Magazine Article | October 1, 2005

Mobilize Your Field Force

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Field service workforces are ripe for wireless and mobile solutions. Proven paybacks and advancements in technology justify your case for implementation.

Integrated Solutions, October 2005
Field service is a highly touted application in the wireless/mobility industry right now, and with good reason. The nature of field service � scheduling tens, hundreds, or thousands of workers who interact with customers and perform specialized service tasks outside of a company's walls � is perfect for wireless and mobile solutions.

I experienced firsthand the complexities of scheduling field service technicians when I attended Click Software's Executive Summit, "Beyond Scheduling," at WBR's Field Service 2005 show. At the seminar, attendees were given the opportunity to try to schedule six service technicians. We worked with a magnetic board depicting the hours in a workday, and we were limited by factors such as technicians' skills and the length of time jobs took. Fitting in all of the jobs into the technicians' schedules was very difficult, and no one created the most optimized schedule � that is, where no technicians were working overtime and there was no downtime between jobs. I certainly can imagine the complexities of manually scheduling a larger number of technicians (and under more pressure than I was in that classroom situation).

Another reason to consider a mobile solution for your field service force is that advancements in technologoy are a major objective of technology vendors in the space. At industry shows this past spring, several vendors describe field service as a prominent area of opportunity for them. This statement means you will see a plethora of new and improved technology offerings to mobilize your field service, from converged and streamlined mobile devices to more predictive scheduling programs. Also, wireless networks are constantly improving; third-generation networks like EDGE (enhanced data rates for global evolution) and GPRS (general packet radio service) wirelessly transmit data over IP (Internet Protocol) networks at more than 140 kbps (kilobits per second).

I recently spoke with Van Nguyen, founder and CEO of mobile software provider Agentek, about this area of the industry. He said that, while mobile solutions are more easily implemented now than a few years ago because of improved wireless infrastructure, field service is really taking off because of the proven payback for enterprises. The articles in this supplement bear this out: Ferrellgas automated the scheduling of its 4,000 drivers and reduced extraneous driving and wasted stops to deliver gas to customers. In another case study, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) distributor HTS Engineering can proactively schedule its technicians based on maintenance agreements and schedule return visits.

If you haven't deployed a mobile solution yet, you should definitely consider it. However, it is not the simplest technology to implement. Field service solutions are not bandages � your call-taking and dispatching processes need to be streamlined first. When you examine solutions, look for a technology provider that can help you determine the best way to implement the system.

Automated scheduling and mobilized field service workers is becoming standard operating procedure. Make sure you don't get left behind.