Up until a few months ago, I was still somewhat agnostic about the current practical value of the Internet of Things as a game changer in the workplace. When I took a step back, however, to take stock of all the connected devices coming online — whether phone, tablet, wearable or sensor — it struck me as poignant that what we’re really seeing is all these “things” are being used to better connect “people.” That’s why I believe the real value of the Internet of Things has to start with an Internet of People.
My first real observation of this trend came about five months ago, when a colleague of mine relayed the experience of having his oven repaired. After initially sitting on hold for 20 minutes, he said the experience totally shifted once he finally got through to a service agent. From there, the information he’d relayed during the call was sent to him via text message almost instantly, as was a reminder for the day of the in-home service call. The technician showed up at the prescribed time (which he deemed a miracle) and within a half hour he had the appliance fixed.
Then, when it came time to pay, my friend was really caught off guard; rather than pulling out a huge pad of paper and taking an impression of his credit card (or asking for a check), which is what so typically happens in these situations, the tech instead opened up an app on his phone and took down payment information digitally. And as impressed as he was by that, the repairman then relayed that appliances themselves can now do things like send diagnostic information remotely to his company, to ensure he arrives with the correct parts in hand. My friend was so awestruck by the sheer efficiency of the interaction that he told me about it over lunch a few days later.
This story is only one example in how the Internet of People is a more accurate portrayal of what’s actually happening from an implementation perspective. The “things” in IoT, along with the data and systems to support it, must serve to improve life (or business) for the customer. There is an incredible amount of data that can be put to use to improve a person’s work day; it’s possible to chart not only where employees are and what they are doing at all times, but also to arm them with the perfect information to impress and delight at the customer point-of-contact. And that’s where the ultimate value lies.
Gathering Data Equals Accountability & Smarter Managerial Decisions
Having all of that information at hand — even if it is perceived as a bit intrusive — can fuel smarter business decisions, starting with which employee goes where. With mobile technology, companies can adjust schedules on the fly and get themselves in better step with employee skillsets. And, they can segment out less productive staff and reduce expenses. It just increases everyone’s visibility.
Increased visibility means that if the customer needs to relay some vital, perhaps updated, piece of information to the technician, he or she can contact the technician directly instead of wasting time and resources going through the call center.
This “old way” wastes money on phone calls and usually results in poor customer service because of poor and delayed communication, which also results in reduced employee satisfaction. It can become a self-fueling conflagration.
Data Uses Beyond Simple Schedule Management
The information gathered in the database could also prove useful in other ways. If you know your employees’ habits, you can manage sick, vacation and PTO days. If an employee has a certain number of paid days off days per month or year, direct access to this kind of information can be beneficial in planning vacation time accordingly. This also ensures that employees are not asking for paid time off that they do not have. If you’re mobile, you could even give employee the freedom to submit sick day and vacation requests via their smartphone, and he or she can request those days as early as possible — whether at work, at home or out somewhere else. A mobile platform where all employees log on and look at one master schedule, akin to Google Docs or Dropbox, could potentially allow employees to voice preferences for pickup or overtime shifts, as well.
Mobile technology and particularly smartphones aren’t going away, especially in the field services sector. In fact, they’re rising to the level of table stakes. According to a 2013 survey by Field Technologies Magazine, 49 percent of companies said their primary form of communication in the field is smartphones, and 75 percent of that demographic said they would consider sticking with smartphones. Mobile workforce scheduling software contains features that are designed to increase efficiency, customer satisfaction and transparency in the field. Planned duration scheduling features allow technicians to update their schedules as circumstances come up that increase or decrease the duration of each job. Time and context-based notifications nudge the technician to allow the program to take action in regards to updating the schedule.
A great in-person experience starts with keeping customers informed and eliminating guess work from the equation, and that’s why we believe the Internet of People is the future of workplace management. There’s two-way value: Employers benefit from cutting wasteful costs and increasing customer satisfaction, which often inspires word-of-mouth new business. And customers get an exceptional, memorable experience.
There is still room for growth to be sure, such as deepening the scheduling capabilities for employees, including access to information regarding vacation days, paid time off and overtime shift availability. But with 38 percent of employees claiming that the use of mobile devices at work has contributed to their increased work efficiency and job satisfaction (and that percentage expected to rise each coming year), it is within the realm of possibility that field service ends up delivering the most tangible, near-term returns for the Internet of Things in business.
Mike Karlskind is product marketing VP for ClickSoftware, a provider of field service and workforce management software.