The Uptime Blog
An article in the April edition of Field Technologies Magazine spoke at length about how SMB companies are looking to leverage mobility. According to the SMB Group, a market research firm, the number of SMB enterprises considering giving their workforce mobility solutions has tripled. This is a significant number but it doesn’t mean that all field engineers will be getting company hardware. Service delivery is a key factor in driving adoption of mobile technologies, especially as a means to stay competitive. Firms that pursue a mobility solution have a number of choices related to deployment and implementation.
Some of the unique implementation challenges for mobility solutions are that most companies don’t have the time or capital to roll out a pilot program. Heavy leveraging of BYOD hardware (bring your own device) is another emerging trend for companies trying to cut costs while maintaining a competitive edge. Initially this may reduce hardware expense but, it poses interesting challenges when choosing software solutions. Off the shelf software usually needs some modification to be effective on mobile platforms. On the other hand, solutions that work well on mobile devices may not be scalable to support enterprise-level integration, interactivity and expansion.
Finding reliable, compatible solutions requires partnering with organizations that have mastered aftermarket parts and service processes and successfully deployed them into multiple environments (online, offline, mobile). Companies need powerful solutions that aggregate, integrate and deliver content that is relevant and accurate.
Mobile solutions that are designed for the enterprise and deployed to the field bring the collective experience of the entire organization to every service problem. Companies need solutions that provide a structured and methodical approach to problem solving, so that service technicians are prepared to face a constantly changing set of requirements and multiple types of equipment with whatever mobile device is available.
Mobile devices have uncovered multiple opportunities to improve field service operations. However, those opportunities cannot be realized without enterprise quality software that can: 1) leverage the hardware; and 2) improve efficiency and consistency across the enterprise. Enigma has proven expertise in both these requirements so if mobility is part of your company’s strategy for product service and support, it may be worthwhile to see a demo.
If your company relies on a Web portal to distribute service and parts information to service technicians, consider the disadvantages of that approach. Although web portals are one way to eliminate the need to track and update DVDs and paper manuals, there are several problems with portals:
- Service portals are typically nothing more than large repositories of similar documents (manuals, bulletins, part lists, drawings, etc.) with little in the way of user guidance.
- There is little or no search functionality in a portal; technicians must look at multiple repositories and folders for relevant titles and open each document to determine if it’s applicable.
- Web portals cannot help the technician when there is no Internet connectivity.
Service technicians often have to work in areas with limited or no internet connection; access may be blocked due to electronic interference, low bandwidth, lost signals, weather outages, spotty coverage or a variety of safety/security rules. Technicians that work in field locations and/or isolated environments, without the internet, still need access to technical information.
When making offline service visits, technicians must pick and print the manuals they’ll need, and hope that those will cover the job. Without the right information they’re forced to call customer support to diagnose problems, order parts and perform repairs. Every call to the hotline delays the repair and drives up the cost of the service visit, which decreases profits and brand perception.
To address this challenge, technicians need all product, parts and service content—a complete technical library—to be available online and offline (also referred to as “standalone” or “disconnected”). Enigma InService® EPC responds to this need, providing the same navigation, search and selection capabilities whether online or offline. Technicians and parts managers can install InService EPC on a PC, laptop, tablet, etc. and be fully productive in a standalone environment with no network connectivity. Enigma, rather than someone in customer support, provides the answers the technician needs.
With Enigma, all the ordinary offline concerns have been addressed: diagnosing problems, identifying repairs, keeping data accurate, finding and ordering the correct parts, sharing best practices and up-selling parts and services. Even if a portal could do all these things, which is rare, if the network is down even the best of them is of no value.
Without a standalone/offline parts and service application, technicians spend valuable time printing documents, calling customer support, and ordering parts after they leave the job site. It takes more time, and results in more errors.
Enigma’s offline parts and service application improves the speed (MTTR) and accuracy (FTFR) of maintenance and repair. For more on this topic, download the fact sheet, “Service Self-Sufficiency: Online and Offline Service and Parts Information.”
At last week's Field Service Medical 2012 Conference, discussions centered on how medical device manufacturers could accomplish two apparently conflicting goals: 1) improve the quality and speed of service; 2) reduce the cost of customer support and tech pubs. These topics were repeated throughout the conference, which was well-attended by over a hundred representatives from leading medical device manufacturers across North America.
One recurring issue was the need to provide service technicians with the right documentation, at the point of service, so they can quickly repair equipment. Technicians spend too much time searching through paper catalogs, manuals and multiple databases to find answers to their service and parts questions.
