How Mobile Field Force Enablement Drives Business Value

field technician using mobile appsThis blog post explores strategic mobility in field service management organizations and how it can drive long-term business value. We call it mobile field force enablement.

First, we’ll examine the pre-mobile enabled field service organization and the pre-mobile enabled field technician. Paper-based, manual business processes are a central theme in this scenario, and we explore how these methods of service delivery are hampering organizations in profitability, dealing with competition, and retaining customers. Next, we will examine the post-mobile enabled field service organization as a whole, then turn our attention to the post-mobile enabled field technician. We explore the benefits of strategic mobile enablement from a business perspective, then from the perspective of the technicians in the field doing the work. Lastly, we examine strategic mobility for field service management and the characteristics and features that are required for comprehensive mobile implementations that deliver optimal ROI.

The Pre-Mobile Enabled Field Service Organization

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The pre-mobile enabled field service organization, which is quite common despite available technologies and almost ubiquitous connectivity, is one that still relies heavily on manual processes and paper-based forms for field service delivery. At best, this traditional organization may use multiple spreadsheets for data entry and job tracking. Due to the lack of a mobile process, field service directors and managers have no insight into the locations of their field techs, the status of jobs in progress, or real-time data on which to escalate or downgrade problems. Productivity declines, service profitability suffers, technicians get fewer jobs completed, customer satisfaction drops, and accurate and timely billing remains a major pain point.

For the traditional, pre-mobile enabled field service organization, responsiveness is generally the most scrutinized KPI. Delayed responses lower customer satisfaction and negatively affect the bottom line in various ways. These include increased travel costs, reduced field technician productivity, missed SLAs and financial penalties, and ultimately fewer customers being serviced.

In today’s environment, getting to the customer site in a timely fashion is table stakes. Your competition can already do that just as well as your organization can. Your customers expect speedy response times and view that as normal. Today, your customers want their issues resolved quickly, without second and third return trips, and to return to being productive.

Multiple trips to fix a problem create deep layers of waste for the business and deep layers of angst for the customer. In fact, according to an Aberdeen Group Report, the No. 1 reason for customer complaints is that the field technician was not able to fix the issue on the first trip.

Pre-mobile enabled organizations often don’t view their businesses from customer-centric viewpoints. They tend to stick to traditional ways of doing things and are reluctant to change or are incapable of innovation due to a product-centric rather than a customer-focused mindset. As such, pre-mobile enabled field service businesses face a serious problem. They are losing ground to the competition, losing customers, and losing money due to lack of foresight.

 

The Pre-Mobile Enabled Field Technician

The traditional, pre-mobile enabled field technician is stymied by the manual processes that he or she has to manage. They often must print out service requests and clip them to a board to record information and notes on each job. Information is again captured by hand on the job site, then manually entered into the enterprise service platform or ERP at a later date. Sometimes these work orders and trouble tickets remain outstanding for weeks at a time due to the field tech’s travel schedules and workload.

Pre-mobile enabled field techs are at a serious disadvantage when dealing with customer issues and trying to proactively solve problems. While on the job site, they have no way to view intelligence on previous repairs, maintenance history, warranty information, or the ability to access a knowledge base for solutions and workarounds on common problems.

Due to outdated dispatch tools, field techs may be given a job that they don’t have the skill set to resolve. Or they may be unknowingly sent somewhere far away from their current location, rather than to a nearby job they can easily address. Oftentimes, the next tech available is assigned to the next job regardless of location or skill set. The field tech’s productivity is seriously hampered by the lack of mobile enablement. For example, they might receive a phone call or an email on a particular job assignment. They might not, however, receive the exact job location or address and may be forced to drive around or make phone calls trying to locate it. If they cannot reach the end customer, they are at a loss and are forced to move on to the next job until another round of communication has occurred.

Then documenting work time, travel time, parts used, and extra work done while on the job site beyond the scope of the work order are all done on paper. Field techs are so overwhelmed with the work that needs to be done and moving to the next job, that they neglect to record important details or decide to document that information later. By the time they return to their desk to update the service platform or ERP system, they have forgotten several cost areas that should have been accounted for and billed to the end customer. This is a major cost leak for field service organizations, and it’s caused by traditional, paper-based field processes.

