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.
In part one of this series we looked at the merging lines between rugged and consumer manufacturers and the rising trend for field service engineers to use more than one digital device when out in the field.
In part two we looked at the choices being made when selecting either rugged or consumer devices as well as the importance of Operating Systems in device selection.
Now in this the concluding part of this series we explore the need and desire for connectivity options in the devices being allocated to field service engineers.
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
Connectivity and Data Capture
A key factor in what was driving the decisions around which devices field service companies were selecting for their field engineers was the various options for both connectivity and data capture.
Perhaps it is no surprise given the growing importance of Cloud computing and the prevalence of connected devices that in terms of connectivity, the most desired technology within a device was Wi-Fi capabilities which was cited by 87% of companies as being a key technology that was ideally required in a device deemed to be suitable for field engineers.
Similarly the inclusion of 4G mobile internet was also stated as ideally needed in a field service device by over two thirds (69%) of our respondents.
"An indication of how much we have moved already to a wireless world is how these figures stack up against the desire to have a wired Ethernet connection which was cited as being ideal by just under a quarter (24%) of companies
Additional evidence to support this desire to move towards wire-free technology is also indicated in the fact that Bluetooth was desired by almost three quarters (73%) of companies as well. This is significantly higher than older, wired methods of connectivity such as RS232 which just over a fifth (21%) of companies desired or even USB which just half (47%) of companies stated they felt was an ideal inclusion.
However, when we look at data input requirements it is the well established, tried and tested technologies that remained the most sought after.
The ability for a device to capture photographic or video data remains the most important means of data input for most field service companies with well over three quarters (79%) stating that they would ideally expect this in a device.
"The ability for a device to capture photographic or video data remains the most important means of data input for most field service companies with well over three quarters (79%) stating that they would ideally expect this in a device"
What is interesting is that amongst those companies who opted for consumer devices (which of course are unlikely to have such features embedded within them) the desire to have barcode reading capability actually increased slightly to 71% of respondents.
Again, this perhaps indicates that whilst a number of companies are lured in simply by the initial lower cost per unit of consumer devices perhaps there are wider considerations such as how fit for purpose a device is, that should be considered alongside the initial cost.
In terms of manual data input, it is interesting to note that although laptops remain the most popular device for field engineers overall, the assumption that this is based on the requirements of a physical keyboard is proven to be somewhat flawed by our findings.
Indeed, there were almost three times as many companies who stated that they felt an on-screen keyboard was desired rather than those who stated they felt a physical keyboard was ideal.
"Over two fifths of companies (42%) backed an on-screen keyboard whilst just 15% identified physical keyboards as their preference"
Another indication of the changing nature of how we interact with our hardware is also highlighted that handwriting recognition software was also desired by two times as many companies (32%) than a physical keyboard.
Perhaps one of the most curious findings of the research is that yet again we see NFC/RFID overlooked by field service industries as the technology - which could have such an effective impact within a number of elements of a field service engineers workflow, from checking the service history of an asset in the field being repaired through to ensuring accurate parts inventory, was only cited by 13% as being required in an ideal field service device.
Similarly, voice recognition software, which in an industry where the ability to work hands free is a major factor, one would think would be a significant tool for data input in any given field service focused device, was also relatively shunned with just over a tenth (11%) of companies stating they saw this as being an ideal inclusion within a field service device.
The benefits of mobile computing
Finally, one area where it would seem there is certainly a growing consensus is in the way field service engineers appreciate working on a mobile device.
We asked our respondents: “Do you think your field workers have appreciated a move to using a mobile device?” And the response was overwhelmingly positive. In fact over two thirds (69%) stating their field service engineers had provided mostly positive responses and 35% going further and stating their engineers had ‘absolutely taken to going mobile’.
"69% stated their field service engineers had provided mostly positive responses and 35% going further and stating their engineers had absolutely taken to going mobile"
A similar amount of companies (41%) also stated that their engineers felt that the adoption of mobile devices as part of their field service toolkit also allowed them to be more productive and to get their work done more swiftly.
So whilst their are many decisions to be made for field service companies in terms of device selection - rugged or consumer, tablet or laptop, even one or more devices, the one thing is abundantly clear for the 5% of respondents who are still using pen and paper.
A move to a digital device will inevitably be embraced by their engineers whilst delivering clear R.o.I
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 importance of connectivity in device selection...
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