There is a huge skills gap in the HVAC trade, reflected by hundreds of thousands of unfilled trade jobs in the United States. With Baby Boomers retiring every day, skilled jobs such as HVAC technicians face a shortage of qualified applicants.
Many HVAC companies are asking themselves: “In the face of a growing skills gap, how does my field service company grow?” One answer is in technology that makes existing field technicians more productive and provides needed expertise to every job site.
Real-Time Remote Support
XOi Technologies offers a platform to streamline service calls, facilitate real-time remote support for technicians, intelligently archive and resurface content, and improve customer transparency from the front lines of field service. “We empower our field service customers to effectively put their best tech on every site, which speeds resolution of issues, reduces cost, and increases sell-through of recommended maintenance and upgrades,” says C. Aaron Salow, CEO of XOi Technologies, Nashville, Tennessee.
A quick search also provides a manual, wiring diagram and video training content for that specific unit
The XOi Vision platform helps on-site HVAC technicians in three ways. One is to “capture” images and videos. A technician can take a picture (with a smart phone or tablet), and the system’s machine learning can extract the text from the nameplate of a unit in the field, interpret the type of name plate, and provide full model number, serial number and other information about the unit, which is relayed automatically to the technician in a text message. A quick search also provides a manual, wiring diagram and video training content for that specific unit.
Thermal Overload Sensor, Compressor
XOi Vision also “coaches” a technician by providing hours of those searchable videos loaded to the cloud. Key words are extracted and “tagged” in the videos by natural language processing (NLP), which can recognize terms such as thermal overload sensor, compressor, heat exchanger, etc. Content of the videos is therefore fully searchable.
Finally, XOi Vision enables “collaboration.” A field technician can be connected via live video to a supervisor or to a virtual service center with experts on hand to guide the technician to perform the job. Mobile-to-mobile communication between a technician and supervisor can take advantage of “augmented reality” features such as the ability to share screens, draw on a screen, etc. Collaboration provides on-site expertise to any job site even for inexperienced technicians.
XOi has several thousand users of its system in the mechanical/electrical/plumbing trades, including large companies such as Lee Company, Taylor, and TD Mechanical; and smaller companies such as Duo-Temp, Maxair and Havtech. “We have to empower companies to have their best techs on every site,” says Salow. “It’s a big mountain to climb.”
Solutions on the market tend to center around adding efficiencies to how calls are managed
Existing “field service management” solutions on the market tend to center around adding efficiencies to how calls are managed, whether tracking the location of field workers or automating how they document and record their calls.
In some cases, technology is “put on” field workers rather than designed to make them more productive. A “gotcha” element in some of the software could demotivate employees. What’s missing is help to ease the “technician’s journey.” Says Salow: “We are looking to serve the technician and provide value for the business.”
Technology Solutions For HVAC Technicians
Cost justification of technology solutions for HVAC technicians is a no-brainer. Companies routinely spend $450 to $500 to roll a second truck or to do a callback if there is a complaint or problem. These are non-billable events, and providers spend between 8 and 10 percent of their time doing callbacks or second truck rolls.
Technology that can solve even 10 to 15 percent of callback issues provides an easy return on investment (ROI). Companies can also increase their revenue using the technology to provide faster and more detailed quotes for upgrades, replacements, and add-on sales.
“Whoever gets the customer the most accurate quote the fastest gets the business,” says Salow. By capturing better and more detailed information from a job site quickly, a system can ensure an accurate quote, provide more transparency, and achieve a 25 to 30 percent increase in close rates.
Images Provide Information
Real-time images show any complications or challenges that could impact a quote
Capturing and interpreting the content of images provides information to an inside sales team faster, and real-time images show any complications or challenges that could impact a quote; therefore, quotes are more accurate. Detailed quotes promote customer confidence by showing “how” a situation will be handled.
The use of “wearables” such as Google Glass and Microsoft’s HoloLens are often suggested as tools to provide immersive, “mixed reality” experiences to help with training and providing technical direction in a field environment. HoloLens, for example, can provide holograms of intricately detailed 3D images to empower a workforce, such as HVAC technicians.
Acceptable Devices For The HVAC Environment
However, the current generation of such devices are expensive, have limited battery life, are cumbersome to wear, and do not lend themselves to use in sweaty, outdoor environments.
Salow says the technologies his company has developed will be immediately applicable to use with wearables as soon as acceptable devices for the HVAC environment are developed. For now, the company is content delivering its content through smart phones and tablets.