Among the challenges facing renewable energy (RE) companies that are manufacturing, installing, or servicing renewable sources such as wind turbines or solar panels, keeping costs down is at the top of the list. From a broad perspective, installation costs for RE businesses can be grouped into two categories: hardware and soft costs. Hardware costs are self-explanatory, including the cost of components required to harness energy—solar panels, converters, wind turbines, hydropower or biomass processing equipment, and more. Soft costs include labour, sales and marketing expenses, permitting and inspection fees, and other associated administrative costs.
A recent solar industry website published a breakdown of solar installation costs, indicating that hardware accounts for 46% of average costs, while soft costs account for 54%. These percentages vary dependent upon the RE source and scope of the project. However, one common factor remains: The initial costs of renewable energy project installation and construction, whether commercial or residential, are substantial.
How you manage the processes and data associated with such projects can reduce costs—for your business AND your customers. A logical starting point for controlling projects costs, both hardware and soft, is to identify challenges that are commonly encountered with field service operations and then explore solutions for mitigating these challenges.
Field Service Challenges That Impact Renewable Energy Project Costs
Improving field service efficiency begins with identifying the inefficiencies that may be costing your RE business time and money. In working with a multitude of customers and prospects within the renewable energy space, I have observed the following pain points most frequently mentioned by RE businesses seeking to improve field service operations:
Scheduling and resource planning inefficiencies
RE projects involve many moving pieces. Scheduling project managers, technicians, contractors, and even equipment can be a juggling act. When not executed properly or done using manual processes like whiteboards or spreadsheets, projects can run amuck due to a lack of visibility of data and technicians can easily get double-booked or sent to jobs without the proper supplies, inventory, and asset information. In addition, these inefficiencies can negatively impact important field service metrics, such as first-time fix rate (FTFR) and mean-time-to-repair (MTTR).
Project costs rise when planning and scheduling processes lack efficiency and utilization numbers drop—in the field and the back office. With recent labour shortages and supply chain delays, scheduling and resource planning becomes an even greater challenge requiring the most efficient use of limited resources to maximize utilization and keep projects within budget.
Inability to capture (accurate) data in the field
If you have technicians out in the field who are completing paperwork and bringing it back to headquarters at the end of the day, valuable data is at risk of being inaccurate due to human error or even worse, misplaced or lost. Every data point matters as companies seek to scale, improve, and use data to guide future business decisions.
I have heard customers tell me their technicians will often lose paperwork, forget to complete certain forms and fields on work orders, or fail to follow critical workflows required to maintain compliance. Such liabilities present RE businesses with increased exposure to costly mistakes and potentially very unhappy customers.
Lack of visibility of comprehensive job costs
Not having full visibility of all costs associated with projects can cost companies a lot of money. Without a single source from which users can view the inventory, time, and payment status associated with each job, businesses run the risk of not accounting for all the resources (inventory, labour hours, supplies) used to complete the job. Having to chase this data down and manually amalgamate it can, in turn, increase the amount of time between job completion and invoicing customers, which ultimately impacts cash flow. And even when the costs are calculated, businesses may struggle to ensure accuracy of the data if it is manually recorded by technicians in the field.
Poor customer experience
A poor customer experience costs businesses money in the form of opportunity cost—losing existing customers and/or not attracting new ones due to negative online or word-of-mouth reviews. When the previously mentioned inefficiencies rear their ugly heads in the form of extended project deadlines, inaccurate billing, and inconsistent communication with the customer, customers notice. If customers have easy access to provide feedback, they may do so. However, one market research firm found that 96% of dissatisfied customers will not complain, and 91% will simply not return.
Whether business owners acknowledge it or not, every member of your team and every touchpoint with customers can impact the customer experience positively or negatively. This is especially true for field technicians who are going onsite to service or repair customer assets. When technicians do not have all the information required to complete a job efficiently and accurately, the customer notices. And when technicians do not have the tools to capture new data accurately and easily, this perpetuates a poor customer experience.
The Right Technology Can Reduce Renewable Energy Project Costs
Now that we have identified challenges that impact RE project costs, I would be remiss not to mention how to overcome them and thereby reduce costs and increase profitability. At the highest level, the solution lies in identifying and implementing the right software to address and remedy the previously mentioned inefficiencies.
As you search for the right technology to accommodate your business’s unique requirements, you would be remiss to not ensure the technology you choose provides the following features and functionality to enable your business to streamline field service operations:
Easy scheduling and dispatch
Field service software should enable users to easily schedule jobs and dispatch technicians to these jobs. Back office and field staff should be able to easily identify available resources and the tools or inventory needed for each job. In addition, they should be able to easily communicate changes or updates to any of this information…in real-time.
Real-time, 360-degree data
Ensure that whatever solution you choose provides users with access to real-time, 360-degree data needed to complete jobs efficiently and accurately. The ideal solution will house all business intelligence, including not only field service data, but all financial, inventory, customer, vendor- and project-related data on one single platform. Having all this data on one platform versus having to gather it from multiple sources reduces the risk of inaccurate reporting and enables nimble business decisions.
This same solution ideally offers a mobile application that enables field service technicians to record and capture data out in the field and transmit the data in real-time. A mobile app will empower technicians to easily record data pertaining to inventory consumption, asset history, and work order status, including photo and signature capture. Such field mobility will expedite job completion, ensure accurate invoicing, and ultimately improve cash flow.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) functionality
Closely related to real-time, 360-degree data, the right technology will provide users with the tools to communicate with customers clearly and consistently. Make sure the technology you choose offers the ability to identify every touchpoint with customers--from service reports sent to customers and other correspondence to customer satisfaction survey results. Access to this information empowers businesses to identify opportunities for improvement and quickly address customer dissatisfaction.
Last but certainly not least, choose a solution that offers the previously mentioned features and functionality out-of-the-box but that can also be configured to meet the unique needs of your business. Be sure to inquire about whether the solution can be configured with custom fields, forms, and reports that are specific to your operations.
NetSuite + NextService FSM SuiteApp = The Right Technology for RE Field Service Excellence
Whether you are manufacturing RE assets or installing and servicing them, streamlining field service operations can offset both hardware costs and soft costs. Efficient field service management can prolong the life of assets, optimize the use of resources (time, money, and human), and turn your customers into loyal advocates of your brand.
As NextService + NetSuite experts, the OSSM and Next Technik teams provide customers with optimally implemented enterprise resource planning (ERP) and field service management (FSM) solutions. Let OSSM show you how your renewable energy business can reduce costs and increase profitability with NextService FSM SuiteApp — the ideal field service solution to enhance your NetSuite technology investment.
"We need to constantly improve. That's what led us to NextService, and that's what is leading us going forward as we keep finding new ways to exploit the system's power".
Jody Kass, Director of Field Operations at NexRev
Author: Wendy Broome - Next Technik
Next Technik Partner Marketing Manager Wendy Broome is based in Boulder, Colorado and has been with the Next Technik team in a variety of roles, including pre-sales solutioning and digital marketing, since 2021. She has been working with ERP systems since 2018 and is obsessed with customer (and partner) success and enabling NetSuite for field service operations.