How to Design Field Service Applications Older Workers Will Use

Increase user adoption of field service applications by addressing usability, trust, and reliability.

field service applications

One of the challenges your clients with field service operations face is deploying mobile technology when their workforce spans a wide range of ages. The average age of workers in household repair and maintenance is about 52 years old, in electric, gas and other utilities it’s about 51, and in water, air-conditioning, and irrigation systems it’s about 47.

Matt Fairhurst, CEO and co-founder of Skedulo, says having a workforce that spans generations means people approach their jobs with different contexts and expectations. “The challenge is to create clear, shared expectations before deploying a new tool,” Fairhurst says.

What Every Mobile Field Service Application Needs

Regardless of the age of the workforce, Fairhurst says field service apps for mobile workers should be secure and reliable, with access to relevant documents, information and customer data that is fully offline-capable. The application also needs to be easy-to-use with a platform-agnostic UI that integrates with other necessary applications. Fairhurst says, “The app should truly enable a worker to navigate their day with a view of their schedule, the ability to map to locations and efficient means of communication if anything comes up prior to arriving at a job.”

Helping Older Workers Get the Most Out of Technology

When the workforce includes older employees who aren’t as tech-savvy as their younger coworkers, there are three main barriers to adoption: usability, trust and reliability. Fairhurst says field service applications should leverage visual and audio cues where appropriate, as well as clear and simple patterns so workers can easily navigate the user interface (UI). “As for a lack of trust, some older users may be hesitant to use an app if they don’t understand how work is being documented without a physical paper trail,” he explains. “And in terms of reliability, apps should be fully offline-capable and provide relevant information quickly and smoothly.”

Fairhurst says Skedulo makes usability and accessibility a strong priority. “One of our customers, the Royal Society for the Blind (RSB), is a not-for-profit organization providing services to Australians who are blind or vision impaired. Working with this organization deepened our appreciation as an independent software vendor for usability of our app according to a broad range of needs,” he says. “What we’ve found is that it’s not about a checklist of features you need to provide; it’s about learning from the specific user and working together to solve the problem.”

“There are some standards, however, by which all ISVs can abide, including strong, user-forward design not only from an aesthetic perspective but also one that is designed for maximum usability and efficiency,” Fairhurst says. “ISVs should also leverage experiential analysis of users from a broad range of age groups to gain a comprehensive view of pain points and use cases.”

He adds that it’s also valuable for ISVs to create a community among its users of similar demographics through clear channels of communication and provide a way to ask for support directly in the app. “It’s also beneficial to have multiple types of training and support available so everyone has a way of accessing help that makes sense to them — in person, over the phone or digitally,” he says.

Stay Agile

There are times when a client may need to adapt an application for its workforce, but Fairhurst says to stay profitable, you need to look at customization from a macro perspective across your customer base. “By doing this, themes will begin to emerge, which lend themselves to repeatability and, ultimately, best practice across clients,” he says. “You eventually reach a stage where repeated customizations are productized. You must build your platform to support configurability and flexibility so when true customization is necessary, you can deliver it quickly.” 

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Mike Monocello
The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of DevPro Journal.