The era of Big Data is upon the field service industry, driven by Internet-connected machines that are packed with sensors that record and transmit data. Cisco estimates that there will be 50 billion such intelligent devices connected by 2020, from home appliances to the largest industrial equipment. The data those devices generate are already allowing companies to improve their products and to offer new service guarantees that benefit the customer to drive revenue for companies. Here’s a look at how General Electric relies on data to improve both its machines and the service it provides to customers, plus other news from the field this week:

Big Data Difference at GE

General Electric is a mammoth company that makes a dizzying array of products, from light bulbs to the wind turbines and power plants that keep them lit. Now, the 122-year-old company is rethinking how it produces and services those products. Fast Company offers an in-depth look at GE’s efforts to make its machines more efficient and to grow its service business, which accounts for $180 billion in revenue.

At the core of GE’s service is a close partnership with customers to ensure the machines perform exactly as intended. “It’s not only measuring whether a jet engine is working up to its specifications, or about repairing it on time, but whether it’s delivering, say, the agreed-upon amount of peak operational time,” writes Fast Company’s Jon Gertner.

Read more at Fast Company

Amazon’s 3-D Phone Ready for the Field? Probably Not

This week, Amazon unveiled its first smartphone, dubbed the Fire. The device, which starts at $199 with a two-year contract exclusively on AT&T, includes some features that could be useful in the field, such as a 3-D display and hands-free scrolling. The general consensus among mobile experts, however, is that the Fire is mostly a consumer play aimed at getting people to buy more products and consume more content through Amazon. Even if Amazon were trying to dethrone iOS or Android, it’d be a huge hill to climb. According to comScore, Android currently owns 51 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, while Apple has 42 percent.

In an interview on CNBC, Neil Cohen, vice president of sales and marketing at Visage, explains why the Fire likely won’t catch on with business users.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal

Making a Global Workforce Work for Everyone

Field service has always been a mobile profession, with managers and technicians having to accommodate each other’s schedules — not to mention that of their customers’. Schedule juggling is difficult enough when technicians are in the same region, but the challenges become even greater with large-scale operations that span multiple time zones.

Donna Flynn, director of Steelcase Workspace Futures, offers advice in Harvard Business Review about how worldwide teams can stay connected and productive. Here are a couple of Flynn’s tips, which should resonate with field service leaders who manage employees scattered across the country — or the world:

  • Set boundaries and be fair: Ensure that employees share the less-than-desirable meeting times. It’s not fair for employees in, say, Australia to always be stuck with late-night meetings.
  • Use technology to collaborate: To keep dispersed workers connected and productive, Flynn recommends that teams use collaboration tools such as Google Drive, DropBox and, an online whiteboard service.
  • Retain team cohesion: It can be difficult for remote workers to feel part of a team. To solve that problem, Flynn’s team attends regular weekly meetings to talk about work projects, their personal lives or just to hang out. “We are also prototyping a global ‘Social Hour’ where we are all invited to bring coffee, lunch, or a cocktail — depending on where you are and what time it is — and hang out together on videoconference,” Flynn writes.

Read more at Harvard Business Review