Mobile & Tech

The Internet of Things: A Field Service Tech’s View

Editor’s note: Donald B. Stephens is a senior customer service engineer with the Xerox Corporation. He has worked in field service for more than 30 years. 

If you follow technology news, you’re aware that a monkey-wrench has recently been thrown at the Internet of Things (IoT). Hackers have used various connected devices to launch distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS attacks) that have made major websites unavailable for a large portion of the internet.

Some see this as an unstoppable flaw and a reason not to buy an IoT toaster, while others see it as a minor bump in the road on the ever-expanding digital super-highway. I tend to agree with the latter.

However, if you’re a field service manager who is eager to connect the machines your team services, there are a few things you should know about how your techs will respond to field service equipment joining the IoT. DDoS attacks will be dealt with through technology, but there isn’t a software solution that will get your techs on board with connected equipment. It’s the manager’s job to figure this one out.

First Impressions Are Important

The first thoughts to go through service techs’ minds when machines are able to place their own service calls goes something like this: Well, that’s just great. I have more service calls that I can take in a day and now the machines are going to be calling me, too? I need that like I need another hole in the head. Some may even consider ways to disconnect the machines to prevent machine-placed service calls. When they find out that isn’t possible, they’ll calculate how often they can cancel those calls and get away with it. You won’t be able to prevent these thoughts, but you can redirect them at roll-out.

As with any new process or program that directly affects a service tech’s job, the way it’s introduced can make all the difference in the world. Most techs are “gadget” people, so I believe the best way to present the new plan is to open up a laptop at a meeting and give a live, or simulated, demonstration.

As with any new process or program that directly affects a service tech’s job, the way it’s introduced can make all the difference in the world.

Highlight how techs can run diagnostics, check maintenance items and browse fault codes remotely. Also assure them that machine-generated service calls can indeed be cancelled. They need reassurance that they are still important enough to overrule a computer program.

Take a Stand for Flexibility

Early attempts at merging IoT with field service didn’t always go smoothly. False readings and non-recommended usage would generate service calls that drove techs crazy. There wasn’t much you could do other than cancel the calls or unplug the machines. But today’s IoT solutions are highly customizable, so false service calls can be weeded out by changing tolerances for alerts. This is important to do, especially at the beginning, because techs will lose confidence in the program if they are constantly having to cancel erroneous service calls.

Service managers don’t always call the shots, of course. But even if you know there’s no way to change corporate’s mind, your techs should see you attempting to get them to bend. They’ll get behind the program if they see you trying to make it work better.

Monitor the Program, But Be Gentle

There will be techs who jump on board from the start and those who are set in their ways and will look for any excuse to cancel an IoT alert. The best way to see who has their heels dug in is to read the logs to identify king or queen of cancelled IoT calls. However, this is not the time for making demands. Techs are stubborn; if they weren’t, they’d never stick with a difficult problem until it’s fixed. A heavy hand in the beginning will have repercussions down the road. If you see that Judy has cancelled more IoT calls this week than anyone else, call her and say: “Hey Judy, I see that you’ve come across a lot of bogus auto-generated calls this week. Is there any way we can take a look together at the cancels to see if we can tweak the tolerances so they stop calling you?” Judy will see that you’re checking the logs and will think twice about cancelling the next call, but if she has legitimate reasons for the cancels, you have an opportunity to adjust tolerances to get the most out of the program.

Rolling out an IoT initiative in field service has it’s challenges, from expense and effort investments to security concerns. We all know connected technology is the future — but if service leaders haven’t considered how their technicians will react to the initiative’s effectiveness, they won’t get their money’s worth.

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