In the Age of Digital Transformation, Why Are Organizations Still Relying on PDFs?

The Digital Transformation has marked a radical rethinking of how field service organization use technology to do business, as well as what customers expect around the services and products these organizations deliver. Simply “getting by” with outdated technology is not a viable option for any company that wants to stay competitive and profitable.

Despite this rapid digital acceleration, one holdover from the Jurassic period still remains: the PDF.

The PDF is Clunky, Outdated and Frustrating to Use

In a recent article for NN/g, Jakob Nielsen discusses several usability issues of PDFs, calling them “unfit for human consumption” in this digital era. The 7 concerns he identifies as problematic are:

  1. Linear and limiting: PDFs are typically converted documents that were intended to be printed and were created in print-focused programs like Microsoft Word. Because of this, PDFs usually askew digital best practices around UX or accessibility.
  2. Jarring user experience: There is no denying that PDFs are outdated and clunky. This is even more true for the millennial user who has grown up viewing information on web browsers and mobile devices.
  3. Slow to load: PDFs can take a painfully long time to load, particularly if they’re large files with many pages or images (I’m looking at you, service manuals). Additionally, users can face extra charges if they are forced to download those hefty PDF using data instead of Wi-Fi.
  4. Stuffed with fluff: The creators of PDFs tend to favor quantity over quality. Because they aren’t designed with the same mindset as, say, a web page, they lack the substance that makes digital formats easier to read such as bullets, subheadlines, anchor links, and chunking. This makes it much harder to skim a PDF to look for the information that the user needs.
  5. Cause disorientation: Unlike digital platforms, PDFs lack standard interface elements and navigation tools like floating menus or return/back buttons. Users to struggle to stay oriented with where they are or return to previously visited places, preventing them from navigating through the content with speed or ease.
  6. Unnavigable content masses: PDF users have no quick way of understanding the type of content available in the PDF or getting to the interesting section without scrolling through everything that comes before them. Posters of PDFs mistakenly think that a clickable table of contents will solve this issue, but it doesn’t. Users still have to spend time and effort scanning the table of contents for relevant keywords, hoping that it’s a match. Of course, if users jump to a section of a PDF, only to find it doesn’t contain the information they were looking for, they are then forced to scroll 75-pages back up to the table of contents and try again.
  7. Sized for paper, not screens: As discussed before, PDF layouts are almost always optimized for a printed sheet of paper, so they rarely ever align with mobile devices. Unfortunately, mobile devices are where field service technicians tend to view most of their technical and servicing information. This means a lot of scrolling through a lot of tiny, unreadable fonts, pinching, zooming, and squinting until they find the information they need.

The PDF is Not Fit for Field Service

All of this adds up to one thing: your field service technicians hate the PDF. It makes your workers less efficient, less accurate and more stressed out. The inability to navigate PDFs means finding information is more challenging and time consuming. This leads to failed KPIs, customer dissatisfaction and higher churn rates among your workers.

Unfortunately, organizations still incorrectly assume that posting a PDF online is faster and easier than creating a more accessible way of publishing and disseminating information. Of course, who can blame them? Creating an efficient digital knowledge solution requires a blend of expertise, experience and technology that few organizations possess.

Plus, once its launched, the knowledge will need to be regularly updated and optimized to ensure field service technicians are not working with outdated, inaccurate data. What is the point of saving your field service department time and money by converting to a digital knowledge solution if you’re just going to put it all back into creating and maintaining the same solution?

This is why investing in a provider that has experience in transforming your existing PDFs and other disparate knowledge into a useable, efficient, mobile knowledge solution is the best option. It will save your organization a lot money, stress and wasted resources, while also delivering the accelerated digital transformation you need to stay competitive.

Field Service Technicians Need More Than “Good Enough”

For far too long, organizations have taken the “good enough” approach to knowledge management. Expecting your field service technicians to scroll through hundreds of pages of PDFs to locate important – even critical – information wasn’t ideal, but it was “good enough”.

