What does the Digital Workplace mean for Field Service? – Part 1

These days, the concept of the digital workplace is described in so many ways and through so many channels. Technology media, social media, software business communications, websites, and blogs (oops, including this one!) are all touting the benefits of pursuing the digital workplace. But what is the digital workplace and how will you know when you have achieved the goal of creating it?  The problem lies with the context. The digital workplace has a high-level definition – use digital transformation (also a nebulous term) to align technology, business processes, and employees to improve operational efficiency and meet the goals of the business. But what does it mean in the context of field service management?  

The keystone in any field service management solution is the mobility application that allows the physically dispersed workforce to access dispatch assignments, view work orders, review site history, capture time spent on each job, and to transmit information to and from the office effortlessly. 

The good news is that field service is very well-suited to benefit from the transformational journey toward the digital workplace. This is due in no small part to one of the greatest benefits of achieving it – removing geographic barriers. Field service-based businesses suffer inefficiencies primarily because of the distance between their workforce and the office. It is inherent to the type of work that needs to be done, and is frequently addressed by requiring the workforce to travel to and from the office to deliver physical proof of their accomplishments – time cards, signed work orders, and other paper documents. It reminds me of the early days of computing when we created electronic files, but had no means to share them easily with others. The “sneaker network” meant you copied a file onto a 1.44 MB floppy disk and then used your sneakers to walk to the other computer to copy it over. Hard to imagine in today’s networked world, to be sure. Components of the digital workplace for field service are designed to overcome these geographic challenges. The keystone in any field service management solution is the mobility application that allows the physically dispersed workforce to access dispatch assignments, view work orders, review site history, capture time spent on each job, and to transmit information to and from the office effortlessly. Amazingly, tens of thousands of dollars can be saved by taking this first, relatively simple step. Additional benefits can be realized by looking at solutions that leverage cloud computing to lower IT overhead, provide tight integrations to back office systems that reduce or eliminate paper-based processes (payroll, anyone?), and deliver additional functionality like field quoting or a customer portal to capture even more revenue and enhance the customer experience. So, do not shy away from the opportunity to begin your own journey to the digital workplace. Think about it in the context of your specific business and don’t get overwhelmed by the pundits and prognosticators that describe a future state that appears so complex you don’t want to even take the first step. Yes, make sure your potential solution provider has a forward-looking architecture. Sure, talk to them about their ability to integrate augmented reality and the Internet of Things. But more importantly, figure out who can help you take that first step, or two, will allow you drive efficiency and additional revenue, and can join you as a trusted partner to continue the transformation in a practical and manageable way – now, and well into the future. 

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