We all know how frustrating it is to lose connectivity on a wireless phone call – especially if you’re in a critical conversation or facilitating a conference call. For field personnel using field service apps that are dependent on steady streams of data to and from their wireless devices to do their job properly, even a brief loss of the linkage can be both frustrating and a drain on productivity.
Without up-to-date data, a field technician might quote the wrong price for service because the latest digital price book is not at hand. A construction or maintenance crew lead might not have access to critical customer instructions because their browser-based application won’t load. I recently had a visit from a cable engineer who couldn’t pull up his field service app to order a part because he couldn’t get a signal in my neighborhood. He said he’d have to head back to the office when he left. How unproductive!
Certainly, major wireless carriers have made great progress upgrading their networks, and for several years they have been rolling out higher-bandwidth 3G and 4G services. Still, in a world where flawless wireless connections remain in the future, we must deal with those occasional breakdowns, lest we lose customers, money, and valuable time.
Predicting where and when you’re most likely to get cut off is difficult. Wireless providers have maps showing coverage areas (there are even national maps spanning multiple carriers), but of course networks expand (and maybe in some cases contract) all the time. Reliability in a given area varies day to day, even minute to minute. That is particularly true if your business takes workers to locations where the network is stressed by a sudden surge of demand (think of the burgeoning oil and gas industry in some parts of the U.S., or of a disaster area where landlines have been massively disrupted).
Even where the wireless signal remains steady and strong, staying connected every minute may simply be impractical. You don’t want to discourage members of your field team from going behind a hill or into a basement to perform needed tasks for fear that their data connection will break down.
A field team’s software must be designed to adjust to lost connections – assuring that data both in the field and back at headquarters will remain where it was when the breakdown occurred, and that as soon the signal is reacquired all data will be synchronized immediately. This helps assure that team members won’t resort to old-fashioned pen and paper during an outage, necessitating a time-consuming, productivity-draining re-input of the information.
Mobile field service apps like FieldAware are designed from the start to operate off-line when necessary. Whether the connection breaks down suddenly or it becomes necessary to move into that no-signal zone, field personnel find their latest information remains on the device and new inputs are held locally until a network connection is reestablished. Data stored on the wireless device in the field can be immediately synced with what is stored back at headquarters. Any new updates from the office are also synced back. Plus, the original time stamps are retained (for instance on a photograph taken of the job site).
Fifty years ago, TV viewers regularly sat through frustrating minutes when the picture and/or audio were lost; time and technology have brought almost totally reliability to that electronic medium. A few years from now, wireless voice and data links probably will be just as reliable. In the meantime, it’s necessary to have a Plan B when the signal dies – software that assures nothing is lost and that your field network is back in touch, with the latest data in hand, as soon as those bars pop back up on the screen.