Magazine Article | May 22, 2009

Converging Routes On A Map

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

While adoption of GPS (global positioning system) technologies remains limited among field service organizations, deploying these solutions effectively can be key to best-in-class performance.

Integrated Solutions, FS&M Advisor 2009
The average consumer is now afforded a vast variety of navigation and GPS-enabled tools. Whether it be onboard navigation systems, off-the-shelf personal navigation devices, or navigation applications available on cell phones or smartphones, the proliferation of GPS devices cannot be ignored. It would seem likely then, that with the vast availability and use of navigation and tracking tools in the consumer space, as well as the broader cost and productivity ramifications associated with real-time tracking, scheduling, and navigation, we would see significantly high adoption rates in the enterprise space as well.

In a recent research survey of field service and manufacturing organizations conducted by Aberdeen, with the support of Wireless Matrix and Intergis, only 35% of responding firms indicate that they currently track the whereabouts of their field technicians, with 47% indicating that they track the whereabouts of their service vehicles with the help of GPS technology. With regards to other service resources such as parts and serviceable assets, only 19% of firms indicate that they actively track resource locations. To analyze the adoption trends from another perspective, responding firms indicate that, on average, they track the locations of approximately 44% of their field workers, 47% of their service vehicles, and 20% of their service parts. There are positive indications of moving these percentages up to 55% for workers, 65% for vehicles, and 32% for service parts in 2010. More so, responding firms clearly see the value of tracking their resources, as they indicate that nearly 3/4 of their workforce and service vehicles would benefit from the aid of GPS tracking technology.

Maximizing worker and vehicle utilization is the key driver for the increasing evaluation and use of location intelligence in the management of service resources. Given that firms indicate current utilization rates at around 50% for both workers and vehicles, it isn't surprising that nearly 2/3 of firms indicate the pressing need to increase resource utilization. Nearly 1/2 of firms also indicate the need to enhance the speed of service delivery and the need to cut service-related costs as key pressures driving the quest for location-enabled tools and workflows. Cost containment continues to be top of mind for service executives, as our research has found that the cost per service dispatch has risen from $209 in 2006 to $263 in 2008 and all the way to $276 in 2009. Efficiency is paramount for today's service executive so as to drive the most out of service resources to maintain and exceed customer expectations while keeping a tight control on resource-related costs.


Firms have chosen a variety of routes with regards to devices and tools used to incorporate the tracking and visibility components of GPS while providing their workers with access to mapping, navigation, and routing. Devices range from the use of vehicle black boxes (i.e. mobile data terminal vehicle sensors) to the use of mobile and smartphones, laptops, or ruggedized handhelds. At this stage there seems to be a divide between the use of handheld devices for work order functionality with the use of in-cab devices for mapping, navigation, and tracking functionalities. In fact, nearly 40% of firms indicate that they currently leverage separate devices for work order and location functionalities. However, 70% of respondents indicate their preference for a single device for all work order and location-enabled functionalities (handheld or in-cab), laying down the path for the increased convergence between GPS or workforce tracking and overall workforce mobility.

Standing in the way of increased adoption of location-enabled tools are cost, integration, and resource requirement challenges. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most severe, firms ranked system development and integration costs at 3.66, along with hardware costs at 3.6. Further integration complexities with corporate back office systems ranked third at 3.33. The firms that are ultimately able to maximize the use and value of location intelligence are those that are able to integrate and facilitate the bidirectional flow of data between location tracking tools in the field along with back office scheduling, routing, and parts management systems. Not only does this ensure the effective empowerment of workers in the field, but it also provides increased visibility to the back end service organization to effectively build a winning road map to best-in-class performance.