Force Automation - also called Field Service Dispatch
or Computer-Aided Dispatch
One of the most popular applications of
mobile computing is field force automation. Traditional methods of service
dispatch rely on receiving service requests at a central service center and
then a service supervisor deciding which service representative ill service
which call. This approach has many problems - lack of responsiveness,
inability to change schedules on the fly, delays in ordering parts from the
field electronically and having to complete the transaction only on return
to the office. Companies such as IBM and Xerox have relied on computer-aided
dispatch for many years.
While pagers and cellular phones have been and are still
being used for communication between field service people and the dispatch
center, much greater productivity gains can be achieved by
computer-aided dispatch and giving handheld devices to service personnel. Data on work
completed, time spent on each job and materials used can be entered into an
automated system on the spot. Spare parts can be ordered automatically.
Based on this collection of data in the field, dispatch center supervisors
can keep track of service personnel. They can re-assign personnel to higher
priority jobs or where the customer is complaining.
Many classic case studies exist for organizations, such as IBM,
Xerox, Sears and others where thousands of service personnel use handheld
computers or notebooks to order parts, record work completion details and
then transmit this information through wireless networks.
More recent trend (2000-2001) is to
equip field force with handheld devices (PDAs like Palm Pilot and
Windows Pocket PC) with wireless network connectivity. In early
2001, Sun equipped about 50 of their field service engineers with a
special appliance from Symbol (with scanner). Eventually all of 3500
field engineers would be equipped with this device. a Java and
XML-based application called FETools was developed. See case
study index for more.
A number of companies offer complete
solutions for this application, which can be employed by any industry. The
following vendors are noteworthy: