Jul 09 2014

The Need for a Field Workforce Mobility Strategy

Field workers need mobile devices suited to the jobs they do and the environments they work in.

There are two mobile workforces representing the average company in the energy sector. First are the traveling professionals who use either a personal or a company-provided device to access business data and stay connected. Then there are the field service workers who do everything from drilling on a rig and repairing power lines to delivering home heating oil to customers.

These teams can’t do their jobs effectively and efficiently if they’re saddled with traditional tools or are reliant on manual processes. They need mobile devices suited to their job functions and their work environments. While business- or consumer-grade tablets and smartphones may suffice in many field situations, some tasks call for rugged devices that can withstand harsh conditions, especially if it’s on a daily basis.

Going Mobile? Head to the Cloud

Mobile devices need network access so field technicians can connect with the home base and collaborate with managers, partners, suppliers, customers and each other. The devices must run a host of mobile apps that support general business processes as well as highly specific field functions. To meet access and availability demands for roving workers, mobile software solutions — mobile apps, mobile device management (MDM), mobile application management (MAM) and field service management suites — are best deployed as cloud services.

Through automation that pushes paper out of some processes, IT departments can work with field service operation leaders to review workflows, with a goal of identifying field and office inefficiencies (such as manual data entry) that can be eliminated to streamline workflows from end to end. Unlike paper-based workflows, automated workflows provide transparency into activity, enabling personnel to get a status view at any point in the workflow. It’s yet another way that field service mobility strategies improve individual employee and organizational productivity.

Other desirable features include the ability to easily capture critical data or accept digital signatures that are automatically uploaded to databases, as well as access to real-time data from centralized systems. With this access, employees can check warranties on the equipment they’re about to work on to see if they are covered, and perform jobs based on the most accurate, up-to-date information available.

Mobility improves the quality of operational data when staff send updates as they finish tasks and begin new ones. And with mobile service apps and databases, workers can manage their own schedules and ensure they stick to them by using GPS to determine the best route.

Door-to-Door ROI

The capabilities enabled when energy companies adopt field service best practices and mobile technologies make a strong business case. IT investments in field service are easier to justify than some in other technology areas because they can be tied to return on investment. Companies can save a lot of money by reducing system downtime, optimizing workforce logistics, improving case-closure rates and pushing the paper out of a few processes through re-engineering.

It’s no surprise that better field service yields better customer satisfaction scores. Loyalty to a provider typically makes for a continuing relationship, which means a continuing revenue stream at the least, and may encourage additional spending on products and services over time. Loyalty also leads to word-of-mouth marketing — a one-to-many exchange, thanks to social media — as well as referrals.

Meanwhile, when armed with a toolkit that lets them showcase their jobs, service technicians are more engaged in their work and more likely to stay with the company. This reduced turnover means techs are continuously improving their skills and increasing customer satisfaction.

What’s more, with access to a customer’s spending and service history, they become extensions of the sales team. With pop-up windows that present cross-sell and upsell recommendations, a field tech can turn a good service outcome into a chance to sell new products and services. Mobility in the field also yields faster time to revenue. A technician can generate invoices on the spot, which kick-starts the billing cycle. Or better yet, workers can accept payment at the point of service, generating a receipt — and instant revenue.

Want to learn more? Check out CDW’s white paper, “Mobility Fuels Productivity in Field Service Operations.”