Picking the right technology is important for field service success argues Renovotec’s Richard Gilliard, who offers some practical advice
Field service employs some 20 million field technicians worldwide: it is forecast that by 2022 the global field service market will be worth $4.45 billion. ?
According to Gartner, by 2020 70% of organisations will cite customer satisfaction as a primary benefit of implementing field service management (up from 50%); and in the same year, more than 75% of field service organisations with over 50 users will use mobile apps that go beyond simplified data collection, adding capabilities that help technicians do their job.*
At the same time more than half of field service companies currently still coordinate work and perform functions manually?. A mixed picture maybe but field service is clearly set to accelerate into the future, driven by customer demand and fuelled by technology. Cloud-based mobility, the internet of things (IoT), machine learning and VR have been cited as just four of the technologies that can have a positive and measurable impact on customer experience and brand loyalty.
As with all industries field service faces challenges and opportunities. 70% of the industry’s organisations fear an ageing workforce with company knowledge erosion and a future drop in the quality of their customer service as a result. Here automation can help by speeding employee field access to more customer data, saving time and supporting sharper service.
With the number of mobile phone users worldwide forecast to reach five billion or more in 2019, ‘mobile experiences’ are becoming central to field customer service.? The importance of delivering a differentiated customer experience cannot be underestimated. As analyst Forrester observes: ‘The service tech who ends up on your doorstep or at the site of faulty equipment represents the face of [the] company. They are your brand ambassadors. These interactions…can make or break a relationship. This means that: (1) you want to equip your service techs with all the information and data that they need to easily address the reported issue, and (2) you want to use cutting edge technologies to deliver great engagement.’¥
Forrester pinpoints four technologies that specifically support this process. Firstly, mobility enables companies to communicate to field techs increasingly via mobile apps the location, timing, and details of their jobs. Those mobile apps also allow techs to dynamically price labour, parts, and products. ‘Mobile applications must be easy for techs to use, often with gloved hands, in challenging conditions including low lighting and hazardous job sites. They must also work in disconnected environments’. Secondly, analytics enables resource forecasting, getting the right technician to the right job on time with the right parts in hand to fix the issue; it also captures the performance of each field service employee to optimise scheduling and despatch. Thirdly, and given the issue of an ageing workforce, augmented reality (AR) enables ‘skills democratisation’ by spreading knowledge more broadly. For example smart glasses can help offsite workers to see exactly what onsite technicians or customers see and tutor them through a job.
Fourthly, IoT technology can be used for preventative maintenance. To put this in perspective there are currently 12 billion devices that connect to the internet. Companies can pre-emptively diagnose connected (IoT) devices and fix issues with minimal human intervention. For example, a company might use sensors in its machines and engines that automatically trigger a service call when normal operations are disrupted or when equipment is due for maintenance.¥ Renovotec’s own managed print service is predictive in this way.
Technology for field service ‘edge’ – steps for improvement
According to industry research for Honeywell, top-performing field service organisations are twice as likely as laggards to leverage mobile applications for workforce automation. These practices help them attain 85 percent workforce utilisation compared to 77 percent for average companies and 59 percent for laggards.
Technology requirements for Leader performance levels include rugged mobile computers or smartphones suitable for field service use; wireless wide area data communication capability in mobile devices; and workforce management software that supports dynamic scheduling and status messaging.
In this regard Renovotec practises what it preaches. All our field engineers are now equipped with Honeywell’s Dolphin™ CT40 handheld, Android device. The CT40 is enterprise-class, rugged and easy to deploy in the field, and has been designed to provide a seamless customer experience, speeding workflows. Already our team are able to forward-schedule appointments on the move and check inventory with customers on the spot. Processes are speedier and customers seem pleased with the level of service.
More than 90 percent of field service professionals surveyed say access to timely, accurate data is very important to their operational and financial success. But only a third of companies have said that the accuracy of their field service data is very good or excellent; data timeliness has been rated even lower. The answer is to provide technicians with real-time access to customer and asset information held in enterprise systems, using a mobile computer with real-time communications capability that supports all the data collection technologies that will be used in the field including bar code scanning, electronic signature capture, speech input, RFID and contact memory; using WWAN communication and a web browser and with access to back-office enterprise applications.
This type of user environment enables field service representatives to (for example) complete a sale by printing a contract or receipt, recording the transaction and customer signature electronically, and accepting payment. For this they need a mobile computer that supports signature capture, an integrated payment card reader, access to sales and CRM systems and a mobile printer. Mobile computers with integrated imagers can be used to scan paper forms into electronic documents, capture customer signatures, read bar codes and take digital pictures.
So what is the state of play today in the rugged user community? Research conducted for Honeywell reveals widespread company recognition that equipping field service workers with proper technology boosts efficiency. Portable devices including consumer grade and rugged phones, PDAs and tablets are commonly being used to improve mobile worker productivity. Industrial grade tablets, RFID, bar coding solutions, and wearable devices are also now being used to collect and manage data, run field service applications, enable remote connectivity and access cloud-based apps.
According to the research data accuracy, security, user acceptance and a long battery life are the product features and factors that decision-makers take into consideration most when evaluating mobile solutions for use by field service workers.
User research indicates that organisations view both mobile device and (increasingly) IoT technologies as key to strengthening the customer experience, now seen as a clear priority. Meeting customer requirements is regarded as the top challenge and “maintaining customer trust” is the lead quality desired from field workforces.
Richard Gilliard is managing director of rugged hardware, software and services company Renovotec. www.renovotec.com