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Wish Your Field Techs Had More “Wrench Time”? Give them Better Mobile Tech Tools

Field Technicians Dislike Paperwork and Admin Tasks the Most

Did you know that nearly half of the field service technicians claim “paperwork and administrative tasks” are the worst part of their day? Or that, despite the “digitalization” of field service sector, technicians still waste an unacceptable amount of time looking for information to do their jobs? These revelations, uncovered in a study conducted by The Service Council, clearly indicate that it’s not enough to digitize some forms if you’re striving for greater technician productivity and workflow efficiency.

As noted in this Power Engineering commentary from ABB’s senior VP of the Enterprise Software group:

“It is one thing to scan a paper work order so that it can be transferred electronically. It is another proposition entirely to redefine workflows, plant- or fleet-wide processes, or entire business models because you have the ability to share critical information in a digital format. That is exactly the possibility that digitalization brings to the table.”

I’d modify the above quote by noting that digitalization can redefine, or even refine, the workflow. Removing impediments to work (redefining the workflow) and ensuring that more actions are done accurately (refining the workflow) can have a big payback from the start, while providing the framework to later add more capabilities (further refinement).

The problem is that many field service organizations are struggling to turn this “possibility” into a reality for 3 primary reasons:

  1. Under-utilization of existing mobile technologies
  2. Over-eagerness to solve only one issue with technology – and subsequent overspending on technologies that only create more data silos and workflow disruptions
  3. Under-estimation of technician’s technology interest and skill set

So, how do you nix each of these bad, but common, business habits? And, how do you more effectively digitalize your company so that you can improve the quality of your service, introduce more sustainable business practices, and secure higher customer service ratings (a major priority and competitive differentiator in 2018)?

Let’s start by working through these challenges backwards:

technology interest and skill set

Whether you realize it or not: “Technicians like to work and prefer the removal of all obstacles to getting work done…” The Service Council study confirmed this. It also revealed that technicians like “ learning about new tools and technologies.” It’s one of their favorite parts of their day. This isn’t just a Millennial sentiment either. Career field service professionals have an uncanny grasp on the “tools” they need at their disposal to get more work done, and to get it done right the first time. They expect you, as their employer, to provide these tools; it is how you make their job easier so that they can more easily fulfill work orders and customer expectations.

 Aging yet more vibrant workers in Utilities

That is why it is so important to involve field service technicians of all ages and ranks in your technology evaluation process, whether it’s a new rugged tablet or a new workflow software that you’re thinking about standardizing on. Yes, some may need training upfront to become familiar with the device or software. But, their experience – and input – is invaluable in determining whether or not the technology you think is great will really be great for them.

Only solving one issue not whole problem Some predict that 2018 will be the year that IoT, augmented reality and artificial intelligence (AI) elevate field technician’s information access and asset interactions. Before you jump the gun, though, make sure you have a reliable mobility solution in place to facilitate the “automation handshakes” that must occur between these systems, and the data handoffs between these systems and your technicians. Otherwise, you’re just creating another system and, therefore, data silos that actually makes it more challenging for field crews to access, interpret and apply the data being generated by these advanced technologies. The data produced by a sensor won’t reach them if they don’t have a reliable rugged tablet, handheld or 2-in-1 type device in hand to interface with the back-office systems and advanced technologies in the field – or if the mobile device is only being used to fill in forms. And, augmented reality is directly dependent on the accuracy and availability of data transmitted by its primary information source, which is often the mobile computer the technician is using for other tasks.

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  In fact, case studies clearly prove that mobile technology is the baseline investment required for the majority of digital transformation projects.

