Magazine Article | July 25, 2012

Mobility Overhaul: How To Revive Your Field Service Operation

By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine

Implementing real-time mobile communication has enabled ThyssenKrupp Elevator to reduce technician downtime and improve billing accuracy and efficiency.

Times change. Technology changes faster. With any enterprise mobility project, a refresh will inevitably be required, and when that time comes, IT and operational staff will have to select new hardware that can take advantage of new technology advancements as well as support legacy application requirements.

ThyssenKrupp Elevator, one of the world’s leading elevator companies, was faced with that task recently when upgrading its existing mobile field service solution. In doing so, the company wanted to migrate off its Palm-based mobile hardware (which required a tethered connection for data communication) to a Windows solution that could communicate via Bluetooth and wireless data networks, while still being able to support the company’s proprietary diagnostic software and specialized testing hardware. Moreover, the company had to be able to quickly and efficiently stage and deploy the devices to thousands of technicians across the country, while simultaneously implementing a new field service management software back end.

The company was able to successfully deploy the hardware and software in just 90 days, in conjunction with a new mobile device management solution. Not only has the company accelerated data transmission (which went from being manually synced a few times per week to being transmitted in real time), but it has also improved technical support for its field staff.

ThyssenKrupp Elevator is a $2.7 billion company with more than 170 branch and service locations in North America and a network of more than 2,700 certified technicians across the U.S. According to the company, there are more than 290,000 customer units in operation in North America with ThyssenKrupp service contracts (1/3 of which involve other manufacturers’ equipment). ThyssenKrupp Elevator has provided equipment for One World Trade Center, the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and the Wynn Las Vegas.

These are large, complex facilities that rely onThyssenKrupp’s equipment 24/7; to keep it in working order, the company’s technicians have to arrive on-site armed with the rightinformation and the right tools to diagnose and repair any problems. ThyssenKrupp Elevator has had a rugged mobile computing solution in place for a number of years and previously relied on Palm OS-based handheld computers in the field. These devices ran ThyssenKrupp’s diagnostic applications, work order management, and a service technician payroll application, but had to be manually tethered to a cell phone in order to upload data to the company’s servers at the end of each day or a few times per week. “At the time we deployed them, they were cutting edge,” says Rob Lewis, IT services manager. “Eight years later, they just weren’t any more.”

The Mobile Device Necessities

When the executive steering committee began searching for new mobile devices, the goals were clear. The company wanted to upgrade to a more modern, wireless platform, but the new devices needed to be just as rugged and support the same types of applications, including ThyssenKrupp’s custom diagnostic applications, as well as payroll and work order management. In addition to upgrading to real-time wireless communications, ThyssenKrupp also wanted to take advantage of Bluetooth connectivity for the company’s specialized testing hardware (which has to interface both with the elevator equipment and the mobile computer), as well as upgraded memory and processor speed advancements. “Our mechanics have a rough job, and the equipment does take abuse,” says Lewis. “We needed a rugged device that we could deploy across the enterprise, but still have the flexibility to select a wireless carrier based on the branch location. We also have custom diagnostic hardware that interacts with the devices, so the Bluetooth connection was essential to support that hardware.”

The company evaluated a number of potential candidate devices at its International Technical Services facilities in Dallas, where the computers could be tested with the company’s hardware and software. Although they considered both rugged commercial devices and consumer-style smartphones, they quickly saw that they would need to continue using rugged hardware because of the shorter life cycle of consumer-style devices. “We looked at going the consumer device route rather than rugged, and we determined that it would have been too painful,” Lewis says. “We would have had to redo everything every six months in terms of application support, because the platforms change so frequently.”

The company selected the Intermec CN50, a Windowsbased unit that provided the amount of ruggedness ThyssenKrupp required, while providing both Bluetooth and wide-area wireless communication. By enabling wireless communication, the company would not only be able to receive and send work order information faster, but also allow technicians to communicate with dispatch and other technicians in real time, while on-site. At the same time the company was evaluating the new hardware, they were also planning to roll out a new field service, work order management, dispatch, and scheduling solution from Servigistics to replace an internal legacy application. The company decided to replace the original ticket management system because of business growth and an impending ERP (enterprise resource planning) upgrade. Using Servigistics would provide improved visibility into workforce activities and service level agreement compliance, as well as allow the company to schedule and reschedule jobs based on a variety of metrics.

