Our economy has transformed from being primarily a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy. Evidence of this is everywhere: the rise in personal attendants, landscapers, mobile and Internet commerce, field repair technicians, and so on. The primary reasons for the transformation are low cost manufacturing labor in other countries and advancements in technology.
While technology is fueling the service sector, the most impactful technology being deployed within large and small field service organizations today is mobile computing. The reason is simple: Field service organizations operate in the field, at their customers’ locations and as such often lack the required information to complete the job at hand. That information may include parts lists, inventory levels, schematics or real time payment capabilities. Whatever the information needed, custom mobile app development can allow your business to provide real time access so that each and every service call can be completed on time, every time.Regardless of the service industry, mobile field service applications consist of three primary components: hardware, data transport (wireless network), and application software
- The hardware component consists of the mobile device and any supporting peripherals such as printers and charging devices. The choices of mobile devices are increasing with each passing quarter. Users can choice from dozens of purpose built devices to a vast array of smart phones, tablets and laptop computers.
- The number of wireless networks is a much shorter list and includes the common national wireless cellular providers, as well as new regional and specialized providers coming online each year.
- The most important component of any field service solution is the application itself as this is what drives your business and will eventually determine solution success or failure.
Evaluating Mobile Apps and Service Solutions
When evaluating a mobile field service solution it is important to start with your business goals in mind. What is the primary purpose(s) for such an investment? Is it to improve first call closure rates, expand mobile payment capabilities, improve asset and inventory management, complete more calls per shift, or something else? Once you have prioritized your top requirements, it is then time to evaluate the available off-the-shelf solutions against your criteria and make a selection. However, what do you do when an already-existing solution just does not measure up?
There are many reasons why an off–the-shelf solution may not meet your needs:
- You operated in a niche market and no solution currently exists.
- The solution you desire does not support the hardware platform that you need to use.
- The application vendors are small and or unproven.
- While the application forces you to change your proven work process to meet the application's workflow.
- The ideal application is too complex, feature rich or expensive.
Regardless of the reason(s) why, there is always another option and that option is custom mobile application development.
Unlike off-the-shelf field service applications, custom mobile applications have some very unique benefits that include:
- Match the application workflow to your existing business needs.
- Support your specific hardware device requirements.
- Allow you to control the application’s future development requirements.
- Use your company’s vocabulary thus reducing user training.
- Implement your branding.
- Interface directly to your existing business applications.
Custom mobile field service applications can be categorized into three groups: configurable, 80/20 ware, and complete custom.
This refers to largely off-the-shelf solutions that allow for some type of limited configurability. These configurations settings are predefined but do provide for some variability in the applications user interface or business logic. Configurable setting may include items such as language settings, branching settings, or customized field names.
These are off-the-shelf apps that are 80 percent prebuilt, and require 20 percent customization. Applications of this type generally have a well-defined user interface and business logic, but require custom integration to your existing ERP or other supporting business applications. This custom integration effort represents the 20 percent custom work requirement.
Complete Custom Applications
As you might have guessed, this refers to 100 percent custom mobile app development. The advantage of such developments is that they enable you to match the application to your unique business requirements rather than the other way around and build in competitive differentiation that is tailored to your businesses and customers' needs. While these development efforts take a little longer to implement than ready-made applications, the results are most often worth the wait as the result is specifically tailored to your specific requirements.
Regardless of the approach taken, it is often best to first evaluate the available solutions that meet your identified business goals for the simple reason that they may be a great match but if not, they will educate you on what other folks in your space are doing and give you insights to other application features that you may have not thought of. Regardless of whether you select an existing application or build one from scratch, there is no doubt that enabling your mobile field service workforce with mobile technology will positively impact your business and customer experience level.