by John Cameron
Utility field service organizations are embracing mobility. Applications are already replacing cumbersome paper processes, and organizations continue to migrate software, storage and services to the cloud, providing secure access to email, documents, photos and other important information at any time from any device, including smartphones.
One study from research firm IDC shows that the world’s mobile workforce will grow to 1.3 billion this year. The Americas region, which includes the United States, Canada and Latin America, will see the number of mobile workers grow from 182.5 million in 2010 to 212.1 million in 2015, with North America showing the largest number of mobile workers at 75 percent of the workforce mobile in 2010.
To meet the needs of these workers, Gartner forecasts that by 2020, more than 30 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, which will generate some $2 trillion as an economic value worldwide.
Tech trends indicate that worldwide mobile connectivity to the Internet is growing at unprecedented rates, so it’s critical that field personnel keep up with the changes by embracing mobility, especially through the use of apps.
What Can Utility Organizations Do?
Utility technicians in the field need quick access to customer files, work orders and product availability, and they often require this information in real-time while traveling from one job site to the next.
The right mobile app allows organizations to redefine work processes, simplify communication and create more efficiencies in their day-to-day operations while mitigating human errors caused by manual processes such as data entry from paper forms to a computer.
In many cases, field personnel face challenges when trying to communicate with their team, especially if multiple members are simultaneously traveling to a destination.
Purpose-built field service apps are providing mobile workers with the ability to access information such as work history and upcoming jobs as well as capture photos and signatures while on site. They can also review scheduled tasks and accept or reject them based on their skill level and timetable.
If they accept a task, the app’s in-built navigation tool will also help them find the most efficient route to their job, reducing travel time. If they require assistance or advice once on site, technicians are also able to use the apps to easily locate and contact a nearby co-worker who can help ensure they fix the issue the first time.
To avoid confusion when communicating with a team in the field, specialized apps can be used to streamline collaboration so technicians can contact one another more directly.
Organizations that carry out round-the-clock maintenance and inspections on utility equipment and systems such as circuit breakers and high voltage products, for instance, need two-way communication that spans beyond landline phone calls.
Apps with advanced communication features can connect users seamlessly so they don’t have to call from an office phone and don’t have to enter passcodes or meeting numbers to connect.
Beyond enhanced communication, some specialized apps can identify what messages have and have not been read by members of a field service team. Integrating these apps into an organization’s daily operations can then encourage more accountability among team members.
Whether your organization focuses on installation or repair, there is always the chance of requiring a last-minute schedule change when crews are coming on and off jobs.
Factors such as severe weather, unexpected power outages and unpredictable traffic conditions can delay or prevent a technician from reaching his or her assigned destination at the correct time.
Apps equipped with specialized features on the interface can allow users-likely a supervisor or project lead-to connect the proper employee to a job that needs to be done based on the employee’s availability, skills and location at the time of scheduling.
Many apps also have location technology allowing a supervisor to find a worker’s whereabouts real-time and determine the length of time remaining to complete the job. These cloud-based apps provide round-the-clock tracking to show the location of the supervisor, technician and customers in real-time. Some of these apps even plot the team’s locations and travel routes through a GPS-enabled map.
Enterprise Mobile App Strategies
App deployment requires planning and strategy, especially across the enterprise. According to a study from Aberdeen Group, “best-in-class” mobile apps-the top 20 percent of performers-can complete 1.5-times as much work on a mobile device as the industry average and can achieve an average 40 percent improvement in operational efficiency year-over-year and yet still access business critical information in a required time frame.
According to the study, the best-in-class have shown that, rather than simply “mobilizing” existing enterprise software, a well-implemented enterprise mobile app strategy can form the impetus for improving collaborative communication, accelerating time-to-decision, and increasing the operational efficiency of the business.
As field service technicians switch to mobile asset tracking, scheduling and work order completion, the data collected from all those processes can be harnessed for something greater.
Big Picture: Big Data
While many features from mobile apps can improve field service efficiencies and cut costs, there is something bigger field service organizations can learn from using these apps.
With the concept of big data on the rise, field service organizations have the opportunity to analyze the data coming in to them to identify patterns and trends to make significant changes.
A field service technician, for example, may be responsible for routine maintenance for things such as power poles. If that technician tracks the maintenance with specialized apps, the data collected from those apps can be analyzed to predict when that pole will need maintenance again. Rather than fixing it after it breaks down, the technician can leverage predictive analytics and perform preventative maintenance that would in turn prevent greater repairs long-term.
Overall, apps will continue to provide unique features to solve field service day-to-day challenges-but it’s time for field service organizations to see the big picture by embracing mobility and data to solve those long-term challenges.
About the author: John Cameron is general manager of Trimble Field Service Management. For more information about field service mobile applications and other technical solutions, visit www.trimble.com/fsm.