Gone are the days when a field technician was a lone wolf armed with only a toolkit, clipboard, and thermos. While preparations could be made for standard maintenance calls, one never knew exactly what to expect on a repair call.
Today the field technician has instant mobile communication between base support and the individual who originally identified the problem. Digital tablets that allow for real-time updates of problem reports and equipment status have replaced the clipboard. At least the thermos is not going away any time soon.
Let’s look at some of the ongoing trends that will affect the work of field technicians in the near future.
Mobile devices and apps
For the field technician, the job site can be anywhere and can change every day. Mobile devices must be rugged for rough handling and screens must be readable under a variety of lighting conditions. Improvements will continue to be made in these areas.
Modern smart devices are able to read bar codes and QR codes with their built-in cameras, which means that proprietary laser-scanner attachments are no longer required. This is accelerating the usage of these codes for the identification of equipment and locations.
The internet of things
Another way that technology is changing the future of field technicians is through the Internet of Things (IoT). The profusion of off-site monitoring through IoT technology enables enterprises to monitor and control equipment at remote locations in real-time. Computer diagnostics can sense trends, report, and even anticipate problems. It’s becoming less frequent for field technicians to wonder what they’ll find on the other side when they open a door.
IoT has profoundly changed the information relationship between client and field technician. It used to be that when a problem with on-site equipment occurred, the client would initially know more about equipment status than did the field technician. With IoT, the field technician is dispatched with comprehensive information about the status of the equipment and has the job of informing the client. This requires the future field technician to develop a whole new skillset in customer relations.
Once upon a time, no field service van was complete without a shelf of manuals kept in binders whose pages had to be frequently updated. Those pages are now online and automatically updated. A comprehensive library of technical information is only a few taps away on the field technician’s tablet screen. So where do we go from here?
Why animation, of course. Caterpillar is experimenting with an augmented reality system for equipment repair in the field. The technician holds up the tablet and the tablet scans and recognizes the equipment. The tablet then provides an animation overlay of the needed maintenance or repair procedure, with helpful arrows pointing to each component needing to be worked on.
Field service management software
Field service management software is a necessary part of any enterprise’s ability to track field service operations. When you’re juggling schedules and orders for managers, technicians, and customers, you can’t afford to drop any of the balls. Yet, while field service management software has become standard, growing pains are still common.
Does your software integrate with your mobile devices and is it expected to continue doing so with future upgrades? If your organization expands, will your field service management capabilities expand with it? The expectation is that field service management will increasingly integrate with other systems within the enterprise, and software must likewise accommodate.
Conclusion: Humans Wanted
Thanks to modern communications technology, the field service technician is no longer alone in the field. Rather, the field technician is constantly in touch with office and customer, and while the ability to act independently will always be valued, there is now the added responsibility of effective communication with everyone involved in the repair effort.
We’re still far from the stage where a drone will descend from the sky, knock on the customer’s door, and effect repairs without human intervention. Until then, the ability of humans to adapt and work in unique situations will continue to have value in the area of field service, and management must continue to rise to the challenge.