The Post-Mobile Enabled Field Technician

Post-mobile enabled field technicians have access to all of the data they need to complete the job on the first trip. This includes work orders, routing information, necessary parts, available inventory, access to a knowledge base, and more. The mobile apps they use are persona based and process driven. All of the technicians’ tasks, habits, patterns, and workflows are incorporated to create an empowering user experience. The mobile apps they rely on in turn help the organization ensure that best-practice business processes are followed to maximize profitability, ensure compliance and eliminate risk.

The post-mobile enabled field technician is also assigned the proper mobile device for the tasks he or she must accomplish on a daily basis. For some, a smartphone will suffice. Others may need a ruggedized tablet. Some may require peripheral devices like Bluetooth-attached barcode scanners, RFID readers, signature capture pads, etc.

Work Process of the Pre-Mobile Enabled Field Technician

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WORK PROCESS OF THE POST-MOBILE ENABLED FIELD TECHNICIAN

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The following chart provides insight into the most common use cases for field service management mobility and the impact strategic mobility has on each.

 

Use CasePre-Mobile Enabled

Field Service Organization

Post-Mobile Enabled

Field Service Organization

KPI

Work Order Management

  • Paper-based process with delays getting actionable data into enterprise system
  • Streamlined process via mobile app
  • Work orders completed on job site
  • Real-time data in enterprise system
  • Service profitability
  • DSO
  • SLA compliance
  • Field tech productivity
  • Field tech utilization
Incident Management
  • Paper-based ticketing process
  • No intelligence available to quickly solve common problems
  • Delays in getting actionable data into enterprise system
  • Lack of insight into status of repairs
  • No access to knowledge base
  • No ability to collaborate with colleagues or view intelligence on common repair scenarios
  • Incident tickets completed via mobile app
  • Accurate data capture
  • Real-time insight into status of repairs, condition of asset
  • Service profitability
  • DSO
  • SLA compliance
  • Tech productivity
  • Asset up-time
  • Incident resolution rates
Parts / Inventory Management
  • Paper-based process to order parts
  • No insight into available inventory
  • Repairs delayed due to lack of visibility into inventory
  • Via mobile apps, techs can view a list of parts which are relevant to the product being serviced
  • Techs can source available parts and inventory
  • Tech can order parts and have them shipped to the job location in advance of arriving to make the repairs
  • Service profitability
  • Tech utilization and productivity
  • SLA compliance
  • First-time fix rates
  • Inventory utilization
  • CSAT
Inspections / Surveys
  • Paper based survey process
  • Form factor not conducive to accurate and thorough surveys and inspections
  • Lack of well-defined steps to follow
  • No way to timestamp when
    inspections have been completed
  • Surveys and inspections completed quickly and easily via checklists in mobile app
  • Steps must be completed in order and positively verified before moving on to the next task
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Tech productivity
  • SLA compliance
  • DSO
  • Revenue realization
Preventative Maintenance
  • Paper-based forms
  • No easy way to access past maintenance history
  • No easy way to access warranty information
  • No easy way to order parts
  • Preventative maintenance tasks presented in a checklist via mobile apps
  • Techs can quickly check off items as they are completed
  • Info automatically synced to enterprise system
  • Easy access to view warranty info
  • Easy access to view past PM history
  • Asset lifecycles
  • Asset up-time
  • SLA compliance
  • CSAT
  • Risk mitigation
Time / Travel Tracking
  • Techs track work time and travel time by keeping notes on paper
  • No ability to time or location stamp when work starts and work is complete
  • Techs can push a button on a mobile app to start travel time, end travel time, start work time, end work time
  • Billing cycles
  • DSO
  • Revenue realization
  • Service profitability

Expense Tracking

  • Field techs must keep all job related receipts, then manually fill out forms to submit expenses
  • Field techs can use mobile app to track expenses, take pictures of receipts and submit automatically for reimbursement and appropriate billing to end customer
  • Billing cycles
  • DSO
  • Revenue realization
  • Service profitability

 

Technician Location / Dispatch 

  • The back-office has no insight into the current locations of field techs relative to new incidents and work orders
  • Techs are also not utilized properly and often techs get assigned jobs that are beyond their skill sets
 

  • Field service managers and directors have greater insight into field techs’ status and location
  • They can send the right tech to the right job based on current location and skill set
  • They can potentially warn field techs of possible safety hazards based on their locations
  • Tech utilization
  • Service profitability
  • Worker safety
  • SLA compliance
  • Risk mitigation

 

 

The Post-Mobile Enabled Field Service Organization

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In today’s highly competitive marketplace, same day fulfillment and customer-centric service delivery is crucial. Refined processes allow mobile-enabled companies to improve real-time communications with the field, increase productivity, streamline service delivery, and enhance customer relations and loyalty. They also lead to higher first-time fix rates, which leads to more satisfied customers, quicker task completion, the capability to complete more work, and improved top and bottom lines. When workers have the right mobile tools, your entire business is more productive.