Knowing that the mobile computer is the only way that technicians can collect new, more accurate data to share with other systems while they are in the field, make sure you prioritize this technology investment over any other. Be as thorough in your evaluation of mobile technologies as you would AI or AR, and don’t discount mobile computers that have a higher sticker price just because you want to be cost-efficient. That “discount” you think you’re receiving on a knock-off rugged or consumer device will only reduce the ROI you receive for your mobility solution and, even more importantly, your advanced technology system investments. (As the saying goes: “Pay me now or pay me later.” The problem is that you’ll be paying a lot later. “Designed-for” products front-load some costs to greatly lessen operational costs later. A design that remains the same for five or more years – meaning highly reliable construction that lessens the time spent recovering from failures, replacing broken units, and enduing idle workers and disappointed customers – is going to yield a much better ROI that will dwarf any up-front cost savings. These savings are so dramatic, buying one rugged device is the equivalent of buying nine non-rugged devices in the course of a 3-5 year span. Just remember that the cost we’re talking about isn’t just the hardware cost. Read more about that here.)

under-utilization of existing mobile tech Take the time to consider how your mobility solution can, and should, work cohesively with every other IT and operational technology (OT) system in your organization. Remember, digitalization is about more than replicating paper-based processes in a paperless format. Yes, you will give workers more “wrench time” – more time to fix things – once you remove the burden of paper. (After all, fixing and repairing things is among technicians’ favorite job tasks.) But, don’t just check the mobility box of your tech to-do list and then never look back. Think about how much more your technicians can accomplish when you unlock the more expansive tools within your existing mobile computing platform. Think about how much faster they can get started on a job when they can boot their tablet or complete authentication even seconds faster. How much longer they can work without disruptions if they had a hot-swappable battery in hand or a handheld capable of automatically connecting across a host of wireless communications networks as they traveled from one job site to the next. How much more revenue they could generate if they could access customers’ history – or provide and complete service recommendations –on-the-spot. More importantly, think of how much time and resources you would save if you could incrementally refine your digital workflows without having to completely re-engineer business processes, re-write software or replace hardware and accessories every time. Or, the time you would save your IT team if you could just find a mobility solution that’s easy to deploy, secure, manage and upgrade remotely.

As a Strategies for Growth consultant Bill Pollack recently noted to Field Service News:

“…the current environment of constantly improving technology and its availability through both the traditional, “tried-and-true” FSM solution providers plus the introduction of several new technology-based solution vendors makes [keeping up with customer expectations] particularly daunting for many field service managers…Selecting which technology to implement is not the only challenge, however; field service companies must also be able to choose the right solution vendor to help them design, implement and support their newly acquired technology .”

In other words: Field service organizations that are serious about expanding overall service capabilities and improving customer service ratings ( a priority for many in 2018) need to find a solution provider that has a strong grasp on the challenges and expectations of field technicians. They are the “customer” you are serving first and foremost; it is their satisfaction that you need to consider above all else. If your field technicians are happy – meaning the technology tools you give them make their jobs easier vs. more complex – then they will be productive. If they are productive – meaning empowered to make decisions at “ground zero” and take fast action based on the information and collaboration tools at their disposal – then your end customers are more likely to be satisfied. After all, the majority of [field service] technicians (77%) say that solving customer problems is the favorite part of their day, according to research from The Service Council. That means that getting technicians to the right place, at the right time, and with the right mobile tech tools will ultimately lead to greater employee and customer retention, among a host of other business benefits.

 You need a mobility solutions provider

Just be sure to recruit the right crew to ride-along with you as you embark on your mobility journey.  

Partner with a technology solutions provider that understands the specialized nuances of your business: the environmental and territorial challenges you face, the demands of both your workflows and end customers, the parts of your existing business processes that create a time-suck (i.e. having to climb on top of heavy machinery to read serial numbers required to pull the right parts for maintenance). You may think it’s easier to go-it-alone since you’re the expert on all things related to your business. However, you need a mobile technology expert and, more importantly, a digital technology expert that specializes in your industry, to help you piece together the very complex puzzle that is digital transformation.

Still not sure where to start with the mobilization of your workforce and overall digitalization of your business? This guide will walk you through the whole process, step-by-step:

Mobility Buying Playbook