Optimization Then and Now: Going Mobile

Is there anything worse than sitting around on a Wednesday afternoon, waiting for a cable person, plumber, UPS delivery, etc. when the company provides suggested time ranges "8 am - 4 pm, give or take a few hours"? We've had a couple of run ins in the past couple months with a certain cable giant (begins with C and ends with -omcast) here in the Spend Matters office that have made our blood boil, and most are due to the fact that they can never provide a solid (and reasonable) time frame for the work that needs to be done.

"Right?!" Moshe BenBassat, CEO of ClickSoftware replied, when we spoke about the situation a couple weeks ago. "The manufacturing sector got so much help from 'supply chain optimization' back in the nineties," he told me, "but what about the services sector?" Utilities, gas, water, cable and the like, were still all managed by humans, with none of the sophisticated software that the manufacturing sector enjoyed. BenBassat thus coined the phrase "service chain optimization," and walked me through the history of ClickSoftware, explaining that my cable person woes may soon come to an end due to huge leaps within the service sector.

There's a big question that service providers have to answer: what's the balance between satisfying my customers and gaining margins on my business? After all, the majority of a revenue stream for a cable company, for example, comes from wrangling new customers. But on the flip side, they must also maintain and upkeep their thousands of current customers by providing reliable (and fast) customer service. How can such a company gain the best results with the resources they have to please the most people? Answer: let a computer sort it out.

Remember when there weren't mobile phones? Technicians received a list of jobs at the beginning of the day, and after that, dispatchers may not have heard from them until they clocked out at 5pm (whether their jobs actually took all day or just the morning). Fax machines improved things a bit, but nothing impacted the services sector like cellular phones, and now, data-receiving and sending smartphones.

Flash forward to today. ClickSoftware has developed an algorithm that takes into account the location of technicians and customers, their skill levels, time policies, etc. that enables the true real-time optimization of services delivery. The software can quantify productivity and a range of other inputs, crunching data to optimize ideal service delivery scenarios (e.g., times, routes, labor skill, etc.). Capabilities like those of ClickSoftware can help ease the constant tension between desire to satisfy expectations and the need to minimize service delivery cost.

Besides the day-to-day, "Real-Time Service Enterprise" mobile technology is quickly proving itself crucial in terms of anything from traffic jams to figuring out what to do in a blizzard, storm, or, more drastically, an example like California's wildfires. Imagine having a system that would automatically be able to switch into a "crisis mode," getting rid of non-urgent jobs, setting priorities, and sending necessary information to employees and customers alike.

As a consumer, one of the best things BenBassat mentioned was this: with optimization-driven service suites such as this, companies are now able to a) ask how you'd like to be contacted (telephone, text, e-mail, etc.) and b) update you of your appointment in real-time. Those long, ridiculous "suggested times" can become as simple as you saying "I'd prefer to have repairs done between 12-1pm" and then receiving a text at 11:20, alerting you that someone will be at your door in 40 minutes. If you Google how many dollars per year are wasted on people sitting at home waiting for packages, repair, etc., the number will astound you. But automation/optimization with mobility devices can cut cost, improve productivity, and bonus: you won't have to wait around for hours on end.

The bottom line, BenBassat explained, is that "companies need to decide what the best policy is for them, and then hand it to a computer to handle for them. There's no right or wrong, because the decisions are really difficult! Who are you going to satisfy? Shareholders or customers? At a certain point you have to decide what your policy is, and then go with it."

I'm just happy that there's something in the world that can make working with Comcast a bit less infuriating.

- Sheena Moore

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