Whether it’s a homeowner who has taken the day off for a service call or a shop foreman whose production has come to a halt because of malfunctioning equipment, today’s service customers have zero patience for field service delays. They simply won’t tolerate missed or late service calls, or technicians who don’t have the necessary skills to get them back online, or the tired excuse, “I don’t have the right parts with me. I’ll have to go back to the shop.”
The Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud communications have the potential to minimize such situations. In a Field Service USA survey of 124 field service executives, 55 percent said IoT was the “next big thing” related to technology that they felt would most help with increasing service demands.
Come now or later?
With the data collected continuously from IoT sensors attached to machines, field service teams often have the information they need to do their job more efficiently. Instead of answering emergency service calls, they can maintain equipment on an ongoing basis, preventing breakdowns and reducing downtime.
Information from IoT devices helps predict maintenance needs and flag potential problems. With a carefully structured plan in place, technicians can determine the best time to take equipment offline and always have the right parts to do the job. And let’s not forget: Better upkeep also results in longer lasting machinery.
Efficient use of resources means lower costs
When people don’t feel well, they choose which doctor has the appropriate skills and knowledge to help them, whether it’s a gastroenterologist, orthopedist or dentist.
When machines don’t “feel” good, IoT devices give them a voice. Armed with sensor data, a field service manager can diagnose problems remotely and assign the best technician for the job – the one with the specialized skillset to handle the issue – and send the right parts with him or her to solve the problem.
In a complex network with multiple sensors and IoT devices, field service companies can see the “big picture.” The larger context, combined with better data, enables faster analysis and identification of the best solution. Maybe a technician doesn’t even need to be on-site. Cloud-based management systems allow service providers to correct many problems remotely.
Some equipment might even be able to fix itself. Imagine machine-to-machine (M2M) data-sharing – communication between IoT devices – that can initiate actions to resolve issues without human intervention.
IoT devices also provide diagnostic data that help engineers and service techs pinpoint the cause of maintenance issues. Is it a problem with design, wear and tear or human error? By giving machines a voice, future service problems may be avoided.
The question is no longer whether to adopt mobile communications for field service – it’s how to choose the best mobile technology. Today’s businesses are looking for ease of use, lower TCO, agility and room to grow.
According to the Field Service USA survey, most field service executives are moving to a mobile-first strategy combined with cloud-based solutions.
“We made our purchasing decision seven years ago for our current technician hand-held device, which is basically a small laptop computer, with a 7-8-year time horizon,” says Ed DeFraine, vice president of customer care at Coca-Cola. “We miscalculated the rate of mobile device evolution, and they were antiquated within the first couple of years.” Now Coca-Cola is moving its technicians to a smartphone platform and experiencing little resistance to the change.
The next generation of technology
In the past, field techs were limited to voice-only cell phones to communicate with the home office. But with web-based solutions, they can message, locate coworkers, conduct video calls and make voice calls, all from one mobile app. Imagine techs using their mobile phones to share visual and audio information about a situation, conferring with the office or other field techs to help solve the problem. The next step? According to industry experts, look for wider use of wearable technology and augmented reality devices.
Are you ready?
IoT combined with mobile technology is revolutionizing field service. The challenge, however, is how to utilize the massive amount of data generated to improve operations and customer satisfaction. But, Gomocha CEO Martin Knook warns companies not to move so fast that their workforce is left behind.
“Sometimes field solutions are over-engineered, scaling with the ambition of the organization... These organizations may even be transitioning to mobile from paper-based operations, wanting to jump as fast as possible into digitized processes. My recommendation is to take a faceted approach and adopt agile solutions... You should expect and support a learning curve for your field technicians to adopt the tool and not confront them with complexity just for technology’s sake.”