Field Service Automation Main[1]

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Field Service Automation Main[1]

  1. 1. More Productivity, More Profits with Field Automation BY J. SHARPE SMITH With tightening margins and customers demanding better service, enterprises are looking, more than ever, to make their technicians more efficient in the field. The answers are coming in field service automation are leading to increased technician utilization, reduced call center volumes, fewer errors and increased billable time. “Service-minded organizations today are struggling to identify new and innovative ways to grow service and ensure cost-effectiveness in order to differentiate themselves from their competition,” says Erik Anderson, vice president, sales, Agentek, a provider of real-time, mobile field service automation solutions. “Companies are looking to turn service from a cost center to a profit center by improving operating efficiency, reducing response time and increasing customer satisfaction. Service is becoming more of a strategic arm of the company.” Automation is the key to streamlining field service processes, increasing productivity, enhancing customer satisfaction and boosting revenues. Improvement comes in these areas: • Fewer errors than filling out paper reports and less time spent by back office employees on data entry • Real time updates to asset and inventory databases and increased access to computer backend system data • Simplified dispatch and work order management and reduced call center communications • Enhanced ability to meet regulatory requirements • Honoring service level agreements (SLA) and fixing products on the first visit Is there an ROI in automating field service? Service organizations using field service automation have experienced a 9 percent reduction in repair time leading to a 22 percent increase in SLA compliance, a 21 percent increase in first-call resolution rate, and an 18 percent increase in service revenues, according to the study recently published by the Aberdeen Group – The Mobile Field Service Update: 2007 and Beyond. The study also shows enterprises that excel in work order completion and SLA compliance see service margins of 17.2 percent, which is 2.5 percent above the national service margin average. “The difference between a pacified customer and a satisfied customer can greatly affect future revenue streams through customer share of wallet and subsequent customer referrals,” says Sumair Dutta, research analyst at the Aberdeen Group and co-author of the report. Motorola MC9000 VOL. 3, ISSUE 3, 2007 EWM 13
  2. 2. Field Service Automation access to all the resources and information, available in seconds on a real time basis and completely interactive.” Goes Real Time Filling out paperwork, sending data back once or twice a Software Suites Becoming day and trading cell phone calls are no longer acceptable the Preferred Option for those companies wanting to increase their service technicians’ productivity. Throughout the lifecycle of any product –– from sales lead generation, inventory management to the servicing “The field service automation trend that we see is of any product and eventual asset retirement –– every growth in applications that are real-time enabled,” says department of the enterprise is involved. Heretofore, Brent Iadarola, research director for the mobile and each department had their own software applications, wireless group at Frost & Sullivan, a business research with each operating on different platforms and with and consulting firm. “Technicians are becoming more separate databases. But that is changing. productive because they have access to more backend information and applications than ever before.” More “What enterprises are really demanding today is the abil- than three times as many industry leaders track field ity to manage and monitor all the different applications service in real time or on an event basis, compared with from one single platform,” says Iadarola. “It is inefficient other companies, according to the Aberdeen Group. to run different departments on different platforms. Applications Real-time automation allows field service processes to be should be mixed and matched integrated with adjacent functions in the service chain. using the same platform, Aberdeen reports 44 percent of companies it polled are depending on the particular working to integrate service parts planning and needs that each department.” A distribution more closely with field service. complete software suite will pro- vide for numerous applications, “It is not good enough to pull out information, store it such as point of sales, distribu- and throw it into a backend system, where some day tion, inventory, e-commerce, you have to produce a report,” says Agentek’s accounting and workflow sys- Anderson. “Corporate America is looking to empower tems, which serve individual technicians to do their jobs in the field with instant business units. Agentek’s Chris Hale “While many mobility technologies are still offered as single purpose applications, mobility solutions will continue to evolve into strategic platforms that can support multiple applications,” says Chris Hale, vice president of marketing at Agentek. “Mobility technologies are the lynchpin allowing the mobile field service worker to become a fully integrated element of the CRM strategy.” The importance of having a complete software suite can be seen in the purchase of FieldCentrix by ASTEA International. FieldCentrix’s field service automation software has been integrated with ASTEA’s service lifecycle management and customer relationship management solutions. The result is an end-to-end service management solution with mobility solutions that Accessing real time job information. run on a wide range of mobile devices. VOL. 3, ISSUE 3, 2007 EWM 14
