Now that mobility has completely changed field service, what’s next?
A few days ago, the following question appeared on the LinkedIn Field Service Management (FSM) group: “How does mobile technology affect field service management?”. It got me thinking. It also gave me a subject for this blog post (thanks, LinkedIn!).
As the video accompanying this post shows, many movie plots would have been very different, and much shorter, if the movie characters had cell phones. I think the field service world has also gone through a similarly complete transition due to the introduction of mobile technologies.
Having provided FSM solutions for 15 years, I can recall the time when our software was required to create a full schedule for the next day, and fax it at around 5PM to each service engineer’s home. Once the next day arrived, there wasn’t much you could do to track progress or react to unexpected events (delays, emergency tasks, cancellations, …). And of course, work was reported on paper, leading to delays and inaccuracies in billing, parts ordering, refilling inventories, …
Fast-forward to today: Now we have real-time scheduling. We know where the engineers are and what they’re doing. We can rearrange the schedule to react to events. We can set smaller time windows for appointments, and even within these time windows we can give the customer advance notice – say, 30 minutes before the engineer arrives. We can get everyone involved and collaborating in real time: technicians (who can ask each other for suggestions, parts etc.), customers (who can also track progress and check whether they can step out for a while without missing the technician), dispatchers, managers, field supervisors, contractors, … And all required information is collected at the time it is generated, often requiring little or no action (e.g. start of task may be automatically set as the time when GPS shows the engineer is on site; parts replaced may be recorded by barcode or RFID). As a result of such improvements and much more, today’s field service organizations have higher productivity, achieve better customer satisfaction, and do all this at lower cost.
Can there be yet another major transition in store for mobile FSM? I think so.
We saw how the existing business processes has been highly improved. We’re also seeing how mobile technology increasingly makes it possible to change and enhance the business processes. One common example is having the engineer sell additional parts, services etc. – after all, if the customer has just now experienced good service, this may be a good time to get them to sign additional orders. Since most service engineers aren’t born or trained salespersons, they need a mobile sales application even more than the field sales force requires it. Similarly, the mobile device allows the engineer to answer questions which have traditionally not been considered within the scope of field service, such as billing or order status. I believe this trend will continue. For example, if the engineer knows, through the mobile device, that there’s still time before the next appointment, how about providing more service? “Can Slower Service be Better Service?” expands this example.
Another trend which has already started, and which we expect to become dominant over the next few years, is “consumerization”: modern mobile workers expect to get the same experience in mobile enterprise applications that they get on their own smartphones, and in many cases they would like to have access to those applications from their personal mobile devices. This will change not just the way mobile workers interact with their mobile devices: It will change the way organizations interact with their mobileworkers. For better or worse, the blurring of the distinctions of workplace vs. home, or work time vs. leisure time, will continue and accelerate.
What do you think? How has mobile technology changed field service? Is yet another revolution coming?