Augmenting the Overworked Field Worker

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Kappri

You would think that in the age of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, field service would have become massively efficient.

The reality is very different. Field service workers end up being asked to adapt to new tools, leading to dissatisfaction and massive gripes. Since the nature of their job sees them away from the office, they often miss out on design stages and in the selection of the right service tools. 

“So, the people purchasing the software are not the ones using it,” says Andrew Wolf co-founder and chief product officer of U.S.-headquartered Zinier.

The problem is now coming to a head as companies look to reduce OpEx and increase productivity. Nowhere is this more acute or urgent than the telecommunications industry, where field service teams are asked to minimize OpEx but increase productivity as they get ready for labor-intensive and costly 5G rollouts.

The delicate balancing act is causing friction in field service organizations.

Silicon Valley startup Zinier sees the answer in a blend of AI and automation. But where it differs is where it is starting the transformation. The company works closely with field service teams directly and is eventually hoping to turn some of the field workers into influencers in buying decisions.

The efficiency struggle

Black & Veatch is one such company that has jumped onto Zinier’s bandwagon. The global telecommunication service provider wanted to improve the efficiency of its field teams in large infrastructure projects.

It saw opportunities on the horizon. Telecommunications is an industry that will soon face an increasing need for field services, as many players start rolling out 5G. Installing, reconfiguring, maintaining, and testing cell towers will need a more efficient force.

The U.S.-based company's answer is an intelligent field service automation platform called ISAC. It runs on Zinier's platform to deepen real-time visibility into the field, anticipate service disruptions through AI-driven recommendations, and improve operational efficiencies by automating manual front-office, back-office, and field-office tasks.

“ISAC’s intelligent routing takes many of the manual steps out of project management tasks like work order assignments, change orders, and recordkeeping,” says David Simmons, senior director of Technology and Innovation at Black & Veatch, Telecommunications. “Our project teams connect on one real-time, integrated platform for streamlined operations from the field to the office and back again.”

Eliminating reactive service calls

Ultimately, Zinier sees its role in closing the gap of what automation and AI promises and the reality that field service workers face. 

“Some of the mundane work like dispatching field service workers through the course of the day are still done by pen and paper in a lot of organizations. This can be automated with AI easily mapping technicians to the schedule. In fact, it is the kind of work that is better done by machines,” says Wolf.

Zinier’s platform also allows you to manage a larger field service team more efficiently. For service organizations, it means employing fewer dispatchers and keeping OpEx down. 

By far, the most significant benefit of AI and automation for field service is preventive maintenance. Zinier can use AI to study and identify jeopardy cases to the right field service workers. It can also improve the way closeout packages are done, where field technicians go through a checklist to ensure that all objectives of a project are met.

“Zinier can look through the data in the closeout packages and use machine learning to flag items that may be cause for concern. The technicians, who are already in the field, can then address them immediately, instead of having to make another expensive truck roll,” says Wolf.

Igniting the mindset shift

While the immediate benefits of AI and automation are preventive maintenance and less reactive maintenance calls, the long-term benefit is a mindset shift in service organizations.

It was a key reason why Black & Veatch chose Zinier. They saw the latter’s tools helping them to “make the jump from reactive field service management to proactive field service automation.”

Zinier also understands that every company has a different workflow and service approach.

“One of the beautiful things of our platform is the platform-as-a-service approach it takes for building solutions. Our builders can help you to modify the workflow on the fly, updating the changes dynamically. For large enterprises, this removes the need for making change requests,” says Wolf.

In fact, the approach allows companies to do A/B testing on workflows with a small group of technicians. "So, you can create an engaged team," he notes.

The field service community effect

Zinier is not stopping there. The company is looking to build an ecosystem around its AI-driven field service platform by allowing the sharing of solutions and modules that they build for one client using an “Appstore” approach, says Wolf.

“It is used by our solution delivery team and our partners. You can create prepackaged solutions that can be used by other companies,” he describes.

The net effect is a more effective and augmented field service team using better service benchmarks and becoming more proactive.

It is one reason why Zinier was able to raise USD 90 million in Series C funding.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Kappri