However, the pressures of an aging workforce, shifting customer expectations and operating in a post-pandemic world have rapidly accelerated the digital transformation. Whether or not organizations continue to take the “good enough” approach will be the different between sinking and swimming.

Bottom line: it’s time to ditch the PDFs for a knowledge solution that works with your mobile workers, not against them.

Is Your Knowledge Management Strategy Preparing You for Life After COVID-19?

COVID-19 is rapidly accelerating digital transformation for service organizations, and knowledge management is playing an enormous part. Companies will need to rely heavily on third-party contractors, and all engineers — both third-party and employees — will need to limit contact onsite by completing the fix the first time and as quickly as possible. In addition, the forecasted economic downturn brought on by the pandemic is creating intense pressure within service organizations to reduce costs and increase profitability.

In a guest blog for ServiceMax, AnswersAnywhere VP Bo Wandell discusses how companies can provide the digital training and deeper knowledge that engineers need onsite to improve accuracy and efficiency, while also reducing cost pressures.

 

Step Away from the Shared Folder: Why Knowledge Management Shouldn’t be an Inside Job

Digital transformation has been on the minds of field service organizations for some time now. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only underlined the important of being digitally enabled. It has also underlined the urgency to accelerate it.

One of the most critical areas in need of digital transformation is information accessibility. Not only are organizations having to rely more heavily on third party contractors in order to limit travel, but the aging workforce challenge that many organizations were already grappling with pre-pandemic has been expedited. In fact, a recent study found that significantly more American workers are going into early retirement, compared to previous economic downturns. For companies to stay competitive, they need to change the way they are capturing and dispersing knowledge, and they need to do it fast.

Which leaves field service execs scrambling to figure out how quickly they can get a knowledge management solution launched. The answer, more than ever, is outsourcing.

Why Should You Outsource Your Knowledge Management Project?

With the threat of a post-pandemic recession looming, it might seem counterproductive for your organization to outsource knowledge management when you should be pinching pennies. However, creating, delivering and maintaining an effective knowledge solution takes a combination of people, process and technology in order to be successful, all resources that are most likely in short supply within most companies right now.

Hiring a provider will save your organization a lot money, stress and wasted resources, while also delivering the accelerated digital transformation you need. Here are 6 reasons why hiring an outside provider reduces the risk of inefficient knowledge management:

Lower Operational Costs

As mentioned above, outsourcing helps organizations save costs related to labor, training, business operations, technology and more.

Mitigate Risk

Knowledge management technology is advancing rapidly. Companies mitigate risk by avoiding investment in technology and resources that could become obsolete quickly or fail to deliver adequate ROI.

Get Access to Latest Technology

Save your organization the cost of investing in-house by finding a knowledge management provider familiar with the latest trends and innovations, as well as the know-how to deploy it to your team.

Save Time

TSIA reports it takes an average of 12 days to publish just one new article in a knowledge base. Outsourcing allows you to focus internal resources on other projects and growing your operations.

Access to Experts

Creating an efficient knowledge management solution requires a blend of expertise, experience and technology. Plus, once launched, the knowledge will need to be kept up-to-date and optimized to ensure field service engineers are not working with outdated, inaccurate data. By outsourcing, companies have access to the most knowledgeable experts in the field. A knowledge management company worth their salt will have ample experience to draw from and well-developed processes in place.

Competitive Advantage

To keep ahead of the competition, businesses need to think strategically and efficiently. Outsourcing means you can focus on core business processes while turning over non-core operations such as knowledge management to the experts.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has caused many companies to fast-track their digital transformation strategy. However, if the strategy is going to be successful, knowledge management must play a big role. Working with a knowledge management provider is the best way to ensure you get an effective, and accelerated, strategy in place.