Attendees told us that internet portal solutions haven't solved the problem because, even here, information is often out-of-date or requires special knowledge about how to use a content management system. Furthermore, for security reasons many customers block service technicians from accessing the internet while they're onsite. As a result, before going on a service call engineers will copy data and documents to their laptop and hope they picked the right information to perform a repair. But many times technicans overlook some document or bulletin that turns out to be important. In those situations the technician must call the OEM hot line (support center) to figure out what needs to be done, how to do it and what parts are required. This delays the repair and increases the burden on customer support (as well as downtime for the customer’s equipment).
OEMs are looking for a better way. Until they can consistently deliver accurate parts and service information to field engineers and technicians they know they'll be at a disadvantage. On the other hand, if they can give technicians a mobile technical library 1) they will provide better, faster service and 2) decrease the number of inbound calls to the hotline.
Toshiba America Medical Systems (TAMS) addressed this problem by implementing Enigma InService EPC, allowing field engineers to work onsite, without a network connection, and still access a complete bill of materials, troubleshoot a problem, and locate relevant, up-to-date service manuals and spare parts. Once these engineers connect with Toshiba’s ERP system they can complete any parts orders and deliver valuable feedback to the engineering department for ongoing improvement of products and support materials. As a result, TAMS service technicians perform with greater efficiency and productivity.
Enigma has always believed that the key to improving customer support, reducing repair time (MTTR) and improving quality (FTFR) is to ensure service technicians have a complete and accurate technical library of parts and service information—all the time, online or offline. Furthermore, OEMs must be able to update that data whenever it changes and keep it safe from prying eyes in a highly competitive environment. Enigma has the software tools and the experience to dramatically improve field service operations.
The attendees at Field Service Medical 2012 were extremely focused on the goal of increasing field service productivity and efficiency. We look forward to helping more field service organizations, such as TAMS, deliver on these goals.
Repairing high tech equipment can be a challenge, not only because troubleshooting the equipment is complex, but also because field technicians are often not allowed access to the Internet while servicing equipment. Limiting Internet access may seem odd, but it is common practice in some industries. This is particularly true in the high tech medical equipment or semiconductor industries where wireless Internet access may disrupt the safe operation of sensitive equipment, and companies want to protect their intellectual property regarding how their equipment is operated and serviced. As a result, technicians who don’t have the latest information to diagnose and repair equipment must make multiple service calls, or traipse in and out of the clean room (with the required change of protective clothing on each trip).
Properly servicing high tech equipment requires fast access to the right parts and service information. Otherwise, technicians spend too much time searching for information and ordering parts. In fact, technicians often order multiple similar parts hoping that one of them will “do the trick” to fix the machine. The extra parts are either stored locally (as “trunk spares”) or returned to inventory or the manufacturer, which incurs additional expense.
Fortunately, Enigma offers a field service solution with complete offline/online access to technical content and related spare parts (all of which can be driven by equipment serial number, model, customer configuration, etc.). Enigma’s solution enables manufacturers to assemble, distribute and dynamically update an integrated encyclopedia of parts and service information that ties into maintenance scheduling and ERP/inventory systems. Whether working online or offline, field service engineers are able to access all relevant technical content such as illustrations, engineering diagrams, part lists, operator manuals, service manuals, service bulletins, safety notices and other required product literature. Field technicians can look up the specific bill of materials of a particular piece of equipment, and see all of the relevant parts and procedures to complete the repair.
Toshiba America Medical Systems (TAMS), a leading provider of diagnostic imaging equipment, has a network of mobile customer engineers that provide on-site support at hospitals and clinics throughout the United States. The company recently selected the Enigma InService EPC solution to enable its field service engineers to more cost-effectively service equipment on-site, often in 100% disconnected mode. Their customer engineers can go to a customer site, access the as-maintained BOM, troubleshoot and fix problems and select required spare parts—without ever being connected to the Internet. Later, when it’s convenient, the technician automatically syncs up with the ERP system to complete parts orders and report problems. Scott Silcock, Director of Service Logistics Management at TAMS, said “We believe the Enigma solution that links parts and related maintenance information will make our customer engineers even more independent and capable of addressing a greater percentage of customer issues on the spot."
For OEMs that have to service complex equipment, it’s crucial that their technicians have the right technical content at their fingertips—online and offline—to repair assets more efficiently. What’s the net gain for the manufacturer? They are able to increase technician productivity, improve customer satisfaction, reduce the cost of maintenance and technical support, and facilitate communication between their engineering, field service, publications and parts departments.