant between supplier and customer is sacrosanct. It is a world in which companies simply must keep to their promises if they want to build a loyal and lucrative client base.


“Every day, we make promises to the people we care about, and we are committed to keeping them. This is equally true whether it be a promise between family, friends or between a business and their customer,” comments Mark West, Client Account Director, BT Final Mile, as I sit down to talk to him about their Final Mile solution which is geared towards assisting field service organisations across the UK with the growing headache of last-mile service delivery.“Keeping promises and being reliable is how relationships grow. The promises that you make to your customers are crucial in not only maintaining those customers but also in establishing a reputation that will attract other customers in the long term. This is something that we at BT have placed at the core of our business strategy for many, many years. We can utilise our experience, as well as an extensive nationwide infrastructure network, and help other organisations to keep their customer promises.”


So how exactly are BT, a world-famous telecommunications company, stepping into the world of field service solutions providers? Interestingly through the introduction of a high tech smart locker network that leverages their extensive property infrastructure. The solution can provide field service engineers access to over 1,900 sites UK wide – which often means parts can be shipped and delivered to a location within usually just 15 minutes of the engineer ahead of schedule.“Some engineers were travelling long distances to get spare parts from external locker banks. Others found searching for parts and equipment on site frustrating, especially when they were missing - and that all made the job less efficient.”


The solution that BT rolled out was the implementation of a series of intelligent lockers. Each locker is approximately one cubic metre square, which is big enough to fit an entire washing machine inside and still have room to spare.


The lockers are theft-resistant and opened by using a one-time generated PIN sent to the engineer. Each delivery and collection is logged using SIM card technology with engineers being updated by SMS messages in real time to alert them with updates to say that a part has been either delivered or collected.


The lockers can be accessed by engineers 24 hours a day, facilitating overnight delivery. They are also robust, weatherproof and quite remarkably made from recycled bottle tops.

This network of smart lockers is now available to other field service organisations across the UK, but it also has the benefit of being road-tested by one of the biggest field service workforces in the country - BT themselves. “Now our engineers know exactly when their parts are ready to collect and don’t have to drive far to get them. They spend less time looking for deliveries and more time fixing the customer’s problems and thus keeping our promises,” West adds.“At the start of this journey, we realised that we had the capability of people, assets and technology that serve the needs of the largest field service workforce in the country. In essence, we realised that we had quite a unique opportunity to bring real operational experience that could benefit customers, that like ourselves, depend on field engineering,” comments West.“Over the years, we have had to make sure that we could cover the full length and breadth of the UK. This has led to property infrastructure that multiple customers now also have access to.”


One of those customers is EDF Energy, one of the UK’s largest energy suppliers, who are rolling out smart meters to their customers nationwide. “Smart metering is a massive programme for the whole energy industry, and for us, at EDF Energy we will be installing millions of smart energy meters to our customers,” explains Jim Poole, Director of Customer Operations, EDF Energy. “We needed the confidence of a big player to help us with such a complex rollout. BT clearly had the experience to do that”  he adds.


The solution is certainly capable enough to handle the large volumes of parts distribution that enterprise-level organisations such as BT and EDF require.“We currently have the ability to support well over 40,000 engineers. Our breadth of capability, matched with our experience gives us the ability to design services around our customers,” West confirms.

West’s comments were also echoed by another client using the locker network, Marc Ferris, Category Manager: Operations at Calor. “On a daily basis, we must deliver a variety of parts to multiple engineers, often in remote locations. Although we were already using a last-mile delivery mechanism, we were attracted to BT’s solution by its wider variety of locations and the large capacity lockers, which better suits our complex mix of products.“The implementation process has gone very smoothly, and the BT account team continues to be supportive. It’s clear they understand our needs and are responsive in dealing with any issues that arise.”


“We see how we can help our customers, in the same manner, we aim to drive our own service business forwards, which factors in four key pillars. These are; driving efficiency, improve operational certainty, improve customer NPS scores and drive employee engagement – these are our goals for ourselves, and it is what we bring to the table for our customers.”


In some respects, each of these pillars contributes to a service design flywheel, with each component complementing, and feeding the others to ensure smooth perpetual motion. However, in a world of increasingly stringent final mile service delivery, it is perhaps operational certainty that is at risk the most.


The ability to tap into and harness the vast infrastructure of a commercial giant such as BT could well go some way to helping field service organisations mitigate that risk in the future.

10 September 2020