Magazine Article | May 1, 2002

The Wireless Rollout

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

What can your company learn from a Fortune 100 enterprise like Honeywell? For one thing, the time is right to implement a wireless field service solution.

Integrated Solutions, May 2002

In the early 1990s you probably did a cost/benefit analysis on potential ERP (enterprise resource planning) solutions that promised to unify business processes within a single software application. When the possibility of a SAN (storage area network) arose a few years back, you probably followed the same prudent evaluation steps.

It's all part of the balancing act - weighing the costs and benefits of maintaining existing technology against the cash outlay and expected savings from implementing new technology. The hard part, of course, is knowing precisely when to commit your IT budget to a project. With little wiggle room in IT spending, job security depends on completing projects on time and receiving the expected return.

It is in this budget-conscious environment where wireless technology and applications are trying to make themselves indispensable. It's a hard sell for vendors, but one that is being made increasingly easier as the technology matures, price points drop, and real companies report real benefits. One company to realize these benefits on a national scale is Honeywell Automation & Control Solutions (ACS) Service. This $2 billion division of Honeywell International recently rolled out a wireless field service solution to its 1,400 technicians in North America who perform maintenance and repair work on commercial and industrial HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) equipment. In addition to improving customer service and increasing employee productivity, the five-month project eliminated 20,000 pieces of paper generated each week.

The implementation barriers to wireless solutions are lessening. If you've dismissed wireless field service solutions as technology for early adopters, it's time to reexamine the issue. In the midst of your balancing act, look hard at what Honeywell accomplished. Obviously, theirs is a tier-one solution; however, metropolitan and regional enterprises can learn a lot from this Fortune 100 company.

Wireless Extends Your Enterprise
Rolling out a wireless field service application is not a panacea for all that ails your enterprise. Business process and under-performing enterprise application problems will not be solved by wireless technology, only compounded. In fact, Honeywell's wireless implementation (FAST - Field Automation Service Technology) was the latest manifestation of the company's service initiative that started nearly a decade ago. "If you go back 10 years, you'll see that our first steps involved reworking the business processes," recalls Paul Danielson, process and technology leader for the FAST project at Honeywell. "We consolidated some processes and eliminated efforts that were being duplicated. We were driven to establish and follow best practices."

Working under a company directive to avoid becoming a software developer - having to program and maintain a proprietary system - Honeywell's balancing act began as it evaluated automated service management systems for its Global Service Response Center in Atlanta. From this center, more than 50 service and support personnel receive calls from commercial and industrial customers in North America and dispatch services. The needs of the center (i.e. automated call receiving and tracking, dispatching, maintaining customer account information, job tracking) set forth the requirements of any potential service management system. By 1996, technology price points and capabilities reached a point where Honeywell was ready to invest. The company implemented WennSoft's service management software at its Global Service Response Center, and this system is the core of Honeywell's field service operations. Running on a SQL database, the system allows for call tracking, service planning, and maintenance planning. "The software houses all of our customer data from location to contacts to contract agreements. We also know the equipment used at each location and plan our maintenance schedules based on this information," states Danielson. "This back end system is really at the heart of our service business."

Manual Processes Impact Bottom Line
With proven business practices in place and an automated service management system up and running in Atlanta, improving the performance of Honeywell's 1,400 technicians was the next logical step. "When we started pulling together requirements for a remote service solution three years ago, the technology either didn't exist, or it was cost-prohibitive," relays Danielson. Instead, the company relied on alphanumeric pagers to communicate with technicians in the field. With a 200-character limit on each page, a typical message might read, "miller mfg, 310 main st, pittsburgh, fred miller, 412-555-1234, office 310 cold, under contract, respond immediately." In addition to needing more information to react to the page, technicians would call the Global Service Response Center to simply confirm receipt of the page. "Each customer call generated an average of four calls between the tech and the service response center," adds Danielson.

It was after repairs and maintenance were complete that Honeywell technicians got bogged down in paper. Work orders, job descriptions, and labor and equipment data all needed to be committed to paper before Honeywell could conclude service calls, update records, and bill clients. In some cases, technicians saved time by not providing what they considered to be unnecessary details. "All of these processes were necessary to complete the service call. But, they also resulted in an average billing cycle of 17 days," comments Danielson.

Big Benefits Come In Small Packets
By August of 2001, Honeywell was ready to make its single largest investment in field service operations. Wireless technology, it deemed, offered much less risk than before and the benefits were enormous. The five-month rollout included all 1,400 technicians in North America and leveraged Cingular's Mobitex data-only network to transmit data between field technicians and the Global Service Response Center. Armed with Windows CE-based handheld PCs from Itronix, the techs now receive detailed data about every service call via a small antenna mounted on the units. "Information is sent and received electronically. Phone calls between the techs and the service center are almost nonexistent," says Danielson.

The WennSoft service management system's functionality has been extended to technicians via wireless middleware and a mobile application from FieldCentrix. Armed with customer demographic data and work order information, the techs move from job to job and complete the "paperwork" through their handheld PCs. Work is completed, customer data is updated, contracts are reviewed, and signatures are captured through the handheld PC and relayed back to Atlanta via Cingular's Mobitex network. "We use a wireline to send packet data from Atlanta to Cingular's data center in New Jersey. That packet data is sent by wireline to a Cingular base station in the technician's proximity. From there, the packet data is sent wirelessly from the base station to the antenna on our tech's handheld. The process works in reverse when the tech sends information back to Atlanta," explains Danielson. "The data is transmitted back and forth with no delay." While Cingular is the primary wireless provider and provides all of the terrestrial transmissions for Honeywell in the United States, Wireless Matrix provides satellite communications where terrestrial coverage is not available. In Canada, Honeywell uses packet data services from Bell Mobility and CDPD (cellular digital packet data) services from Telus, Sasktel, MTS, and Alliant.

Instant access to data and real-time updates to customer databases has resulted in big gains for Honeywell, including a 93% reduction in paper usage. Eliminating manual processes has compressed the billing cycle from more than two weeks to five days. In addition to increasing Honeywell's cash flow, customers receive more detailed, professional-looking reports.

Beyond Wireless - Ways To Improve Customer Service
As a corollary to Honeywell's wireless field service initiative, the company also sought to improve customer service through a new portal solution. The password-protected site allows customers access to their own data that is stored in the WennSoft service management system. Because 60% of service calls involve scheduled maintenance, customers can use the site to see when a technician is scheduled to arrive and when the maintenance is completed. They can also view billing information and service reports. "This is a new service, so we haven't seen a significant drop in call volume at the Global Service Response Center. As we continue to enroll customers, we expect that call volume will decline," adds Danielson.

Honeywell's FAST initiative did not end with the wireless field service rollout; it was simply the next step in improving productivity and service. This evolutionary process is leading Honeywell to explore business intell