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Acer America
Acer America Corp. is a computer manufacturer of business and consumer PCs, notebooks, ultrabooks, projectors, servers, and storage products.


333 West San Carlos Street
San Jose, California 95110
United States


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November 23, 2009 |

Mobile Service Solutions: Linking Field Personnel with Home Base

Mobile solutions can significantly boost profits for SMB clients that rely on the timely, efficient use of field service personnel.

No one will argue the fact that it’s expensive to have employees working out in the field–and that the factors contributing to this cost are varied and many. This expense, however, is declining, thanks to significant improvement in the technology linking the field with home-base operations.

According to a recent study conducted by Boston-based Aberdeen Group, organizations that give their employees access to customer, inventory, and service data from their mobile devices reap, on average, a 17 percent gain in service profitability. There is even better news: That not only applies to the customers the employees are serving, but to channel partners as well.

“From a productivity point of view, the aim is to get your field reps to meet more service requests, and to meet these requests efficiently,” says Aberdeen Group’s Sumair Dutta, research analyst, service chain management. “The idea is not to have someone do 10 jobs, eight of those being repeat requests. The idea is to get more jobs done, but to do them properly on a first-time basis.”

This can translate into significant savings: A non-industry-specific poll conducted by Aberdeen showed that, on average, a field trip costs $276 in operating expenses. “If you have to come back and collect more information and then go back out, that’s another $276,” Dutta says. “It can really add up.”

The bulk of mobile field service solutions are used by field technicians in a number of industries, most notably manufacturing, transportation and distribution, construction, property management, utilities, and service and repair businesses–basically anyone charged with the installation, maintenance, and servicing of equipment.

Depending on the nature of the application, solutions may offer a simple means of location tracking and the replacement of paper-based documentation with data capture functionality on smartphones. On a more advanced level, features may include the dispatch of work orders to field technicians, access to the repair history of a specific piece of equipment, inventory tracking, and billing.

One of the biggest advantages that mobile solutions offer is their ability to help companies lower costs by eliminating paper-based processes, says Tyler Lessard, vice president of global alliances at Research In Motion (RIM), headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario. “For example, mileage costs can be reduced when workers aren’t required to drive into the office at the beginning of their shift to pick up work orders and again at the end of their shift to submit paperwork,” he notes.

On the back end, call center and administrative resources are optimized when field technicians have instant access to the information they need, when they need it. “Worker productivity and morale can also improve when they have the tools to independently make decisions while in the field and get the job done,” he says.†

Arguably the most important benefit of mobile field service solutions is their potential to greatly improve the customer’s experience. “Being able to not just say, ‘I will be there between 9 and 5,’ but ‘I will be there between 10 and 2 or even 10 and 11,’ and then calling and saying, ‘A truck will be there in 10 minutes,’ is a huge improvement in customer experience,” says Sheryl Kingstone, director of enterprise research at analyst firm Yankee Group.

A key factor in optimizing the paperless environment in the field is ensuring that the scheduling application back in dispatch is configured to make real-time changes throughout the day.

“If you don’t have the scheduling software on your mobile device and you’re just coming in to get your schedule and you’re leaving, [you are not taking] into account all of the benefits that you could get by rescheduling throughout the day,” Kingstone underlines. “If you can reschedule throughout the day and manipulate field service reps so that there is limited downtime and limited truck rolls, that’s a significant cost savings.”

One of the common mistakes that both providers and users make is creating a mobile application that is not flexible enough to incorporate the changes that occur in a business.

“It’s the same mistake that everyone has made in the past, which is not understanding the change management of the application and not taking into account the benefit of the mobile devices that are out there today,” Kingstone points out. “Field service has been around for years, but what has changed is that the software is much more flexible–if processes change you can change things more readily.”

Not only are mobile solutions increasingly flexible, but they have come down in price, making them more accessible to the relatively untapped SMB market. “There is still a large opportunity in providing these solutions to the smaller companies,” Aberdeen’s Dutta notes. So keep in mind that organizations such as HVAC shops, pool cleaners, and gardening service contractors have workers out in the field and need to fulfill a certain number of work orders a day in an efficient manner to be profitable.

As adoption of these technologies increases, field service solutions are leveraging the capabilities that exist within today’s smartphones, such as GPS. “GPS not only gives workers turn-by-turn directions to customer locations, but also provides ‘geo-fencing’–the ability to notify customers when a worker is within a certain distance from them,” Lessard notes.

And a picture replaces a thousand words when cameras and video are applied to transmit data, especially when service technicians can review repair procedures on unfamiliar equipment. “Perhaps most importantly,” says Lessard, “field service solutions are transforming field technicians into front-line customer care advocates and sources for business intelligence.”

This, according to Kingstone, could eventually lead to revenue generation in the field. “This is a process issue, in terms of understanding what products this customer has and taking a look at what the technician can potentially cross-sell right there,” she says. “We can do that today, but a field service person isn’t used to selling. The opportunity is there; whether we can take advantage of it [through] training is a different issue.”

CAROLYN HEINZE is a freelance writer/editor.

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