Magazine Article | March 26, 2009

Optimize Your Field Technician's Productivity

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

A digital writing solution helped this company realize a 23% increase in same-day invoicing.

Integrated Solutions, April 2009
Safelite AutoGlass, based in Columbus, OH, employs more than 3,600 service technicians to repair and replace automobile glass for its U.S. customers. Eighty percent of a technician's work is mobile, as they drive from appointment to appointment throughout the workday. For years, the company relied on a manual dispatching process. Also, completing a job took several steps including calls back and forth to the main office — a time-consuming process for administrative staff and technicians alike.

The company used four-part carbon-paper work orders to dispatch, schedule, and record payment transactions for jobs. Administrative staff was tasked with preparing each technician's daily work orders before they arrived at the main office around 7:30 a.m. "Commonly, work order changes occurred [e.g. changes to appointment time and contact telephone numbers] and happened any time of day," says Nathan Beckman, project manager at Safelite AutoGlass. "For records purposes, the staff had to update the most recent work order with new information as soon as they received it. On average, work orders were printed five times a day, creating wasted paper."

Once the technician collected his work orders, he called his first customer to discuss his ETA (estimated time of arrival). Ideally, when technicians left the main office in the morning, they did not return until the end of the day to return paperwork (e.g. signed work orders). Therefore, the only way a staff member could alert the technician about work order changes was to call him on his two-way Nextel BlackBerry. These calls were distracting to the technician, especially if he was in the middle of a job.

Upon arrival at the appointment site, the technician collects information such as VIN (vehicle ID number), mileage, license plate, and state registration. This information is important to insurance companies, because without it, they cannot validate the vehicle's coverage under the insured's policy, and as a result, they cannot remit payment. Safelite AutoGlass required this information procurement procedure, but there was no way to guarantee the technician would adhere to it. Sometimes the VIN number was incomplete or the handwriting was difficult to decipher. This resulted in additional administrative work in the back office.
After gathering information, the technician completed the job and collected payment if applicable. If the customer paid with a credit card, the technician had to call an administrative staff member to read the card number over the phone. While the technician and customer waited up to five minutes, the staff member received authorization on a separate system.

Inefficiencies drove the company to develop an in-house custom software application that could handle most of these field tasks wirelessly. The solution developed by the team is called the Mobile Resource Management (MRM) application. It enables Safelite AutoGlass to dispatch work orders wirelessly while continuously monitoring job status. The company researched and evaluated hardware tools including tablet PCs, signature pads, and docked and undocked solutions, as well as internally developed solutions to maximize MRM's functionality. It selected an integrated solution composed of ExpeData Enterprise Digital Writing software, Anoto Bluetooth-enabled digital pens, BlackBerrys, Datamax-O'Neil thermal printers, and ExpeData thermal paper rolls.

Now, technicians download their jobs each morning using the BlackBerrys. Technicians who do not have glass to pick up in the morning no longer need to drive to the office to pick up their paperwork. The in-house application tracks the technician's time with clock-in/clock-out functionality. Also, it prompts technicians to electronically input all vehicle information and warns them if the fields are left empty. This alleviates problems deciphering handwriting. In addition, the staff simply alerts technicians of appointment changes via the application. Technicians can check appointment status via their BlackBerry at their leisure. When the technician arrives at the client's site, he prints an approval form (i.e. a statement to initiate the work) using the thermal printer on ExpeData thermal paper. The approval form is completed with the Bluetooth-enabled digital pen, which captures the handwriting. The handwritten strokes are routed to the BlackBerry where they are processed by the ExpeData software, converted to digital images, and then securely routed to Safelite AutoGlass' main office.

Once approval is received, the work is performed. At the conclusion of the work, the customer's credit card information is captured via a card swipe on the thermal printer, and a second document is printed to capture payment authorization. Handwritten information and signatures are captured on the second document and routed to the Safelite main office, too. Before he leaves the site, the technician receives acknowledgement on the BlackBerry that all digital paperwork has been received. MRM also reduces paperwork at the home office, as all paperwork is left with the client, and only digital images are retained.

Safelite AutoGlass has reaped many benefits since implementing ExpeData Digital Writing solution. Credit card processing time has decreased from 3 to 5 minutes to 30 seconds. Technicians are communicating more effectively, contributing to a 23% increase in same-day invoicing for completed jobs. Also, the company has reduced paper costs by 80%.