Several months ago, we began to notice a new trending mode of use of WebRTC in the area of Field Service enablement. I’ve also heard people describe it as remote workforce applications, or even fleet management systems.
The key concept is that a field worker – someone who goes onsite to a customer location to effect a repair, make an inspection, or deliver or pick up products, uses some sort of a computer or electronic device as an essential tool for that onsite visit. Increasingly these devices are smartphones or tablets.
It’s predicted that by 2018, 70% of mobile workers will use a tablet or a hybrid device that has tablet-like characteristics. (Source: RapidValue Solutions)
What is new is that today’s field service applications can leverage the front and rear-facing cameras on those devices to deliver “see-what-I’m-seeing” video via WebRTC back to the central office. This makes it possible to bring a separate set of virtual expert eyes onto the job. In addition to video, maintaining bi-directional audio is key for sharing observations and imparting clear directions and recommendations.
That’s the basic idea. More sophisticated apps allow product specialists to define the individual workflow steps necessary to perform maintenance on, say, a particular piece of commercial HVAC equipment. Step 1 might be to don the required safety gear. Step 2 would be to cut power and gas to the unit. Step 3 would be to remove the front panel, etc. When the dispatcher schedules a particular technician for an on-site repair, he can select the particular equipment model such that the right information is immediately available when the technician arrives on site.
Any time along the way, the technician might take a high resolution snapshot and attach that to the work order. Here is the broken part I removed. Here is the water leak I observed. And again, if a question arises that requires an expert, voice and video are just a click away. Sometimes the expert is a supervisor, but just as often it might be a colleague who has past experience with a particular issue.That video can be recorded as well and added to the record for quality or training purposes.
Take for example three customers using the OpenTok platform and WebRTC to innovate in the Field Services industry:
Fluke manufactures commercial electronic tests and measurement instruments for use in everything from education and industrial applications. With the Fluke Connect system, Fluke hardware users can transmit measurements directly from tool to smart phone, sharing data instantly and securely with their entire team within the context of their normal workflow. The “ShareLive” video call feature keeps teams connected both in the office and out in the field. A technician can start a video call from the field, show a colleague in the office the issue they’re having, and consult with them in real time, all without leaving the work site. By enabling real-time remote collaboration, Fluke has helped these teams to more confidently diagnose and solve problems on site, increasing efficiency and productivity.
Similar to Fluke Connect, ResolutionTube offers a mobile application that enables field service technicians to connect with other experts and colleagues using live video and images. In addition, it offers the ability to draw on the screen to highlight problem areas, share documents, email, and make calls all from one screen. ResolutionTube isn’t specifically tied to a hardware brand (like Fluke Connect) so it’s available to any field service organization or professional.
Taking a slightly different tack, GeoPal Solutions offers a complete mobile workforce management solution which can easily integrate with a variety of IT systems, for customer portals, reporting, invoicing, CRM or ERP requirements, through GeoPal’s API suite. Their flexible and open API suite enables you to connect and integrate with almost any existing IT system. Like Fluke Connect and ResolutionTube, the video call feature enables remote colleagues to consult one another for assistance.
The business benefits of this are obvious.
1. Cost reduction
Every field service company knows the cost of rolling a truck to a customer’s site. If a technician can get the help he needs to complete a repair by talking to an expert, this will eliminate the need for a second visit. Cost is eliminated.
41% of service organizations say that mobile field service is required due to the increasing volume of service requests. (Source: RapidValue Solutions)
2. Customer satisfaction
If repairs go smoothly on the first visit, customer inconvenience is minimized. People understand that from time to time things break or need to be maintained. When those jobs are performed efficiently and professionally, customer satisfaction is often higher than it was before the job took place.
3. Liability management
Think of the value in having a photo or video record of the repair or installation before, during, and after the job takes place. How do I know my installer didn’t scratch the floor and that the device was working properly when he left? Easy – I have before and after video recordings of the job site.
4. Real-world learning
And if a technician does run into an unusual problem during a particular job, that video can be used to improve training and processes for all of my team.
In the future, we see a greater the intersection of augmented reality technology (AR) and WebRTC. This is already happening when a supervisor draws on a screen to point the field technician to the next step or area to investigate.
Imagine, however, a technician arriving on site equipped with a smart field service application and video glasses. He uses those to scan a piece of equipment to be repaired. The device streams the video to a server which performs image processing to send back the appropriate schematics and instructions. If the equipment is equipped with sensors, the field services application will already know, for example, that the technician was sent to change the filter that will expire next week. The app will automatically provide the needed schematics and instructions for that repair.
As these applications become smarter and easier to use, you can imagine a new use case emerging which is field self-service. Does it seem a little daunting when your cable company sends a new router model for you to install yourself? If you mess it up, you could be without Internet, phone, and TV for days! Would you feel better if you knew there was an app you could use to show a technician what you are doing as you go through the steps? In addition to improving customer service and satisfaction, this would represent significant cost savings to the cable company.
It’s really quite remarkable what WebRTC is enabling. Customers get better service with lower systemwide costs, field service companies and service providers become more efficient, worker safety is improved, the interests of both customers and providers are protected, and even a new kind of assisted self service becomes possible, all with technology that wasn’t around only a few years ago. It will be amazing to see what happens next in this space.