Using Mobile Technology to Prevent Your Biggest Nightmare


Often, the worst thing about a tragedy is how easily it could have been prevented. Recently, 17 people drowned when a duck boat capsized in rough waters in Missouri. More than 17 life jackets were hanging inside the boat, unused. A year prior to the accident, an inspector noted a flaw in the boat’s design that could cause its engines and pumps to fail in rough water. Would the victims have survived if they had been wearing life jackets? Would the boat have stayed afloat had its design flaw been investigated and addressed? We will never know for certain, but the chances for both would have been improved had safety been top-of-mind for the company and the boat captain.

Field service organizations are beholden to a wide variety of safety metrics that don’t often get the spotlight in marketplace conversations. They are often over-shadowed by metrics related to productivity or quality.

The single most important priority of the field service directors that Mobile Reach works with is the safety of field technicians. Our customers work in harsh environments, where unexpected weather events can be disastrous; where a single misstep or forgotten precaution can turn a routine task into a dangerous operation. Performing job safety assessments (JSAs) prior to beginning work is a crucial part of the field technician’s daily schedule. JSAs may become routine; they may even seem superfluous to a technician who wants to quickly dig into the interesting part of his or her job, especially if the JSA takes more time to complete than the actual work itself. Field technicians may use short-cuts, skip over steps, or assume that a piece of equipment is operating correctly based on a cursory review instead of taking hard measurements. No field service director wants an accident to occur on their watch or anyone else’s. Their worst nightmare involves injury or death of one of their workers.

As a mobile-first solutions provider to field service organizations, we spend a great deal of time focused on streamlining field operations with mobile applications. We think about usability, technician adoption, and intuitive UIs. We design simple screens, automate actions wherever possible, handle error conditions gracefully, and keep our customers’ data secure and protected. Can we use the flexibility of our platform to reduce the likelihood of an accident? Can we help field service directors better guide and protect their field teams?

The short answer is yes. We have a major initiative to address safety issues through the use of our technology, and we continue to seek data points and ideas from field service practitioners and experts. We have learned a great deal and have formulated a set of recommendations for field service directors who prioritize safety above all else.

It starts with developing a process to be followed that makes safety the condition that trumps all others. Most of the field service directors that we’ve spoken with have very stringent processes and procedures to protect their field teams. Their JSAs are thorough and well-thought out, and things generally go smoothly. When they don’t, however, it’s not the process that’s a problem; it’s the inability to enforce that process and ensure it remains a consistent practice.

One of the key benefits of a field-focused mobile solution that can be customized to your exact needs is that you can design mobile apps that enforce your defined field processes. This can be very powerful when it comes to job safety.

We have identified five principles for designing mobile solutions to support and enforce safety measures:

  1. Break the technician’s process into sequential, dependent steps
  2. Use time- and location-stamping on data entry
  3. Provide technician incentives that reward adhering to required processes
  4. Require technicians to check in at pre-defined points in their workflow
  5. Incorporate interactive on-the-job coaching directly into the mobile solution

Create Sequential Steps
We recommend that field service organizations define field technicians’ processes so that they are required to successfully complete a task before moving on to a next task. For example, step 3 requires the completion of step 2, which requires the completion of step 1. We recommend that field service directors build mobile applications around this process to force field users to follow each step before they can continue to the next. As you map these processes into your mobile applications, you evolve from enabling data entry to creating a complete process control and technician enablement tool.

Time- and Location-stamping
Oftentimes, pictures are taken to prove that work was completed. These photos can be extraordinarily helpful when invoicing or handling disputes, but you must be able to prove the authenticity of those pictures. Consider time- and location-stamping at certain points in your process where it may be important to know for certain where your field technician is and when. This is akin to creating a concrete and impartial audit trail of activity so that you don’t have to rely on the subjective memory of a fellow tech or supervisor. This also prevents technicians from being able to compromise safety by short-cutting prescribed processes.

Incentives / Gamification
Gamification, in the form of goals, kudos, and badges, are great ways to reward technicians for consistent performance and exhibiting safety-oriented behavior that field service leaders want to encourage. It may seem like a frivolous concept, but positive feedback has been proven to be a fantastic motivator, particularly for field technicians who work largely on their own and may not get enough regular recognition. Rewarding technicians for being safe results in more technicians following safety requirements. Another benefit of tracking technician accomplishments is that you create a great tool to use with a demanding customer who may be concerned that their upcoming job might not be performed to their standards. The ability to share a record of performance can be very reassuring and help a technician receive the respect he or she deserves when arriving on a job site.

Especially for new or junior technicians, and for all techs working on particularly dangerous tasks, it is beneficial to incorporate a check-in with a manager or supervisor. This may occur as a private chat between the technician and supervisor, as a time-stamped photo, or by uploading data that is examined for correctness before the technician can proceed to the next activity. It allows a technician to get an outside perspective to ensure that he or she hasn’t missed something during preliminary tasks that precede a larger, more complex, or more dangerous activity.

On-the-Job Coaching
Coaching, mentoring, and training field technicians are crucial parts of effective field service programs. A safety incident that occurs because of a lack of training points to the responsible technician and his or her supervisor. While traditional training programs are important and effective, the ability to provide on the job coaching from directly within a mobile application gives technicians the support, know-how and confidence on work order they are less familiar with. In-app coaching takes on a number of different forms and is most effective as a tailored solution that addresses safety requirements of the field service organization.

At Mobile Reach, we are actively providing solutions for job safety assessments, inspections, and other tasks that ensure technician safety. We are also exploring ways to enrich the relationship between technicians and supervisors with the end goal of improving technician retention, job satisfaction, productivity, and customer satisfaction.

Get in touch with us if you would like to learn more about our safety oriented solutions or would like to explore how we enable in-app on-the-job coaching for technicians.