2010 Best in Field Service
By Kassandra Kania
A data collection solution improves supply chain visibility on the battlefield.
Inhospitable terrain coupled with manual data logging methods were bogging down airmen in the United States Air Force. Charged with managing stockpiles of ammunition, energy reserves, food, and water, individuals relied on paper and pencils as well as their memories to find, record, and track data--a system that was time-consuming and prone to errors.
Although remote locations can hamper wireless or even wired connections, the AIT Management team required logistical information to be transmitted in the field. Furthermore, disparate logistics systems meant that hardware dedicated to one system may not be available to another system. As a result, airmen had to switch between hardware and interfaces to find the right propeller blade or MRE (meals ready to eat), for example, while relying on intermittent wireless connections.
To help airmen collect data on site, the USAF developed the enterprise data collection layer (EDCL), a group of commercial software applications that would serve as a centralized data collection transformation layer. The EDCL allows the USAF to support airmen as they track goods with handheld devices, whether at a stockroom shelf or in a bomber bay. The USAF selected Sybase mobile platform to serve as the software synchronization foundation for mobile computing in the EDCL. The solution had to fit into the stringent security guidelines of the USAF Global Combat Support System.
"Without this technology innovation, airmen would be restricted by a lack of wireless access and rudimentary data," says Mark Reboulet, Air Force AIT program manager. "Sybase technology makes the efficient and accurate tracking of military goods and maintenance a given rather than a maybe."
On any given day, more than 15,000 handhelds and laptops are in use throughout the United States Air Force--and more than 500 of those devices are used concurrently. With Sybase mobile platform, every user can successfully record and analyze supply chain data simultaneously.
Prior to the solution, airmen had to manually check each ammunition canister for problems. Weapons could be rendered useless by harsh environments and conditions if not properly stored and monitored. If one canister was bad, the whole batch was considered bad. Now, the USAF has a more efficient way to obtain data on the location and condition of specific equipment, ensuring a quicker, more accurate accounting of resources.
Remotely collecting and storing data in real time has freed up hours spent logging data and reduced the amount of manual data entry. Airmen are also able to make more educated decisions about how to expedite requisitions as a result of better supply chain visibility.
The success of the solution has piqued the interest of other branches of the U.S. Department of Defense, including the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Navy.
Improved connectivity enables insurance adjusters to file claims and print checks on site.
Frustration levels for property and casualty insurance adjusters at Grange Insurance had reached an all-time high. The company's 250 mobile associates had to contend with loss of wireless connectivity in the field, which often resulted in the user being kicked off the system or losing data during an appraisal session. "It took more time for them to work wirelessly than it did for them to upload and download assignments from home the way they used to before we had wireless connectivity," notes Butch Knowlton, manager of projects and business analysis.
Grange installed NetMotion Wireless' Mobility XE on adjusters' laptops, and connectivity issues disappeared. The solution is used primarily for a third-party estimating program and an in-house claims application, which Knowlton describes as a "big, fat, thick client that doesn't play well in the wireless world." Now, with Mobility XE, adjusters can submit claims and print out checks in real time without worrying about their connections.
"NetMotion has introduced helpdesk improvements and efficiency improvements for employees," says Knowlton. "It's extended our ability to remotely access laptops and have visibility into the health of those laptops. And folks no longer have to drive to the branch office for updates."
Customers are happier too. NetMotion has improved printer connectivity in the field, allowing adjusters to print estimates and checks for customers on the spot. "We've seen substantial improvement in cycle times," says Knowlton. "The time it takes to process a claim has been reduced by one day."
Sound the Alarm
Home security company tackles inefficient routing of service techs.
APX Alarm excelled at scheduling service calls--but the company fell short when it came to efficiently routing its 300 field service engineers. "Techs constantly called us saying, 'I'm driving across town, and I'm passing another tech going to a job right next door to the one I was doing,'" says Josh Houser, VP Service & Inside Sales. "We realized we had a ton of inefficiencies."
To address this problem, APX chose ClickSoftware's ClickIMRS running on Verizon Blackberry Tour 9630 smartphones. "We had a custom CRM system," explains Houser, "so we worked closely with ClickSoftware and its development partner Diabsolute." BackFlip handles the company's interactive voice response messaging.
Prior to the implementation, techs accessed work schedules via the Internet at home and printed work orders, which had to be transferred to receipt-based, three-part forms for the customer. Now, techs access work orders in real time via BlackBerry devices. Routing is optimized so that techs no longer drive back and forth across town. "We're saving a gallon of gas per service call," notes Houser, "and our guys are happier because they're driving less."
The solution has also improved productivity: work orders per pay period have increased from 22 to 32 on average, while the scheduling department has seen a 49% decrease in full-time employees. Customers are happier too. Instead of waiting all day for a tech to show up, ClickSoftware notifies them when the tech is en route. "We survey every customer after the call," says Houser, "and they are overwhelmingly satisfied with the experience."