Eliminating Avoidable First Truck Rolls for Field Services

It’s been estimated that the average field service company spends anywhere from $200 to $2,000 on a single truck roll. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that eliminating avoidable truck rolls are at the top of the service industry’s “to do” list.

While it’s certainly worthwhile to reduce the second or even third truck roll, it’s the first one that tends to be the tough one — especially for cable and TELCO service teams who make house calls. Until they arrive on-site, they don’t know exactly what they’ll be dealing with or how long it will take to diagnose and troubleshoot the issue.

Field services are hoping apps will help eliminate avoidable first truck rolls.Often, these first-time visits end up being classified as “cockpit error” — a simple solution that could have been fixed with proper troubleshooting by customer care agents if they had a clear view of the problem. For instance, they might see that someone unplugged a cable and plugged it into the wrong connection. However, with today’s complex systems, having customers try to describe the problem over a phone call becomes increasingly more complicated. Thus, the support phone call turns into scheduling an on-site visit.

Thanks to advancements in mobile technology, there are now solutions on the horizon to enable field service companies to avoid unnecessary first truck rolls — saving significant time and money.

To see what we mean, let’s turn our attention to mobile apps.

Cable companies and other service organizations are beginning to leverage mobile apps to improve processes and deliver better experiences for their customers. BUT, there’s still one missing feature — an option that allows the customer to connect instantly with to a virtual customer care agent who can see exactly what the customer is dealing with.

By leveraging advances in real-time video streaming, like Vidcie Live Video Assist, customers could turn their smartphones into a live-streaming smart camera that allows agents to immediately see whether this is a simple “cockpit error” that can be quickly fixed by the customer, or if it warrants a service tech being dispatched to the problem.

At Vidcie, we see the potential in teaming up with field services to incorporate real-time video streaming technology into their customer service processes and existing apps to make it easier than ever to resolve problems — and ultimately eliminate costly truck rolls.

It’s a truly simple solution to a problem that’s been difficult to resolve. 

When Disaster Strikes, Real-time Video Streaming Could Save the Day

Just last week, we witnessed a pummeling snow storm that hit much of the East Coast. So big in fact, that the social media world began throwing out names such as #Snowmageddon2015 and #SnowtoriousBIG.

As the storm settled in Massachusetts, like much of the East Coast, witnessed fierce winds creating white-out conditions. Along the coastline south of Boston, the National Guard evacuated residents in the town of Marshfield, a 100 ft. section of seawall was breached by a storm surge that caused extreme flooding in the surrounding area. And the snow? Buffalo, New York, experienced record-breaking snowfall that blanketed much of the city and forced residents and businesses alike to dig themselves out. Streets were empty, and drivers faced zero visibility on the highways.

The bad weather isn’t slowing down as it’s now the Midwest’s turn to experience Mother Nature’s wrath. Like it or not, these storms are inevitable and generally cause way more havoc than most people would prefer, especially for the utilities industry. Power outages, pipes freezing … you name it. These problems can affect millions of people, and at times like this, it becomes a necessity to get things back up and running as quickly as possible.

Herein lies the hero —

When the weather outside is frightful, it’s the field service technicians equipped with real-time video streaming who save the day. Eyes set on the broken pipe (or cable box, or burned out transformer), they set out to solve the customer’s problem in the fastest way possible.

But what happens when the tech encounters a situation that they have not run across before? In the past, when encountering a complex problem, the technician’s only option was to phone a subject matter expert back at headquarters. This expert would then listen to what the field service tech was dealing with, and attempt to give the best advice possible – without actually seeing the problem. This often slowed down the field tech’s ability to get things back up and running and, or worse, required a follow-up visit to resolve the issue (not something the customer or field tech wants to deal with when there’s several feet of snow!).

Now, field techs can be equipped with mobile network-enabled wearable cameras that live stream what they’re seeing back to headquarters instantly. In the office, experts offer support by viewing the live-streaming video and providing remote assistance to get the job done right — right now. With enterprise-grade real-time video streaming technology, field techs become more efficient, operation costs to the company are lowered and customers are happier to get their utility problems taken care of quickly.

When utilities need to get back up and running in record time, field techs can use live-streaming video to save the day! 

A Glimpse into the Future of Real-Time Video Streaming

The popular cartoon “The Jetsons” provided baby boomers a glimpse of what great things the future held — from robot maids to flying cars. Rather than making simple phone calls, the characters were often seen using real-time video streaming, whether it be Jane talking with her family or George getting a call from his boss, Mr. Spacely, yelling, “JETSON!!!”

