By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine
Field service marks the intersection of cloud, mobility, and social technologies.
The continued adoption of mobile devices in the enterprise and an increasing reliance on always-connected personnel to drive improvements in field service operations have made cloud-based software solutions more appealing to enterprise users of all sizes. The proliferation of mobile applications for personal use has helped drive demand for similar functionality in line-of-business applications, while the lower start-up and support costs appeal to resource-strapped IT departments.
“With technology moving literally at the speed of light and new innovations hitting the market every hour of every day, the only way not to be left behind in the realm of software is to jump into the cloud,” says Yuval Brisker, cofounder and CEO of TOA Technologies. “This is especially true of field service solutions because they represent the juncture of mobile, social, and cloud technologies. Field workforces represent the perfect user group for adopting the cloud that is driving much of this innovation.”
Based on their experience with personal
mobile devices, managers and field personnel
are more likely to trust cloud-based or SaaS
solutions than they were a few years ago, and
companies are more familiar with the benefits
and risks inherent in cloud solutions. Other
developments have also encouraged adoption.
"Two primary points of evolution have
been the movement to true native apps for
mobile users and a full SaaS billing model
for all users," says Karl Schneider, VP of
marketing at FieldAware. "Many offerings
still include browser-based apps for mobile
users, but native apps are quickly gaining
ground. Similarly, many vendors still
require substantial up-front investment for
their solutions — potentially with monthly
fees for mobile access — but there is a
migration to bundle complete solutions in a
recurring monthly sum."
Cloud-based solutions aren't just saving
costs and making deployment easier. Using
cloud resources can help make these field
service solutions perform better. Consider
the processing power needed for routing and
dispatching algorithms that are used to schedule
service technicians. These can require
massive processing horsepower that is only
required for a short period of time.
"For such a scenario, cloud lends itself
perfectly since the vendor can have access
to massive resources spread amongst many
users," says Jim Hare, senior VP at FieldOne
Systems. "These new routing algorithms
enable cloud-based field service solutions to
consider tens of thousands of potential combinations
and identify the optimum solution
— and then do it all over again a moment
later as circumstances change."
What's Driving Cloud Adoption?
More companies are open to cloud solutions
because the technology is familiar.
"Users are ready to trust what happens in the
cloud more than ever before," says Stephen
Chambers, president of Service Skeds. "There
were a large number of misconceptions
about the cloud when it was first revealed,
but now more people are beginning to
accept the software."
Solutions can be deployed quickly and with
minimal up-front spend. "With a cloud application,
the company no longer needs to make
a significant investment in hardware and
further burden its IT resources," Hare says.
"We have seen the business operations group
ready to deploy a solution while its internal
IT resources were unavailable for months, so
the business and service problems could not
be addressed in the time critical for it to meet
its customer expectations."
A lower up-front investment is critical
for small and midsize businesses. "The ease of implementation via Web browser access
and native mobile apps helps to minimize the
effort and expense of getting a company up
and running," Schneider says.
Cloud solutions also provide flexibility for companies
that see swings in the size of their workforce.
"Many large enterprises outsource certain services,
relying heavily on contractors to handle surges in
workflow," Brisker says. "Cloud-based solutions
adapt easily to such hybrid workforces and scale
easily, expanding or contracting as the workforce
expands or contracts."
Data Security Is A Top Concern
The biggest concern most end users still have
centers around data security and control. "Some
companies that currently have premise-based solutions
for service automation, accounting, inventory,
etc. tend to be concerned about data security in the
cloud because they can't physically put their hands
on the server where their data is stored," Schneider
says. "Companies that have little or no existing
automation often have the same concern because
it is an extension of not being able to ‘hold' their
business in the form of a paper work order."
Companies should ask providers questions about
their cloud-based solutions. Does it run in a public
or private cloud? Can the provider offer a service
level agreement or guarantee uptime? Does the
vendor have a proven track record in providing
cloud services to businesses that are similar to
yours? "With the proper hosting facilities and welldesigned
IT architecture, cloud-based solutions are
actually far more secure and far more reliable than
on-premises software and servers," Brisker says.
Education is another stumbling block. Even
though deploying cloud solutions can be easier and
less costly, companies still need to do all of the data
configuration and employee training that would be
required for an on-premise solution. "Challenges
that are likely to be encountered are lack of experience
with these services by technicians and overall
lack of knowledge about the cloud," Chambers
says. "These can be overcome by giving technicians
experience with this software and training from
experts in cloud-based services."
Ultimately, Brisker adds, the best mobile and
cloud technology does a good job connecting
people. "When users realize and embrace this goal
from the very beginning, rollout goes smoothly and
successfully," he says. "The ability to deliver service
everywhere depends on effectively linking cloud,
mobile, and social technology. Service providers
exploring a cloud-based solution should consider
this and its implications for their choice of mobile
device and the software that will run on it."