How Knowledge Tools Can Help Recession-Proof Your Company

The word “recession” seems to be on everyone’s minds at the moment. While it is nearly impossible to predict the exact timing of an economic recession, most experts agree that, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is one in the near future. With the threat of a recession looming, it might be tempting for your organization to cut corners and pinch pennies. It’s always a good idea to routinely examine and curtail costs, but now is the time to be on the offensive, not the defensive.

In a guest blog for the Service Council, AnswersAnywhere Vice President Bo Wandell explores why knowledge management is one of the best recession-proofing tools for field service organizations.

 

Managing the Impacts of Coronavirus within your Organization

In a few short months, the coronavirus pandemic has changed our global landscape. Manufacturing shutdowns, stock market fluctuations, travel bans and shelter-in-place orders are forcing organizations to completely rethink the way they operate.

While some factories are temporarily grinding to a halt, others are becoming increasingly busier. For food and beverage manufacturing, medical equipment companies, hospitals and more, avoiding equipment downtime is more critical than ever. Field service organizations will need to meet these demands while facing unique new business challenges.

Cost Pressures will be Higher

Many field service organizations will start feeling the financial crunch. This is why it’s imperative that they start thinking about what remote technologies and offline support tools are available to help them achieve lower service costs. Solutions aimed at reducing truck rolls, time on site, return visits, and incorrect parts orders are a good start.

Now is also an excellent time to revisit your current technology. Are there any features or add-ons offered by your field service management platform that you could be utilizing? What integrations to they offer that could help you lower costs and increase efficiency? Focus on technology that is quick to implement and is easy to use. Your IT team and field service engineers are under enough pressure and don’t need added stress or tech overload right now.

Access to Knowledge is Critical Right Now

Many executives are struggling with the dilemma of how to keep their workers safe while also keeping their customers up and running. A survey from TSIA found that almost 88% of companies are continuing to deploy field service engineers to sites, with 67% implementing significant restrictions like limiting travel and time on site, as well as increasing the use of local 3rd party providers.

Minimizing time on site and return visits are crucial right now. Additionally, the need to keep contact to a minimum means training techniques like job shadowing are not a safe option right now. Because of this, your engineers will need immediate access to technical and parts information. Making sure they can get the answers they need is vital to helping them stay efficient, while also reducing equipment downtime. In addition, it will lessen the impact on your call center and support staff during this time.

If your company is relying more heavily on the use of 3rd party providers due to travel restrictions, it’s vital that you empower them with the tools they need to deliver the same quality of service as your full-time employees. Ensuring that they have mobile access to important break/fix, installation and parts knowledge will be one of the most important arrows they can have in their quiver. This will help improve the 3rd party technician’s efficiency and accuracy, while showing your customer that you can still deliver excellent service in a time of crisis.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

This is perhaps the most important thing you should be doing as a company. As we have all seen, information and guidelines are changing by the hour. It’s important not only for your organization to stay informed, but to then keep your employees and customer informed as well.
Field service engineers are remote by nature. During times like these, it’s common for them to feel more insular and out of touch with the company. This is made more difficult by the fact that organizations must limit physical contact between their employees.

Daily virtual contact with your team through video conferencing or phone calls is a great way to help ease anxiety, keep everyone informed, emphasize important information and reinforce the important roles they are all playing in keeping your company functioning.

Perhaps your engineers have been grounded for all but the most essential jobs. They may be struggling to find structure in their new routine and stay focused. Offering virtual training courses, information exchanges or product information sessions will go a long way in helping them feel productive.

It is also important to stay in contact with customers. They are facing anxieties and pressures of their own. Knowing that you are still there to literally keep them up and running will go a long way in strengthening customer loyalty after this pandemic subsides.

Everyone’s Talking About Parts Catalogs…

There’s a topic that keeps coming up at every field service event I attend…

Parts Catalogs.

There’s intense pressure to reduce costs and increase profitability in many service industries. And yet, equipment is becoming more complex and regulations keep changing. That’s why more businesses are looking for better parts catalogs.

Incorrect parts orders are one of the biggest challenges to increasing profits.

