The coolest new gadgets are enticing, but field service leaders should look beyond the “cool factor” for tools that create genuine value by strengthening their company’s competitive advantage, generating more profit or increasing service revenues.

But what technologies are poised to make the biggest impact on service organizations in the next five years? Here’s a look ahead at three next-gen technologies that could transform how work gets done in the field:

1. Smart Uniforms

The vast majority of “smart garments” are being developed for the consumer fitness market. But as these products gain traction over the next few years, they could also have a big impact on workplace safety.

200Take Redwood City, Calif., startup Athos, for example, which has developed spandex-style shirts and shorts with integrated sensors that not only track heart rate and respiration but also measure specific muscle movements in real-time. This muscle data is important because it helps users identify the safest, most efficient movements and spot signs of fatigue before an injury occurs.

Now imagine outfitting your field service techs with similar technology as part of their work uniforms. It would allow managers to monitor the safety of technicians — and intervene, when necessary — to prevent musculoskeletal injuries caused by awkward movements, heavy lifting and repetitive motion.

The Numbers:
  • 600,000: Number of injuries caused by work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) every year.
  • 34: Percent of all lost workdays caused by MSD injuries.
The Potential:
  • Reduced liability exposure and fewer workers’ compensation claims.
  • Higher technician productivity with fewer lost workdays.
  • Increased sales from customers that impose strict safety requirements on their service vendors.

2. Electrified Trucks

What if you could boost fuel economy of your full-size service trucks and vans from, say, 16 mpg to more than 100 mpg? VIA Motors claims it’s done just that. The company recently delivered plug-in hybrid-elect pickups to giant service fleets like PG&E, Duke Energy and Verizon. But the potential for truck electrification goes beyond pure fuel efficiency gains.

200In the larger truck market, Efficient Drivetrains Incorporated (EDI) and Odyne are building plug-in hybrid systems that enable technicians to operate aerial bucket lifts, service cranes, and digger machines without idling the engine and wasting fuel.

The onboard battery systems serve as mobile generators to power tools at the job site, and even entire facilities during a power outage, without the deafening noise of conventional generators.

Continued technology advancements and demand from large fleets should create economies of scale that make these systems more affordable for wider spread adoption in field service.

The Numbers:
  • 805,000: Expected global sales of electric-drive trucks and busses by 2023.
  • 50 billion: Gallons of fuel consumed by U.S. heavy-duty vehicles in 2010.
The Potential:
  • Increased profit from fleet operations with nearly five-fold improvement in fuel economy.
  • Expanded service revenues with ability to operate mobile equipment in residential (and other strict noise ordinance areas) at night with quiet electric power.
  • Boost in PR (and sales) by promoting “green fleet” credentials.

3. Augmented Reality

Augmented reality incorporates “smart glasses” that enable you to see and interact with digital information in a way that augments your view of the real world. San Francisco startup Wearable Intelligence is developing this technology for field workers in the oil and gas market. But the impact of augmented reality technology is likely to be felt across the spectrum of field service sectors during the next few years, according to a report by PwC, which presents this vision of AR in the field:

200“Schematics are overlaid onto the machines that workers are servicing, right before their eyes. Workers in remote locations can see what field service workers see to lend a helping hand. And, straight out of a scene from ‘Minority Report,’ field service workers scroll through data downloaded via the cloud using hand gestures.”

AR can provide field technicians with instant, hands-free access to the most relevant and current information they need to expedite repairs, improve first-time fix rates, and ensure customer satisfaction — all of which make AR a likely game-changer for field service by 2020.

The Numbers:
The Potential:
  • Increased service revenues and profit by completing more jobs per day.
  • Reduced technician training time (and cost) by providing on-the-job guidance via AR.
  • Improved quality of repairs on first visits, eliminating expense of additional “truck rolls.”

ABOUT Sean Lyden

Avatar photoSean is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a content strategy and editorial consulting firm, and also serves as editor for Utility Fleet Professional magazine. A nationally recognized feature writer on sales, marketing, technology and transportation topics, Sean is also a contributing author to "The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Guide” and “The Great Big Book of Business Lists,” both books published by Entrepreneur Press.