Field Service

The Future of Field Service: No iPads, More Offerings and Smarter Data Solutions

John Pomerleau knows field service. As Motorola’s North America field mobility principal, he develops the mobile strategy and execution for field service companies nationwide. Since mobile software and devices are slowly, but surely, gaining footing in the field service industry, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get some insight on this topic–and the challenges it presents. Pomerleau dishes on why he’s bearish on the iPad in the field, how to keep up with evolving industry trends, and what service organizations should focus on in 2013.

SmartVan: Mobile devices have been widely adopted among general consumers, but relatively slow to gain traction in field service. What advice do you have for field service managers when it comes to mobile adoption?

John Pomerleau: You have to begin with the end in mind and ask, “What are we trying to accomplish? What are the goals of the organization?” Mobile is a tool to help you achieve that. Mobility gives you more visibility to what’s going on in the field. Without it, once the vans leave for the day, it’s really hard to get visibility into how techs are doing and how they are doing against their schedule. Mobility gives you that visibility, that lens into what’s going on in the field.

Mobility can also help service organizations figure out where they’re falling short, where they need help, if they need a higher headcount. Mobility enables them to do their job better, to the point of giving them more information at the place they need it, usually in front of a piece of equipment or the customer. The more we can enable that service technician to do a number of tasks — like check inventory, ensure he has the right piece of equipment–in front of the customer and the equipment, the more successful he will be. Happy customers are paying customers.

SmartVan: You’ve said that the iPad is not the answer for field service. Why?

JP: At Motorola we deal with technicians who have been in the service industry for years with complex systems and thick clients. In the field service business, the tougher the environment, the tougher it is on the devices. iPads simply aren’t as durable as a lot of other devices in the field.

If it’s not outside all the time and not in a critical environment, it’s fine. But if a service tech makes 20-25 stops a day or it’s really cold or hot, it will shut down. Most consumer devices shut down at 92 degrees. If a technician is in the middle of looking up a service order and the iPad shuts down, that’s a problem. There’s money on the line, there’s customer satisfaction on the line, and that’s where we see the difference between the iPad and rugged devices.

SmartVan: How does Motorola keep up with evolving trends?

JP: We look at what we can learn from the consumer side. We look at that from a mechanical, operating and user interface perspective. There have been tremendous changes in user interface of operating systems. The other side we look at is how service organizations are changing their business. A couple things we see changing are the need to share information across the enterprise–i.e. how many service calls have been made, how many are under contract, how many are paying. And we look at how these companies can provide a better service to their customers and what else they can offer.

SmartVan: What specific trends are you keeping an eye on?

JP: We’re always keeping our eye on screen technologies, OS. Battery life is always a big issue. The more we ask these things to do, the more energy we need out of them, so how do we get them to last longer? We’re watching things like near field communications (NFC), which seems to be more widely adopted in EMEA than in North America, and we look at what customers want in their technologies and how that can impact the enterprise.

A migration we’re seeing is, what used to be an application before is now starting to be more of a utility. For example: GPS. It’s traditionally a utility on a mobile device, but maybe it can be embedded in software, so when developers write for a device, GPS and its capabilities are already in there.

SmartVan: What are the biggest challenges you face?

JP: Never before have we seen so many operating systems available to customers. If you look at the enterprise standpoint, you have iOS, Android, Microsoft. As a manufacturer, we ask ourselves which of these is going to stick. If we make a device and there aren’t any applications available for it, it’s a glorified paperweight.

We look at what the application community is doing. My job is to reach out to the developers and, if we have a new device coming out, determine where they are in the development of the operating system. As a manufacturer, it’s our responsibility to help nurture that along and coach service organizations, give access to early units so that when we come out with the device, they’re prepared.

SmartVan: Where do you see field service headed in 2013?

JP: I think what we’ll see is that organizations are trying to figure out how they can drive more revenue and make their customers happier, and will think about what other services they can offer their customers to provide value. And to do this, they need to collect information, which is gathered from the service technician in a way that’s not intrusive to his job. When a service tech is with a customer, they have the best access and a lot of the time they have the best relationship with the customer. So a big question for service organizations is, “What can we learn from the field, without burdening the tech, to make service offerings that are profitable?” Once that information is gathered, it needs to be analyzed, too. You’ll see companies push to get smarter around all that.

  • Max

    I reckon the iPad is the perfect tool for the job. Doesn’t cost a fortune, customizable, easily replaced, track-able, universally accepted interface, and not viewed as just a work device.
    We deployed them ourselves and have had nothing but success.
    Rugged devices cost so much more, we could replace multiple ipads for the cost of one that’s been made to endure extreme conditions.
    Further, the field service force acceptance of the technology was irrelevant by using a platform that could be used by their family and by them.
    So not only did we save our capital, we improved our technician retention rate, and positioned ourselves as an employer of choice.
    Vendor articles usually have an agenda and are spruiking their product…go try out devices with your guys in the field…see what they already know how to use, see what they’re willing to use, see what they WANT to use…

  • Kevin L.

    My reason for wanting to automate my technician in the field with tablets or laptops has multiple purposes or reasons. Number one is pricing is uniform from each technician. Second is price changes could be made immediately. Lets face it some of the prices of materials we use today can change daily.
    Third is having a detailed description of the work performed listed in order to justify the prices we are charging. The invoice is for the customer, not the tech, not the office. The tech needs to explain what he did and many are not able to do so. Some may not have mastered perfect spelling, grammar or punctuation. They may be able to speak well aloud, but completely miss the mark in the written word.
    Fourth it can also be an estimating tool using a pricelist. Fifth no more manual re-entry of information from a hand written invoice by a second office person into a database. Sixth we can get rid of the need to print out multiple part invoices.

    With so many advantages in doing so why haven’t we. Well we love Quickbooks premier contractor for our company. Sure I can run a crippled lesser version on a ipad, iphone, or android tablet, but it is so limited. But I would like to sync with the office immediately and print an invoice from each vehicle. So I continue to look at the Windows Surface tablet running a full up version of quickbooks on each tablet in the field. But my cost to implement may be high. But it is offset by the cost savings of the above mentioned items.

    Hmmm What to do?

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