Are wearables and IoT the future of field service companies?

Cristina Maria
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Wearable technology like smart watches, glasses, and virtual reality will have a significant impact on the field service industry, helping to improve service levels and improve first time fix rates. How? Read on to find out!

Here are 6 ways in which wearable technology might be the future of field service companies and how it could be used by your business to drive further growth.

#1 Increase productivity with voice controlled digital assistants

#2 How drones and thermal cameras might provide a new way to fix problems and analyse situations

#3 Guiding and training engineers with 360° cameras and VR technology 

#4 Understanding of safety procedures with the help of smart glasses
#5 Gain additional employee time with smart cars
#6 Information at the tip of your... tongue?

Wearable technology has already firmly planted itself at the centre of the personal fitness industry. Fitness fanatics and general users alike hunger for metrics and the FitBit's ability to measure heart rate, distance, and sleep patterns as well as share this information on social platforms more than satisfies them. 

There are indicators of its forthcoming use in manufacturing and logisticals too. For example, Ford's wrist-worn quality-control app and DHL's Vision Picking Program. But it's more than likely that the next industry to get the wearable treatment will be the field service management. 

In 2013, research analysts Gartner suggested that the industry most likely to see benefits from wearable technology would be field service and that this change would be most likely to take effect in the years to come, while being modelled by the Internet of Things (IoT) trend.

Technology-related issues such as battery life, bulk, a lack of standardisation, and privacy have meant that this prediction has not yet come to fruition, but the possibility remains of wearable technology revolutionising field service engineering in the near future.


#1 Increase productivity with voice controlled digital assistants

Alexa, Amazon's personal assistant, has taken home life by storm with her instant answers and easy to use interface. Alexa is also in the processes of ingratiating herself with cars (Ford) and refrigeration (LG) technology so the potential for use in wearable field service devices should be obvious.

As for increasing productivity for field service engineers, Alexa allows for immediate access to vast amounts of data including engineering schematics, work schedules, and maintenance records.

Imagine being able to provide your customers with access to a new way for booking in your services.  They could just call out to Alexa and organise an engineer without having to make a phone call. Or if you need to pull some information all you would have to do is say "Alexa, where does Mrs. Marple live?" Sounds like the future is here, doesn't it?

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#2 In-depth analysis thanks to drones and thermal cameras

Drone and thermal camera technology can access very remote environments or ones that present a danger to field service technicians. 

While most small companies aren't considering drones (yet), the idea will definitely will become more attractive as the cost of these devices comes down.

Imagine needing to inspect an HVAC unit on the top of an office block. Instead of accessing the roof or requiring scaffolding to inspect the unit, you could simply take a small drone with a camera and fly it around the unit, getting video/photo information from angles that you would normally struggle to get at. 

This additional information could help you improve your ability to resolve customers issues quickly as engineers would have access to more detailed, accurate information. 


#3 Guiding and training engineers with 360° cameras and VR technology 

360° cameras like the Theta S has clear implications for field service companies when it comes to gathering detailed information from site.  360° degree photographs can give surveyors, managers and site foremen a more immersive understanding of a space, including areas that a field engineer may not have chosen to take a traditional photograph of in the past.

This detailed 360° photo should help identify defects, problem areas or potential problems earlier, reducing customer frustration and costly recalls.

Virtual reality (VR) can be used to guide engineers through complex repairs, providing additional information like exploded parts for an appliance.  This experience can assist engineers when repairing a variety of appliances/assets without having to call colleagues for additional assistance.

Virtual reality can also be used in training engineers in new technologies. The Royal Navy has used virtual reality for exploring new warships before designs have left the drawing board.  This can get vital feedback to ship builders from a variety of stakeholders like engineers, captains, and ammunition officers, effectively saving time and money in retrofitting or changing ships after they've left the port. 

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#4 Understanding of safety procedures with the help of smart glasses

Smart glasses have the capability to share detailed and technical information to specialists in the field. While a consume version designed by Google and named Google Glass failed spectacularly, there's no denying that service engineers could reap the benefits of this technology much better than your average teen. Schematics can be displayed using heads-up technology and safety messages can be related ensuring that the engineer is taking every precaution and has access to the latest information available on a system.

This could significantly reduce work related injuries and help keep your team compliant with regulations and best practices in the industry. 

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#5 Gain additional employee time with smart cars

Smart car technology can include autonomous driving technology, artificial intelligence, sensors, cameras, radar and data analytics. All of these are set to have a big impact on field service work fleets and engineer experience.

It stands to reason that the more autonomous a car becomes, the more time the engineer/driver will have to deal with other issues such as scheduling and pre-maintenance research.

This technology is not as far away as you think it might be; Nissan have already tested a driverless car on London roads and are hoping to run driverless taxis for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Vans are not far behind. 

#6 Information at the tip of your... tongue? 

With the advances in natural language processing and the inclusion of voice command in smart watches, a new engineering technology era could well be with us. Field service engineers often require access to complex and detailed information whilst completing a job with just a few words spoken to their smartwatch.

Time taken away from a task to look for information can mount up, particularly if systems need to be shut down and restarted in order to be left. The combination of these two technologies has clear and positive implications for service engineers.

The takeaway?

Wearable technology has perhaps not taken off as quickly as initially predicted. However, it is clear that it presents some ideal opportunities towards the maximisation of productivity for field service engineers. Once the current technological hurdles are overcome and people get more familiar with them, we predict that field service companies will start to take advantage of some of these options. After all, they're a solution that seems to have been designed for them.

iOT smart thermostat

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