According to a recent Aberdeen report on mobility in field service management, using real-time mobile data allows the service organization to move faster and allows it to go from reactionary to proactive. Aberdeen also reported that “best-in-class” service organizations are more likely to have real-time data integration between mobile devices and back-end systems.

 

Strategic Mobile Field Force Enablement Solutions

As the key enabler in successful, customer-centric field service delivery, a scalable mobile solution for field technicians should be the top priority for the field service management organization.

According to Gartner, the top four business objectives for selecting a field service management mobility solution are:

  • Improved technician utilization
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Dispatcher efficiency
  • Increased service profitability

Best-in-class mobile field force enablement solutions will deliver against these criteria. Central to these needs is platform flexibility and scalability. As your organization grows and field technicians’ needs expand and evolve, it is critical that you have the ability to extend your mobile apps by adding new forms and workflows without the need for any coding.

Mobile field workers must be able to easily and reliably access and interact with critical enterprise systems and data right from their mobile phones or tablets. They should be able to view jobs, service history, and customer information and they should be able to request additional time on a job site, record asset details and parts usage, view manuals, and collaborate with dispatchers, managers, and nearby colleagues. This is imperative for an organization’s ability to increase first-time fix rates and drive work orders to cash.

 

Critical Capabilities

How do you ensure an implementation that will allow your organization to drive exceptional results to your top and bottom lines? There are certain features that are desirable for all field service apps, but there are also those that may be very specific to your own environment. Best-in-class mobile solutions for your organization are designed specifically for the tasks your field service technicians fulfill and operate effectively under the constraints of your environment.

There are several critical capabilities for strategic mobility in field service management. These include:

  • Mobile apps must be flexible enough to mold to your organization’s field processes. To accomplish this, a mobile platform with a rapid application development tool is a necessity. This gives field service managers or directors the ability to easily configure the apps to match the organization’s field workflows.
  • Mobile apps must connect directly into the enterprise service platform or ERP system. Many solutions use separate staging databases or plugins that require additional administration and support costs. Selecting a mobile platform that connects directly into your service platform or ERP system prevents the need for additional development resources and reduces potential points of failure.
  • Mobile apps must be able to operate offline. This gives field techs the ability to do their jobs even in remote locations with spotty or no network connectivity. Techs can continue to work and capture data regarding work time, asset status, or any other condition. Once the tech receives an approved network connection, data is synched with the back-end service platform or ERP system.
  • Mobile apps must support various modes of data capture and necessary peripheral devices — Bluetooth barcode scanners, RFID-enabled devices and signature capture pads to name a few.
  • Mobile apps can operate on all mobile operating systems that your organization currently supports or is expected to support in the foreseeable future — iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile.
  • Mobile apps can operate on or support all mobile devices that your organization currently supports or is expected to support — smartphones, tablets, ruggedized barcode scanners, Bluetooth attached devices like handheld barcodes scanners, and signature capture devices
  • Field service managers can track GPS coordinates of field techs and view technicians on a map.
  • Field techs can use mobile apps to easily collaborate with other field techs and the back office in real time.
  • Mobile app can route field techs to a job site with a map and turn-by-turn directions.
  • Field managers can send push notifications and alerts to field techs with new jobs or relevant information.
  • Field techs can automatically track time based on work activities.
  • Field techs can view and complete individual work order tasks, or teams can complete tasks in order of priority.

Companies that do not have complete mobile solutions in place for field service management operations are missing out on a significant opportunity to increase their competitive advantage in the marketplace.

According to Gartner, mobile tools help service organizations address problems faster, allowing them to service requests immediately and fix repairs for their customers. Gartner also reported that an effective mobility solution can improve an organization’s overall productivity by 30-40 percent and profitability by 20-25 percent.

Additional Resources

Read our comprehensive Guide to Mobile Field Service Apps.