Techs today have their tool belts (complete with snazzy new gear) and their voluminous service manuals. The first one they use a lot, but the other? Not so much. Enter iFixit, the San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based company that produces free online how-to-fix manuals. Imagine a Wikipedia for the service tech and for customers. iFixit aims to build a community where customers and techs can work together to share the most up-to-date tips on fixing everything from an iPad glitch to solar panel installation. Kyle Wiens, iFixit’s CEO, believes the crowdsourcing of repair advice is the next logical step for the field service industry and will give the power back to the service technicians in the process.

How is iFixit useful to service techs and not a threat to their livelihoods? 

Let’s say you’re a field copy machine technician and you have the manual that Xerox wrote in 1995 when they made the printer. It’s not necessarily relevant to the product now. There are all sorts of things that have changed since the product came out, and it may not be reflected in the manual. By making a Wiki where the manual can actually get better over time, we provide a place where the technicians can actually contribute to the change. I think this beneficial to any field service organization — it puts the power back into the hands of technicians and allows them to work with each other.

The way information currently flows between technicians is woefully inept. I often ask technicians: “How long does it take from when you find and report an error in a service manual to when an updated manual appears?” and they tell me “12 to 18 months” — and that may be on the low end. We need to bring modern publishing tools to service manuals.

How are techs responding to iFixit?

The techs get really excited when they can suggest an edit or add a comment and it gets approved and published to everyone the following day. It makes them very happy and it makes them more willing to use the information. So when you talk to a lot of techs today they say “Oh, well I don’t use a service manual, I know way more than it does.” That attitude is partly a result of a backlash against traditional service manuals that are out of date.

How does an online publishing tool for service manuals help technicians?

Xerox releases a manual upfront, but the ownership of the manual passes along to the service techs who are servicing the machine for the next 20 or 30 years. The manual is initially written by Xerox engineers, but from then on it’s the responsibility of the people using the information to continue to maintain it. At least that’s how it should be. Currently what happens is the manual gets published and then every year it gets less relevant as things change and as service is evolves. This is the point when the up-to-date information needs to be crowdsourced.

Why should service techs start using manuals again, instead of relying on their own experiences and gut intuition?

At Toyota, managers embrace the Japanese philosophy Kaizen. The concept means “continuous improvement.” They are never satisfied with their process; they constantly want to make it better. I think field technicians should embrace this idea, too. You have to have a culture in your service organization where people are constantly wanting to get better, wanting to contribute, wanting to improve. I think this collaboration concept for field technicians is absolutely inevitable.


ABOUT Maeghan Ouimet

Maeghan joined Original9 with over 5 years of media experience — reporting and writing on business, culture and technology trends for Rolling Stone Australia, Boston Magazine, and Inc. Magazine. She is a self-admitted start-up geek and semi-avid Bikram yoga practitioner.