Fixing Telecommunications Field Service
Intelligent automation has the potential to help telecommunications companies make their operation more efficient and responsive to customer needs. It can play a key role in improving technicians’ and customers’ experience and satisfaction and saving companies time, resources, and money. Field service is one of the operational areas that can benefit the most from automation.
When the trucks start rolling
A customer’s service goes down. A field service technician is dispatched to investigate the problem. Every time a service truck rolls, the average cost to a telecom company is up to $600 and, in some cases, as high as $1,000, depending on the location. That includes labor costs, such as service time, overtime, and preparing the truck to roll, and truck/transportation costs, such as maintenance, gas, and wear and tear. In addition, there’s the cost of lost opportunities when technicians are not available for higher-value work.
For a simple fix, or what’s known as No Fault Found (NFF) dispatches, where a technician can resolve the problem in less than five minutes, the cost of a truck roll can still add up. Say a company handles 1,000 service calls a day, with a conservative $250 for each truck roll. “Based on 252 working days per year, the company will spend $63 million annually on field service calls.” Of that amount, $10.7 million will be spent on NFF dispatches.
But what if the technician can’t determine the problem with that one visit? According to an Aberdeen Group report from 2013, at that time, 25% of service calls required at least one additional visit. And for telecom companies that continue to operate in a traditional manner with field service, that percentage hasn’t changed significantly in recent times. So, for that second visit, add in more costs and time.
What contributes to service issues
A lack of information, or in some cases, too much information to process quickly and efficiently, is a common issue with field service. Technicians can head out to the field without knowing what they will need and what they will face, except in general terms.
Some telecom operations have only basic power alarms to provide alerts when there is a disruption. Technicians must visit a site to start the troubleshooting, which may require another visit to get to the core of the problem and different tools and expertise to solve it. Or the visit may not be necessary because the alarm misfired or the problem can be easily handled during a routine maintenance check.
Telecom companies with more sophisticated monitoring systems such as on-site sensors may not have the management solution to capture and analyze all the data from the sites. Take the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, for example. According to IDC, “there will be 41.6 billion connected IoT devices, or "things," generating 79.4 zettabytes (ZB) of data in 2025.”
That’s good and bad news for businesses: good news to gain real-time insights about their operations, but bad news if they don’t have the data management solution to keep up. If they don’t, the result can be similar to having a basic alarm solution: no detailed information for the technicians as they roll out.
Making it difficult to schedule
A lack of information can affect multiple areas of field service, including scheduling. Many telecoms continue to use manual processes for tasks such as scheduling and work planning, which can be time-consuming, error-prone, and limit the users’ view of all the components necessary to fulfill a service request, including essential data.
In a perfect scheduling world, the best technician is assigned to the job, the correct parts are loaded onto the truck, service requests are prioritized based on logistics, and sufficient time is allotted for the work. Siloed, manual processes can compromise that efficiency.
Having unhappy customers and technicians
A technician who is unable to fix a customer problem on the first call because of those issues and more risks an unhappy customer and that customer’s ongoing business. Not having what technicians need to do their job can also affect their interest in staying on the job—at a time when many senior, experienced technicians are about to retire.
But it’s not just field issues that make technicians unhappy. It’s also all the manual paperwork. In fact, in one survey, 46% of field technicians say that paperwork and other administrative tasks are the most unfavorable parts of their daily responsibilities.
How automation can help
To start, intelligent automation can automate those manual processes, streamlining and accelerating field service tasks, freeing the technicians from the paperwork to perform higher-value work. It can connect siloed processes to give users an end-to-end view of an organization and the components for field service.
Smart automation sensors can be attached to equipment in the field to improve site visibility, with an advanced management system in place to handle the resulting data. With those sensors, as mentioned in an earlier blog article, IA can “automatically monitor networks to identify and manage bandwidth configuration, peak traffic, and patterns. Through systematic reporting by Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software bots, it’s possible to…remotely pinpoint, diagnose, troubleshoot, and resolve issues. This avoids needing to send a technician on-site and the expense of that maintenance. It also reduces customer friction through fewer calls or queries.”
Incorporating intelligent document processing, intelligent automation can quickly and accurately gather and analyze large volumes of data. And it can do that from a wide variety of sources—structured and unstructured data—and provide actionable insights.
Armed with information, IA can enhance scheduling. It “can automatically dispatch jobs to the right technician based on past history, skills, location, tools, and availability. The technology can also help prioritize calls and schedule the correct resource. A mission-critical job will result in an immediate truck roll, while a low-risk job may be assigned to a remote technician with no truck roll necessary.”
According to Gartner, by 2025, more than two-thirds of field service work with be automatically scheduled by algorithms and bots.
Realizing the potential
Intelligent automation can help companies, technicians, and customers have a better, more efficient and productive field service experience. What can IA do for your business and industry?