According to Aberdeen Group, one in four parts orders (25%) are wrong. The reason? Engineers cannot determine the right part from the information they have.

Imagine if you could eliminate incorrect orders…

Your service costs would reduce. You’d deliver a faster fix. Your customers would be happier.

Most importantly, your business would be more profitable.

That’s why everyone’s talking about parts catalogs.

Many companies struggle with disparate data. Important technical information is often locked up in corporate silos and scattered across several different departments. It’s not unusual for parts lists, exploded diagrams, parts images and price lists for equipment to all resided in separate departments within a single organization.

Even if a company provides parts information for their engineers, there is no guarantee that it will make them more efficient or accurate. Often, engineers struggle to access any information at all because of connectivity issues onsite.

A limited system hinders performance and extends the time it takes to find the answer and information is often missing.

It’s not ideal. It wastes engineers’ time and your money.

So, what does the perfect parts catalog look like?

Four key elements will make a huge difference to your results:

  1. Offline access

Whilst onsite, your engineers might have online access to information via a mobile device. But what if there’s no signal? In this situation, your KPIs will suffer. Offline access is a game-changer.

  1. User-friendly information

Your business will have thousands of pages of parts information: technical documents, parts lists, exploded diagrams, and more. It’s one thing to collate it on a shared drive, it’s another to make it work for you. The perfect catalog needs to give answers – fast. Parts lists must display next to diagrams. Hyperlinks must link to other relevant information. Only then will you accelerate your service.

  1. Integration with field service management

Switching between screens is slow and frustrating. Integrated systems are a reality today, with impressive efficiencies. They reduce errors, they speed operations, they enhance service.

And they increase your profits.

  1. Up-to-date information

Is that part available or out of stock? Has it been recalled? Is it obsolete and, if so, what is the alternative part that’s taken its place? These are all possibilities in a parts ordering scenario.

Data can become outdated as soon as it’s published. It’s a huge challenge for many. Your engineers will stop using your parts catalog if they cannot rely on its accuracy.

The perfect catalog provides up to date answers every time.

Incorrect parts ordering can be overcome. Implementing a solution that offers online/offline, integrated parts catalogs is the ultimate solution to ensuring accurate parts ordering every time. It might not be a quick fix, but it is an important investment in the future of your business.

 

 

Why data-driven field service businesses perform better (and how to be one)

There’s no doubt that the best performing field service businesses are driven by their data.

Aberdeen Group says these organizations are reporting a 7% decrease in operating costs. Just one advantage to data directing your business operations.

But what does a data-driven business look like, and how can you become one?

Why is data so important?

That might seem like a question with an obvious answer. We all know how important data is. It provides us with facts to replace hunches and assumptions.

Working with data is certainly not a new thing. Far from it. But using data to inform, influence and predict the performance of your field service business is relatively new – and incredibly effective.

Data can help to better allocate your resources and identify knowledge gaps and training needs. It can also enhance your customer service and in turn, your customer loyalty.

Put simply, data can help to transform your field service operations. It can save you money, make the most of your time and ensure excellent service.

Savvy businesses have been working to harness the power of data for years. Back in 2012, an Economist survey identified that 63% of those ahead financially were also ahead on data usage.

And today, data is no longer past tense only. You used to learn what had happened with data, weeks or months after the event. Collection methods have revolutionized since then. We can now access data that tells us what’s happening right now, in real time. It helps us to become predictive, not just react to events of the past.

Where is it?

That’s the thing. Your data is everywhere. You’re probably drowning in it. Overwhelmed by the many sources and the sheer amount of it.

Having the data is one thing. Using it effectively is another.

It’s a major challenge for many large organizations. There’s no benefit in grappling unsuccessfully with large amounts of data without extracting practical learnings from it.

Many departments have access to data that could be useful. You might have machines that collect data, not to mention many service systems via mobile devices. Digital transformation has delivered the goods, we just don’t know what to do with it all.

Which data matters for field service?

