ClickSoftware | 08.11.16
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For those of you who remember Inspector Gadget, you likely also recall his sidekick Penny’s futuristic watch. With the push of a button, Penny could make video calls to a talking dog, illuminate pitch darkness with a flashlight, and shoot through metal with a laser beam. And now 30 years later, this cartoon smartwatch fantasy is a reality—minus the laser beam and crime-solving dog of course.

Wearables, watches, glasses, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will completely change field service—whether we like it or not. But when and exactly how this array of technology becomes part of our daily work lives is still up for debate.

So before you go slapping smartwatches on all your field techs, let’s examine how connected devices stand to improve field service management, and where a good old-fashioned handshake or phone call will still do the trick.

Are Connected Devices a Fad?

No, they’re not. According to a recent Gartner report, worldwide wearable device sales are projected to grow by nearly 20% through 2016. And it’s not just consumers catching the bug. Wearables, watches, and the Internet of Things are projected to impact field service providers sooner than you’d think.  Cloud services guru, Moor Insights professional, and regular Forbes contributor Chris Wilder reports, “In the next 3 years, 75% of field service organizations will be equipping their technicians with wearable devices such as watches, glasses or other technologies.’’ It’s a bold claim. Here are some key ways in which these changes will take shape in field service management.

Top Field Service Technology Trends to Focus On

Naturally, different devices will become popular across industries with different needs. Wearables with real-time safety features stand to play out well in oil and gas, construction, rail, and utilities industries. Devices with diagnostic or robust customer communication capabilities stand to revolutionize retail, contact centers and telecommunications.

1. Smartwatches Will Revolutionize Field Tech Safety, Tracking & Communication

According to numerous studies, a healthy workforce is statistically more efficient. Most, if not all smartwatches can track biometric data. This could have major benefits for field service organizations looking to improve the productivity and health of their workforce. Imagine tracking the health of your entire field service tech staff during hot summer months. Or setting heart rate thresholds for field techs in demanding industries like utilities, construction, or oil and gas. What if a command center received immediate notifications when a field tech’s heart rate spiked, or was sustained at a high level for an extended period of time?

This same command center could use this data to help organizations make smarter and healthier shift schedules, which in turn would improve overall efficiency. The long-term impact of smartwatches on the health of field service techs could be substantial.

Smartwatches for field service techs

Secondly, being able to discern the whereabouts of field techs at all times would be revolutionary to service management. Imagine setting up an automatic messaging system that would inform customers when a field tech was 10, 20, or 30 minutes away. Uber-like maps could show the customer where their tech is, and when they’ll arrive. Who wouldn’t opt-in to receive that service? And what manager wouldn’t want to know what all their techs are up to? This type of real-time communication between company and customer also opens the door to on-going engagement and personalization throughout their field service experience.

Finally, smartwatches stand to change field-based communication and improve efficiency. Voice-activated watches don’t require field techs to push any buttons. This means they could take notes, search a database, or make a call back to headquarters, all while remaining physically focused on their field-based tasks at hand.

2. Smart Cars & Connected Devices will Revolutionize Route-Mapping

Cars aren’t flawlessly driving themselves quite yet. But an array of mobile technology is making route mapping, hands-free communication, and field-based driving more efficient nearly every month.

Automated field service route scheduling

According to Juniper research, connected car applications and devices are on the rise – and at an astonishing rate. As adoption in field service becomes more regular, expect to see improved route mapping, overall gas mileage cost reductions, and time-to-service ratios nosedive. This will have major impacts on overall customer satisfaction.

Organizations implementing connected car technology for optimized route mapping are already realizing major cost savings. A recent case study on UPS’s ORION route mapping overhaul indicates they project annual reductions of 100 million miles driven and fuel savings of 10 million gallons per year.

As Google, Volvo and Tesla scale self-driving cars, we will also see our field service workforce more focused on their jobs, and less on driving. Imagine if a field tech’s time was spent examining parts logs, communicating with customers, and preparing to be onsite to fix major field service problems – instead of just driving from job to job. The efficiency increase will be substantial.

3. Virtual Reality & Drones: The Next Horizon

According to recent studies, virtual reality is poised to reach a market size of over $15 billion by 2020. Granted, most of the hype has been around gaming, experiential marketing and 3D movies. But long-term applications of virtual reality in field service could prove to be both cost-effective and fundamental to safety. At DistribuTECH 2015, Space-time Insight – an IoT company – offered utility executives an opportunity to wear Oculus Rift VR headsets and walk through virtual substations to pinpoint problems.

The simulation proves that big-data and real-time analytics offer imaginative methods for solving field-based utility problems using virtual reality technology.

The use of virtual reality in field service

Finally, drones offer an amazing diagnostic opportunity for field service management to supplant risk with an immediate flying solution. Field service can be dangerous-- especially for techs working on wind farms, skyscrapers and oil rigs. Drones could help field service professionals observe large areas, survey dangerous or hard-to-reach landscapes, and scale heights previously inaccessible to field techs. All of these scenarios stand to make everyone safer.

A recent report from Business Insider shows that growth in the enterprise sector will outpace consumer demand in both shipments and revenues. Brace yourselves, the drones are coming.

For more on technology trends, up-to-date coverage and pressing news on all things field service management, please visit the technology section of our blog.