Magazine Article | September 24, 2008

Converged Mobile Devices Increase Field Service Efficiency

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

In what ways can the functionality of a converged mobile device improve your company’s field service operation?

Integrated Solutions, October 2008

Today, converged mobile devices are becoming standard practice in the field service space. The majority of mobile device vendors offer converged devices, and companies who are researching new field service solutions are most likely considering them. Why? The evolution of converged devices has led to streamlined form factors, increased functionality, and more affordable prices. It makes sense — why use separate devices for voice and data when you can accomplish the same tasks from one? According to industry experts, these are three functions of today's converged devices that can improve your field service operation.

Use Real-Time Data Transfer To Improve Communication
In addition to voice communication capabilities, converged devices offer data communication and integrated Wi-Fi, WWAN (wireless WAN), and Bluetooth connectivity. With this connectivity, mobile workers can interact with employees inside the four walls in real time and can easily access back office systems. Mobile workers can instantaneously access service records that can provide background information on a job and also suggest additional products/services a mobile worker can sell. For instance, a mobile worker who installs and repairs heating units can look at the service record to see when the unit was installed and how many repairs have been made on it and suggest an upgrade when appropriate. Mobile workers can locate and order parts while on-site. They can also record job notes on the device while completing the job, rather than taking notes and manually entering them into the system later.

Every company providing field service understands the importance of meeting SLAs (service level agreements). Mobile workers using only a cellular phone have to stop working to call in to a dispatcher if a job is taking longer than expected, and many times it is already too late to alert the next customer of the delay. The real-time connectivity a converged device provides between the mobile worker and dispatcher allows companies to set up real-time, mission-critical alerts. "With a converged device, alerts can be set up so that by the touch of a button, the dispatcher is alerted when the mobile worker has arrived on-site, is working on the job, is closing out the job, or is leaving the job," explains Jim Hilton, senior director of field mobility at Motorola Enterprise Mobility. "This ability saves the mobile worker the time of calling in to the dispatch center to check in and gives the dispatch center much more reliable insight into the progress of each job." Further, the mobile worker can send an automated alert to the dispatch center and the next customer when a job is taking longer than expected. The ability for the mobile worker to inform the customer when they are running late, or for the dispatcher to send another worker who is nearby, helps the company manage customer expectations and avoid dissatisfaction.

According to Tony Condi, director of marketing at Psion Teklogix, the ability to create invoices on-site is another benefit of the real-time data transfer of converged devices. "In the past, a customer would be billed within 30 days for services rendered," explains Condi. "With a converged device, real-time connectivity into the accounting system and a mobile printer connected via Bluetooth allow mobile workers to create invoices on-site, decreasing the billing cycle." 

Accept On-Site Payment With Integrated Data Capture
In addition to creating invoices on-site, many converged devices have data capture abilities to instantaneously accept credit card payments. "A mobile worker is able to swipe the card or enter the credit card data, send it via a secure network to the home office for processing, obtain the customer's signature, and print a receipt," explains Condi. "Both the creation of invoices and acceptance of payment that are possible with a converged device increase a company's cash flow by helping them receive payments faster."

Data capture can also be beneficial in helping mobile workers complete jobs successfully by giving them access to information they need to get the job done. If a mobile worker is stuck at a job and needs help, they can take a photo of the task they're trying to complete and send it to another worker to get help. "Sending an image to illustrate what the problem or question is results in better advice or information on how to proceed," says Hilton. "This takes less time and is more accurate than trying to explain the issue over the phone, meaning that the mobile worker is back to work and completing the job much faster." Mobile workers can also access diagrams from the converged device, eliminating the need to carry and search through manuals. 

Embedded GPS = Higher Field Service Productivity
"There are many optional applications for these converged devices," says Hilton. "The one every company should consider is GPS." Why? There are different ways that GPS data can be used — but no matter how you're using it, GPS provides insight into the productivity of your mobile workforce. "With the bread-crumbing approach, the solution keeps track of how the mobile worker goes about their day. You can view this information at a later point and compare the mobile worker's productivity to what it should be," explains Hilton. If you notice a certain mobile worker who is repeatedly taking too long to perform certain jobs, you can take steps to resolve the problem. You may also choose the real-time 'dots on a screen' approach to GPS tracking and watch mobile workers throughout their workday. In addition to monitoring mobile worker productivity, real-time GPS tracking reinforces the communication with the dispatch center. For instance, the dispatcher is aware of where each mobile worker is, so if an emergency call comes in, the nearest mobile worker can be rerouted to accommodate. 

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Additionally, GPS data can be used to provide turn-by-turn driving instructions to mobile workers. "Although this may seem simple, having turn-by-turn driving instructions helps the mobile worker get to their next job on time," says Condi. "By saving the mobile worker the time of obtaining directions or getting lost, GPS navigation increases productivity."

The experts I spoke with agree that converged devices that were once considered the wave of the future have morphed into today's technology. Whether your company is currently looking for a new mobile solution or anticipating your next technology refresh, it seems as though the increased productivity a converged device can provide is something you should be considering.