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Dave Yarnold is the CEO of ServiceMax, a provider of field service management software.

Last month, Mayfield Fund’s Robin Vasan and Prashant Fuloria wrote about the smart apps explosion here on VentureBeat — across both the consumer and business spaces — due to three key factors:

  • A mobile-first eye toward development and adoption
  • Burgeoning device, network and cloud infrastructure
  • Increasing user willingness to share data that drives the ‘smart’ in ‘smart apps’

Yes, it’s true that our existing experiences are constantly being made smarter and more efficient through the miracles of mobile computing and device development.

To extend a consumer tech example from the Mayfield post: if we could only see Yelp incorporating our eating history, density of social activity and geographic location into recommendation results, I’d be that much closer to eating the best Thai food next week with long-lost pals on a business trip across the country. And I don’t say this sarcastically…who wouldn’t want the ultimate dinner-decision app at one’s fingertips? But, while mind-blowingly awesome for me and the restaurant alike, these are just smarter layers applied to my existing world.

The real innovation (and what gets me up in the morning) is when previously ignored worlds themselves are empowered and elevated, and entirely new sources of revenue opened, thanks to the promise of mobile. This is not just making business “mobile for mobile’s sake” (for example, being able to submit expenses on the go) but instead the nexus of mobile and cloud computing completely transforming entire business functions in some amazing ways, from construction to field service.

Mobile Empowerment: A hub of expertise

Let’s take the latter — field service (think white vans traveling to fix things) — and the more than 5 million field techs in the United States alone. What a chance to revolutionize an entire industry through tablet and smartphone if there ever were one!

When they get to the job site and open up the work order, they immediately know the most important information: What’s this visit really about? Is the equipment under warranty or will the customer need to pay for repairs and parts? Has this product been a problem before (even earlier that day) — either at this location or with another customer? Is this customer currently in the process of buying something else from the company that I should be aware of?

This is all mission-critical information for a field tech, but until recently having this real-time, 360-degree view of the customer and job site was literally and virtually impossible.

But field techs don’t have all of the answers, all of the time, especially for very complex jobs. Thankfully now every product manual or appendix can be stored and searched on the tablet device. If they get stuck they can collaborate socially with other technicians, or video chat with a product expert located anywhere (even with a manufacturing partner). If they need approval on a decision, as is sometimes required by federal law depending on the equipment, they have the right people and information at their fingertips. All of which means they fix the problem, on the first call. On average, our own customers have seen an increase of more than ten percent in first-time fix rates thanks to these new mobile capabilities.

In this industry, enterprise mobile has turned the usually isolated, individual field technician into a collaborative hub of problem-solvers ready to delight the customer, whether that’s a global supplier of everyone’s favorite soft drink or the world’s leading manufacturer of medical devices for treating cancer.

Enterprise Mobile: “Show me the money”

If you want to get down to the biggest impact of this new mobile-driven empowerment, in plain terms, it’s money. Not only in the form of better customer retention (think of the attrition that results from a sloppy and disorganized field tech), but also through on-the-spot invoicing (before ServiceMax, one customer was losing millions through incomplete or open invoices never being signed off or closed out. Shockingly, this is a common occurrence in field service!) or upselling and cross-selling opportunities (how old is the equipment and should the customer upgrade or update? Field techs know these answers, and have the customer’s trust when making the suggestion).

A recent survey of our own customers showed that this kind of technological empowerment increased what we’ve deemed “field service revenue” by an average of 14 percent. For multimillion-dollar equipment providers, this is an incredible impact on their bottom line, and most importantly demonstrates that there are still areas of business operations, in this case field service, with potential to go from line-item cost centers to actual revenue drivers.

Elevated Through Technology: Field Service in the Board Room

Having led multiple SaaS companies through growth and exit success, I know firsthand one of the most important things that perks ears in the boardroom: what’s growing revenue. Moreover, in that boardroom sits the modern CIO, increasingly concerned with finding “ways to harness technology to grow the business,” and able to “demonstrate special foresight into the implications and possibilities of technology.”

And it’s not just the CIO. For example, the CFO of McKinley Equipment, a distributor and servicer of material handling equipment and elevators, has been a key driver of field service growth and the adoption of mobile for technicians at his company. The technology is allowing him to drive productivity gains, provide better service, and differentiate his offerings from those of his larger competitors. He’s starting to see big payback from his investment in mobile, and recently won a huge deal that increased his revenues by 38 percent. He sees that as the more promising area of growth and competitive differentiation at his company, and its success rests largely on the company’s mobile strategy.

Overall, mobile has made this an exciting time for field service – an area once considered a ‘red-headed stepchild’ to the manufacturing of equipment. I’ve spoken to several venerable, stable, big-name global 100 manufacturers who now look to service as the primary future source of revenue growth. For the first time we see this humble white van-based activity talked about in the C-Suite and given attention in the IT budget. The empowerment gains and ability to impact the bottom line have elevated the operation and, with it, the ground-level fix-it guys, to new heights.

When it comes to mobile, sure, I’d love an app on my phone that can make the absolute best dinner recommendation possible and then some. But that’s not the real promise of mobile. The way I see it, the real promise is breathing new life into industries that have been neglected for far too long. Instead of making apps better, mobile is making companies better, customers happier, and businesses wealthier.

Dave YarnoldDave Yarnold is CEO at ServiceMax, a complete suite of cloud-based, social and mobile field service applications. Prior to ServiceMax, Dave served as Global Vice President of Sales at Successfactors (now an SAP company), where he led the company through high growth and IPO. He has decades of experience scaling SaaS companies through strategic growth strategies in senior business development and sales leadership roles.

Photo: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

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