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How to reconnect field service workers

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The field service industry has always been an early technology adopter. TOM DEVROY, Senior Product Evangelist for Enterprise Service Management at IFS, identifies three technology-led developments set to disrupt field service.

The field service industry has always been one of the earliest adopters of new technologies, from the original PDAs to IoT-enabled devices. Now, a new generation of technology is uniquely positioned to transform the field service industry, promising to reduce costs and dramatically improve the quality of service organisations can offer. Tom DeVroy, Senior Product Evangelist for Enterprise Service Management at IFS, identifies three technology-led developments set to disrupt field service and discusses how flexible and modular resource planning infrastructure will help organisations reap substantial rewards.

Effective field service is about proactively managing your workforce and inventory in order to meet the constantly sliding scale of customer expectations. As a result, field service organisations are constantly looking to improve on the key metrics to better serve customers: first-time fix rate (FTF), mean time to service (MTTS) and mean time to repair (MTTR).

Three new technology driven developments are establishing themselves in the market, with the potential to dramatically impact these field service metrics to benefit both the customer and service provider:

·         Advanced mobility: augmented reality, instant messaging platforms and native apps

·         Predictive analytics enabling prescriptive maintenance

·         Optimised scheduling and demand forecasting in an IoT world

First: Beyond mobility: augmented reality, instant messaging and native apps

A mobile workforce needs a mobile-driven field service strategy. In a recent study on mobility, performance and engagement, 60% of employees said mobile technology makes them more productive in the workplace. But field service organisations are now moving beyond simple mobility, looking for more intelligence and flexibility from their mobile computing platform in order to take full advantage of next generation devices.

Native apps are a key part of this – allowing engineers to receive instant updates, access repair information or collaborate with product experts without leaving the job site. Instant messaging platforms such as Slack and WeChat are also allowing field service engineers to keep connected, with more information and collaboration supported on their mobile device. Engineers are able to contact other colleagues for assistance in real-time – reducing the need to return to base for assistance.

Seeing is believing

ABI Research shows augmented reality is on the rise, and Gartner predicts businesses will purchase 53 million tablets by 2016. There are instant benefits for field service engineers. Mobile solutions now allow engineers to receive real-time feedback and expertise while on the job, enabling repairs to be completed more quickly and efficiently. An IFS partner, XMReality, is already working on pioneering augmented reality projects like this.

With this remote guidance, a support technician is able to watch and guide the engineer through every step of the repair without having to leave base. Using smartglasses, engineers are able to see a real-time and interactive demonstration of the repair job right in front of their eyes. These skills can be leveraged anywhere and anytime with the capability of modern mobile technology – drastically improving FTF.

Second: Beyond business analytics: predict and prescribe maintenance

The rise of IoT sensors and integrated technology on equipment is also enabling more efficient field service. Instead of scheduling maintenance when a fault is recorded, predictive analytics and the remote monitoring of equipment through IoT means faults can be detected before they become a problem.

Combined with business intelligence to make sense of the big data being captured through IoT, predictive analytics can be used to find actionable data to inform business decisions. Enabling service organisations to be proactive in regards to equipment performance, means moving away from calendar-based scheduling and towards predictive maintenance.

IFS has a predictive maintenance capability embedded in its field service applications, allowing better allocation of an engineer’s time. With sensors deployed on the factory floor, service organisations can monitor vibration analysis of bearings and predict when machine parts will start to degrade, then schedule maintenance proactively.

Field service solutions should be able to find and collect patterns of data from past actions and use this information to create generic rules to highlight how processes and services can be improved in the future – delivering new insight into operational efficiency.

Mobile devices are now able to run intelligent diagnostics and capture potential problems. Based on the diagnostic output, the mobile device is able to recommend a maintenance plan and the various tasks needed to be performed, before the engineer gets on site. This technology is going one step further than just predicting when faults will occur, and will prescribe which action needs to be taken in order to fully maintain that asset.

Prescriptive maintenance will take into account budget, time and other constraints and provide an optimal order of actions and the work orders to fully maintain that equipment – all in a matter of seconds.

Third: Staying ahead of schedule

First-time fix rates are an important KPI for field service organisations, but recent Blumberg research shows that the industry average for first-time fixes was under 80%, meaning 20% of jobs require additional follow-ups. Inefficient scheduling results in a lower first time fix rate and longer time to final resolution, as unqualified engineers can be sent and the necessary equipment may be unavailable.

Although not a new technology, schedule optimisation is a foundation on which new technologies can thrive. By combining scheduling with data from IoT devices, the next generation of schedule optimisation tools go much further and help to forecast field service demand, SLAs and potential resource needs – all in real-time.

IoT-enabled sensors can trigger actions when an event changes, and automatically re-schedule jobs around this. This combination allows field service organisations to improve FTF, MTTS and MTTR by consistently scheduling the right engineer for the right job, at the right time.

Don’t get left behind

These new technologies are going to bring serious benefits to field service organisations because they are so tightly integrated with delivering improved customer service and improved bottom lines.

In what is a dynamic and changing market – with tech-savvy customers demanding higher and higher levels of service – it is vital for organisations to be able to implement these cutting edge technologies.

The new breed of enterprise solutions takes away the risk

Traditional field service management solutions are simply too cumbersome and inflexible to enable field service organisations to reap the benefits. To quickly benefit from these latest advances, organisations need the backing of a new generation of flexible, agile enterprise solutions.

Traditional enterprise solutions can take months or years to simply implement, let alone adapt to an entirely new technology. The new breed of modular enterprise solutions are designed to remove the time and pain of modifying existing processes, and instead maximise the opportunities of new technology. These agile systems negate the need to fully customise legacy systems – a costly and timely process – and are enabling organisations to quickly adopt new technology, without the risk of losing out on a competitive edge.

These disruptive technologies and the digital transformation they require offer benefits that resonate throughout the whole service organisation – from the top-down. Strategic planners have real-time visibility to plan tasks and schedule the workforce in an industry with many unknown elements, from customer unpredictability to traffic, and even the weather.

This, in turn, directly empowers technicians, providing them with the right tools and information at their fingertips to better perform their job. But ultimately the most important stakeholder reaps the benefits – the customer receives the best possible level of service.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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