In 2015 we have far surpassed the expectations of the Jetsons, with real-time video streaming technology being used regularly in business and home environments. And what’s more, its use isn’t confined to a single monitor, but can be used on-the-go from a variety of mobile devices.

While real-time video streaming is no longer something to be imagined, there are still industries that have yet to fully embrace its infinite uses. Here’s our own futuristic look at industries that will start realizing the benefits of real-time video streaming in 2015 and beyond.

Law Enforcement

Increasingly, law enforcement agencies are realizing the benefits of equipping their officers with body-worn video cameras. The use of body cameras reduces tension between the police and the public they serve, and provides a record of an encounter between an officer and a civilian to prevent frivolous accusations. However, viewing video evidence after an incident is no longer enough.

Police departments will eventually be required to equip their officers with body-worn cameras that will live stream footage back to the command center, and house captured footage off the device for safekeeping. This will enable real-time assistance, which may prevent unnecessary incidents from occurring altogether, and will ensure evidence isn’t lost or tampered with.

Oil and Gas

As the lifeblood of the global economy, it’s crucial that the oil and gas industry operates as efficiently as possible. However, issues typically occur in remote locations—far from company headquarters—which can slow down important inspections, equipment maintenance and infrastructure troubleshooting that ensure operations continue as usual.

Real-time video streaming will fuel remote collaboration in oil and gas by helping to easily connect workers at these remote locations with subject matter experts back at headquarters—speeding up problem resolution and improve production uptime.

Automotive

The auto industry is facing a shortage of skilled technical manpower at a time when rapid advances in vehicle technology are requiring auto workers to go far beyond just fixing starters, spark plugs, pistons and carburetors. This means that mechanics are likely to face more complex technical repairs, such as computer troubleshooting, and their ability to accurately describe the issue can make the difference between getting the vehicle back on the road… or not.

To help resolve issues quickly, the auto industry will begin equipping mechanics with real-time video streaming technology so they can immediately connect with subject matter experts who can “see” the problems the mechanics are dealing with and give instantaneous guidance on how to resolve them.

Cable

Cable, telephone and Internet are now combined into a single solution that is part of a much bigger entertainment ecosystem. When today’s cable technician arrives at the customer’s home for a service call, he is troubleshooting a complex system that includes (but isn’t limited to) routers, STBs, Wi-Fi, VoIP, Smart TVs and DVRs. Even though the cable tech is a multi-domain expert, he may encounter something outside of his realm of expertise.

The cable industry will start equipping field techs with real-time video streaming software so that they can instantly broadcast any issues or irregularities to support teams at headquarters. This will be much more effective than describing what the cable tech is seeing over the phone, and will ensure that the issue is resolved in a timely manner. The technician will be able to get to his next appointment on time, and the customer will be back up and running as quickly as possible.

A Final Word

The uses of real-time video streaming are infinite, and we’re only scratching the surface when it comes to the benefits it will present. While there are already forward-looking companies that have begun using real-time video streaming in law enforcement, oil and gas, automotive, and cable, we will eventually see its use as prevalent as videoconferencing in the boardroom.

Are you in one of these industries taking advantage of real-time video streaming? We’d love to hear how you’re using it and what you think! 

What is Information Fidelity (and why you should care)? The Breakdown

In the world of entertainment video, a high priority is placed on moving toward brighter highlights and increased contrast; video in the business world is all about the need for Information Fidelity.

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2015) was all about showcasing advancements in entertainment video and the shift toward streaming video services that promise an unparalleled viewing experience. There were also huge strides made towards HDR, or High Dynamic Range, which is a promising advancement in picture quality that offers extra brightness, increased resolution and a higher contrast ratio.

It’s important to take a look, however, at what wasn’t visible to CES attendees marveling at these huge screens and incredible images. What they did not see was the dedicated, high-powered video server just behind the show walls bringing these unbelievable images to life. They also didn’t notice the network of cables that linked this server to the screen. But even if they did, why would they care? Everyone knows that today’s TVs require a hardwired cable or internet feed for top performance, and homes are built to accommodate this need. But video for business is a completely different ball game, with different goals and different rules. Streaming video is often used outside controlled environments, such as remote on-the-job locations with unreliable network coverage, where inevitable obstacles compromise video performance.

That’s when the importance of maintaining reliable video performance — or Information Fidelity — comes into play.

At its core, the term Information Fidelity refers to video viewed with the lowest possible latency and no buffering delays (which can pause the video for 5, 10, 15 seconds or more). Instead of having to wait for the video to play catch-up due to a poor network connection or interference, the viewer on the other end of the video will experience a seamless stream of video that provides the visual information required to get the job done.

