Q&A: What's The iPad's Role In Field Service?
By Sarah Howland, Editor In Chief, Field Technologies magazine
Editor in chief Sarah Howland talks one-on-one with Kevin Rusin of McKinley Equipment about his company’s selection and use of the iPad.
For our inaugural Peer Perspective column, I decided to tackle a topic that has elicited incredible buzz the past couple of years — the iPad. Some say the iPad isn’t fit for field service; others argue it’s the wave of the future for mobile deployments. In this column, we’ll hear firsthand from Kevin Rusin, CFO of McKinley Equipment, on his company’s use of the iPad — what factored into the decision to use the device, how the company prepared for issues it may encounter, and what the future holds for the company in regards to mobile devices.
Field Technologies: What was the #1 reason you chose the iPad for your mobile deployment?
Rusin: It actually came about because we were looking to simultaneously deploy Salesforce CRM and ServiceMax’ field service software. The ServiceMax application is tailored specifically to the iPad, so wanting to leverage their platform steered us in that direction. That said, don’t get me wrong — we had no qualms about the device. We wanted a device that would provide all of the functionality we were looking for, but also that our techs would actually enjoy using. This meant that the device needed to be incredibly intuitive — we were moving from a paperbased process and doing it with techs who aren’t necessarily techies. I don’t know of a more intuitive device than the iPad, and the ServiceMax application on the device gave us a tool that would prove easy for our techs to learn and use in the midst of such a big change.
Field Technologies: While ServiceMax’ application is geared toward the iPad, you can use it with other device types, including Android. Did you consider an Android-based tablet at all?
Rusin: No. I’ve heard of a lot of drama and issues with Android devices — integration issues, bugs, errors – you don’t hear those things with the iPad. If we were going tablet, we were going iPad — iPad is synonymous with tablet like Kleenex is with tissue. Why go with something less known, less popular, less reliable? Adoption is tough enough; we didn’t want to take a chance on adding possible problems.
Field Technologies: Fair enough. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being none, 10 being immense), how big of a factor did the iPad’s consumer popularity play in your choice?
Rusin: I would say 9. It definitely was a big factor because we knew it would be easy and enjoyable for technicians to use. We also wanted to visually demonstrate to our customers our new brand. ServiceMax has built a really intuitive app for the iPad that leverages a lot of the consumer technology trends that make it simple and fun to use.
Like I mentioned, our techs generally aren’t overly techsavvy. But, of our 45 techs, three of them already had an iPad at home, and the rest were familiar enough with it to know they thought it was “cool” and would be exciting to use. You wouldn’t get that same reaction with a device that doesn’t have the iPad’s overwhelming popularity or iconic status. We knew that choosing a device as popular as the iPad would make our deployment easier.
There are two major “pros” that led us to the iPad — the first is its ease of use and intuitiveness. I have a three-year-old and a five-year-old, and they’re iPad masters. If they can navigate the device, anyone can. That’s reassuring when you’re looking at migrating from a paper process to electronic. The second major pro is the general, universal appeal of the device. Let’s be honest — it’s a sexy device. Especially in an environment like our techs work in — grimy, greasy, dirty. Not only were they excited to use it, it portrays a level of professionalism to our customers that the techs — and we as a company — can be proud of. They’re no longer handing over greasy work orders at the end of a job. Now when a tech is finished with a job, he pulls out his iPad for signature capture and the clients are emailed a copy of their paperwork automatically and immediately. It depicts our techs and our company in a different light — one we’re excited about, our customers are happy with, and our techs can be proud of.
Field Technologies: It can’t be all “pros,” though. What “cons” did you consider with the iPad?
Rusin: One was just the overall employee adoption and compliance, but that’s a generic concern with any mobile deployment — not specific to the iPad. The biggest “con” was our concerns about lack of ruggedness with the iPad. However, we’d considered rugged devices before and had some issues with them — namely the boot up time to get it up and running in the field and issues with signature capture and Internet connectivity. We’d pretty much decided those devices weren’t right for us, but we also wanted to make sure the iPad would withstand its use in the field. We put two measures in place to address that issue.
The first tool we use to bolster the durability of the iPads is rugged cases from OtterBox that protect the devices in the field. In addition to the case itself, we purchased an accessory kit from OtterBox that has proven very useful. It includes a sort of “raincoat” cover for inclement weather, a handle that makes passing the iPad back and forth for signature capture very easy, and a strap the techs can use to hang the device next to them when they’re working on equipment for which they need schematics or diagrams. The OtterBox case works really well. There have certainly been instances in which the devices have been dropped, but none have broken or become damaged.
The other measure we took to help counterbalance the nonruggedness of the iPad is that we allow our techs to take the device home with them at night and on the weekends. Our thinking was that doing so will give them a sense of ownership of the device, rather than it being just a tool they use when they come in every day. In the beginning, it also helped them get familiar with the devices faster because they can use it for what they’d like as well as for what they need to at work. With these two measures in place, we’ve had no issues with the iPad’s lack of ruggedness.
Field Technologies: That’s interesting! It makes me wonder, though — have you had any issues with employees not taking good care of the devices? If so, would they be reprimanded by not being allowed to take the device home? Also, how do you handle the data costs with this method?
Rusin: We haven’t had issues with devices breaking. Honestly, if you have techs who are deliberately neglecting the equipment you’re providing them, it becomes more of an HR issue. As far as the data costs go, we do allow the technicians to make the iPad theirs. They can download apps, music, whatever. And a lot of them will let their kids and families use the iPad when they’re at home. We provide 2GB of data for each tech per month, and as long as they’re keeping track of what they’re using — prioritizing work first — they’re welcome to use all of that. Anything over that, they’re expected to take care of on their own — typically by using a WiFi connection.
Field Technologies: So how did your employees respond when you deployed the iPad? Were they as excited as you hoped they’d be?
Rusin: They were thrilled! The new iPad came out and a week later they had one in their hands. They knew in advance how we were going to start servicing our customers with this new tool and that they could use the iPad at home. For the training, we leveraged the three techs we had that had an iPad at home. Since they were already familiar with and enjoyed using the device, we used them as our “internal cheerleaders” for the solution. The rollout and training went really smoothly, more so I think than had we rolled out a different device.
Field Technologies: What role do you see the iPad playing in your business going forward?
Rusin: The iPad will play a role for as long as we can see. The device, with ServiceMax, is now and will continue to be our technicians’ link to the rest of the company. They are no longer on an island when they’re at the client site. They have the knowledge and power of our entire service organization on every work order. In addition, they can Skype with managers and the factory to help them resolve issues right on the spot. We’re also really excited about the social capabilities of ServiceMax on the iPad in addition to the more standard field service functionality it provides. The iPad enables our techs to gather information on the job that they weren’t able to before. We can then use that information to serve our customers better, anticipate service they’ll need, and ultimately generate more revenue for our service organization.
Field Technologies: What role do you see the iPad playing in the realm of the mobile workforce in general going forward? Is there a role for both the iPad and rugged devices? Do you think the “next big thing” will replace the iPad’s popularity, or is it here to stay?
Rusin: I think people will gravitate toward the best devices that they know their technicians will adopt and use. That’s the key. None of the mobile field service software out there reaches its ROI potential unless it is being used by the entire field service organization, and adoption is key. Products like the iPad inherently make adoption happen faster. Rugged devices right now are bulky and ugly, in my opinion. The interface can be really cumbersome and complex, too. I think you also have to remember that there is not one product for every company. What may work really well for my organization may not for others, and therefore it is an individual corporate decision. However, the iPad is here to stay.