How the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014 impacts the future of service and prevents complacency in the industry

croud at cesOne of this year’s coolest events has already come and gone with the wrap up of CES 2014. The annual Consumer Electronics Show, an internationally renowned electronics and technology tradeshow held in Las Vegas ended Friday, January 10th. As usual, this year’s event brought tons of tech buzz, questions about the future role of technology in our personal and professional lives, and promises for future innovations.

With technology news sources reeling with the new product announcements, we in the field service industry now have the opportunity to sit back, browse, and figure out how in the heck we’re going to incorporate these new technologies into our service operations. Sometimes all you need is a little creativity to get a head-start on your competitors by integrating new electronics in innovative ways. We’ve come up with a few ideas from CES 2014 to get your brain ticking.

The Internet of Things

Before we dive into the products themselves, let’s summarize the theme of the show–the “Internet of Things”–the idea that cloud and internet based apps represent the future of technology. As more devices connect to the internet, people will soon be able to organize entire lives through cloud-based demands and triggers.

For example, Belkin announced its lineup of home automation products that allow you to control light bulbs, crockpots, and other appliances using an iOS app. Just hit a button in the middle of the work day and your crock pot will turn on to the desired temperature.

According to Cisco CEO John Chambers, his company’s plan to incorporate the Internet of Everything will alter the trajectory of virtually every person on the planet, consumer and professional alike.

For field service, the Internet of Things might include machine-to-machine communication like an app-operated inventory management system that tracks each part through the cloud and orders more parts without any human go-between.

But let’s get our heads out of the future and back to why you’re really here. Here are some of our favorite announcements from CES 2014 and how we’d make them work within a field service context.

Mobile devices: fancy or functional?

Instead of coming out with completely new devices for traditional mobile technology, many tablet and smartphone makers focused on catering to specific industries or bedazzling old products. Here are two new devices that you could consider for everyday field service use:

  • Caterpillar B100 rugged cell phone: This rugged smart phone isn’t anything fancy, but it sure is functional for workers in service, construction, or other active fields. The phone is certified IP 67 to protect against water and dust. It can drop from up to six feet and survive in water up to one meter deep for up to 30 minutes and is designed with big buttons to allow technicians to use it with wet or gloved hands. Its easy to use, rugged design makes it an enticing option for companies that just want a phone that works.
  • LG G Flex for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint: While not geared toward rugged industries like the Cat B100, the LG G Flex sure does look good. Whether it will improve anything beyond smartphones we’ve seen in the past is still up for debate. Some of the phone’s interesting, potentially useful features include: a self-healing plastic cover, improved video-taking capabilities, curved design for optimal comfort while operating and talking, Android operating system and quad core 2.26 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. If you want to impress customers as a technology-savvy organization, this phone’s sleek look and innovative design may be for you.

Software Innovations

One of the biggest challenges for software companies trying to adapt their products to the Internet of Things is getting devices and operating systems to talk to each other and work in unison. At CES 2014, we saw plenty of companies trying to do just that:

  • Intel Dual OS:Intel confirmed at CES 2014 that their processors will power computers that can switch between Windows and Android with the press of a button. As more and more devices running on a variety of platforms continue to emerge, software innovators have a clear opportunity to connect and sync those devices and platforms. With the ability to integrate and connect operating systems on any device, organizations will be better able to support a bring your own device (BYOD) policy and face less problems that arise from incompatible devices and platforms.
  • AMD and BlueStacks will run Android within Windows: Similar to Intel’s joining of Android and Windows, AMD, a semiconductor company that develops computer processors and other devices, teamed with BlueStacks, an app play company, to run Android within Windows. The integration will allow the use of Android applications on Windows computers so people don’t have to learn a new interface or download a different app in the Windows version if they’re comfortable downloading and using apps on their phones first.

