IoT Is (Finally) Permeating Field Service

IoT Is (Finally) Permeating Field Service

By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to an ecosystem of devices or products connected with M2M (machine-to-machine) technology that are able to communicate information through (most commonly) cellular or (sometimes) satellite network connections. Want to know what I find most interesting about IoT at the moment? How much it’s being talked about in the industry right now. Field Technologies first began covering M2M in June of 2008. That first article was likely met with a lot of blank stares and glossed-over eyes. Why? The majority of the field service industry just wasn’t ready for M2M or IoT quite yet.

We’ve witnessed an evolution since then, though, and the industry is definitely ready now. At WBR Field Service USA and The Service Council Smarter Services Symposium events in April, M2M and IoT were among the most buzzed-about topics. It’s exciting to me, because even back in ’08 I saw the incredible potential of what M2M technology could do for the field service industry. And now, it’s great to hear those conversations being led by field service companies wanting to learn more and understand how IoT can impact their businesses, versus the industry driving the dialogue.

Why IoT In Field Service Now?
The uses for IoT in field service are vast — far too vast for me to go into here. But the value proposition the technology holds for the field service market is universal — M2M connections provide valuable insight into what’s going on with your products/assets in the field. This information enables you to a.) better understand what techs will encounter on-site so that they can arrive prepared and achieve a first-time fix, or b.) remotely resolve an issue that doesn’t require an on-site visit, eliminating the need for a truck roll altogether. There are far more benefits to discuss another time, but I think those two advantages alone are contributing to a lot of the buzz we’re hearing today about the growing role of IoT in field service.

How to choose a paperless work order system

Naaman Shibi, director of Techs4biz Australia, says the benefits of paperless systems are many and varied.

What does a paperless work order system or inspection management system look like? Here is a possible scenario:

A customer (external or internal) calls in to report a broken heating/cooling system. The office staff can immediately view the customer’s information, including pending and previous activities, enter the relevant information into the work order system and create a new work order.

Depending on specific internal approval processes, the work order can be immediately scheduled and assigned to the appropriate technician. If the business deploys a wireless mobile devices system, then the work order is dispatched electronically to the mobile device (smartphone, tablet, PDA or laptop) used by the desired service technician.

The electronic work order includes all
the required information, including customer information, address for the task, description of the problem, instructions, required actions and safety requirements etc.

On-site, the technician can view the information on their mobile device, make modifications, and record results, parts, effort (labour), observations, recommendations, and any other information pertaining to the work performed.

Additional features may include
using barcodes, RFID (radio frequency identification), capturing automatic date/ time/GPS (global positioning system) stamps and electronic signatures, as well as taking pictures (and even ‘doodling’ on the images to highlight problem areas). A speech-to-text function is available on most smartphones and tablets running Android or iOS operating systems.

Once the paperless work order is completed, information is sent back to
the database using 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi. The database is updated with all the appropriate information and management can focus on the next steps: review the work, issue an invoice, automatically email a report, etc. Querying data and producing operational
and management reports is easy, since the information is homogeneous, timely, accurate, and can be easily accessed.

DISTINGUISHING FACTORS WHEN SELECTING A VENDOR

It is important to note that, while every business incorporates specific business processes, the automation and use of paperless work order systems means you can quickly adjust, improve and address your specific processes by:

● applying experience gained from other customers using similar business processes, including proposing and incorporating adjustments to manual processes to accommodate automation and paperless work orders

● providing a healthy balance between technology, human intervention and common sense; many implementations are managed by technical ‘propeller heads’ who want to automate every little detail, while proper implementations combine human decision- making with automation, which results in improved efficiency and reduced costs

● tailoring a solution to accommodate unique business processes: systems that offer cost-effective tailoring and configurations to accommodate specific business environments will fit your organisation much better than solutions that promote ‘one size fits all’, and

● considering scalability and flexibility
as key features: if a single system can automate a variety of activities including work orders, inspections, PMs, audits, Q&A questionnaires, etc, than you get a much ‘bigger bang for your buck’ – which is the main reason for you reading this article in the first place.
‘Information is power’ is an old adage, but one that rings true in every situation. Information capture and knowledge management is fast becoming the true competitive advantage of any company, especially in these economic circumstances.

SPENDING MONEY TO SAVE MONEY

When hearing the phrase ‘spending money to save money’, one may just assume that people are haphazardly trying to justify their latest big-budget project. However, in my travels to visit many of our customers, it has become very clear that the higher the stature of a person in an organisation, the more attention is paid to how money is being allocated to gain significant return on investment (ROI).

It is important to address the issue of the cost of paperless work orders and inspections, and the ROI. New systems that automate
field activities should be able to demonstrate ROI within six to 12 months. Furthermore, some vendors are offering financing or monthly payment plans, which can point to an immediate ROI.

Quick visible paybacks affirm investment in electronic field activity solutions. These decisions also minimise and even eliminate inefficiencies such as insufficient information availability, too much paperwork, over-large administrative costs, missed opportunities, poor scheduling and poor cash management, and therefore generate a competitive advantage and better customer service.

With proper implementation, all of the above attributes create some very appealing means for you to ‘spend money to save money’!