Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mobile Inventories, Field Services and Changing a Light Bulb

Today I walked by a van in the grocery store parking lot and saw the doors on the van open. A man had a shopping cart next to the van and was slowly and methodically taking out boxes of light bulbs, entering their product codes onto a paper work order form and then placing them in the shopping cart.

Presumably the young man was not a detailed oriented thief, but rather was preparing to take the light bulbs into the store and replace those that were burnt out. I watched as he looked for the product codes and wrote each one down. Someone is going to do something with that paper form. The likely scenario is that someone in administration will type the information on the paper form into the work order management software in the office when they can find nothing more fun to do.

I wonder how accurate the product codes are after the service technician writes them on the paper form, and the data entry person interprets the handwriting and then types them into the system?

There are numerous issues with this scenario:
  1. Inefficient use of a service technician's time - although it may not take a lot of skills to change a light bulb.
  2. Inaccuracies in the documentation of product codes and work order details caused by poor handwriting and inaccurate data entry.
  3. The lack of timely work order and inventory reporting, as the details are available only on paper until the data entry person gets to them.

Now this particular light bulb changing company may have been small, but think about the ones in big cities or Las Vegas even. Inefficiencies can add up to massive problems as they scale up.

With powerful, ruggedized handheld computers with integrated GPS, wireless connectivity and bar code scanners, inventories can be quickly scanned into the van (mobile inventory) and the mobile work order software can associate the parts and products with work order numbers and synchronized directly into the work order management system in the office for quick invoicing.

We finally have the answer to the age old question, "How many people (name your ethnic, geographical, religious or cultural stereotype) does it take to change a light bulb?" The answer is LESS THAN IT DID BEFORE, if you mobilize your work order processes with handheld computers and use data collection technologies like bar code scanners to document your inventory usage.

Author Kevin Benedict
Independent Mobile Strategy, Sales and Marketing Consultant