The Power Of Mobility: Creating A Smarter Workforce In The Field

Field Worker

Today, the ultimate goal of field service excellence is to respond quickly to customer needs, whatever they may be and it takes four criteria to meet this goal: Be on time, allow enough time to do the job, have the right skills and bring the right equipment. For the mobile technician, an increased importance has been put on their role to the overall success of the organisation, as they are quite often the only interaction a customer will have with the business.

This has led to the search for new ways to empower technicians and equip them with the right tools that allow them to excel at their jobs, through improved communication, collaboration, data sharing and integration.

Recent research from Aberdeen Group found that 82 per cent of field service organisations identified mobility as a strategic initiative for the service operation in the next 12 months, as a tool to empower the field with real-time intelligence to make decisions and resolve issues to better serve the customer. Companies that understand how to strategically leverage mobility solutions stand to drive efficiencies, improve customer service and benefit from a more profitable bottom line.

With field-based work becoming increasingly complex and time-sensitive, more and more businesses are beginning to focus on the proliferation of mobile solutions, integrated with back-end field service solutions, to help manage field operations and provide the mobile workforce with the real-time knowledge needed to make better, more intelligent decisions while in the field.

The Internet Of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) has huge potential for the field service industry. It enables devices that are equipped with sensors, hardware and software to be networked together through the internet, where they can communicate with one another and send and receive data. Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology is already helping field service companies to find out about issues before they occur through this development but the IoT is said to go beyond M2M and represents the ‘next generation’ for field service, connecting not just with machines but with systems, people and other things.

For example, IoT allows field service companies to gain greater insight into the status and health of their assets remotely, enabling a smarter approach to proactive and preventive maintenance. Sensors can be integrated into their devices in the field which can yield a huge amount of data on diagnostics, measurements, temperature and overall conditions, all of which is instrumental in preventing equipment failure, scheduling maintenance and improving safety. The same principle applies for condition-based maintenance. Businesses will be able to become better at it as they will have access to more and better information in the first place.

Mobile Apps

There are a number of different approaches a business can take in order to create a mobile application strategy, one of the most common being to develop them internally with mobile app development tools. At its core, mobile applications provide technicians with the ability to share, store and view job data while out in the field, offering them a virtual link to the back office that helps to inform and empower them.

Having full visibility of a field operation is a key success factor and mobile applications that can offer visibility into the status, location and performance of field assets (technicians, parts, equipment etc) help technicians considerably in getting to the right place at the right time with the information they need to do their job correctly the first time.

A number of mobile applications on the market today also provide added value to the field worker by enabling them to easily locate and contact nearby co-workers if they need assistance on a job or require advice on solving a problem. By having the tools to work more collaboratively, resolution is more likely to be reached first-time, helping to increase worker productivity and effectiveness.

The plethora of information offered through mobile applications can include previous work history of jobs and upcoming work details. For example, if a technician is en-route to a customer, a quick look at service history on a mobile phone can inform them that the customer has complained multiple times to the helpdesk about a product/equipment failure. This is vital information that can help the technician approach the customer with more care, helping to maintain a good customer service.

Furthermore, when a technician reviews and accepts a job within a mobile application, the mobile devices’ navigation tool can help them find the most efficient route. Helping to reduce fuel consumption and travel time. From a service perspective, the technician can then pull up the customer’s details and call them to confirm when they will be arriving on-site.

Mobility Solutions: What To Choose?

There are a multitude of mobile devices on the market today that help technicians get to the right place on time, fix the customer’s problem the first time, and move on to the next task. The problem field service organisations face is choosing the right technology for their field based workers. Ruggedised devices continue to evolve as mobile technology improves and have proven successful in helping field workers to complete their daily tasks. Such devices can be used in the harshest of environments and enable scanning packages, diagnostics, checking customer records, invoicing and delivery confirmation, among other tasks.

As the lines between consumer and business technology continue to merge, non-rugged tablets and smartphones have also broken into the field service marketplace. Tablets tend to be larger than smartphones and therefore engineers may find it easier to view and input job details. At the same time, smartphones offer the portability factor. The ‘Bring Your Own Device’ debate has received much coverage in the service sector and has arguably been dubbed as being the only way forward for businesses looking to compete effectively and offer the most efficient customer service and increased employee satisfaction.

Simply, ‘Bring Your Own Device’ refers to employees having the ability to connect their own technical devices, such as smartphones, laptops and tablets, to their company’s network instead of using a device owned by the company. Uptake of BYOD had been relatively slow in the field service industry but recent years have seen an influx of workers bringing their own personal devices into their work environment to use in their everyday jobs and the advantages, both to the organisation and the employee, are significant.

For the field service organisation, it creates new opportunities for the business by increasing the number of tech-savvy and mobile-application users in the workforce. For the employee, they have taken a personal choice to use the technology and are familiar with it. This in turn will lead to increased satisfaction and productivity whilst eliminating the need for technical support and training costs for the business.

Mobility Solutions: Capturing The Insight

When a field service organisation deploys a mobile strategy, the wealth of data captured around technician performance, customer data, vehicle location, work order status etc. is not enough to make intelligent business decisions. It is how that data is analysed and turned into usable information that is what will really make a difference.

For this reason, data captured through mobile devices must be tied into other systems within the organisation’s technology infrastructure, if not it will get lost. Indeed, Aberdeen Group found the top strategic action for 62 per cent of best-in-class field service organisations to be to improve data integration between the field and back office systems .

Aberdeen Group’s research also found that best-in-class field service organisations are 49 per cent more likely than peers to integrate data from mobile devices with back-end systems, such as ERP and CRM. This integration will then allow other departments, such as sales, marketing and engineering to benefit from the field insights captured and maximise its value.

For example, customer and equipment data has the ability to spark insights into new products, services and campaigns, which benefit the organisation in revenue opportunities. This interaction also helps customers get access to products and services that will help improve their productivity and business goals. Service is ultimately a partnership between the customer and the organisation and without the use of captured data, the opportunity to evolve will be lost.

Ultimately, having a mobility strategy in place allows for better empowerment, data sharing and collaboration out in the field. For the field worker, they are provided with the best possible support and are able, themselves, to make use of the real-time information and knowledge to make the right decisions while on the move. As a result, they are better positioned to resolve issues first-time and deliver the best service they can.

John Cameron is general manager of Trimble Field Service Management (FSM), where he is responsible for worldwide operations and development. Prior to joining FSM, Cameron was general manager of Trimble’s Spectra Precision Division and before that general manager of Pacific Crest, a company he co-founded in 1994 that was acquired by Trimble in 2005. Cameron also served as vice president of operations and vice president of engineering at Pacific Crest prior to the acquisition. In addition to his recent experience, Cameron has held positions at Applied Materials and Pinpoint, where he was co-founder and vice president. Cameron holds a bachelor’s degree with highest honours in mechanical engineering from UC-Berkeley and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University.