To achieve Information Fidelity, there are now invisible “under the hood” processes that allow the entire system to dynamically adjust for fluctuations in the transmission signal while maintaining the lowest possible latency. This means that while there may be compromises in image resolution and framerate, these will be offset by a drastic reduction in latency that effectively addresses the challenges of the real world.

Information Fidelity can only be found in an enterprise-grade, live-streaming video solution, which is why mobile live-streaming video apps like FaceTime or Skype aren’t ideal in situations with poor network conditions.

If your business depends on reliable, real-time video streamed from remote locations, make sure to keep Information Fidelity in mind, and find a solution specifically designed to address the network challenges of the real world.

And of course, Vidcie Live Video Assist is that solution. 

How to Make Manufacturing Problems Less of a Headache

Meet Albert.

Albert is the floor manager in a chocolate factory that prides itself on manufacturing an assortment of chocolate bars at a speed only Superman wishes he could achieve.

ChocolatePart of Albert’s job is overseeing a complex network of equipment on the production line. Each piece of equipment performs a unique function and, for the most part, sourced from different suppliers. The complexity and diversity of the machines can cause Albert quite the headache if something goes wrong and can lead to serious downtime and lost revenue.

In the past, when Albert had a failure with one of his machines, it meant relying on a lengthy phone call with the equipment manufacturer or bringing in an off-site expert to work on the machine. Both ended up costing him valuable time and money.

Thankfully, Albert figured out a much “sweeter” (and faster) way of resolving issues through the use of live-streaming video technology.

Now, after identifying problems, Albert has the option to use real-time video to “video in” the maker of the troublesome machine to assist with diagnosing and repair of the problem. Albert gets the help he needs right away and can get his factory up and running in hours – not days or weeks.

This is surely good news for all the chocolate lovers out there! 

Vidcie and SANTA keep an eye on Christmas

Arctic Pole logoA discussion with S.T. Nicholas of Arctic Pole Industries

For anyone dealing with consumer goods, Q4 is the most hectic time of the year. But when your company handles everything from manufacturing through final delivery to the end customer the ability to keep things running smoothly is critical, and clear communication between team members makes the difference between naughty and nice. To prepare this paper, we spoke with S.T. Nicholas, CEO of Arctic Pole Industries to gain insight into how real-time video communication helps his team stay merry during the holiday season.

Building Christmas

According to Nicholas, Arctic Pole is faced with very unique planning and manufacturing issues. “99.9% of our orders arrive in early December – more often than not written in Crayon – with delivery deadlines on or around the 24th of the month, so our lead times are extremely short.” To address this reality, Nicholas and his team have developed a unique Sourced-As-Needed Toy Approach or SANTA. “The holiday season would not be the same without SANTA. With SANTA we’re able to track every order from raw material to finished toy, and Vidcie is a critical part of the process.” Stopping to sip from a mug of egg nog, Nicholas continues, “With Vidcie, I can instantly see anything I need to see. Whether it’s the wood whittling workshop, the paint team or the gift-wrap crew, getting eyes-on is as easy as asking a camera equipped worker to move to a new location. It’s essentially an elf-serve process.”

Dash Away All

Reindeer and Bridle

Harness fatigue and sleigh bell corrosion are easily identified with Vidcie Live Video Assist

In order to maintain 360 degree control of the entire operation – including delivery – Arctic Pole Industries maintains its own fleet of custom-built toy transport sleighs. While this certainly increases convenience, it also requires a skilled maintenance team to keep things flying smoothly. But even the best techs occasionally need backup and Vidcie has proven to be indispensable in these cases. Nicholas had this to say: “Anyone in the Holiday Services Industry knows it takes a keen eye and years of experience to properly evaluate issues such as harness fatigue and sleigh bell corrosion. And quite frankly these experts are few and far between.”

“With Vidcie, our ground teams are able to stream live video in real time back to our Ops Center so that our in house experts can get an elf’s-eye view into the
problem. By adopting Vidcie, we have been able to dramatically speed up both the diagnosis and resolution of problems on the runway and have seen a 23% decrease in ROG (Reindeer On Ground) time.”

