Information is power. Technology like smartphones and the cloud have changed the world by allowing users to reach undreamt-of heights through the sharing of knowledge. Why not empower companies to use these same tools to share their greatest asset — a wealth of current and comprehensive data — among service technicians in the field?

Drawing on my 30-plus years of experience, I’ve tried to imagine what the ultimate field service logbook would look like. What I’ve envisioned would be simple but effective: a three-in-one electronic storehouse that collects and shares the latest data from the machine service log, repair documentation and digital maintenance and repair manuals, all on a single handheld device.

Why a Three-In-One Log?

As I discussed in my previous article, technicians often cut corners when it comes to documenting service calls, which can result in wasted time and money. Many of the modern service tech’s tasks involve running computer diagnostics and performing digitally-assisted adjustments. Wouldn’t it make sense to capture that digital trail so that it can be analyzed during, or preferably before, the next service call?

Imagine a technician who receives a call to fix a problem that could require a truckload of different parts. If he could see at a glance that one of the machine’s components barely passed its diagnostic assessment during the last call, he would gain an invaluable edge. Field service software and IoT-enabled machines already gather some of this data, but I have yet to come across an e-log that fully integrates all three sources of data into one digital storehouse.

Let’s consider a scenario that highlights the key features that future field service technicians will one day take for granted.

Remote Access to a Machine’s Service History

Mary works for the ABC Widget Company. She gets a service call on her smartphone from her largest and most demanding customer. A yellow header tells her that the customer is upset. Red text indicates that this is a callback for a recurring problem.

Every ABC Widget tech’s smartphone connects to their customers’ machines via Bluetooth as soon as they get within range. Using our three-in-one e-log, Mary can see all relevant information about previous service calls before she even arrives, including troubleshooting, diagnostic analyses and adjustments.

A Home Page for Every Customer

As soon as Mary receives her service call, her smartphone displays a customer home page that shows customer preferences, ongoing service issues and each machine’s unique maintenance requirements at a glance. Because this is a callback, the “previous call” button is flashing. Mary touches the button and details of prior service calls appear. Mary can see right away that Bob, the tech who took the last call, noted that he was concerned that the widget operator might not be following all of the proper machine operating procedures. She also notices that Bob selected “Do Not Run Widget Input Calibration at This Time” from a pull-down menu during his call. Faced with this contradiction, Mary asks herself, Is this an operator problem or a technician error?

Solving Repair Mysteries Digitally

As soon as Mary accepts the call, her smartphone searches the e-log’s database for details on the fault code that the customer reported. This auto-search prompts Mary to look at previous service calls with the same code for the machine in question, as well as other similar machines the company supports. It also provides a link to the repair manual’s recommendations about fixing the issue. Mary takes a few minutes to review the machine’s history and potential fixes. She sees that Bob is off the hook: No correlation exists between input calibration and the current problem.

She also sees that replacing a particular piece of equipment has fixed this problem in the past. Because ABC’s parts replenishment system records real-time part orders and fulfillment, Mary discovers that technicians have never installed the part in this machine to date. She can also see that she’ll need to ask another technician to pick up the part from the warehouse before she proceeds to the call. Factoring in delivery time for the new part, Mary gives her customer an accurate ETA. When she walks into the business, she has the right part in hand and can make the repair quickly. Thanks to the new widget, the machine begins to work again at maximum efficiency. The e-log automatically records every step of the repair call and uploads it to the company’s cloud server — without Mary even entering a single keystroke.

The technologies I’ve described are already a reality. Unfortunately, the path to making this ultimate log book a reality includes several roadblocks. Factors like proprietary software compatibility, legacy machinery and cost-vs.-ROI must be overcome to create the service tool that I’m envisioning.

Every year, machines grow more complex, incorporating better sensors and electronic monitoring, which in turn produce data that should be shared on service logs for the benefit of technicians. It’s only a matter of time until companies abandon traditional service logs for the power of a three-in-one electronic logbook—or something similar.