By Don Redman, owner and director, U.S. Energy Solutions
Backed by government investment and increasingly popular among younger, energy-conscious generations, solar is having a moment. A moment that is unlikely to wane in the coming years as the technology becomes cheaper and more accessible.
Rising with the demand for clean solar energy is the need to install, operate and maintain the infrastructure. To manage this demand, solar businesses are feeling the pressure to operate efficiently — thoughtfully deploying solar technicians, managing customer communications and organizing invoicing. A messy backend can create bottlenecks, so many organizations like ours are looking to a field service management (FSM) solution to consolidate information and streamline operational processes.
Every solar business owner knows that solar and storage operations and maintenance are key components of a strong business model. Thorough operations and maintenance involve periodic cleanings, site walks, annual inspections, equipment servicing, repairs and on-site monitoring — all of which must be cataloged appropriately. Using FSM software that properly integrates with an organization’s existing technology stack can help businesses that are used to operating on legacy processes increase system uptime and address underperformance.
Here are three ways we use Zuper and Zoho together to create a better way to market to and manage solar field operations:
1. Clear oversight
It’s impossible to operate efficiently without total visibility over internal processes. A clear advantage of imposing customized and semi-automatic workflows is the unified view of team capacity, utilization and performance. Office staff and crew leads can take advantage of smart scheduling, route optimization, real-time location tracking and digitized timesheets to help optimize workflow.
FSM software with a mobile component allows field technicians to send and receive alerts in real time, generate automated messages and leave job notes, enabling administration and customers to enjoy full visibility around job status and mobile teams to work at maximum efficiency. Communication between the office, field technicians and engineers, vendors and customers is centralized, eliminating the need to switch between apps, email and messaging.
Further, it can become confusing to train new employees on several technologies at once, causing internal errors and letting things slip through the cracks. It is preferable to opt for a tech stack that has excellent integrations so that data is uniform and accessible on all platforms.
2. Planned Preventive Maintenance (PPM)
A technology stack that offers automation and AI for asset management can extend the lifetime and minimize downtime for solar panels and other assets with well-executed planned preventative maintenance. An integrated FSM tool offers a consolidated view of assets in one place for full visibility across the entire management life cycle. This allows teams to spot potential problems early, avoiding critical maintenance issues and incidents.
Even more, the FSM software allows companies to create maintenance alerts and use real-time communication to reduce troubleshooting time. It also tracks asset maintenance schedules and triggers notifications to system owners about impending warranty expiration, upcoming system cleanings and inspections. Customers can have access to their solar panel maintenance and service details in a customer portal for self-serve review of contracts and job schedule details. Not only does this create a more intuitive customer experience, but it reduces customer service inquiries that back-office staff manage on a daily basis.
3. Inventory management and storage
Given recent supply chain disruptions, it has become clear that using inventory wisely is paramount. With FSM software, teams can effectively manage parts and products in inventory. At a glance, technicians in the field can use their mobile device to see where parts are located (for example, in the truck, at the warehouse or at the distribution center), order what’s needed and communicate the expected delivery to the customer all at the job site.
Warehouse, back-office staff and field technicians have a comprehensive overview of inventory from anywhere using any device — ensuring that the entire organization is on the same page. This limits revenue loss from perishable spare parts, reduces the time spent manually tallying inventory and increases field technicians’ accountability and on-site effectiveness.
The final benefit of FSM software is the complete organization of operations and maintenance-related documentation in a single cloud-supported location accessible from anywhere. Attached to each job request or customer profile is a single hub of information related to that relationship over time. From pictures, servicing and monitoring notes to warranty information and designated component logs, everyone within the organization is armed with the right information to help any customer at any time. A single unified interface allows for effective diagnosis of system irregularities or easy access to data when filing a claim with a manufacturer regarding an underperforming component. Again, this saves field technicians and back-office staff time.
Solar businesses are facing increased pressure to operate efficiently, and field service management software is helping them meet this challenge. FSM software offers clear oversight over workflows and processes by democratizing customer data. By using this software, solar businesses can work in unison across the organization to work more efficiently and better serve their customers.
As a regional solar installer in the Greenville, SC region we have been able to compete with the larger players by being nimble and progressive with the help of technology. With the power of a leading field service management software solution, we’ve been able to scale our operations for growth and keep both our field technicians and the customers happy.
3 ways FSM software can help solar businesses increase uptime and reduce inefficiencies
By Don Redman, owner and director, U.S. Energy Solutions