For thirty years I’ve worked on high-speed, cut-sheet printers. As the years passed by, the speed of paper moving through the machines I service increased to the point where it became a blur when watched by the naked eye. At one time I was able to see the paper skew or catch on something before it jammed. These days it all happens so fast that I’m left scratching my head and replacing parts until it’s fixed. That is, until I was given a smartphone. Now I simply record the printer with the camera and slow the video down until I can see exactly what is going on. I can even view the video frame by frame, which is much better than working on a slower machine.

Laptops, tablets and smartphones have changed field service in ways not many could have predicted only a few years back. So when I read a report like the Aberdeen Group’s study “Mobility Transforms Service: Resolution for the Mission-Critical” and how as much as 28% of field service businesses still rely on paper, I was shocked. Nearly every aspect of my job has something to do with a mobile device. I don’t think my company’s viability as a service organization would survive without these devices. Here’s a look at what the other 72% have gained from going mobile, and how the best-in-class companies make the most of it.

Falling Short of the Bar

According to Aberdeen, there is a big gap between the metrics of best-in-class companies who have gone mobile and those it calls “laggards,” who have also embraced mobility. In the direct communication metric, there was a 26 percent swing. Some companies buy mobility tools just because it seems to be the ‘in’ thing to do. They might have their techs use a laptop to fill-out timesheets, submit expense reports, or keep track of parts usage on a tablet, but they fall short of taking full advantage of all that mobile products have to offer.

Planning for Mobility

The top performers plan for success. They will invest in converting all paper manuals to e-docs, which are designed so they’re searchable and can be easily updated. The mobility device becomes a collaboration tool through programs where techs can share best practices and get online help from second- and third-level support. They take advantage of videos, which can be used as training tools and can shorten the learning curve on new products. Parts usage and replenishment goes from paper to electronic, which allows the tech to order parts on the job site rather than when he or she gets around to handing in the order sheet.

Creative Uses of Mobile Tools

Techs will find many unconventional uses for the powerful mobile devices that are on the market today. My opening example was something another service tech showed me; it was not a company-endorsed practice. I’ve seen techs search and find computer boards on eBay to save money or because they’re out of stock at their company. We’ve also begun to rely on texting for much of our communication because a phone call can interrupt a delicate adjustment or a conversation with a customer.

The Future of Mobility

Technology only moves in one direction, so those who are still on the fence about investing in mobility tools for service techs should research “The Internet of Things.” In the not-so-distant future, practically every device that can breakdown will be able to contact a service rep on its own and have diagnostics that can run remotely. Now is the time to prepare your service reps for the future or it might just be your past.

Our guest blogger, Donald B. Stephens, is a field service technician with 30 years of experience with the Xerox Corporation. He is also a freelance writer, blogger, novelist and humorist. 

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Topics: Field Service

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