According to John Rinaldi, ThyssenKrupp Elevator system architect, service management and mobility, the Servigistics solution was also tested for eight months in preparation for the rollout. The company customized the system so that preventive maintenance calls could be available and local to the device at the start of each month, rather than having the system dispatch them daily in the same fashion as emergency calls. “The biggest change we made to that base platform was in reference to regular maintenance versus emergency calls,” Rinaldi says. “We couldn’t drip feed those jobs to the technicians, because it wouldn’t improve their efficiency. We adapted the solution so that those maintenance tickets are always available. The maintenance tickets are slotted for particular weeks and time frames based on the current workload. Emergency calls are dispatched as exceptions.”

With a large workforce spread over the country, ThyssenKrupp Elevator also needed a way to manage the deployment of, and provide better technical support to, the technicians, relative to the new hardware and applications. The company selected the SOTI MobiControl MDM (mobile device management) platform to help manage the logistics of the initial rollout, as well as provide remote help desk support. The software would also allow the company to push software updates and installation packages to large numbers of devices in the field at the same time, eliminating the need for technicians to physically bring the devices back to a depot for troubleshooting and updates.

Brand New Mobility In Just 90 Days

ThyssenKrupp Elevator rolled out the CN50s with the help of Las Vegas-based reseller Strategic Telecom Solutions. In total, 2,800 devices — fully loaded with custom diagnostic applications, accessories, and training manuals — were deployed across 150 locations in just 90 days.

“We sent the devices out as loaded up as we could,” Lewis says. “Strategic Telecom helped us pre-image and kit the devices to be sent out to the branches.” That involved pulling together the new devices, cases, car chargers, manuals, and other components (many of which came from different vendors and locations), then custom packaging the kits and shipping them directly to the various branches with the individual technicians’ names on them. “The logistics of doing that, spread out over our geographic area, would have been impossible if we’d done it ourselves,” Lewis says. “We’re very proud of the fact that it didn’t go off the rails.”

With the new solution, maintenance calls that come in through ThyssenKrupp’s national call center or through an individual branch are entered into the Servigistics system and then automatically assigned to a technician. Assignments are transmitted to that technician’s mobile device, and the tech acknowledges receipt of the ticket using the CN50.

The mobile client on the CN50 is an application developed by ThyssenKrupp Elevator using the Antenna Software Mobile Development Platform, which is integrated directly with Servigistics and the ERP system. Once on site, the technician can access the history of the specific equipment at that site; enter job information, labor, expenses, and materials; and then upload that data wirelessly to ThyssenKrupp’s ERP system.

Wireless communication also allows technicians to take advantage of institutional knowledge when they come across obstacles trying to troubleshoot customer equipment. “If they encounter an issue they haven’t seen before, they can get in touch with a subject matter expert who can see exactly what the mobile device is recording off the equipment,” Lewis says. “It helps them troubleshoot the customer problems faster.”

All of this happens in near real time. “With the old devices, they had to sync once a day,” Rinaldi says. “It was a manual process, so that information did not get to us very quickly.”

Wireless connectivity has improved billing accuracy and efficiency, since work orders are closed out and transmitted in real time. “Having that data in the system much more quickly and consistently definitely provides for efficiencies on the billing side and also from a customer reporting and interfacing standpoint,” Rinaldi says. “We also have some customer portal applications, so our customers will be able to access that information as it is being processed.”

Moreover, none of the advanced functionality available in Servigistics, including real-time dispatch, dynamic updating, and reporting, would have been possible using a manual sync solution. “Removing the onus from the end user for the transmission of data was important, as this improved the overall experience for the user,” Rinaldi adds. “There used to be backups at peak processing times; we’ve eliminated that problem and normalized the availability of the data.”