Putting Out Fires

ElfFor most companies, the job is done when the product is packed and shipped. Not so with Arctic Pole. “SANTA is all about ensuring delivery to the end user, and once again, Vidcie has proven to be indispensable” states Nicholas. “When we arrive on site, we must ensure that everything goes according to plan, with no surprises. While wind, snow and roof pitch are all occupational hazards, other pitfalls are easily avoided with Vidcie Live Video. A great example is the smokestack
scenario. As I prep for the initial descent into the work area, I use a length of industrial grade holiday ribbon to lower a Vidcie camera down the chimney. In this way, I’m able to use the real-time video feed to check for open flame, hot coals, unsteady log stacking or any of a number of other hazardous conditions. The level of Situation Yule Awareness that Vidcie provides is truly a game changer.”

When asked for final comments, Nicholas simply laid his finger aside of his nose, gave a nod and said, “With video streaming the job is done right. Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” 

The Real Truth About FaceTime and Skype

Original Video PhoneReal-time video technology has gained popularity at an impressive pace, with services like Skype and FaceTime making it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends, family and coworkers anywhere in the world. While these may be wonderful choices for consumers and even business users, let’s take a look at whether they adequately meet the needs of field service organizations where on-site problem-solvers need to connect with remote experts.

FaceTime

FaceTime is an exclusive product to the Apple ecosystem, which means there are limitations to who FaceTime users can “video in.” If a field tech was trying to FaceTime with an expert using an Android or Windows phone, or an older iPhone, they would be out of luck. No connection would be made, and they would have to revert to a traditional, lengthy phone call to describe the problem. Additionally, FaceTime allows only point-to-point viewings and does not support a matrix of viewers. If the field tech wanted to dial-in another viewer to their live-streaming video, he would be unable to.

An added bonus that video technology brings to the table in field services is the option for field techs to record video for future training references. FaceTime does not have the ability to perform this operation, which should be a consideration for organizations who want to take advantage of on-the-job recording and playback.

Finally, when it comes to connectivity, FaceTime calls have to be on Wi-Fi (iOS 4 and 5 devices) or a reliable 3G/4G cellular network connection (iOS 6 and higher). In addition, FaceTime does require a fairly robust network connection to maintain a reliable video feed, and this is not always available when working in the field.

Skype

Recent upgrades to Skype have made it more effective in business environments. For instance, Skype now provides the ability to support up to 10 participants in a video conference call and, unlike FaceTime, supports a broad range of mobile devices as well as PCs. There is, however, still a gap between applications designed for the office and solutions designed for the field.

Many of the same shortcomings of FaceTime in field service-type environments are shared with Skype. For instance, there is no native recording features and, while Skype was designed for use in areas with robust Wi-Fi or wired connections, it’s unfair to expect flawless performance in situations where connectivity is not so good.

Additionally, organizations need to give consideration to the security of their video solution to make sure IP and confidential footage doesn’t end up getting into the wrong hands. Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation released a new scorecard comparing a variety of video chat apps grading them on the level of security offered and Skype received a less than stellar review. This level of security may be fine when chatting with a friend, but not when sharing enterprise footage.

The Need for an Enterprise-Grade Video Solution

FaceTime and Skype have proven to be excellent options for consumers and business users who want to take advantage of live-streaming video technology, but do not adequately meet the demands of field service organizations where on-site field techs need to communicate with remote experts or headquarters.

Neither allows signals from multiple cameras to be delivered to multiple viewing devices in a controlled fashion nor do they allow the real time video to be archived in a secure location for forensic review at a later date. Finally, neither has the intelligence to cope with variations in network conditions that degrade a mobile signal – conditions as common as a car driving by, a building between the camera and the cell tower or other individuals using the network.

As an alternative, field service organizations should look for an enterprise-grade video solution that provides everything needed to speed and improve remote problem solving and collaboration, including:

  • Dependability – Ability to adapt the signal to ensure that it will get through, even when network conditions are not optimal.
  • Multiple Viewing Options – Video streams that can be securely viewed from any internet-enabled device, ranging from desktop to laptop to iOS and Android tablets and smart phones.
  • Flexible, centralized administration – Features allowing administrators to centrally manage camera usage policies and password protected viewer access to ensure security.
  • Archiving – Ability for video to be archived, with administrators having the option to download any or all of their video at any time for their own records or future training.
 

Video: Abseilon USA Rope Access inside Kennedy Space Center

Recently, in a galaxy (not so) far away –in Merritt Island, Florida – Abseilon USA’s team of rope access professionals were tasked with installing new equipment above one of the country’s most prized exhibits: Space Shuttle Atlantis at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

To quickly get workers into location and to ensure the seamless execution of the installation, Abseilon Vice President Kenneth Piposar decided to bring in Vidcie’s real-time video technology to maintain visibility into the project from start to finish.

