The Importance of Mobile-Captured Feedback in Field Service
The transition from analog to digital in the field service market has unearthed immense potential for improved efficiency, profit margins, and service experience. According to Gartner, more and more service providers are turning to mobile devices to leverage the latest technological capabilities (1). This gives us good reason to take a closer look at one specific mobile functionality provided by SAP Field Service Management (SAP FSM): SAP Smartforms and Feedback, which enables field service engineers to provide mobile-based feedback in the form of checklists and gives guidance for their work in the field.
Whether service technicians get a faulty machine up and running as part of a repair order or they carry out periodic maintenance work, either way, they will need and record a certain amount and certain type of information during their job. In the former case, they might collect data regarding the electrical control of the machine, in the latter case, information about spare parts to be replaced could be of interest. The same even applies when during an installation- and commissioning order a series of tests for a large or complex plant need to be run to ensure that everything works as desired.
Thus, it can be concluded that regardless of the field service type, there is a need to transfer information from the field to the back office. At the same time, the availability of information is crucial for the successful delivery of a service job.
Although field service has its specific characteristics in different industries, it can also be generalized that the need for data collection by service engineers occurs across all of them, irrespective if we are dealing with construction, manufacturing or energy and utilities.
Whereas technicians used to record information on a checklist in hard copy in the past, most organizations leverage conventional consumer mobile devices for doing so today. This seems to be possible as consumer mobile devices have become cheaper, relatively easy to protect and their battery life, transmission rates as well as coverage have been improved significantly.
The initial digital recording of data directly out of the field offers even further benefits. Once the data has been captured on the mobile device in the first run, it can be quickly used and processed in other organizational domains as well. Hence no laborious digitization of unstructured, paper-based data is needed anymore. This also favors potential analysis and reporting endeavors. Let's have a look at how SAP FSM supports and smartly facilitates all these sub-processes.
The SAP Smartform and Feedback Flow
The complete SAP Smartform and Feedback process in SAP FSM can be roughly divided into 4 parts: The creation of the SAP Smartform template, the assignment of the template to the service job, the data collection during the job execution as well as the synchronization to the cloud and further processing in the cloud and or Enterprise Resource Planning system (ERP).
The Creation of SAP Smartform Templates
The SAP Smartform designer is used to create SAP Smartform templates. These templates can be organized by categories to keep the overview even when you are dealing with a high number of templates. Additional optional labels give you advanced filtering and categorizing possibilities.
When creating a particular template, chapters and subchapter help you to ensure the necessary structure and the right degree of granularity within a template. You can simply drag and drop all the elements available in the right pane of the designer onto your virtual checklist (see Image 1).
Image 1: SAP Smartform designer with its elements
Many different elements such as tables, calculations, drop-downs, attachments, digital signatures and more are at your disposal to design the SAP Smartform as you desire. Advanced settings on element level allow the definition of certain conditions, making elements appear depending on another value that were entered in the SAP Smartform. If a technician answers a question in a certain way, the SAP Smartform will adjust the next step as they correlate to their previous answer. For example, if a technician is asked to check off whether a piece of machinery is running over 60 degrees, and they enter 72, the next items on the list will have to do with the machinery running hot and how to fix it. These kinds of conditions allow you also to make entire chapters depending on the user's input on one single element.
Once the Smartform creation is completed, don't forget to change the status from Editing to Release so you can use it later in the field.
SAP FSM offers even further functionalities in regards to the creation of Smartforms:
- It is possible to export Smartforms in an XML format, have them translated and re-uploaded. As a default language is defined for each Smartform template, a business rule can be triggered to create a translated instance to be used on the mobile application.
- The Report View feature, allows you to view and enter Smartform details directly into a PDF background, which gives the end users a more intuitive Smartform experience.
- See here for a more detailed step by step Smartform creation description
The Assignment of Smartform Templates
In order to be used on the mobile application, a Smartform always must be assigned to a specific object instance. In most of the cases Smartforms get attached to an activity object instance. This can be achieved in three ways:
- You can assign it manually in the web on the Planning and Dispatching Board. For doing so, open the activity sidebar, scroll down to the checklist card and add your Smartform there.
- If field service engineers have the necessary permissions, they can add Smartforms to object instances on their mobile device.
- You can let SAP FSM auto-assign it for you. As field service jobs get standardize whenever possible, the assignment of a Smartform to a job often happens automatically. To cover this scenario, you can build your own business rule which automatically adds a Smartform to your activities based on certain events and conditions (e.g. depending on the type of a service call). This ensures that every field service engineer gets the right guidance for all his jobs and the right data is gathered while conducting the job in the field. Please be aware, that when you add a Smartform template to an activity, an instance of the specific template is created. See also chapter 'Smartform data replication' to learn more about the differences between a template and its instances.
Service Job Execution and Data Collection
Once the engineer is on-site, he can navigate to the appropriate Smartform instance and is guided through his service job. While doing so he can collect all types of measurements, from temperatures to pressure data. In the end, it's not only about pure data capture, but this guidance also helps to avoid mistakes. Especially this holds true when engineers are working on complex and dangerous jobs, where they must follow a protocol considering security-related topics as well. To address safety requirements within Smartforms, special safety elements are available including signal words, hazard symbols, safety symbols, and messages (see Image 2). In addition, single elements or even whole Smartforms can be marked as mandatory to ensure that field service engineers give sufficient attention to safety in general.
Image 2: Smartform with safety element on mobile device
SAP FSM offers further functionalities regarding the completion of Smartforms:
- Once synchronized all the Smartforms are fully offline capable.
- Based on the data collected by field service engineers, they can also generate reports on the mobile at the end of the service job. This does not have to be a simple list. The Smartform and all of the data captured can come together to be shown in a detailed, comprehensive report that goes beyond just numbers and figures and includes a tailored, visual look at the service that's been done. These reports can be automatically emailed to customers and are also visible in the FSM web application.
Smartform Data Replication
After service technicians have synchronized their mobile applications, all the data captured in the Smartform is replicated to the FSM cloud. It’s important to understand, how this data is stored in the cloud.
- The Smartform template represents the structure of the form and all the elements composing it (together with their static values for the titles and more). On the cloud side, this data is stored as a binary zip file, representing the ChecklistTemplate object.
- Besides the Smartform structure, the Smartform instance represents and combines all the values typed by the user to fill a template. This data is stored in XML files which are archived in a zip file and encoded as binary data in the content field of the ChecklistInstance cloud object.
- All captured, single values of Smartform elements (e.g. drop-down 1) are stored in the cloud as ChecklistInstanceElement objects. This information builds the core for the creation of reports and all of it can be queried easily via Query API.
To ensure a seamless end-to-end flow of information, all collected data within the Smartforms can also be synchronized to a connected ERP system. Using, for instance, the out-of-the-box integration from SAP FSM to SAP ERP Central Component (SAP ECC), Smartform data will be fully available on ERP side, inclusive any picture taken during the service job execution! This allows the back office team to see and use all necessary data to glean insights and to make decisions that positively impact productivity, performance, and customer service experience.
In today’s world customers demand a level of service which is challenging to execute in paper form. Mobile technology has transformed the way in which organizations operate in the field. The Smarform and feedback module, as part of SAP FSM product, offers organizations the necessary functionality to deliver exceptional service – from data collection in the field to further data utilization in the ERP. Thus, Smartform and Feedback module contributes to a streamlined service process and can make your service more efficient, effective, and more closely aligned with your customers' needs.