How To Use Technology To Effectively Manage Your Workforce And Inventory

The field service industry has always been one of the earliest adopters of new technologies, from the original PDAs to IoT-enabled devices. Now, a new generation of technology is uniquely positioned to transform the field service industry, promising to reduce costs and dramatically improve the quality of service organizations can offer.

Effective field service is about proactively managing your workforce and inventory in order to meet the constantly sliding scale of customer expectations. As a result, field service organizations are constantly looking to improve on the key metrics to better serve customers: first-time fix rate (FTF), mean time to service (MTTS) and mean time to repair (MTTR).

"Effective field service is about proactively managing your workforce and inventory in order to meet the constantly sliding scale of customer expectations."Tom DeVroy, Product Evangelist for ESM at IFS

Three new technology-driven developments are establishing themselves in the market, with the potential to dramatically impact these field service metrics to benefit both the customer and service provider:

  • Advanced Mobility: augmented reality, instant messaging platforms, and native apps

  • Predictive analytics enabling prescriptive maintenance

  • Optimised scheduling and demand forecasting in an IoT world

Beyond Mobility

A mobile workforce needs a mobile-driven field service strategy. In a recent study on mobility, performance, and engagement, 60% of employees said mobile technology makes them more productive in the workplace. But field service organizations are now moving beyond simple mobility, looking for more intelligence and flexibility from their mobile computing platform in order to take full advantage of next-generation devices.

Native apps are a key part of this - allowing engineers to receive instant updates, access repair information or collaborate with product experts without leaving the job site. Instant messaging platforms such as Slack and WeChat are also allowing field service engineers to keep connected, with more information and collaboration supported on their mobile device. Engineers are able to contact other colleagues for assistance in real-time – reducing the need to return to base for assistance.

"Instant messaging platforms such as Slack and WeChat are also allowing field service engineers to keep connected, with more information and collaboration supported on their mobile device."Tom DeVroy, Product Evangelist for ESM at IFS

ABI Research shows augmented reality is on the rise, and Gartner predicts businesses will purchase 53 million tablets by 2016. There are instant benefits for field service engineers. Mobile solutions now allow engineers to receive real-time feedback and expertise while on the job, enabling repairs to be completed more quickly and efficiently. For instance, XMReality is already working on pioneering augmented reality projects like this.

With this remote guidance, a support technician is able to watch and guide the engineer through every step of the repair without having to leave the base. Using smartglasses, engineers are able to see a real-time and interactive demonstration of the repair job right in front of their eyes. These skills can be leveraged anywhere and anytime with the capability of modern mobile technology – drastically improving FTF.

Beyond Business Analytics

The rise of IoT sensors and integrated technology on equipment is also enabling more efficient field service. Instead of scheduling maintenance when a fault is recorded, predictive analytics and the remote monitoring of equipment through IoT means faults can be detected before they become a problem.

Combined with business intelligence to make sense of the big data being captured through IoT, predictive analytics can be used to find actionable data to inform business decisions. Enabling service organisations to be proactive in regards to equipment performance, means moving away from calendar-based scheduling and towards predictive maintenance.

IFS has a predictive maintenance capability embedded in its field service applications, allowing better allocation of an engineer's time. With sensors deployed on the factory floor, service organisations can monitor vibration analysis of bearings and predict when machine parts will start to degrade, then schedule maintenance proactively.

Field service solutions should be able to find and collect patterns of data from past actions and use this information to create generic rules to highlight how processes and services can be improved in the future - delivering new insight into operational efficiency.

Mobile devices are now able to run intelligent diagnostics and capture potential problems. Based on the diagnostic output, the mobile device is able to recommend a maintenance plan and the various tasks needed to be performed, before the engineer gets on site. This technology is going one step further than just predicting when faults will occur, and will prescribe which action needs to be taken in order to fully maintain that asset.

Prescriptive maintenance will take into account budget, time and other constraints and provide an optimal order of actions and the work orders to fully maintain that equipment – all in a matter of seconds.

Staying Ahead Of Schedule

First-time fix rates are an important KPI for field service organizations, but recent Blumberg research shows that the industry average for first-time fixes was under 80%, meaning 20% of jobs require additional follow-ups. Inefficient scheduling results in a lower first-time fix rate and longer time to final resolution, as unqualified engineers, can be sent and the necessary equipment may be unavailable.

Although not a new technology, schedule optimisation is a foundation on which new technologies can thrive. By combining scheduling with data from IoT devices, the next generation of schedule optimisation tools go much further and help to forecast field service demand, SLAs and potential resource needs – all in real-time.

IoT-enabled sensors can trigger actions when an event changes, and automatically re-schedule jobs around this. This combination allows field service organisations to improve FTF, MTTS and MTTR by consistently scheduling the right engineer for the right job, at the right time.

Don't Get Left Behind

These new technologies are going to bring serious benefits to field service organizations because they are so tightly integrated with delivering improved customer service and improved bottom lines.

In what is a dynamic and changing market - with tech-savvy customers demanding higher and higher levels of service - it is vital for organizations to be able to implement these cutting edge technologies.

Taking Away The Risk

Traditional field service management solutions are simply too cumbersome and inflexible to enable field service organizations to reap the benefits. To quickly benefit from these latest advances, organizations need the backing of a new generation of flexible, agile enterprise solutions.

Traditional enterprise solutions can take months or years to simply implement, let alone adapt to an entirely new technology. The new breed of modular enterprise solutions are designed to remove the time and pain of modifying existing processes, and instead, maximise the opportunities of new technology. These agile systems negate the need to fully customize legacy systems - a costly and timely process - and are enabling organizations to quickly adopt new technology, without the risk of losing out on a competitive edge.

These disruptive technologies and the digital transformation they require offer benefits that resonate throughout the whole service organization - from the top-down. Strategic planners have real-time visibility to plan tasks and schedule the workforce in an industry with many unknown elements, from customer unpredictability to traffic, and even the weather.

This, in turn, directly empowers technicians, providing them with the right tools and information at their fingertips to better perform their job. But ultimately the most important stakeholder reaps the benefits - the customer receives the best possible level of service.

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