Prepare Your Field Workforce for the IoT Era in 2017

The Internet of Things (IoT) is no longer a vague futuristic vision. IoT devices already populate a wide variety of products, tools and machinery. And whether you consider Gartner’s estimate of 25 billion things or Cisco’s estimate of 50 billion, the year 2020 will see intelligent devices connecting all kinds of products and connecting to service technicians in new ways. Those connections can make a positive difference in the efficiency of field service organizations as McKinsey Global Institute estimates increases in productivity at between $19 billion and $43 billion. Field service organizations need to be proactive in connecting their technicians to IoT device platforms and integrating IoT applications with their field service mobile applications.

Here are five steps field service organizations need to take now to get and stay ahead of the IoT curve.

1) Know what the technology is

The IoT is made up of a collection of technologies, most of which have existed individually for some time but are brought together in different combinations depending on the role they need to play. Different products require differing technologies depending on their use but the most common component is some kind of communication capability like WiFi, cellular, or RFID. IoT devices communicate information they collect through a variety of sensors that monitor conditions like temperature, moisture, and vibration and send the data to “cloud- based” storage systems. Once the data has been captured it can be analyzed as part of big data efforts to derive insights. For field service organizations the insights are most often used as part of maintenance scheduling systems that add product specific expertise in order to schedule predictive maintenance, inventory control, and to dispatch technicians.

2) Learn what IoT means

IoT implementation can make a financial difference. The Service Council expects service organizations to achieve first-call fixes by 11 percent. But because of the communication capabilities inherent in IoT enabled devices, remote service resolutions will see a 41 percent boost. Field technicians are able to receive and respond to dispatches initiated by IoT devices and even remotely access the subject units to determine if they need to make physical contact with the machine. In order to do this, technicians need to have enterprise-grade mobile laptops and tablets they can count on to operate and perform reliably. They need to be able to connect wirelessly under challenging conditions to their remote systems to access service details, product documentation, and also connect to the IoT device to perform diagnostics and configuration functions.

3) Bring benefits through IoT

IoT brings additional function to devices like smart electric meters and other utility meters as well as a wide variety of consumer appliances and household controls like thermostats and security systems. Field service organizations should leverage the information they gather from the IoT by funneling the data through their support and sales systems to extract actionable intelligence about how their products are used. They also need to become proactive in their approach to product maintenance. Organizations equipped with field service mobile management systems integrated with their IoT data can send automated real time alerts that field technicians receive directly on mobile devices.

4) Enhance customer interaction

Service organizations can further leverage IoT-enabled systems to deliver enhanced customer service by sending alerts to customers in advance of problems, and can do even more by resolving potential problems before the problems affect users. Advanced customer service communication systems can be enabled to establish direct communication between the customer and field technician to arrange for a service call while the technician is in the area. Proactive notice and personal attention significantly raises the bar for service organizations and creates good will from customers.

5) Predict IoT future uses

The use and value of IoT in field service will increase as the pace of IoT system deployment quickens over the next few years with the improvement and cost reductions in IoT devices, the deployment of 5G wireless communication and customer’s expectations for automated service and support. Field technicians will rely on laptops and tablets to be their mobile office, reference shelf, and communication service and will need enterprise-grade mobile devices that can continue to perform regardless of the length of the work day, weak cellular signals, exposure to extreme weather or temperatures, moisture, dust, grease and even when dropped or knocked often.  Field service organizations should look to the future and explore the possibilities available through increased use of IoT and the technology requirements needed to enable technicians wherever they need to do their work.

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