The inconspicuous grey boxes on the roadside are often only noticed when plastered with posters or graffiti. For Lars Müller, they are a consistent part of his everyday routine during his daily field assignments. Thousands of boxes are street cabinets from Deutsche Telekom that bring telephone and Internet lines to customers throughout Germany. From Flensburg to Füssen, the Deutsche Telekom technician and his colleagues are constantly on the go. They handle tens of thousand of jobs a day to install and maintain the Deutsche Telekom network. Their faithful companion: a tablet or smartphone.
And Deutsche Telekom's technical field staff isn’t the only such example. Almost half of all companies worldwide consider mobile business applications in field service to be critical to their success. This was the finding of the current study “2016 Enterprise Mobile Apps Report”, conducted by Edelman Intelligence on behalf of Adobe, which polled some 1500 HR, sales and marketing managers from companies in Germany, Great Britain, India, China and the U.S.
Since June 2014, Deutsche Telekom technicians have been completely paperless as they start out to their first assignment on their daily route. The times when the day's jobs and route planning were printed out using a simple handheld solution are long gone. Today, information about work status is digitally transmitted from the road back to scheduling from the tablet or smartphone. Management of the assignments, i.e. paperwork, is thus considerably more effective. “The system also lets me plan the ideal route on the go. As it changes dynamically, I can stay flexible”, says Lars Müller. The technician can thereby squeeze in jobs on short notice – more the routine than the exception – without any problem. Schedulers always keep an overview of the latest status of field service assignments. Job status is transmitted to scheduling in real-time, so it is transparent at all times.
Field service staff also have a lighter workload when it comes to job documentation, including keeping a logbook and recording their working hours. The system automatically provides drivers with registered stop and start positions of their service vehicle. Employees simply make a few small adjustments and transmit the data wirelessly to the back-end system. The solution is scalable for a variety of screens. The system for automatic documentation is thus used not only by some 2,000 employees with a tablet, but also by another 5,000 employees who carry a smartphone.
Saving time and minimizing errors
Technicians enter the job report directly into the system without the need for paper. “Until now, staff had to log everything manually and enter it in the software at the job site”, says Peter Stirnberg, Head of Regulations and Support Production at Deutsche Telekom Technik. “Now they can save that time: With the direct connection and processing of the job data and automatically generated driver data, entry time is eliminated and errors are minimized.”
Tablets also simplify field work on site. Technicians can take pictures using the tablet, add their audit-compliant comments and save them to the device. They can also access detailed documents such as site and network plans that show the cable layouts, for instance. These are provided by scheduling. Information is available offline as well. Mobile access to the systems is provided securely via a virtual private network (VPN), which tunnels and encrypts the data.
Spare parts delivery to the car trunk
Lars Müller and his colleagues, whose service vehicles are equipped with a standard portfolio of spare parts and tools, also have a direct link to the spare parts warehouse at all times. Technicians no longer need to check which parts need to be restocked from the warehouse. Now it’s conveniently automatic: At the end of every assignment, the system logs the materials used by the technician – and then compiles an order. The system orders the new materials in the background and a logistics partner delivers the spare parts right to the vehicle's trunk.
The first generation of tablets will be replaced by new devices shortly. The "rugged devices", able to withstand rougher handling, will be replaced by consumer devices. This will save the company money: While the rugged devices add up to some €1,000 each, the consumer devices only cost about €400.
Mobile apps for collaboration
Field service is not the only area where digitization plays a major role. According to the companies polled by the Adobe study, business success is even more closely tied to apps for collaboration and customer service. The problem is that, while companies continue to promote mobility initiatives, many firms still lack a company-wide mobile enterprise strategy for mobile working. In keeping with the motto: mobile but rash.
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