Suspended 176 feet above the historic shuttle, Abseilon workers were equipped with Vidcie Live Video Assist body and helmet mounted cameras, and static Vidcie cameras were set up by Kenneth around the exhibit hall to make sure no angle went unseen.

Although space travel might not be written in all our stars, being at Kennedy Space Center while working above Space Shuttle Atlantis is something that both Vidcie and Abseilon thoroughly enjoyed.

Check out the video clip to see Vidcie and Abseilon in action. 

The Cable Guy Cliche and the Catch 22 of Customer Satisfaction

We’ve all heard sob stories from people claiming to have waited days on end for the TV or phone tech to arrive. The clock ticks as the poor customer is left staring at a static filled screen, and they end up missing the mid-season finale of the Real Housewives of Cleveland. According to these tales, we live in a world where all repair technicians are uncaring brutes. Something tells me there’s a bit more to the story.

Through the Looking Glass

In a time where telecommunications companies face increased competition, customer satisfaction has never been more important. Down time is not acceptable and customers expect a sense of urgency from their service providers to amend the situation – read: “Fix it and fix it now!”

Thus grows the tale of the tardy telecom tech. But let’s take a closer look at his day. Let’s assume for a moment that he actually takes pride in his work and does not maliciously conspire to keep his clients waiting. What happens?

Technology Happens

If we step back only a few years, we see a very different world for the Cable TV and Telecom techs. The two systems were separate, yet both based on wire. If the phone stopped working, the phone technician would trace the line, look for breaks and check the terminations. Cable TV repair was pretty much the same. Fast forward to today and the reality is much more complex. Cable TV, telephone and Internet are now combined into a single solution that is part of a much bigger entertainment ecosystem. Nowadays, the same technician has to troubleshoot numerous possible technologies that may be causing the problem including (but not limited to) routers, STBs, Wi-Fi, VoIP, Smart TVs or DVRs. And while he’s been well-trained on how to troubleshoot and repair his gear, he may often be dealing with components that fall outside of his realm of expertise. That’s not to say technicians aren’t highly skilled, but there is definitely a challenge behind being a multi-domain expert, with the added pressure of ‘mission-critical’ urgency fixes being thrown into the mix.

Solving a problem as it happens can make all the difference in building brand loyalty and staying ahead of the competition, but sometimes that can be easier said than done.

The Eyes Have It

This is where our hero is faced with a choice. He could take detailed notes and photos and then contact HQ to arrange a follow-up appointment with another tech who has been properly briefed, or he could spend valuable time on the phone with his tech team back at the office trying desperately to describe which of the 15 blue wires is going where. In either case, the clock continues to tick and customers are kept waiting. A better solution would be if the remote experts were able to see exactly what the field tech sees in real-time so that the problem can be identified and addressed in a timely fashion.

This solution is available today. With Vidcie Live Video Assist, your field techs are equipped with wearable, mobile connected video cameras that enable them to broadcast real-time visuals to support teams back at HQ. Using this unique technology, remote techs can enhance their communication capabilities dramatically and get the expert advice they need to get the job done quickly and effectively. By taking advantage of Live Video Assist, the job gets done on the first visit, and the tech is on the road, set to make it to his next appointment on time.

At the end of the day, ‘seeing’ is quicker than ‘talking’. After all, if a picture is worth 1,000 words, imagine how much live-streaming video is worth. 

I Need My Space: Vidcie, Abseilon and NASA

They win.


When the folks from Abseilon get home from work and their families ask “how was your day?” they win. In the world of cool jobs that result in cool stories, Abseilon quite literally rises above the crowd – or in this case, above the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Specializing in working at-height, Abseilon’s team of access professionals uses Vidcie’s real-time video system to connect with their clients’ on-ground experts while on site. This allows the Abseilon team to become virtual experts in any situation and deliver the results that their clients demand – every time.

On the evening of November 10, 2014, the Abseilon team (clearly bored with their work suspended above the Grand Canyon) arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and put their unique skills to the test. Brought in to assist with the installation of new equipment in the Atlantis Shuttle Exhibit, the Abseilon team was able to quickly and efficiently get team members into location to perform the required work. And, of course, Vidcie was there. For this task, Abseilon Vice President Kenneth Piposar set up static Vidcie Live Video Assist Cameras throughout the exhibit hall as well as equip his team with body and helmet mounted cams. By doing so, Ken was able to maintain complete visibility of all aspects of the job in real time.

We’ll be following up this post with additional photos and video from this very unique Field Service call, but for now please join us as we realize that our jobs just aren’t this cool.