Although lawyers may spend part of their time away from an office, field service technicians rarely return to the office; they spend their days troubleshooting and solving problems at their clients' facilities. Next to transportation workers and couriers, field technicians are probably the most mobile workers; effective automation of their jobs can have a huge impact on the number of calls that can be fit into a working day. Workflows that could be automated include the following:
- Troubleshooting problems
- Ordering parts
- Scheduling site visits
- Tracking time and billing details
Among the hurdles faced by technicians are access to detailed schematics and troubleshooting information, obtaining the right parts to fix a problem, locating and traveling to client sites, and dealing with busy and ever-changing schedules.
An ASP Solution
The solution selected for field technicians is a turnkey approach offered by an application service provider (ASP). FieldCentrix provides hosted solutions that include software, network access, and hand-held devices. Its FX Mobile product (see Figure 2) automates the entire field service processincluding dispatch, troubleshooting, time-recording, access to job site and equipment histories, and communications. It replaces the more traditional pager/cell phone/clipboard approach with an integrated system that improves efficiency by reducing dispatch overhead and keeping workers in the field for a greater percentage of their working hours.
Figure 2 FieldCentrix FX Mobile field service solution on a Pocket PC device.
Before a site visit, the field service worker reviews the job and equipment information they needincluding location, street directions, problem descriptions, and equipment inventory. When the worker arrives at a site, a timesheet is automatically created for the job. Industry- and equipment-specific workflow software guides the worker through the steps of the job, prompting them to perform standard tasks, take notes, and record repairs. For many procedures, the worker simply checks off items on the computer screen. If workers need help or information from other field workers, they can contact them wirelessly in real time using their mobile devices. When work is completed, there is a record of all procedures carried out. The customer can then digitally sign a completed work order that is filed with a central server; a copy can also be sent to the client via email. The completed employee timesheet is submitted wirelessly.
There are a number of obvious advantages of this scenario. Using an ASP frees you from the need to carry out application development, deploy your own infrastructure, and keep up with mobile technology. The FieldCentrix solution works over a wide range of network situationsfrom standalone and dial-up, through cellular, to satellite-based communications. Various hand-held devices are supported, including laptops, Pocket PCs, and Palms. It is clear that unless your operation is large, an economy of scale can be realized by sharing this complex infrastructure with other field service organizations.