In our latest research project we’ve teamed up with rugged tablet manufacturer Xplore Technologies to find out what are the tools field service companies are investing in to ensure that they are giving their field service engineers every chance to ensure they are delivering service excellence...
There is also an exclusive research report available for download that contains even further insight and analysis of these research findings. Download your copy of the findings here
As technologies such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality dominate the headlines in field service it is perhaps a bit too easy to forget just how recently field service operations were being revolutionised by the emergence of mobile computing.
The improvements that come with the digitization of a field engineer’s workflow are well documented from more efficient processes, greater customer service delivery to even simple straightforward cost savings via the sheer volume of paper forms no longer being used.
Yet whilst for some companies the move to a modern mobility solution happened over a decade ago and they are now exploring their third, fourth or even fifth iteration of mobile hardware, there also still some companies that have yet to move away from pen and paper.
At the same time, the options for field service companies looking to invest in a mobile computing solution for their service engineers, whether it be for the first time or an upgrade of their existing system, are ever more complex.
Rugged manufacturers have become aware for the growing desire from their client base for more consumer looking designs in the rugged space and as such products like the Motion R12 have begun to emerge which combine the sleek, cleaner lines of a consumer tablet in a rugged device that can fully withstand the rigours of the field.
At the same time rugged manufacturers have become aware for the growing desire from their client base for more consumer looking designs in the rugged space and as such products like the Motion R12 have begun to emerge which combine the sleek, cleaner lines of a consumer tablet in a rugged device that can fully withstand the rigours of the field.
However, rugged versus consumer is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many, many factors to be considered when selecting the right device for your field service engineers.
What about form factor? Has the rugged handheld that was all prevalent not so long ago been surpassed by the smart phone?
Are tablets, which can bring the mobility of a smart phone to the table, but with greater processing power (on a par with high end laptops in some aspects) becoming the go to tools?
And of course then there are the considerations around peripherals - is a keyboard required for large amounts of manual data entry perhaps? How about vehicle docking? Or even carry straps and cases?
To find out more about the latest trends within the industry we decided to return to this topic (having explored it some 12 months previously to see what trends were emerging or evolving when it comes to the devices being selected by field service organisations for their engineers and technicians.
With additional expert input into the survey design provided by rugged specialists and partners with us on this project Xplore Technologies, the survey took in the responses of around 150 field service professionals from a wide range of industry verticals including manufacturing, telcos, engineering, HVAC, and many more.
There was also a wide representation of companies of differing sizes with some respondents having as few as 10 or less engineers in their workforce whilst many had over 800 or more engineers in their teams.
One of the key findings of the 2015 study was that many companies are now providing their field service engineers with more than one digital device for use in the field.
However, when reviewing the questions from the previous study we felt that perhaps the meaning of this question could have been slightly ambiguous, so in this year’s study we wanted to refine this notion further by including the response “Multiple digital devices – e.g. smart phone and laptop etc used equally for field work simultaneously” as an option to the question “Which devices are your field engineers currently using as their primary device for field work?”
And it seems that this digital duality that we uncovered last year remains very much a key trend for field service organisations with one in five companies now providing their field service engineer with at least two devices to undertake their work in the field.
However, one of the perhaps most interesting findings of this year’s survey was the amount of companies who are providing their engineers and technicians with laptops as a primary device for work in the field.
Whilst the response group across the two surveys was different - meaning that direct year on year analysis is always at risk of being slightly skewed - both surveys had a sizeable enough response set to provide a fairly reliable snapshot of the industry sentiment to allow for some meaningful comparison.
With this in mind it was interesting to note that amongst this year’s respondents laptops were the most prevalent of devices being given to field service engineers with a third (33%) of companies seeing them as the best device for their field service engineers compared to a fifth (20%) of companies opting for smart phones whilst 15% opted for tablets.
In comparison to last year this would indicate that despite the claims in some analysts’ quarters of tablets emerging to eventually replace the laptop, the laptop remains a regular tool amongst field service engineers.
One reason for this could be simply a cost decision as when we look deeper into the research findings we see that of those companies that provided their field service engineers with laptops the majority (61%) had opted for consumer based devices. This is compared to just 11% who were providing their engineers with rugged laptops.
When we look at those respondents who indicated that they are providing their field service engineers with tablets we saw a much greater parity between those who were providing their engineers with rugged devices versus those providing consumer grade products.
However, when we look at those respondents who indicated that they are providing their field service engineers with tablets we saw a much greater parity between those who were providing their engineers with rugged devices versus those providing consumer grade products.
In fact the split between the two was exactly even with 40% of respondents opting for rugged and 40% opting for consumer whilst 20% provided as mix of both rugged and consumer.
Indeed, when we look at the data from only those respondents who provided their field service engineers with rugged devices a completely different picture emerges entirely.
Amongst this respondent group the most common device deployed amongst field engineers was the tablet by some margin with just under half of companies (44%) selecting them as the right tool for their field engineers.
In comparison rugged laptops and rugged PDAs/Handheld computers were the next commonly used devices with a just over a fifth (22%) of companies opting to implement these devices, whilst 11% of companies provided two or more rugged devices.
What is clear from this initial view of the data is that whilst the laptop and smart phone are regularly deployed as mobile computing tools for field service engineers, amongst those companies who see the need for and benefits of ruggedised tools for their engineers it is the tablet that has become the dominant form factor.
Want to know more? Download the exclusive research report for further analysis and insight from these research findings
Look out for the next part of this series where we look at the whether consumer or rugged devices are ruling the roost plus the importance of operating systems when it comes to device selection....
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