Is There a Place for Wearables in Field Service?

Oct 08, 2014 • FeaturesAly PinderFuture of FIeld Servicefuture of field servicewearables

The lines between consumer mobile technology and business innovation have begun to blur. No longer is it unimaginable that a field service technician completes a work order on a smartphone. Just a few years ago if techs were mobile, they were carrying a rugged phone or laptop. But where will this convergence of the consumer and business worlds end? Aberdeen's Aly Pinder asks...

Tablets? BYOD (bring your own device)? Wearables?

It is difficult sometimes to differentiate between hype and true value when addressing technology advancements. The topic of wearables has garnered some interest over the past year as devices like Fitbits, Fuel Bands, and Google Glass gain steam in the consumer marketplace. Organizations, however, are often slower to adopt new technology as they must build the business case in order to minimize risk and avoid passing fads. Aberdeen’s recent Service Mobility: The Right Technology for the Tech research (August 2014) revealed that 6% of the field service workforce for those surveyed was equipped with wearable devices. Despite this relatively low adoption rate, 20% of organizations listed interest in this technology over the next 12 months. There are both opportunities with the technology, but organizations must also be mindful of some challenges.

Insight at the Ready: Benefits of Wearables in the Field

  1. Every technician can be an expert. Mobile devices like smart watches, cameras, or glasses have the ability to provide technicians with data at the point of need. The equipment technicians have to service is becoming more and more complex, requiring more variability of skills to reach resolution. Wearables can enable faster, more dynamic intelligence that isn’t available from reviewing static manuals which are outdated the moment they are published.
  2. Personal performance trackers empower the tech. In your personal life, it is fun to track the number of steps you take every day or monitor sleep patterns. But organizations must be mindful of technicians who may feel like the service organization is tracking too much. The key is to gain buy-in from the field that these tools are meant to improve productivity and performance, and not a way to penalize. Wearable technology can provide technicians with a benchmark of what good performance looks like, and build an example for future improvement.
  3. Link the tech to the back office. Field service technicians are the face of the organization with the customer. Their interaction must mean more to the organization that simply a turned wrench. As more technicians get connected to mobile devices, the ability to capture real-time insight into the customer relationship can be made available to other business functions (i.e., sales).

Watch Out: Potential Challenges of Wearables in the Field

  1. Is it just a smaller, less practical smartphone? Part of the value in mobile tools is the ability to provide real-time information for a field technician. But these mobile devices need to empower technicians, and should not be treated as just another device. Historically, mobility has evolved to help lessen the number of devices needed to complete field service. However, if wearables are still dependent on a smart phone or laptop, are they really delivering the value service needs?
  2. Can you hear me now? Disconnection while on the road is a real threat to service employees. Not all field service work is conducted in areas that are connected to wireless networks. Technicians need to be able to do work both on and offline. If wearables can’t provide insight while offline, their usefulness will be limited.
  3. Tough enough for you? Consumer-grade technology often elicits the fear of damage when put under the pressure of a rugged work environment. As organizations begin to explore the applicability of wearables for field service, devices must get more rugged to handle the demands of many field service environments.

Eight of ten organizations (82%) sampled in Aberdeen’s 2014 mobility research still view mobility as a strategic initiative over the next 12 months. Historically, this evolution was a move from paper to a handheld device for the technician.

As technology advances, field service organizations are beginning to explore the feasibility of wearables. In order to avoid this technology going the way of a fad, it must improve a worker’s productivity while also directly enhancing the overall customer experience.