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Technology 'Revolutions' for Field Service : Did we really work like that?


Technology 'Revolutions' for Field Service : Did we really work like that?

"Excuse me,” the customer said, “I have your office on the phone and they want to speak to you.”

That’s strange, I thought, I was given 5 calls to cover today, I wonder how the office tracked me down to this specific customer?

As it turned out my planner (dispatcher) called three customers before they finally found me.

It was 1989; I was a field service engineer; Did we really run service like that?

We all know that the right technology, implemented the right way, can be a game-changer for field service. Today, the jury is out on wearables like Google Glass (See Field Service Digital's post on Why Google Glass Is Not Dead In Field Service)  Throughout my career in field service, I've been on the front line of some of the newest devices to come to field service teams. As I look back, I have seen the advent of technology ‘revolutionizing service’ (or so we thought) in so many ways. To add to the conversation, I wanted to share a few of the funny moments grappling with technology over the years…

1. The service docket (in triplicate)


The service report in triplicate was very much the mainstay of any service organization.

The customer has the top copy (signed of course), the office got the middle copy and the engineer kept the bottom copy for his/her records.

Of course engineers were empowered to send in all their job sheets to the office on a weekly basis. Now, like a typical service professional, paperwork was never my strong point. I cannot tell you how many times I found a chargeable docket under the passenger seat amidst coke tins and empty crisp packets. The docket was usually darned with a multitude of stains from whatever had been swilling around my the carpets of my car.

I use to sweat about the scenario where a might ask to see a copy of the signed service docket, and I would have to hand them something that resembled a child's homework submission (you know the story of the dog chewed, coke stained, crumpled up piece of paper.)

2. The pager – remember these?


When I first got wind I was getting a pager, I felt like I ruled the earth. The ability for the office to contact me to re-route me was revolutionary! That is until I received mine and started using it.

Bleep, bleep, bleep. Picture the scene: I am on the motorway at 70mph and my pager goes off. I am 20 miles away from the next motorway service station.

"Hmmm, do I pull off the motorway at the next junction and find a phone box or carry on to the next service station?" (I had been recently trained on a new, high-volume, high-priority product)

I decided I need to pull off at the next junction and find a phone. I drive around aimlessly looking for a phone box. Finally after 10 minutes I found a phone and called the office.

“Hi, it's Dave Hart. I have been bleeped, what’s the problem?” To be met with “Oh hi Dave, it's okay. We did bleep you, but I have covered the call with another engineer.” The screams within the phone box could be heard miles away!

The pager was never a ‘hit’ with me.

3 . The ‘mobile phone’


Obviously technology progressed and I moved onto one of these.

No more pager, great! But my, oh my, were these things heavy. They were quickly, but not affectionally, dubbed the 'brick phone.' Ever try lifting a tool case, vacuum cleaner, technical manuals and a ‘brick phone’ into a customer site? I was fitter than I had ever been! And boy oh boy did it fascinate the customers. As was customary back then, I would called the planner to get the next call. Customers would asking why I didn’t use my new ‘mobile’ phone? And I'd admit, it normally wasn't on anymore. The battery (even though it weighed 20lbs) lasted an hour if you were lucky and the cost of a call was the equivalent of some countries' total GDP.

The device did start to help with escalating calls to technical support and helping other engineers, connecting us in a new, but extremely heavy way.

4. The laptop PC


Now we are talking! 20th century! I was issued my first laptop. The thrill and excitement of being in a  connected world….or was it?

Well one ‘good thing’ about a cell phone technology is it was now much lighter; but of course all that weight lost was more than made up for by my laptop!

Reporting using a laptop usually meant switching it on (as the battery life wasn’t great you kept having to shut it down) waiting SEVEN minutes for the operating system to boot, connecting via VPN, being booted out of the VPN, trying to re-connect, failing to reconnect, shutting the laptop down, waiting seven minutes for the laptop to load the operating system again, then try to connect to the VPN. Rinse and repeat.

Oh, the hours I have spent standing on a chair trying to get a 3g connection, waving my laptop out of the window, or in desperation taking the elevator up to the top floor and getting a connection so I could report my job ticket. Of course being 10 floors away from the product you are repairing does make ‘live reporting’ interesting.

And I wasn’t going to take the risk of running down 10 flights of stairs to collect a meter reading so ‘guesstimates’ were the order of the day…

Moving Forward: Getting New Technology Right for Field Service

Jeremy Frank​ remarked in Field Service Digital's article on Google Glass for Field Service:

"Just moving from paper work orders to mobile devices has required a cultural shift at many companies. With the Glass user interface the way it is today, the training and culture changes would have to be even bigger (and maybe unlikely) for successful adoption."

I may chuckle at the pitfalls and nuisances of decades past, but I don't despair in the power of technology to make a real difference in the lives of your field service team.  The key is to make the experience of the remote field tech a top priority. They want to get their work done, they want to be successful, and they want technology to make their job easier, not weigh them down. 

Q& A:

What about you?

What technology potholes have you and your team survived?

Where are your best (or worst?) anecdotes from the field with new devices?

What is most important to successful field service? Technology? People? Training? Some combination?