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Harnessing Tribal Knowledge for Smarter Field Services

Guest Author

The Oracle Field Service Cloud product team recently
returned from Field Service USA, the ultimate annual gathering of industry
thought leaders discussing what’s now and what’s next in field service

After an energetic keynote on the Roadmap to Modern Field
Service by our own Jeffrey Wartgow, Director of Product Management, and two
lively round tables on the same topic, led by yours truly, the unofficial theme
of this year’s show was crystal clear – knowledge.

Everyone seems to agree that the abundance of knowledge –
specifically, knowledge that can help a field service employee achieve faster
resolution or guarantee a first-time fix – is a boon. It’s this knowledge (with
some help from mobile device and application advancements) that will ultimately
blur the lines between service in the contact center and service in the field
to meet new customer expectations for what will simply be service – anywhere,
anytime. However, the feedback was loud and clear – the industry faces some
challenges in leveraging key tribal knowledge in order to reach this new,
ultra-modern field service reality.

Collection: Field
service leaders know that their employees, especially their most seasoned
veterans, have tons of valuable information – in their heads, where it’s only
useful to one person. The big question many are addressing right now: what’s
the best way to collect that information and make it available for the rest of
the team? This will be particularly relevant as we see many rookies stepping up
to replace an aging workforce. Plus, it’s simply not scalable for everyone to
be calling or texting those few “go-to” employees with every issue.

A good first step for any field service organization facing
this dilemma is to consider incorporating concepts from knowledge-centered
support –in which knowledge is created as a byproduct of active problem solving
– into field workflow processes. This might be as simple as having field
experts capture basic content such as symptom, environment, resolution and
cause in the mobile applications they use to complete field work. In this way,
the field experts are capturing knowledge in context of the issue as they solve
it. For example, a field service employee dispatched to a customer sight
realizes the issue at hand could really be solved remotely, with help from a
contact center agent. A mobile application designed to help him document and
immediately share this insight with the customer service team can be useful in
preventing unnecessary field appointments as early as later that afternoon.

Sorting: How do
you separate critical, influential data from the noise of exponentially
expanding information? This is increasingly important when considering the
massive volume of information field operations are collecting from the growing
Internet of Things. Picture a future where not just your wearable fitness
device, but also every potentially data-rich object in your environment begins
broadcasting data. Imagine an airplane cabin that continually announces
temperature changes: “The temperature has raised .5 degrees. The temperature is
now 1 degree lower.” The key will be in differentiating between data
produced by the Internet of Dumb Things (“The conveyor belt is down.”) and the
Internet of Smart Things (“The conveyor belt is heating up. If the temperature
increases another 5 degrees, it will be automatically shut down.”).

Organization: We
heard many examples of ways in which field service leaders are attempting to
put some logical frameworks in place. For example, we heard of one group that’s
creating brief training videos on commonly faced repairs – and making these
available during onboarding as well as for everyday use. However, the biggest
hurdle field organizations still face is where to store this data until it’s
needed. 20,000-line spreadsheets for repair notes and email folders to hold job
site photos don’t have the capacity or the sophistication to handle the flood
of data that’s coming.

Codifying: For
those that have mastered the collection, segmentation and storage of critical
data supporting field operations, there’s still the challenge of translating it
to a language that everyone understands. This is the most difficult challenge
the industry is facing. It’s not just about defining jargon or making knowledge
available in English, Spanish and beyond…It’s about parsing through the data to
understand that perhaps a coolant leak and hose repair are actually the same
job – just described differently because they were performed by different
people. How will field organizations identify patterns in their data without a
clear understanding of the many ways to interpret it?

Perhaps the most important challenge surrounding the
application of knowledge in field services is how organizations will make all
their incredibly valuable, meticulously collected and codified data a seamless part
of the field service employee’s workflow. Much in the same way we tag important
links as bookmarks in our browser, field service employees need a way to tag
and access the information they use most often directly in their field service
application. Beyond that, these employees can be exponentially more efficient
if that same solution automatically surfaces
the most helpful or relevant knowledge based on the current job, or could
connect the employee with a colleague who knows how to help.

Today, field service employees are finding ways to share knowledge
to get their work done using the tools they already have. For example, a quick
video call to a known expert on a particular machine might save an organization
the trouble of flying that same expert halfway around the world for a
specialized repair. However, this is only the beginning. Field service
organizations have a wealth of knowledge about customers, processes and assets
– now it’s just a matter of mining that data from the minds of the few for the
benefit of the many.

The first step: conduct an audit of current knowledge
pockets and gaps, and document a vision for the future. How are your field
teams documenting, organizing and sharing data today? Can you imagine how your
field operations would be with instant access to tribal knowledge? Who has the
best information, and what are the critical access points for others?

Please tell us where you’re at on the journey to
knowledge-empowered field service below!

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