The data of most use to your business depends on your objectives and KPIs.

As a field service operator, that’s likely to focus on delivering excellent service: first time fixes, rapid response times and maximum job completion per day.

Your field service management software is likely to collect the most valuable data for you. That’s to say, your field technicians working alongside your customers. They’re on the front line of your operations.

Thanks to digital transformation, field service data is often available in real time. And with the right software, you’ll be able to gather even more.

Such knowledge enhances performance too. AnswersAnywhere Analytics recently uncovered that the top 20% best performing field service engineers were also the most frequent users of the knowledge base. A useful insight for the remaining 80%.

Remember: data is for everyone

There’s a myth we need to dispel. Data is not just for top-level managers when it comes to field service. Every level of your business will benefit from being better informed; from chief executives right through to the field service team themselves.

And getting buy-in at every level is powerful stuff.

Take the example of HVAC and parts ordering. If your parts managers have access to data that highlights key seasonal peaks in demand for particular parts, they can manage their stock accordingly. Hold more when demand is high, and less when it’s not. The result is two-fold: less cash tied up in stock and faster fixes for your customers.

Spread the love of data across your entire organization. If you get the right facts into the right hands, you’ll transform your operation.

How do I start?

It probably seems like an enormous task. As with many such challenges, starting small is often the answer.

Choose some core KPIs – just one or two if you like. First time fixes, jobs completed per day and mean repair time are all common measures of performance. By engineer, by machine and by customer.

Let’s say you decide to monitor first time fix rates.

So, gather data to understand which engineers have the highest first-time fix rate. And monitor which pieces of equipment get fixed first time. This might throw up some training gaps on certain equipment, or the need to have more parts available to speed the fix.

Monitoring first-time fixes by engineer might uncover some best practice to make more widespread across your field service team. Do your better-performing engineers use certain tools or resources to speed their work? Do they follow a different fault diagnosis process?

If you cannot gather the field service data you want to see, talk to your field service software provider. They might guide you towards analytics that already exist or help you with relevant reporting.

Should you have gaps in your field service data, consider new methods of collecting it. Such investment could make a significant difference to the future performance of your business.

How AnswersAnywhere helps your field service data analysis

At AnswersAnywhere, we’re acutely aware of the importance of data-analytics. It helps to drive our customers in many ways.

And that’s why we’re constantly developing new capabilities in our mobile software. We want our customers to have direct insight on how their engineers are using AnswersAnywhere. For example, the products or manuals they access most frequently, and the customers that require this type of on-site support.

Such clarity will enable AnswersAnywhere users to understand where to focus their development of this parts and technical data tool. They’ll also appreciate the knowledge that’s being under-utilized, prompting important training opportunities.

Without doubt, data analysis is helping field service organizations get ahead of their competition. The effective process must achieve three things though. You need to be collecting the right data in the field. You must then process it correctly. Finally, you must get it into the hands of those who can learn and act on it.

Achieve this, and you’ve just found one of the most powerful tools (to date) in the 21st century.

Improving Field Service Training with Knowledge Management

There’s no denying field service organizations pour a large amount of time and resources into training new talent. In fact, it’s estimated corporations spent around $19.7 million last year on training expenditures alone.

Effective training increases employee retention – this is a no-brainer! According to a survey by Society for Human Resource Management, one third of newly hired staff quit their jobs after the first six months, with the majority citing lack of skills one of the major reasons they leave. Considering the fact that the Millennial worker is twice as likely to leave a job after two years than their predecessors, it’s no wonder field service organizations are putting more emphasis on training than ever before.

What is Effective Training?

So now the question is, what does effective training look like? Companies have long known that the typical “one and done” onboarding process doesn’t work, and this is especially true for field service. Training needs to be an ongoing process and companies need to figure out how to provide new workers with continuous support in the field, in an effective and cost-efficient manner.

Some companies rely on new staff calling support centers for questions and guidance. But let’s be honest, call center staff are already busy, they don’t need the additional burden of providing support training as well!