  3. 3. “It is no longer sufficient to selling directly to CIOs in close implement mobility solutions on a to 80 percent of its accounts. stand-alone basis,” says Debbie “Today’s CIO is getting hit with Geiger, vice president, marketing, mobility requirements across ASTEA International. “You need to multiple business lines,” says Pat ensure that mission-critical Smith, vice president, marketing customer information flows freely for Vettro. “Productivity is being across all the business units and to seen, not as a business line field service technicians when and need, but as an organizational where they need it. An integrated initiative. To fulfill this need, approach is the key to making a CIOs are opting for a complete ASTEA’s mobile solution a success.” suite of applications, which they Vettro’s Pat Smith Debbie Geiger can deploy on a staggered basis if they want.” Up to the CIO Level Mobile Devices, With enterprises moving from tactical to strategic initiatives in their field service automation software Networks Improve deployment, the buying decisions for software have Mobile devices today are getting cheaper and faster, been elevated to C-level personnel. According to which enhances their ability to provide real time data. Aberdeen, 86 percent of industry leading firms have What’s more, they are becoming more feature rich with director or vice-president level oversight of their field components such as bar coding, signature capture and service operations. Vettro, a mobile applications provider credit card swipe, which make them more attractive for for field sales and service organization, for example, has enterprise field service automation applications. gone from selling to the individual departments to Mobile devices are becoming more feature-rich, with barcode scanners, signature capture, credit card swipe and even RFID capabilities. VOL. 3, ISSUE 3, 2007 EWM 15
  4. 4. “A set of market conditions has removed the Wi-Fi Infrastructure Adapts to barriers to mobile computing. Perhaps the largest barrier was the cost of the hardware device,” Location Solutions says Agentek’s Anderson. “Lower cost mobile devices have led to a lot of interest in corporate In perhaps the seminal event of Wi-Fi RTLS America changing their business models.” development, Cisco Systems launched its Wireless Location Appliance 2700 in 2005, which incorporated Even though a large population of laptops is in location into its Wi-Fi systems. Shortly afterward, use in the enterprise space, handhelds with PanGo Networks and Cisco announced a joint asset exceedingly fast processor speed and increasing tracking solution that integrated Cisco’s location memory capacity are gaining in popularity. “A appliance with the PanGo Locator® 2.0. Most recently, transition is occurring from a laptop to a Cisco teamed with Aeroscout to create a location handheld for those users that don’t need a big solution that is specifically aimed at the aerospace, screen. The more the handheld can do and the automotive, mining and semiconductor manufacturing more we integrate into it, the happier the industries. customer is,” says Bruce Krohn, director, Motorola's Field Mobility business. The Cisco Wireless Location Appliance uses RF fingerprinting technology designed to track mobile Field service devices are indeed becoming more devices to within a few meters. With RF fingerprinting, feature-rich. For example, Motorola recently a spatial map of the floor plan is programmed into the introduced the durable MC35 Enterprise Digital system, which includes all physical characteristics and Assistant, which combines built-in GPS, Wi-Fi, access points. Using this map, or “location fingerprint,” Bluetooth, camera, wireless email, Internet the Wireless Location Appliance takes into account the access, signature capture and bar code reading building’s floor plan as well as attenuation, reflection, capability. and multiple paths, which affect the accuracy of RTLS signals. To determine the location of the RTLS tags, the Greater network speeds, increased coverage and signal strength is triangulated, but the location lower data prices are all working together to information is also matched against the database of facilitate field service automation over carrier location fingerprints until it finds a match. networks. “In the past, we did not have the data speeds, bandwidth, and reduced latency to In February, wireless LAN infrastructure vendor Trapeze enable these applications. With the high speed Networks™ introduced the LA-200 Location Appliance, data transmission standard EVDO Rev A which is designed to allow large-scale, real-time asset (Evolution-Data Optimized), we can deploy tracking over their existing Wi-Fi networks. Scalability is almost any application,” says Butch Musselman, achieved through routing the data from access points Sprint Nextel vice president of industry business around the wireless LAN controller and directly to the solutions. location appliance, which reduces the traffic load on the Wi-Fi network. The LA-200, a component of the The Motorola MC35 operates on AT&T’s EDGE, Smart Mobile™ architecture, plugs into an existing third-generation, high-speed, mobile data and Trapeze Networks Wi-Fi infrastructure. Internet access technology network, which covers 250 million people in 13,000 cities and almost Trapeze is partnered with location services technology 40,000 miles of U.S. highways. The unit also suppliers, including Newbury Networks, PanGo connects to an organization's wireless LAN via Networks, AeroScout and Ekahau. The Trapeze solution 802.11b/g, providing even more coverage. includes off-the-shelf business-centric location tracking applications from these vendors, as well as custom Networks are also providing the tools for software integration, and the LA-200 is compatible enterprises to take advantage of mobile with Wi-Fi tags from all of these vendors. computing, including field service automation. Sprint Nextel, for instance, has more than 100 VOL. 3, ISSUE 3, 2007 EWM 18
