In the past three years there has been an explosion of growth in the Internet and wireless communications. From your phone or palm computer, you can now connect to the Internet, send and receive e-mail messages, and check your stock portfolio.

This technology will, in the near future, give the service-oriented company the ability to put field technicians in contact with the office at an affordable price.

Owners and management of service companies understand the potential advantages of having the technician electronically connected to the office.

Improve Dispatching

Bottlenecks in dispatching can be eliminated. For example, each morning the technicians call in for their assignments. They may be put on hold while the dispatchers are providing assignments to other technicians. While this is happening, the dispatcher continues to receive service requests from customers, further delaying the technician from receiving his calls. If the field technician is electronically connected to the office, he can receive his calls via wireless communication without ever talking to the dispatcher.

Technicians can also review past service history on repeat customers. They can enter causes for equipment failure and work resolution information. Parts used can be selected from an itemized truck inventory list. Technicians are able to easily “time stamp” when they start travel, arrive at the jobsite, and complete the job.

These features allow the technician to prepare an invoice in the field and, in many cases, collect payment for the services performed. If field invoicing is not practical or desired, the accounting has very little data to enter in order to generate the invoice.

With most automated field data systems available today, cost prevented all but very large companies from automating their field operations. Laptop units have been available for some time. However, in addition to cost considerations, environmental problems (heat and cold) and theft have prevented wide acceptance of these units in field service operations.

Also, the cost for wireless communication between the technician’s laptop and the office was often prohibitive.

New Technology

Until recently, handheld palm devices, although attractively priced, have not had enough memory and data storage to be useful in the field. However, Microsoft recently released its new “Pocket PC” operating system. Four companies announced manufacturing handheld units to take advantage of this exciting new technology.

These units have four to 12 times the amount of memory available in current hand-held devices. Options available for these units allow additional data storage, bar code reading capability, and other capabilities.

Wireless modems are projected to be available for these units before the end of this year that will allow communication to the office via the Internet.

The handheld unit requires very little computer knowledge on the part of the technician. Also, the technician is able to put the unit in their pocket or attach it to their belt.

Snyder is with Vertical Market Software, Pensacola, FL; 800-476-0094.

Publication date: 8/28/2000