The growth of the smartphone is not new news. But the statistics are still remarkable – the latest forecast from IDC shows that global smartphone shipments will hit over 1.2 billion in 2014. In 2009 that figure was ‘only’ 174 million. By all accounts, that is a huge increase. These stats don’t take into account shipments of tablets and other ultraportable devices, either.
That’s all well and good, you may say, but why should you care? Simple – if you’re yet to embrace mobile technology in your business, you’re putting it at great risk of being left behind. Field service businesses, especially, should be harnessing the power of mobile. It’s not something to put in the ‘one for the future’ pile – it’s something you need to be doing now.
To enforce this further, the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) recently published an infographic that revealed some mobility trends in field service. Some notable stats include the fact that 63% of companies using mobility tools have seen an increase in worker productivity and half have seen an increase in customer satisfaction rates. Mobility tools are also helping companies to reduce paperwork and travel times.
Adopting the latest mobile hardware and an accompanying mobile field service solution will allow you to bridge the gap between your field engineers and office-based staff. You’ll break down silos and facilitate collaborative working in your organization. The result? A happier, more productive workforce and, ultimately, improved business performance and a healthier bottom line.
3 steps to embracing mobile
If you are keen to embrace mobile technology in your field service business, here are three basic steps you will need to take:
- Get mobile devices
- Get a mobile field service solution
- Train staff to use the new devices and solution
Of course, this is an oversimplification of the process; each step will take time and have multiple ‘sub-steps’ to it. But these are the basic elements required to adopt mobile. So let’s look in a little more detail at each step.
1) Buying mobile devices
When it comes to buying devices, there are many factors you’ll need to consider. This is a very important step in the process so don’t neglect it. Here are some of the questions you’ll need to ask when selecting mobile devices:
- What type of device will suit your needs best? This is likely to come down to a choice between smartphones, tablets, and phablets (a hybrid device between the two). If the devices will largely be used as communication tools for sending basic job details to your mobile workforce, smartphones could do the job. However, if your engineers need to access detailed job information while working, the larger screen size tablets provide could prove very useful. Then again, phablets may be an ideal choice as they offer the portability of a smartphone but provide more screen real estate to work with.
- Do you need rugged devices? If they are going to be used in harsh environments, or likely to be subject to a lot of wear and tear, then the answer is probably yes.
- Which mobile operating system should you choose? There are four main choices – Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Blackberry OS. But deciding the one which best suits you will depend on a number of things, such as user experience, security, and compatibility with your existing systems.
Those are just a few things to consider; budget will also come into the equation along with various other factors.
2) Getting mobile field service software
Once you’ve invested in devices, you’ll need a mobile field service solution to complement them. Without this, it will be difficult to really gain any great value from your new devices.
Although it is possible to use a ‘home-grown’ solution (for example, you could use Google Calendar for basic scheduling), you’ll find that these solutions don’t scale particularly well. As your organization grows, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to manage things this way. I would recommend investing in a complete field service solution from the start if you are able to; this way, you will be well positioned for growth and able to adopt scalable working practices from the outset.
So what should you look for in a solution? Well, it goes without saying that the solution should have mobile capabilities, allowing your field staff to use mobile devices to undertake their daily jobs. Here are the main things that they should be able to do on the devices:
- View their schedules
- View details about each job they have been assigned
- Update jobs as they work
- Record additional information about a job if required
- Capture signatures and pictures if required
Those are the basic requirements from the mobile solution – your organization may require additional functionality or a specific feature unique to your industry. Moreover, if you’d like to get real value from a mobile solution, look for one that allows the capture of information such as travel time and the time taken to complete each job on their devices. This data can then be analyzed and used to identify any issues with your organization’s working practices.
Overcoming connectivity issues
You’ll also need to consider what happens when your workers in the field face connectivity issues. There will inevitably be occasions when they are working in areas with little or no network coverage. When this does occur, you don’t want them to lose access to vital information about the job they are doing.
To overcome this, look for a solution that allows offline working. Typically, this works by storing information locally (on the device) and means that even if connectivity is lost, the information can still be accessed. Your field staff can then continue to work, with or without a signal.
Ensuring compatibility with your devices
Before you procure any software, ensuring it is compatible with your mobile devices will be critical. Otherwise, you don’t need me to tell you that it will be of little use!
When it comes to mobile field service applications there are generally two options:
- Native solution – this means the app has been developed for a specific platform such as Android or iOS. These apps generally need to be downloaded from an app store before they can be used.
- HTML5 solution – this is an app that can be used on a number of different devices and is usually accessed through a browser.
You may also have heard about ‘hybrid’ apps – they are developed using technologies including HTML5 but function in the same way as native apps (i.e. you download them from an application store). Therefore, they fall into the same category as native apps here.
Choosing between a native and HTML5 app probably isn’t the most important decision you’ll make. Both have their advantages and disadvantages; native apps, for example, generally perform better than HTML5 apps. But HTML5 apps offer great convenience and can be accessed on multiple devices without requiring any downloads. They also ensure you’re not tied down to using a specific operating system.
The main thing to remember here is that whatever type of app you choose, it must work well on your mobile devices. You don’t want to go with a provider offering a native iOS solution if you’re using Android devices, for example. Look out for this from the start so you don’t waste time considering a solution that isn’t compatible with your devices.
3) Train staff
Don’t neglect this step; training should be an integral part of any investment in new software or hardware. When it comes to software, the provider should offer training to help you make the most of the product, so make sure you ask about this.
You should also adopt internal initiatives to ensure buy-in from your employees. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Appoint a ‘super user’ who will be the product expert. They will come to know the product inside-out and be the go-to person for anyone in your company who has questions about it.
- Open the floor to the users of the software (your field engineers) during the implementation phase. Allow them to see the software in action and raise any questions or concerns they have.
However you decide to train your staff to use the new technology, involving them from the beginning of the process will help to get them on board and make the most of the technology once it has been implemented.
Do you have any other tips on going mobile with your field service business? Leave them in the comments below!