Working Offline – The Underestimated Feature in Field Services
Cloud and Connected – the way to go?
Organizations continue their quest to move their IT Solutions to the cloud, which then become available via a web browser. With most new platforms, using technology like “Liquid Design” or “Media Queries,” it’s easy to build browser-based solutions which are responsive and look good on any type of mobile device.
To work with such a cloud-based solution, two important requirements must be fulfilled. First, the cloud infrastructure must be up and running. Second, a working internet connection is required. A cloud never comes down, and an internet connection is always available, right? Wrong! We’ve all seen several examples of the cloud or the connectivity being unreliable or unavailable.
Numbers don’t lie. When we look at the numbers of some of the largest and most reliable cloud providers in the graph below, we can conclude that cloud outages have caused lots of unavailability of cloud-based services. Outages vary from a few minutes but can last up to several hours. Assuming cloud technology is maturing, we would expect the numbers to show a decrease in outages. The numbers below show the opposite, however, when comparing 2016 and 2017. These outages are usually blamed on technical problems, but we should keep in mind that such environments become increasingly interesting targets for criminal or terrorist organizations. So, will these outages actually decrease to an acceptable level?
How could such an outage affect your Field Services solution? Under the given circumstances, a cloud-based online Field Service solution would no longer be operational. Your entire field service fleet would come to an immediate standstill. And if that happens, customers waiting to be served due to an outage will endure even more downtime because your operations have come to a halt.
And what about the costs? Hundreds or maybe even thousands of your customers will not be served by your Field Service Technicians, depending on the duration of the outage. Service Level Agreements will not be met, which could result in financial penalties. As a result, this outage could easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or euros per hour.* We should also include indirect costs, such as damage to the brand name, a tarnished reputation, and a decrease in customer satisfaction. The first idea which might pop up to overcome an outage is falling back on a paper-based system. This probably will not work, either, since the order information is stored in the cloud, as well. During a cloud or connection outage, this information cannot be accessed.
Offline: An underestimated but very important feature!
To overcome such an outage, we need something else. We need a key feature of a mature Field Service solution: We need its ability to function offline as well as online. We’ve identified several functionalities which are provided by an offline Field Service solution, as opposed to a solution with merely online capabilities. In case of cloud or connection outage, those functionalities are destined to save the day. They will ensure that your customers continue to receive the same service that they’re accustomed to, without any damage to your brand name because of external factors.
To access a Field Service solution, some form of authentication mechanism is implemented. When the technician’s Field Service App can be accessed only when the cloud or connection requirements are met, we would encounter a problem. Of course, authentication policies should be pushed to the mobile device. However, when the authentication service is unavailable, the Field Service App should still be accessible. The authentication mechanism in the App needs to cope with a cloud or connection outage.
A Field Service App is an essential instrument for the workspace of a Field Service Technician. Without this App, the engineer is “blind,” since he is unable to identify the day’s tasks. The technician needs an overview of what needs to be done during the working day. For this reason, the technician’s Field Service App should contain the activities which are planned for the coming days. Of course, those activities could still change; this approach will result in a stockpile of orders present in case of any technical problems, like a cloud or connection outage. Field Service operations should not be fully reliant on a cloud or a connection provider.
The technician’s Field Service App contains the processes to execute his work. Registrations, work flows, forms, material and document management are all required to continue executing work orders. During an outage, the information gathered during the execution of the work orders will be stored locally on the device. As soon as the outage is resolved, the Field Service App should start to synchronize the gathered information with the back office. These requirements could not be fulfilled with a Field Service Solution relying on cloud and connection availability.
During an outage, it’s also possible that high-priority orders are received. However, these orders cannot be distributed through the regular channel, since that is not available. Therefore, the Field Service technician should be able to manually create a work order in the Field Service App. The responsible planner calls the technician to ensure that the customer can still be served. Such an order could be executed immediately after it has been created. Once the outage has been resolved, all registrations on this order, including its creation, can be synchronized with the back office.
Overcome Bad Network Coverage
An additional benefit of the offline feature of a Field Service Solution is that it can overcome bad network coverage. In some areas, the mobile network coverage is simply not present, or in some cases so poor that it will cause online Field Service Apps to fail, as in some rural communities and in the countryside. There are also areas where mobile connections are restricted, such as in hospitals, airports or prisons. In large buildings, the Faraday cage often causes mobile connections to fail, like in basements or on elevators. A Field Service Solution with offline capabilities will overcome these problems, enabling Field Service Technicians to continue their jobs without any distractions.
FMP360: The “always-on” solution.
Several of our enterprise customers moved their IT solutions, including their Field Service Solution, to the cloud. In the past years, all of them encountered some form of cloud or connection outages. Some were affected more than others. Since they were using FMP360, the implications of these outages were limited and hardly noticed. Their Field Service Technicians could continue their daily work and could execute their work orders without any distractions. And, what matters most, the customers they serviced did not notice any decrease in quality of the service the Field Service organizations were offering. As a result, we can proudly share that FMP360 customers have experienced the true power of adopting a well-prepared Field Service Solution.
Are you interested in minimizing the implications of cloud or connection outages for your Field Service organization? Contact us for information or a free demonstration of FMP360, via firstname.lastname@example.org.
*According to an article in Lunarpages entitled Need for Uptime (December 12, 2013): “The cost of downtime has been steadily rising. Aberdeen Group surveyed 208 IT professionals in May 2013 and found that the average cost per hour of downtime across organizations of all sizes was more than $163,000 per hour. Large companies experienced financial losses of more than $600,000, medium companies more than $215,000 and small businesses more than $8,000.”