Field services encompass all kinds of jobs that are conducted on the property of the client, rather than in the office of a company. It can refer to construction, the assembly of certain equipment, transferring goods from one site to another, installing equipment on site but in a broader sense of IT, it also refers to the cloud-based solutions, software ecosystems and integration platforms that facilitate these kinds of field jobs.
On the management side of field service, there are several critical issues that can impose extra costs on the contractor. These problems include low field worker productivity, insufficient administration of work items, storage difficulties, the daily commuting of colleagues and increased risks deriving from it, and the complexity of gathering data for statistics and optimization.
Technological progress in field services
Luckily, with the expansion of software technologies, more and more companies realized the outstanding difference between working with, or without certain high-impact applications. These apps help them increase and monitor their team’s productivity and asset amortization, thus keeping more money in their wallet for other projects, branding, or employee satisfaction.
Applications with location tracking are getting more and more popular in field services, which is a huge step forward for the industry. As we now have mobile internet to power certain mobile and web applications, following and reporting the day-to-day progress of projects has become easier than it used to be. Now field workers can mark at the end of the day the progress they’ve had using their tablets or phones.
However, what happens, when the work has to take place in an area, which has no internet connection or coverage? This is when PWAs come into the picture. So in the following segment we will explore how PWAs can help in field service management.
What are PWAs?
PWA is the acronym for Progressive Web Application. A PWA is the successful merge of a regular web site and application functionality. Whenever an end-user opens the app from the browser, it behaves like a website, but she has the possibility to install it on the home screen and use it as a native-like mobile application.
The most important traits of a PWA are reliability, speed, responsiveness, and flexibility for browsers and devices. After the app’s installation - which is possible without access to an app store, thus providing faster time to market - the PWA needs much lower time to react to the requests of the user than traditional web apps do, since the data that is needed to start the application is already cached. As a result, it provides a higher level of UX.
An installed application controlling the launch experience and customizing the icons, the splash screen, and basically everything in the manifest file will become the advocates of customer satisfaction. However the “Progressive” in PWAs mean that these features are to be treated as enhancements to a web application, so there must always be a way in a PWA to fall back on the traditional browser experience, should the user ignore it, or when the browser does not support it.
How a PWA can help in field services?
Offline functionality with caching and other storage techniques
As mentioned before, wireless connection can be unstable many times, especially when on the move. This is why the offline support of PWA comes handy. Whenever the user is online, the PWA synchronizes the data into the device’s cache. When there is a disruption of connection or no internet at all, it retrieves information from there. The only limitation is the cache-size.
There are different solutions to store static application resources, like LocalStorage or the Native File System API – which is still under development, but the origin trial is available on Chrome -, though the Cache Storage API is the most reliable for network resources, while IndexedDB is a great choice for other data. The last two storage methods have some advantage over the others, because they are:
- Supported by most modern browsers;
- Easily accessible
- Flexible, regarding their position in the code
Access to geolocation
PWA applications have access to the device’s geolocation data, this is why it is easy for managers to monitor the whereabouts of the field workers.
This enables managers to:
- See the route of the company car
- Track the working hours and breaks, so the workers don’t have to fill the report on paper
- Monitor if they safely got to their destination, or something happened to them or the vehicle on the way
- Estimate the amount of time needed to complete a route with several stops
- See how much time is needed for a work to be completed
- Identify areas, where potential damage of company property on deployed field devices frequently occur
- Report field incidents by taking and uploading images of the site
- Request immediate help, or message to someone in the surrounding location
- Automate work reports based on motion and position, without the need to click the device every time a task is completed
Push notifications and real-time data
With the use of push notifications, information appears on the screen of the worker or the manager in an instant. Deriving from this, the flow of information can continue between them unceasingly. This facilitates easier and faster communication and reporting, enhancing the productivity of field workers, and helping managers gather more data about progress. This way, they are able to eliminate most factors that contribute to missed deadlines or extra, unseen costs.
Although iOS mobile devices currently do not support push notifications for the web and no news of future support have been reported, PWAs can fall back to in-app-notifications through web sockets or e-mail notifications on these devices.
PWAs with a developer’s eye
- Their deployment is fast through different web application services, like Netlify, Bitbucket, or GitHub
- They are capable of providing native-like user experience on iOS, Android, or Windows devices, when one uses the browser as the universal platform.
Considering the most challenging daily struggle that companies and managers need to face concerning the management of their field service workers, Progressive Web Applications can come to the rescue with their varied features to eliminate these.
PWAs help companies to increase worker productivity, monitor progress, and collect data in real-time for analytical purposes. Due to these advantages, enterprises working in this industry can cut extra costs, meet deadlines, and save more money for upcoming projects.
Although native applications may currently have better performance since they have direct access to the mobile device’s resources, PWAs can provide a cross platform user experience at a development cost that is only a fraction of native mobile app development.