Magazine Article | March 26, 2013

Q&A: A Look Into DISH Network's Mobile Strategy

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Sarah Howland, Editor In Chief, Field Technologies magazine

Editor In Chief Sarah Howland talks one-on-one with Erik Carlson, EVP of DISH Network, about the company’s mobile technology strategy.

DISH Network views the use of mobile technology as a way to provide superior service to its customer base. Last April, we featured DISH Network on our cover and discussed the company’s deployment of a cloud-based field service software solution from TOA Technologies that enabled a 10% productivity gain across the company’s 16,000-strong field workforce. I recently caught up with Erik Carlson, EVP of DISH, to see what’s changed with DISH since last April and what the latest version of DISH’s mobile strategy looks like.

Field Technologies: What purpose do you feel mobility can serve in a field service organization? What is the overall goal of DISH’s mobile strategy?

Carlson: Our team of technicians is uniquely positioned as the only organization at DISH that interacts face-to-face with our customers. As such, technicians represent the company not just in their attitude and ability to efficiently complete the job, but also in the mobile device they use while on the job. The mobile technology in the hands of our technician sends a signal to the customer about how good the technology is that we are installing in their home. So a thoughtfully designed mobility platform can thus make a positive impression in the eyes of a customer.

Because our team of technicians works independently in the field, our overall goal for mobile technology is to empower the techs to be 100% independent. By providing our technicians tailored technology solutions that offer a sense of empowerment, they in turn become more engaged with customers, and their productivity increases.

Field Technologies: Since you were featured on our cover last April, you’ve migrated your mobile solution from the Windows OS to Android. Why the switch? What benefits do you feel the Android OS offers over Windows?

Carlson: Our initial mobile deployment a couple of years ago leveraged the predictability of Windows XP to access our home-grown, Web-based mobile workforce management system. That system went through multiple revisions and enhancements, and Windows provided the basic flexibility needed to accommodate those changes.

Today, however, the open architecture of Android provides us a balance of customization and predictability that better fits where we are going. There are many benefits with our new Android OS, including:

  • seamless connection to the Internet;
  • faster boot-up times and real-time recovery from standby state;
  • increased options for power management;
  • apps not available on other platforms, such as our “DISH Pointer” satellite finder;
  • the familiarity that many users already have with the UI (user interface) on personal devices.

Field Technologies: You’ve also migrated from a rugged tablet solution to the Samsung Galaxy Note. What’s the reason for this change? How have the Galaxy devices been working for you in the field?

Carlson: The decision to leave military-grade rugged hardware was closely connected to our decision to leave the Windows OS. Our tool set before deploying mobile devices, for instance, included a rugged satellite meter designed to fall off a roof, radios built for construction sites, and a tablet that likely could have survived a tornado.

With Samsung, we found devices that have ideal screen sizes and provide rich displays. These mobile devices make it easy for technicians to point satellite antennas, manage work orders, navigate driving routes, and even for customers to electronically sign agreements. Plus, Samsung devices come at a reasonable price. Now that these devices have been put through their paces in the field, we find they meet our expectations, and we are pleased with our choice.

Field Technologies: You mentioned that multiple carrier support was an important factor in your decision to switch devices. Can you explain why this was a big deal for you and how having it has improved your operation?

Carlson: A unique element of the satellite-TV business is providing service to customers in exceptionally remote areas nationwide. Yet, our technicians work in regions underrepresented by a single, national wireless carrier. In order to provide the best coverage possible for maximum mobile connectivity, we have partnered with multiple carriers and let our field managers decide which carrier is best for their location. For continuity, we also want them to choose a provider of data and voice that is the same network partner for all technicians assigned to their office.

Field Technologies: You also said that training mobile workers is easier with “consumer” devices. Why do you think that is? What was your experience like with training when rolling out the Galaxy devices?

Carlson: We were able to train techs on the new system using a 17-minute video. The ease of use of the Android interface cannot be overemphasized. Techs with personal smartphones on Android were obviously easy to train because they already understood the platform. Those on iOS devices picked it up quickly, and some even switched from iOS to Android on their personal phones. Early user implementation was squarely one of the key successes.

Field Technologies: What are your thoughts on the “consumerization of IT”?

Carlson: By supplying our technicians with devices similar to what they use personally, we increased early buy-in. This trend bodes well for the mobile worker as networks, mobile device technology, and application capabilities all continue to be tested and proven in the wide consumer market. In addition, we can leverage what makes sense in terms of economics and functionality for our workforce, like intuitive apps and handheld communications.

Field Technologies: You’re using a cloud-based service management solution (from TOA Technologies). What are your thoughts on cloud-based vs. premise-based solutions? What has that cloud solution enabled DISH to accomplish?

Carlson: Two clear wins with the cloud are the elimination of IT infrastructure and a uniform deployment of the management system to technicians in the field. In addition, version control, application changes, and updates are easily received by users simultaneously. Our confidence in TOA as a technology partner and as a firm that delivers a product with consistency is a significant accomplishment.

Field Technologies: You’ve spoken quite a bit about the importance of making the mobile worker’s job easier — what advice do you have for companies on how to do this?

Carlson: Take the time to view these types of projects from the perspective of the employee. A recipe for success is to create channels for continuous interaction and honest consideration of suggestions from the people using the devices. For instance, we held roundtable sessions and created an online forum that promoted transparent sharing of suggestions, even when not favorably reflecting upon all of our efforts. For us, this provided constant, realistic evaluation of the solution as well as ideas and pathways for improvement.

Field Technologies: With all the experience you have evaluating, selecting, and deploying mobile technologies, what’s the one thing you’d advise someone else against?

Carlson: There is no shortage of shiny objects, so your team must be disciplined to stick to a strategy and not chase them. Stress usability first and fit the technology into the users’ workflow. It is important to avoid fitting the workflow to technology.