A Crucial Component in Field Service

Enter Knowledge Management – organizations are starting to realize what a crucial role this plays in the training process, both initially and throughout the employee’s tenure.

A good knowledge management application will provide the digital training new hires need to learn the solution. It allows for scenario-based learning, which in turn makes lessons more impactful, especially when combined with the ability to refer back as needed. Additionally, some knowledge management platforms will allow trainers to monitor everyone’s progress by providing analytics to see who is accessing what information and work individually with those who need extra guidance.

Also consider that millennials are native tech users and expect access to information at all times. By embracing knowledge management, you’re being the kind of forward-thinking organization that millennials want to work for.

Making Knowledge Management a core component to your training process also makes new hires feel empowered. By giving them access to knowledge in the field, they will feel more confident to handle any task that may come their way. All of this leads to increased retention rates in the company.

Increase Adoption to Drive Efficiency

A common complaint we hear from executives who have implemented new software in the field is that workers “don’t use it”, either out of inertia, lack of training (or confidence in that training), or simply because they prefer the “old way of doing things”.

However, by making knowledge management an essential part of new hire onboarding, not only will it provide additional support in the training process, but it will drive adoption of that technology. We already know knowledge management is crucial in the field, reducing repair times by more than 50% and increasing SLA compliance by more than 26%. Ingraining the use of these tools early on will help companies drive efficiency like never before.

Ready to learn more about how knowledge management can make training more effective and empower your field service engineers?

TSIA Report Field Service

New Report Shows Knowledge Management Reduces Repair Time by 50%

TSIA (Technology Services Industry Association) has released an eye-opening report. The 2019 Field Service Technology Stack report focuses on the importance of technology to field service operations.

It showed that knowledge management had a huge impact on performance, with significant improvements in mean time to repair (>50% reduction) and annual employee attrition rates (down over 3 points).

According to TSIA, a leading firm that helps companies embrace technology, the report further cements knowledge management as a “need to have” among field service organizations. This important technology captures, maintains and reuses knowledge to enhance productivity.

Why such a huge fall in repair time?

Quite simply, when field service engineers have insight from a knowledge base, they can achieve faster repairs. In addition, a good knowledge management process increases engagement, resulting in lower staff turnover.

Why Knowledge Management Reduces Churn Rate

Knowledge management’s correlation to faster repairs isn’t exactly surprising. After all, it’s been well documented in numerous studies – we’ve even written about it many times on this very blog.

The evidence is unanimous that giving field service engineers access to the critical knowledge they need on site will transform fix rates (and if your knowledge management solution is AnswersAnywhere, it will eliminate your incorrect parts orders too).

However, the TSIA report managed to highlight an oft-overlooked benefit of knowledge management in field service organizations – reducing staff turnover (also known as “churn rate”).

High turnover is something that many field service organizations struggle with, and it’s only getting worse as companies lose experienced workers to retirement and millennials fill their shoes. After all, millennials are twice as likely to leave a job after two years and are only half as likely to be employed by the same company after 10 years.

For a while now, industry experts and thought leaders have been saying that one of the best ways to retain millennial employees is to engage and empower them with technology. Now, thanks to the Field Service Technology Stack report, we have evidence that this is indeed the case!

Advice for Organizations that Want to Invest

As equipment becomes more complex, so does the knowledge management needed to complement it. Because of this, it’s difficult for companies to know where to start. The TSIA Report offers these recommendations for investing in knowledge management (and new technology in general):

First, benchmark your technology footprint against other members. If your organization’s technology is lacking, examine where those gaps are and revisit what technology will assist you in meeting your goals.

Also, be sure to include integrations in Phase 1 of the project. Integrating technologies like knowledge management can boost adoption and improve performance. According to TSIA, critical integrations are often pushed to later stages and then end up never getting off the ground.

Read the full TSIA 2019 Field Service Technology Stack Report here.