With the slow reopening of the world, what does that mean to all those field services projects we had either started or were planning to start over the last 15 months? A lot of us have a mountain of deployment projects and work stacked up that we must somehow reevaluate and replan. It’s possible that some of them will never go forward, while others are more critical now than when they were originally planned.
All of that work confronting us can be overwhelming. While it’s unclear to what degree we will return to “normal,” there will certainly be a new “normal” of some kind. Now add to that the new challenges we face from the continued impact of the pandemic. To help you through, we’ve outlined some of the post-COVID impacts and strategies you can use to overcome them.
Material Shortages / Longer Lead Times
We’ve all heard about the global chip shortage. While this has impacted a number of industries, the trickle-down effect is significant. The shift in demand streams from businesses to consumer products has been the main driver of this shortage. According to Gartner, shortages are expected to last until at least Q3 2021 and beyond.
This could have a significant impact on the equipment you may require for your IT deployments, assuming you didn’t already have the equipment ready to send. This and other material shortages can certainly negatively impact your ability to get equipment quickly enough to meet your project requirements.
While there are not many alternatives except to wait for the supply chain to readjust to the shifting demands, you can plan for them. Review all equipment and materials required for your deployment and determine if there are any impacts due to shortages and if there are increased lead times. Work closely with the OEMs to understand the specific impact on their manufacturing and discuss potential alternatives, if available.
Make sure to configure these longer lead times into your project schedule and develop rescheduling strategies in the event that the lead time becomes longer than expected. The best approach to this is to develop a T minus (or lead time) schedule. As a part of the schedule, you configure the known lead time into the countdown to deployment. You insert milestones in the schedule to check the progress of the product against the lead time. If the product is off by more than a predefined percentage, go ahead and adjust the overall schedule to delay the deployment. By including the continual and frequent check of lead times in your schedule, you minimize last-minute reschedules and trying to work them into the future schedule as quickly as possible.
In a 2020 survey conducted by the Project Management Institute and Project Business Foundation, 6% of all qualified respondents have lost their jobs as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, 1 in 4 of the respondents say their organization, which provides project management services to other organizations, is extremely likely to lay off employees, and 16% think they’ll be part of the layoffs (i.e., they’ll lose their job).
A lot of people lost their job across many sectors of business as a direct result of the pandemic. For project management, either their projects were stopped completely or slowed significantly. Additionally, many PMs were shifted to more critical projects related to remote work, security, and infrastructure needs due to the global lockdown.
Prior to the pandemic, there was already a shortage of field service technicians due to a retiring workforce. Not only does this cause a resource shortage for field technicians, but it creates a knowledge gap because that institutional knowledge is not being transferred to the next generation, and existing knowledge practices are not working.
All these resource shortages add up quickly, so you must be inventive in how you identify and address these shortages. For project management staff, consider offering full-time employment rather than contract engagements that leave PMs always seeking the next contract. Allow them to hand-select the projects they feel they are most suited for and/or would like to work on. Continued flexibility around work location and hours can also entice project management experts to consider working on your projects.
For contingent field service technicians, the bottom line will be price. In all likelihood, you will face the scenario where you are struggling to find the right technician, with the right skill set, in the right place, and at the right time. You will have to pay them more than you would have before. It is simply supply and demand. If you are restarting projects that were planned pre-COVID, I highly recommend you reevaluate the budget for the project and plan for higher resource costs post-COVID.
One other strategy you can potentially employ to combat the field service technician shortage is to concentrate your knowledge in a centralized location and distribute the knowledge to the field technician on a real-time basis. This can be accomplished by utilizing technical coordinators that are centrally located and provide the right level of support to the technician in the field at the time they need it. In addition to traditional communications methods of phone, text, and WhatsApp chat, you can utilize augmented reality and artificial intelligence tools to complement this approach to knowledge management.
Increased Access / Qualification Requirements
A couple of months ago, I had an IT deployment I was scheduling for a client. I was sending a Network Engineer on-site to a food manufacturing plant to install a router in that site’s data center. Pretty simple, straightforward work. However, their COVID access requirements were an overhead that I didn’t expect either fiscally or logistically. Since the Engineer would need longer than four hours to complete the work, I had to provide a portable restroom because he was not permitted to use the facilities in the building.
Additionally, he had to wear a mask and a face shield at the same time, and he was only permitted to come in and out one specific door and traverse one specific path to the data center. Crazy stuff!
While mask mandates and other forms of PPE will be dropped, I believe there will continue to be a sensitivity to the cleanliness and general health of field technicians going into sites. Some countries may only grant access to individuals who can prove they have been fully vaccinated or have some form of health certificate to prove they are fit to work. While some may find this an invasion of privacy, it will be part of the new “normal”.
When restarting your projects, you need to consider these additional requirements and make sure to account for the time and money required to meet them. Some technicians will decline to take on this work due to the requirements or request more funds. It will benefit you to carefully outline the access and general qualifications that will be required and to proactively communicate this to the field technicians. Just like ensuring they have the right tools for the job, you want to make sure they are not turned away before they even get started because these additional requirements were not properly communicated to them.
While we all look expectantly at a brighter future, we must still consider the impacts of the pandemic on the way we deliver IT field services. In all probability, the future will reflect a version of the past mixed with a new vision of a world where everything can come to a full stop very quickly.
Let’s not forget the valuable lessons we’ve all learned during this time and use them to harvest better opportunities for service delivery moving forward.