The curse of the successful power delivery, telecom services, factory automation, or anything that “just works” day in and day out is that people take it for granted. These systems only get noticed when they don’t work, even when the outage is due to storms or other acts of nature. As such, customer expectations for immediate resolution dictate the speed of operations among telcos, utilities, manufacturers, transportation providers and even first responders. In a way, field service is just a variation of reactive supply and demand. The most evident variables just tend to be the urgency of a deadline and the severity of the consequence if workers fail to meet that deadline:
- An electric transformer blows during a storm and customers want their power back on now. Techs receive dispatch tickets, trucks roll, and repairs are made based on severity, safety, and priority.
- A water main bursts as the result of an unusual cold spell. Water is being wasted, the road is flooding and icing, the water flow to local businesses and residents has stopped completely, until the temporary repair is made and safe consumption is confirmed. Inspection teams are dispatched to notate findings and map out a more permanent repair plan.
- The primary assembly line comes to a halt unexpectedly and you’re a lean manufacturer, with limited inventory, orders piling up and hourly workers who are sent home without pay until the line is fixed. You just can’t produce products fast enough right now on the remaining assembly lines. The repair team is immediately on the scene to diagnose the issue, obtain replacement parts and make the repair. Just as important, a follow-up evaluation is done to understand how to prevent this type of failure in the future.
- 911 calls are being fielded in response to a car accident. Law enforcement officers respond first to secure and assess the scene, capture witness and victim statements and assist with traffic flow. EMS responders are dispatched next, quickly tending to the victims’ medical needs and preparing them for hospital intake during transport and transfer.
Clearly, customers mandate that we supply speedy resolutions to problems regardless of the cause, and we’re all in the business of delivering a quality product or service quickly in times of crisis – that’s just good business. It’s irrelevant whether it’s the customer or business that suffers from the fallout of slow response times or long downtimes.
But that’s why accuracy and efficiency in the field become more critical than ever; two attributes not commonly associated with pen and paper data processes that, unfortunately, many workers – and even organizations – default to when the pressure is on to deliver fast results. All of the above examples benefit from real-time data flow, whether reading infrastructure diagrams and plans, or noting service performed.
Sure, we were all taught to write in school and it is a basic worker skill. But I would bet that basic typing is still a struggle for some employees. How many of you had to learn how to use a computer later in life? How many of your workers are still not comfortable using a mobile device for anything more than phone calls, texting and perhaps email because they were never trained as extensively on technology as they were on their core technical skills? It’s not their fault; mobile technology wasn’t as prevalent – and perhaps not even existent – when they were starting their careers. They mastered their trade using manual data capture, and when they’re under the gun and all else fails, they fall back on the familiar.
However, there is a well-known computer-age saying: “Garbage in, garbage out.” The best algorithms devised are no better than the data input. While I am not saying that your techs’ handwritten notes are garbage, I am saying that the amount of errors inherent in that process means that your systems’ efficiency is needlessly suffering.
Capturing and sharing data via pen and paper methods does not put organizations in a safe, nor reliable, position when immediate resolution is needed for incidents that threaten the livelihoods of our customers and even our businesses. And pen and paper is certainly not a rugged response method, even though most types of crises situations occur in more rugged environments.
So as you’re mapping your organization’s proactive and reactive operating procedures, make mobile data capture mandatory. Real-time access to data means more jobs completed correctly, less repeat visits, and full team utilization since everyone is on the same page – something ironically you can’t be if using the pen and paper method when only one person is holding the page. Find the rugged mobile device – likely a rugged tablet PC – that offers the same computational capabilities of the office desktop, the same ease of use as a pen and paper, and the extreme survivability that neither the desktop nor paper can claim. Crisis response calls are no time to test the limits of traditional paper workflows.
Mobilize your field service teams with rugged mobile computers that can work as hard and as fast as they will to keep up with the supply and demand cycle – whether reactive or routine. Inspection, dispatch, diagnostic and repair workflows can all be mobilized immediately if you enlist a rugged tablet PC that features a resume with proven:
- Speed: Lots of core processing power, memory and storage to handle critical software applications
- Connectivity: 4G and Wi-Fi-enabled communications, GPS, etc. for fast data capture and retrieval, guidance to the incident location, dispatch
- Accuracy: Barcode scanners, keyboards, hi-res cameras that ensure data is captured completely and correctly
- Survivability: Bright-light screen viewing, IP rating suitable for your most extreme water and dust exposures, MilSpec 810G rating for accidental drops, etc.
- Mobility: While you need a rugged device, that doesn’t mean something so large and heavy that no one will carry it. Tablets are best when walking and working, and the better tablets have handwriting entry and keyboard options for times when a table is available. Some have screens as larger as 12” and barely over 3 lbs. with long battery runtime.
One caveat, though: Sending your field techs running into the field with a tablet meant to “save the day” does not mean they will default to it automatically, even when speed is of the essence and technology is the only way to get the right results. Simply reminding your workers that their pen and paper method risks mistakes, repeat visits -and other irreversible consequences isn’t always enough of a motivator in the heat of the moment. Working with your software and processes to constantly fine tune performance and make workflows easier in advance of a crisis is key to preventing a regrettable misstep – and fluid. So is training your field technicians to become as comfortable with that rugged tablet as they are with pen and paper. Constantly educating employees about the availability and advantages of tablet-based task completion is the only way to ensure your organization’s smooth response to a customers’ demand for fast service. Find ways to acclimate your employees to this fully mobile field service environment you’re trying to create and, why it really matters, they will ditch the pen and paper and deliver results using the rugged tablet PC as desired.
In virtually every industry segment, some companies have already made the move to mobile technology. And there are lots of suppliers who would like to help you get there too. Reach out to rugged mobile tablet manufacturers, your software provider, or a local value-added reseller (VAR) and ask them to talk about how companies similar to yours have gone the mobile tech route. Find a mobile partner that will not just sell you a solution on the promise of productivity or profitability gains, but actually stand by your side as you identify challenges and solicit user feedback to ensure you don’t experience any productivity or profitability losses.