  5. 5. partners developing both horizontal and vertical software applications targeted at the enterprise. For example, one partner, Jumpstart, can take virtually any paper form used by a technician and convert it into wireless application, so it can filled it out over the phone through a series of keystrokes. When it is printed out it still looks like the company’s traditional paperwork. Thick or Thin Client? Real time information flow is sometimes seen as synonymous with “thin clients,” which must be connected to the backend system at all times to function, but it is still a “thick-client” world, where databases and applications reside on the handheld, according to Smith. The main reason is because mobile devices must sometimes operate without connectivity, which requires them to have their own database and software applications. Until coverage is 100 percent guaranteed, some companies will require a thick client. Some software applications download all the data on The Benefits to the Enterprise customer’s equipment to the mobile device when the The first step in field service automation is usually getting technician is dispatched, so it will be readily available, in rid of the inefficiencies of a paper-based system and thus case the signal is lost. eliminating errors. In order to remove the need for paperwork and also facilitate the service call, the screen “When the worker is offline and needs access to current flow process of the field service software must be designed to allow the most efficient way to complete the information, that gap can be process. bridged by having an on-board database,” says Vettro’s Smith. Developed as a series of screens, the application should “When a wireless connection is allow the technician to communicate the needed available, the system must be information with the backend systems. Software intelligent to detect new tasks and push the information out to the technician’s engineers may ride along with the service technician as he makes his rounds to see the current business device.” At the same time, the processes and if any inefficiency exists that may be backend system must be automatically updated with job information from improved through automation. the field as soon as a signal is available to ensure that “It all begins with the mobile worker. Getting firsthand knowledge of the field is extremely valuable,” says managers have up-to- Smith. “Organizations that have been in business for a date information. long time can get stuck in their ways, and it is important to have someone from the outside looking at the processes with a different perspective and to provide insight into how mobility can help with those inefficiencies.” Then and Now Paperwork is being replaced by handheld devices that automate While digital signature capture is an ideal way of proving the same processes. work completion, a customer is not always available. VOL. 3, ISSUE 3, 2007 EWM 19
  6. 6. Other solutions exist, however; a company that installs water meters may take a digital picture of the old meter, install the new meter and take another digital image of it. This photographic proof is then sent back to the corporate office to prove the work has been done. First time resolution of a repair job is very important, both to efficiency and customer satisfaction. To be effective on site, a technician needs to be able to access the complete product history, product schematics, Executive Blackberry use has provided a gateway for online service manuals and service level agreements. wireless data in other areas of the enterprise. Also crucial to first time resolution is making sure that the technician has the proper skills and the right parts The Consumer, Blackberries to fix the problem. The closest technician capable of completing the job must be the one dispatched, thus and the Future of aiding in first time resolution. Field Service Automation Automated access to information minimizes the One other factor affecting field service automation is number of calls to the call center, reducing the number the consumer market. Not only are people now more of dispatchers needed. The goal of automating field comfortable with new technologies but also increased service, however, is not just about reducing dispatchers consumer data use provides economies of scale that or closing out an additional trouble ticket a week. A drive down the prices making it more affordable for the well-informed service technician can also serve in a enterprise. Popular consumer features, such as cameras, sales capacity for a company. Each customer contact global positioning, Wi-Fi and email, are now becoming can lead to warranty sales or other sales lead field service staples. generation. Customer retention and additional sales can be built into the field service ROI model, as well as “The enterprise market definitely adopts technology lead generation for the sales force. that is popular in the consumer market,” says Motorola’s Krohn. “For example, we are seeing an up- “We are seeing the final tick in instant messaging, when service technicians piece of the service need more information on a client or need to confer automation puzzle. with a more experienced technician or they need a part Companies are from another truck. We see increased levels of beginning to see a productivity with the use of instant messaging.” tangible return on their deployment of these The Blackberry phenomenon is another example of how solutions,” says Iadorola. outside forces have had an impact on field service “In the past it has been automation. Productivity increases that white-collar a competitive advantage workers experienced with wireless e-mail opened their to have a field service eyes to the advantages of real time access to automation solution. information across all departments. Sales force Going forward, it will be automation proved how real-time access to customer a competitive relationship management information could help close requirement.” deals on the spot. Successful implementations of GPS- enable field force management have set the stage for the next evolution in field service automation. And the future of field service communications is a workforce Field workers also benefit from the increased armed with better equipment, real-time information adoption of wireless data. and the right parts to get the job done the first time. VOL. 3, ISSUE 3, 2007 EWM 20

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