MDM Provides Tech Support In Minutes, Not Days

The MobiControl system, along with the wireless connectivity, has also made it easier to support the mobile application. The company’s previous MDM solution did not allow for remote access and real-time software updates. If devices were damaged or required an upgrade, they had to be shipped back for diagnostics and repair. The change has reduced device and technician downtime, saving hours of wasted time per technician and getting devices back in operation in hours or minutes versus days or weeks.

“Some of the technicians are remote from the branches, and they would have to drive a few hours just to turn the computer in, and then it would still have to come in for troubleshooting,” Lewis says. “If we had someone in Alaska, for example, and they weren’t going to overnight the device, it could take six days to ship it, and then turnaround on the repairs could be 24 to 48 hours. It might be out of service a week or longer.”

The devices themselves have proven highly reliable, and ThyssenKrupp reports a roughly 2% failure rate since deployment. Using the mobile device management solution, Lewis says that the turnaround on support calls has been cut down significantly. “That improves service to the customer, because our technicians can spend more time working on the elevators instead of dealing with technical problems,” Lewis says.

The CN50s are also highly rugged. “If you drop a device — any device — there is a good chance it is going to be broken. If it’s a mobile phone, you’d be sweeping up little pieces. But the CN50 comes back from a fall intact. Even if the screen were cracked, the device is still in one piece. We don’t have to automatically replace the device if one is dropped.”

Next Steps For Mobility

Next up, Rinaldi says the company hopes to more tightly integrate its service applications with its construction operation, which is currently managed entirely through the ERP system. “We’re in the process of merging those into a single application,” Rinaldi says. “We didn’t have time to do that sooner, otherwise we would have done it during the initial deployment.”

The company also plans to take advantage of functionality within Servigistics that will allow ThyssenKrupp to dispatch technicians to specific jobs based on experience and expertise. “We want to be able to optimize the selection of the mechanic heading to the individual job,” Rinaldi says. “That’s still in the works.”

As far as the hardware, Lewis says the company should be set with the CN50 platform for the next several years. “Change in the enterprise, especially with a hardware solution like this, can be painful,” Lewis says. “We feel we’ve picked the right device, and it is performing very well, so we’d be pretty resistant to any changes at this point.”

While ThyssenKrupp Elevator got its money’s worth from its original mobile solution, the company was able to recognize when it was time to upgrade. Application requirements and practical operational factors (including the need for carrier flexibility at the branch level) guided their hardware selection, and that in turn ensured that the features in the new field service solution could be fully enabled. That approach should help ensure that efficiencies will continue to “go up,” right along with the company’s elevators.

The Importance Of Wireless Flexibility

When ThyssenKrupp Elevator decided to upgrade the mobile computers for its field service automation solution, a key decision point was wireless connectivity. The company wanted to deploy devices to more than 2,700 field technicians across the U.S. and provide realtime connectivity in place of the previous solution, which required a tethered connection to a cell phone for data synchronization. However, the company wanted the flexibility of selecting multiple wireless carriers in different regions.

“We needed to be able to deploy this across the enterprise, but be able to select different wireless carriers based on geography,” says Rob Lewis, IT services manager. “We didn’t want to be tied down to one network. Local coverage can vary, and we wanted to be able to choose what was best for each branch.”

After evaluating multiple devices, the company found a solution in the Intermec CN50. The CN50 is a Windows-based rugged handheld computer that offers a 3.75G wireless WAN Flexible Network radio, which allows companies to configure the device for either CDMA (code division multiple access) or UMTS (universal mobile telecommunications system) wireless networks. The radio gives enterprises the flexibility to choose the network that provides the best geographic coverage and the lowest cost.

With the CN50, ThyssenKrupp was able to easily set up each branch with a different carrier where necessary, without significant hardware modifications or expense. “Carrier selection is really a big deal for us,” Lewis says. “The fact that we can reprogram the devices to switch carriers without having to send them back to a depot or switch out the radios has been very important.”

The CN50 is also equipped with Bluetooth v2.1 EDR, which was important because ThyssenKrupp has proprietary diagnostic equipment techs must connect to in order to service equipment at customer sites. For more information on the CN50 or other Intermec mobile devices and services, visit