Competition is something field service professionals are acutely aware of. In field services, the product to the end user is often similar to what your competitor is offering. Quality of service, price and installation time are all areas where companies will try and out-do their competition, but with customer expectations ever growing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find an edge.

This is certainly the case in the recent smart metering rollout. Announced in 2012, the goal of this project is to offer 30 million premises in the UK the chance to switch to a smart meter by 2020. This represents a huge opportunity for the utilities companies involved.

Finding an edge in this market is difficult. The meters installed on customer sites are very similar in terms of features and many of the utilities companies share suppliers. Smart meters are also installed free of charge so competing on price isn’t an option. What this means is that for the most part, the only difference for a customer between one supplier and another is how quick and easy it is for the meters to be installed in their homes.

The utilities companies involved in the rollout all already have large supply chains which were optimised over years of continuous improvement, so to offer their customers a better service, companies needed to look to new technology solutions to offer an edge.  Mobile technology provides one such advantage. Two-thirds of the population of the UK now have smartphones and engineers can use these out in the field to make processes more efficient.

Typically utilities companies have excellent tracking of an item up to the point when it is delivered to an engineer, but a blackspot beyond that. Parts were also returned without any indication of condition and utilities companies often had to wait until a meter was returned to a warehouse before they could check whether it was still functional. This didn’t add a lot of cost, but slowed processes down. This was never ideal, but the cost of purchasing handheld scanners for engineers was too much to justify changing.

However, smartphones have inbuilt cameras which can be used for this purpose. By downloading an app, engineers are given all the functionality they needed to track field stock. This extra information not only helps with dynamic rerouting of return items, it can also provide a much clearer picture of what stock is in the field.

Another benefit of using a smartphone is that engineers can perform duties out in the field that previously would have required administration time. For example, ordering consumables. The smart meter rollout requires a lot of consumables, including crucial screws and fasteners to less crucial stickers and ‘sorry we missed you cards’. Keeping a stock of these items is often key to providing a good customer service, but previously required an engineer to call a central hub and place an order. Typically this meant an engineer would wait until they fully ran out of an item before they ordered more.

Ordering parts through a mobile optimised website is a quick and painless alternative. The engineer could visit the site in their own time and order the part they needed. The site would automatically raise an order, pick and ship the item. The entire process often takes no longer than five minutes and can be completed on move.

Staying ahead of the competition is an ongoing battle, but using mobile technology to offer an edge seems like an obvious step. This doesn’t just apply to the smart metering sector either. Most engineers now own smartphones and will carry them everywhere, so why not take advantage of their capabilities to benefit your supply chain?

ByBox has developed a range of mobile apps and websites to help engineers be more efficient in the field, want to find out more? Fill in your details at the bottom of this page to get in touch!