Yeah, phones. We all have them, we all idly scroll through them, our kids can’t understand how it is that we managed to survive decades without them. They’ve naturally become assets in our personal lives, and have heavily penetrated service over the last decade as well, to the point that their near-ubiquity has created a sense of stagnation.

Still, some technicians struggle to push the buttons to start and stop appointments, log notes, or manage inventory and other elements on their mobile devices. There are a few reasons why this is the case, of course. Some technicians simply have their workflow worked out, they’ve been doing this for too long to add in steps that slow things down with no discernable benefit. Others have not been appropriately trained on the tools. Others still simply forget.

Much of this stems from a relative immaturity in the types of mobile tools that are put at your team’s disposal. There are a lot of ways to take mobile and do it wrong, so let’s break down some of the areas where businesses have seen success in leveraging mobile tools.

Making Mobile Matter

As I’ve said before, mobile needs to be much more than a pared-down portal with limited functionality, or—gasp—a webapp. True mobility takes advantage of the form factors at your disposal to deliver everything that’s available at a workstation and then some.

The Better-Than-Desktop Approach

This approach, which we will call the “Better than Desktop” approach, puts more power in the hands of technicians on the site than they’d have otherwise. Before we talk about what that means capability-wise, you need to think proactively about what your technicians are doing on a typical job site. Do they have access to both hands? Do they need to facilitate a handoff between hardware in the van or at their desk and hardware where they deliver service?

The bare minimum of this working is ensuring that your mobile utilities have identical functionality to desktop utilities. Technicians shouldn’t have to retreat to a laptop to bring up a part list or log notes, and if they’re in need of knowledge management, they need to be able to access it, not just completely, but quickly. No sifting through resource libraries. That’s enough of a pain on a full-fledged computer. How can you index and provide that information quickly and effectively on a job site?

A lot of that is going to come down to exactly what technicians are using on a job site.

Thinking about the Hardware

While rugged devices still abound, as well as the odd proprietary widget, but for the most part, when we think about mobile field service, we think about consumer-grade devices like phones and tablets. And yes—these generally should be the primary drivers of the mobile experience, as they’re ubiquitous, easy to develop for and to use, and relatively cheap to replace. But ancillary technology needs to be considered as well.

One of the many “better-then-desktop” utilities that should be considered on a jobsite is, naturally, remote assistance. End users are typically fine with using their phones for remote assistance, but what if you’re training up new staff on repair protocols? Remote Assistance can help onboard new technicians in significantly less time. And in those instances, it may be worth looking at augmented reality headsets, which create a more seamless field of view for drop-in, and even better persistent object tracking for more accurate overlays.

That’s one example, of course, but it speaks more broadly about how we can take mobile field service to the next level. Mobile devices themselves are full of uniquely useful sensors and cameras, including Apple’s newest iPhones, which ship with a LiDar sensor built in. Because of that, the opportunities to improve mobile functionality will continue to grow. If you start with a 1:1 mobile-to-desktop approach, you’ll be set up to capitalize upon it.

Tom Paquin
Author

Contributor, Future of Field Service