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How iPads and a field service app transformed McKinley Equipment

McKinley Equipment discusses how mobile and the cloud transformed a once paper-based business into an efficient field services organization.

McKinley Equipment Corp. needed to turn 60-years' worth of paper archives into actionable data streams, create...

a more efficient workflow for its field service technicians and drive better customer service to contend with competitors.

Between 2006 and early 2011, the commercial loading docks and residential elevator equipment company based in Irvine, Calif., tried just about "anything and everything" to solve those three primary challenges, said Kevin Rusin, McKinley's chief financial officer.

"The difficulty is we're not a big company that can just throw a ton of money at a problem hoping to solve it," said Rusin, who's been the driving force behind much of the company's technology adoption efforts over the last decade.

In 2011, the company adopted a combination of Apple, Inc.'s iPad, Salesforce.comfor CRM and ServiceMax, a field service application built of the Force.com platform. With that combination, field service technicians now have actionable customer data at their fingertips.

SearchConsumerization spoke with Rusin about McKinley's consumerization strategy and how it solved the company's business challenges in an industry where cloud and mobile technologies aren't widely used.

What caused the company to embrace iPads for your field technicians?

Kevin RusinKevin Rusin

Kevin Rusin: Historically, paper has largely been how everything gets done around here. But, paper gets lost and there were so many bottlenecks in our workflow because of it...If a customer wanted some history on their account, we'd have to bring in a temp to go through the files for a month to find what they were looking for.

Once a work ticket was open, there was no visualization of what was going on in the job process. If we had to send out a new technician to an open job, they might not know what the previous technician had done. It might take several days to order new parts. It was difficult to communicate with customers about what was being done on their jobs.

Plus, McKinley is a top-three equipment dealer in our industries, but we weren't growing our service business at all. It felt like the two should be growing hand-in-hand. A couple of years ago, we started looking at adopting a CRM system, but I wanted to take care of our service problem at the same time to alleviate those inefficiencies.

How is McKinley using iPads?

Rusin: The iPads plus the apps let us [speak] intelligently to our customers, because we are able to communicate exactly what's going on with their service every step of the way, instead of them being upset because they haven't heard from us for a week.

Sometimes, we know what our customer needs before we get there, because we have visibility into their service history. But the biggest thing is that this allows our company to give consistent service.

In the old days, I could train ten guys to give good customer service, but there was no way to guarantee that or even track it. Now, those steps they should follow to provide consistent service are built into a checklist within ServiceMax.

Explain how the use of the iPad, ServiceMax and Salesforce makes a difference for your company.

Rusin: Our first call fix rate has gone through the roof, which is really important in this line of work. You can't accurately track [customer] data on paper. It's impossible. Now, we can look in the system to see the mechanical unit, determine what parts might be needed and fix that customer's problem on the first trip.

When the technician is onsite with the iPad, he can update the work ticket, show our customer what parts he needs to order and get a signature from the customer right on the iPad to approve the new parts order. He can send out a parts replacement request through ServiceMax, which is routed back to the office to be ordered right away. Then, he has an ETA for when that part will come in and when the problem will be fixed before leaving for the next job. 

That might not sound like a big deal, but imagine the technician has an old school paper order and has to go back to the office before ordering that part. He shows up at the end of the day and our admins are gone, the parts department is gone, and maybe that part doesn't get ordered the next day because 55 guys all dropping a stack of paperwork at once is going to cause a pile up. It might be three days before that part gets ordered and then another three before it arrives. Now, we can have parts in hand within a day or two.

Having all this data and being able to do something with it makes us more valuable.

Is McKinley supplying the iPads or are you doing BYOD?

Rusin: We have 55 field technicians and we bought them the 64 GB iPads with LTE and a rugged protective case from Otterbox. Lo and behold, our technicians take very good care of the devices. We haven't lost any, knock on wood, and only two screens have broken since we rolled them out in 2011.

What policies have you established for acceptable use, data security, managing devices, things like that?

Rusin: The rules are pretty liberal. [There are] just a couple of things they can't do, but I'm on the pulpit preaching to them all the time, and we did education and training as well.

We said it was our iPad, but it is [also] your iPad. They can download games, surf the Web, and take pictures. Really, whatever they want to do, they can, as long as the personal doesn't interfere with using them during business hours. We provide them with the data plan, but if they go over that, then they have to reimburse us the difference.

With that said, we have zero tolerance for adult content. We'll terminate someone immediately for that. We have a policy that allows us to scan through everyone's iPad to look through the browser history and stuff when they come into the office. The other thing that's not allowed is using an iPad to take inappropriate pictures or video. We service movie stars and athletes for their home elevators and sometimes you have to take pictures for the job, but the photos have to be 100% specific for work and not infringe on our customer's private life.

As far as security, we're not really managing the devices, but we do require the device to lock after a certain amount of inactivity. Our technicians value what we've given them and there's no way their eyes are coming off that tool.

Plus, if I handed you one of our iPads, you really wouldn't know how to get anything of value out of there, because the iPad apps we use require a login and password to access them. Even if you get by all that, there's no data report feature, so even if you could access our data, what would anyone really do with it? There's always a potential problem with data leakage, but our data isn't so sensitive as to restrict and lock down the iPads.

You mentioned training and education playing a key role for this initiative. How do you train your employees?

Rusin: We created a 101-page training manual to help walk them through the new system and what we expected of them. Then, we broke everyone into three groups. A lot of the technicians had iPads and were already familiar with using them. They were the Group A employees, who couldn't wait to get their hands on them. During the implementation phase, those guys were my test case to pilot this and help us tweak stuff for the better.

The B group was a little nervous about the change, but picked things up pretty quickly. If the A group needed about an hour of training, then the B group took about two or three hours and afterward, if some of them needed more help, we developed one-on-one training.

Our C group still loves paper. The biggest hurdle for them was just taking away that nervousness, the fear and embarrassment from using something new. Our A guys are helping everyone else learn new things and figure out how to get the most out of the devices. It's awesome to watch your guys go through that transformation.

What tweaks did you make based on Group A feedback during the initial rollout?

Rusin: We were one of the first to go live with ServiceMax, but the enterprise edition we licensed was an online all-the-time app. But the app would stall searching for service. It struggled because we go to places without Wi-Fi or cellular service. So, based on that, we worked with ServiceMax and they developed a native iPad app that allows us to work online or offline. If we enter data offline, the app now syncs back once it establishes connectivity, but the big thing is it doesn't stall out. Our technicians just use the app regardless of connectivity.

How do you measure the return in investment for the iPad initiative?

Rusin: Our costs include Servicemax and Salesforce licenses, the implementation, integration with our ERP system, the hardware costs, training and the monthly data plans, which are a real cost that comes every month from Verizon.

For me to put my finger down on an ROI at this point, it's been hard because we're doing something new and just through the initial Capex costs. However, we picked up a new account a month ago, and year to year it will increase our service business by approximately 38%. There was zero chance we'd have secured that large of an account without this new system in place.          

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