How Live Video is Transforming On-Site Maintenance
Most field service technicians aim to successfully complete all service calls on their first visit each day. For a majority of their calls they are expert at doing what’s necessary for the products they service. But those calls during which the equipment is less familiar or the repair is more complex, can cause delays, require return visits and overall added expense, not to mention reduced customer satisfaction. A growing trend to addressing this challenge is to connect field technicians to remote product experts using mobile video and audio conferencing on field service purpose-built tablets or handheld devices.
Video communication is now common in the consumer world where services like Google Hangouts and Skype let individuals and groups use the cameras and screens on any of their connected devices to talk with and see each other. And businesses have adopted the same technologies to create collaborative meetings in which the participants can see everyone else in the meetings.
Field service organizations are recognizing the potential advantages available and are increasingly moving toward implementing live video connections for their technicians. The Service Council reports that 18 percent of companies responding to its survey are building business cases for deploying “real-time video capture for live resolution support,” and an impressive 38 percent of companies are considering the technology for future deployment within five years.
Field Force Enablement
Gilad Brand, vp of product management for ClickSoftware identifies two trends he sees in field service environments. “The primary implementation is generally in support of the maintenance activities of the technician via remote support. Technicians can typically address 80 percent of the service issues they encounter but don’t yet possess the specialized training for the remaining 20 percent they encounter. That support is being delivered directly to the on site technician by specialized engineers at their office. In a way this becomes their internal help desk.” Brand says the assistance is delivered either by video streaming from the field to the engineer, or by augmented reality whereby the instructions are displayed over the image taken with a mobile tablet of the product being serviced.
“We are also seeing increased use (of mobile devices) in training,” says Brand. Field installed products are complex and some aspects of service can take two years or more of training before a professional can become certified. “Companies are using sophisticated software to load the technician’s schedule to their portable device. Training videos are also downloaded based on the products to be serviced, and the tech is able to go through the instructional material prior to their visit.” This incremental training enables the company to bring their staff up to speed without the need to spend time traveling to classrooms for training that may not be used immediately.
Field service professionals face more demanding environments than do consumers and mobile workers and their devices need to be able to withstand the rigors of outdoors and industrial settings and still deliver superior performance. In fact, The Service Council lists the top concern of those companies contemplating video enablement to be the quality and reliability of video streams. Those concerns should not taken lightly as many factors come into play that can negate careful planning and investments. Issues that are merely inconveniences to consumers can cause expensive delays when they interfere with field operations. Poor antenna design and placement can cause loss of signal, particularly in industrial environments. Screen visibility in bright sunlight or dark-lit areas can hamper performance. And video communication can exhaust consumer device batteries. Companies planning advanced field service mobile applications and device deployment need to consider more than how popular and stylish the devices are and look at attributes that enable the devices to perform under the most demanding conditions.
Here are a few attributes to consider to when making a technology refresh decision for your business’ field service mobile devices:
Device size: Small form factor is a key for many of these environments because space is at a premium. There may not be the room or opportunity to set down and open a laptop PC, so handheld devices or tablets may be favored.
Display size: The display needs to be big enough to be easily seen, possibly through protective eyewear, and to accommodate the graphical interfaces of many modern business applications.
Connectivity: There’s no need to weigh down mobile employees with multiple devices when a single handheld device can deliver voice and data connectivity and utilize Wi-Fi or a cellular network.
Durability or Ruggedness: Devices break; it’s a fact of life. But when a business device breaks outside of the traditional office environment, servicing or quickly replacing that device is not always an option. Rugged devices that are built to withstand demanding environments and the drops, falls, and spills that sometimes accompany them, help maintain productivity while keeping repair-and-replace costs down.
Long Operation / Battery Life: Some devices that are purpose built for enterprise or field service like use have specially-designed batteries to last for a full shift and recharge rapidly.
Thermal Management: Whether devices continue to operate in extreme high or low temperatures is important for field service operations usually performed outside or in extreme environments like a refrigerated warehouse. For the low temperature testing, the devices should be tested to operate at a temperature set as low as -20°F. For high temperature testing, units should be tested to operate at a temperature of 140°F.