Q&A: The Facts on Field Service and Mobility
An interview with Matt Finkelstein, VP of Product Management, Vettro
Field service automation is all about boosting productivity by giving field service workers real time access to enterprise information everywhere they go.
What kind of payback period can you expect? How can a field service operation evolve into a profit center? Find out answers to these and other questions in this Q&A with Matt Finkelstein, VP of Product Marketing at Vettro.
A BlackBerry® Alliance Member, Vettro is a leader in designing and deploying mobile applications for field service and sales organizations.
BlackBerry Connection®: How would you describe the growth of mobility in field service?
Matt Finkelstein: Interest in mobility in general is surging, and field service is certainly where the interest and activity is peaking.
As early as 18 months ago the idea of enabling access to mission critical applications on a device like the BlackBerry smartphone was met with guarded enthusiasm. As a vendor, we used to have to spend a lot of time and energy evangelizing the benefits of mobility in the field, but that’s no longer the case. Now there is widespread understanding and acceptance of the benefits.
BC: Does that mean companies come to you knowing exactly what they want?
MF: Well, they certainly know where they want to start. Usually companies will have a specific pain point that they have clearly identified and can articulate very well because it’s causing them real problems.
Their field reps, for example, may go home at night and have to spend an hour or two on a web portal entering updates from the day. The pain this causes is stale data, a high percentage of errors and, ultimately, burnout and turnover because it adds hours of extra work in the evening.
So quite often, field service is where the interest in mobility is born. But it quickly evolves.
BC: How does it evolve?
MF: Once a company starts using a mobile application in the field, they very quickly see measurable performance improvements and this really bolsters confidence in mobile ROI across the company. That typically leads a company to think more broadly and, in many cases, customers have approached us with the question, “How can we utilize the BlackBerry smartphones across the enterprise?”
This leads to adding advanced features, like integrating a parts management process. Then, configuring user groups, and eventually we see what we’re seeing now, which are the beginnings of a real business transformation being driven by the mobile workforce.
Some of our customers are already leading the way by looking at mobile computing from the perspective of the field worker. That is, changing the model to leverage enterprise systems and IT investments as an extension to the mobile workforce. We expect to see a growing trend of customers starting to actually re-design workflow processes starting around the field worker.
BC: How does this evolution impact different stakeholders in an enterprise?
MF: Over the last 6 months, virtually every mobility opportunity we have explored has involved the CIO. An architectural vision, not just functional vision, is now a critical component of any mobility deployment.
Ultimately, companies are looking to add value to the workflow by mobilizing applications across functions. For example, you might have Bluetooth® supported barcode scanning and printing in the warehouse, as well as signature capture and a parts management application in the field, all running off a BlackBerry smartphone.
BC: What is the typical payback period for the average field service mobility solution?
MF: The payback periods are very easy to measure, and we’ve seen them as short as 3 months. Very rarely do we see payback periods longer than 6-8 months.
Compared to what people are used to seeing from a software implementation, these paybacks are hard to believe! But they are in fact true.
BC: What about productivity improvements? Can you share some specific results of a Vettro and BlackBerry solution in action?
MF: Sure, we do a lot of ROI analysis with the Research In Motion (RIM) team. One specific example is Cytyc, a medical/healthcare company well recognized for their customer service excellence. Their field service work order tickets were averaging 23 minutes. This dropped down to 15 minutes, after we equipped their field service engineers with real-time notification of jobs, along with full control over the job process, from creating tickets on the fly to closing out in the field. We then added a parts management process to the mobile solution, which dropped average order time another 10 minutes. So going from 23 minutes down to 5 minutes on every work order was obviously a huge success.
BC: What is the downfall of lagging behind in the movement toward mobilization?
MF: Here’s one common example of what can happen. Field service workers are very good at finding answers when they’re in the field. Often, the easiest way to get information is to dial into the customer call center. And so what many companies have observed is their field service people calling in and soaking up call center capacity. This is a very expensive way to do business. It spikes call center costs and cripples field service productivity because they have to dial in, wait, ask a call centre rep to search for customer-information, etcetera.
BC: So are companies still resisting bringing mobility to field service?
MF: What we’re seeing now is that there are two ends of the spectrum. We have companies at the leading edge who really see mobility and field service automation as a competitive weapon. At the other end we have the companies who may have resisted mobility solutions in the past. But today, even these companies now accept that they have to do something in this area just to remain in the market.
BC: What can you tell us about turning field service into a profit center?
MF: It’s definitely happening. This is truly an area where you can get creative and look for untapped revenue opportunities.
We’ve seen companies drive new revenues through consulting and professional services by introducing, for example, preventative maintenance packages.
Another example, of course, is augmenting field service functions with sales activities, like cross-selling or systemized lead capture.
It’s usually a case of learning to walk before you run, however. Turning profits from field service can only come once the field service operations are optimized. So you use mobility to solve the inefficiencies first and this can unlock new revenue potential.
BC: What’s next in field service automation and mobility?
MF: The industry is at the beginning of a major paradigm shift. The traditional way of thinking about IT infrastructure is changing from enterprise-centric to mobile-centric. ‘Composite mobile applications’ and ‘mobile mashup’ are some of the buzzwords of this new paradigm; it’s really about assuming the perspective of the field service worker and consolidating any and all applications they need to do their job with optimal efficiency/productivity.
This fundamentally changes how you architect the system that brings these applications to a BlackBerry smartphone.
Vettro’s 360 product is the platform we’ve created to accommodate this paradigm shift, capable of taking these different composite functions and combing them into one or more applications that run on a device.
BC: What are the most important things companies can do when evaluating a FSA solution in their company?
MF: There are two important things to keep in mind:
- Remember that it is an evolution and an iterative process. Look to partner with a vendor who has the ability to solve your immediate pain point but also who has the technical vision to design solutions that will fit your infrastructure when your mobility needs evolve – because they will!
- Keep usability at the core of the solution throughout your move to mobilization. You can design the most impressive application in the world, with the best possible back-end integration, and it will all come crumbling down the moment your user gets confused or frustrated with the interface.
We invest heavily in optimizing interface, with usability experts who get involved in platform design early on.
BlackBerry Business Solutions for Field Service
Get The Facts on BlackBerry Solutions and Wireless Applications
Also in this issue: What’s the Bottom Line on Mobilizing Field Service?