Field services are integral to the utilities industry (electric, gas, or water) around the world. It helps the utility to ensure business continuity through improved customer satisfaction, reliability of services, and health and safety of its employees and assets. But largely, the mode of communication between field employees and the dispatcher or the back office or the warehouse had been either face-to-face or by radio or phone.
Frontline workers start their day with a schedule that has various unknowns, including missing equipment, incorrectly ordered parts, delays in the schedule, or new and urgent issues that get assigned . Additionally, the support systems are rigid, even to the point where they do not provide real-time access to the control center or the supervisors. As a result, there is always a lower-than-usual certainty for the technician, the dispatcher, or the customer to learn or understand how long jobs would take or when a problem would be resolved.
This situation forces the field service organizations to overstaff and overstock in order to have enough service capacity to account for any disruptions. But this often led to wastage of time and frustrated customers.
Keeping in line with the HCL core value of “employee first,” we have come up with a solution to address some of the major issues and challenges of our energy and utility clients. At the same time, we want to ensure that the field crew and the crew at the service center or control room or back offices have tools that support the idea of a safe workplace, putting the employee first.
Now, field technicians are equipped with technological power in their hands that enables more accessibility and connectivity through smarter devices and field mobility. Major enterprises are deploying a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model for their employees, giving them the flexibility to conduct the day-to-day work from a device of their choice.
Smart devices enable employees to connect with experts while being on field, and get their queries resolved. This has helped in first-time issue fixes, elimination of the need of pen and paper, executing tasks quickly and efficiently thereby increasing field service productivity.
Along with smart devices, location awareness and tracking technology are playing a big part in field service management. Organizations can locate their employees and understand and support them in many ways– such as health, safety, and the ability to optimize work completion ability. This helps generate any kind of alert if employees deviate from ideal limits in terms of time, distance, or any other factor.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the current trends that have left the field service industry buzzing:
Improved asset management with IoT
The Internet of things (IoT) has found maximum application in the area of asset management. If a system or its part isn’t working correctly, it gets detected and notified to the concerned departments by IoT-enabled sensors. These sensors can send requests to replace or repair the faulty parts of equipment even before the customer makes a service call.
That’s a reason why field service organizations are investing quite a lot in IoT to increase growth and maximize productivity.
Autonomous vehicles, programmed to take the most efficient routes, will assist in eliminating human error in travel. Even before the mobile employee knows that there have been some changes made to the schedule, vehicles can make immediate route adjustments based on these changes. From a mobile worker's perspective, self-driving technology can help reduce the stress of driving in hectic traffic and provide them the needed time to research issues for their upcoming calls.
Wearable technology and AR/VR
According to Digi Capital , in the next five years, augmented reality (AR), including mobile AR and smart glasses could reach 3.5 billion installed bases and $85-90 billion in revenue. At the same time, virtual reality (VR) might deliver 50-60 million installed bases and $10-15 billion in revenue.
AR and VR are two immersive technologies that have gathered speed across various industries. In the next five years, more focus will be on mixed reality (a combination of AR and VR), where the user, while being present in the physical world, will be able to interact with digital and real-world objects simultaneously. One such industry seeing this huge potential in mixed reality (the combination of AR/VR) materialize is utilities. The use of mixed reality in utilities allows companies to train new workers more efficiently, reducing time spent on training by over 30% and documentation time by at least 75%.
Wearable technology provides freedom of movement to the field workers without losing access to important tools. Wearable technology enables the use of augmented reality, which could help employees at each step of problem diagnosis or any installation, thereby enhancing productivity, reducing mistakes, and equalizing the skill levels to some extent.
3D printing technology
The significant reduction in the worth of 3D printers could be a massive incentive in 2020 for field services firms. The 3D printing technology can contribute in streamlining repairs since it won’t be necessary to order elements from suppliers in large amounts of cases. The technician will be able to print parts from a 3D printer put within the automobile or van of the corporate they use to travel around.
More usage of drones and robots in services
Technicians from field services companies have increased the use of drones and robots. Drones help monitor machinery, which is difficult to access, and robot assistants carry out mechanical tasks or in risky environments for humans.
Energy and utility organizations are adopting mobile workforce technology to evolve from reactive to proactive service providers, focusing on overcoming challenges in providing field workers with real-time information related to work orders, service requests, asset mapping, service restoration assistance, and enterprise collaboration in the field. Firms are equipping their field crews with the right tools and better connectivity to access information easily in a complex world to resolve customer issues quickly and efficiently.
HCL is continuously working in the areas of work order management, digital operations, predictive maintenance, knowledge management, and autonomous inspection to address all possible challenges being faced by utility field workers.