Other Mobile Technologies

  • Auto technologies: Field service organizations can use driving and vehicle efficiency technology to save thousands on drive time, vehicle maintenance, and fuel. One example from CES 2014 is the Audi’s zFAS computer, powered with components created by Nvidia. The car’s lasers and sensors, referred to as the car-centric version of the Andriod operating system, allow it to drive in traffic and park itself. While I’m assuming field service organizations aren’t going jump out of their seats to purchase the newest Audi for their entire fleet, new auto-technologies hint at exciting developments for the future of fleet management.
  • Wearables: Unlike last year’s tradeshow, this year featured fewer new mobile devices like tablets and smartphones and focused more on wearable technology. With new products like Google Glass taking off, it’s fascinating to consider where wearable technology will take field service. Here are some of the top wearable announcements with field service potential:
    • Peeble Steel smart watch: Peeble announced its new experienced, informed, and connected smart watch. Peeble CEO, Eric Migicovsky, claims the company wants to broaden the spectrum of people who would consider buying smart watches by harkening back to a classic aesthetic with a steel-based design. It may seem like a minor adjustment, but with the look of a traditional watch, anyone can wear Peeble Steel without drawing unwanted attention. For field service businesses, this could mean that technicians and managers stay connected throughout the day and have a stylish mobile device handy whenever they want to document or analyze data.
    • Intel goes wearable with smart ear buds, smart headset, smart bowl, smart watch, and wireless charging bowl: In addition to their plans to connect Android and Windows, Intel also made huge leaps in wearables. Of these smart features from Intel, the smart headset seems to make the biggest waves for field service. Its Bluetooth earpiece includes a lag-free “personal assistant” program similar to Apple’s Siri. With the ability to receive information and make requests through the headset, technicians and back office personnel can remain in constant, hands-free communication.
  • Data collection, storage, and charge: One of my favorite parts in Harry Potter is when Hermione pulls an entire week’s worth of camping stuff out of her magical purse including a tent large enough to sleep at least six people. That little purse can hold so much! Well, as magical as it may seem, that depth of storage is where the future of mobile storage is headed. With the announcements from CES 2014 mobile devices can hold a charge for longer and store more information than ever.
    • Mophie space pack TM: The mophie space pack is the world’s first smartphone case with built-in storage for the iPhone 5s/5. It doubles battery life and increases storage capacity to magic-purse proportions. Technicians using the space pack could save and share more photos, videos, signatures, and documents without worrying about running out of storage space. And with mophie’s free iOS app, Space, users can access content and manage their documents through a local file without the need for network or WiFi access.
    • Ascent Solar Accepts Order for EnerPlex TM Charger for Apple’s iPhone: Even if it doesn’t make a huge impact on the field service industry, Ascent’s solar EnerPlex TM Charger for iPhone is cool. Instead of relying on electronic chargers, users can gain extra battery life by letting their phones soak up the sun. No longer can your technicians use the excuse that their phone died–especially if it’s a sunny day.

What CES 2014 Tells Us About the Future of Electronics for Field Service

It’s clear, based on the theme and announcements at CES 2014 that the cloud and the “Internet of Things” is where the tech industry is headed. Service organizations that are able to build up their mobile efforts with technologies that allow devices and platforms to work together through cloud-based programs will have a clear technological advantage over companies that aren’t adapting with the times.

Events like CES have two over-arching benefits for the field service industry:

  1. It promotes ambition and competition among software companies and pushes them to innovate faster and at a lower price tag, which is great for service organizations that can adapt those innovations into their operations.
  2. It shows field service providers the importance of evolving. If your competitors are adaptive and integrating new technologies, you will certainly fall behind if you don’t follow suite. And this pressure is a good thing because it keeps service companies from becoming complacent. With ever improving technology, the service industry can also evolve to produce better and more efficient service. And isn’t that the goal?

Electronics and software announced at CES often seem a little out there and futuristic, but so did light bulbs when they were first invented. As a field service organization on the cusp of evolution, get creative to think of new and innovative ways to incorporate the newest technologies into your operations. Because when the tool comes along that will automate repairs or transport technicians through high speed tunnels, you won’t want to be the one left in the dust.

7 Best Practices for Choosing a New Field Service App

Learn how you can make the best decisions when incorporating field service software into your operations. Use these tried and true methods for organizing the field service software buying process. Eliminate the unexpected and increase your chances of success with your software in the new year.

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