To outside observers, the emerging world of electric vehicles (EVs) might seem like a glamorous and exciting new world. High demand is driving new opportunities and luring in a steady stream of new competitors. (For example, at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Mercedes-Benz announced plans to launch a new EV charging network to compete with Tesla’s.)
But for those on the inside — focused more on building and maintaining this brave new infrastructure — the day-to-day reality can often be the stuff of nightmares.
Psychologists will tell you that there are a few nightmares that are fairly common — being chased by some unknown creature, walking through a door to discover there’s no floor and finding yourself plummeting in free fall, or showing up for a test you didn’t know about and never studied for (or for a play you don’t know any of the lines for).
In the world of EV infrastructure, there are a few common nightmares that many people often find themselves having to deal with. These include:
- The challenge of onboarding new and inexperienced) employees
- The complexities introduced by managing an influx of contractors
- Regulatory issues that heighten the need to boost uptime.
To complicate matters, each of these challenges involves a different set of stakeholders. For example, the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program imposes a minimum uptime of 97% for anyone seeking to tap into this new funding source. And that’s a tall order for many charging station operators. A study of stations in the San Francisco Bay Area revealed that only 72.5% of chargers were working, despite higher claims from charging providers. JD Power’s annual user-experience study found that EV owners were increasingly frustrated by the status quo. And new threats to uptime — like thieves targeting the copper in the systems — continue to emerge.
The bad news is that you can’t just shake yourself to wake up and find that the problem has disappeared. The good news is that there are field service management solutions that can help you address all of them.
Onboarding inexperienced new employees
Ramping up a new workforce in a new and rapidly evolving industry is always going to be a challenge. And when a shortage of technicians with relevant skills and experience forces you to hire inexperienced workers, the problem becomes even tougher.
So how can you tame the nightmare of untrained and unskilled workers? Several approaches can help:
- Remote collaboration: Even if you only have a few experienced technicians, remote collaboration makes it possible to leverage their expertise across your entire field force. While rookie team members do the leg work — traveling to the job site and capturing photos of the problem — a remote expert can provide the diagnosis and provide step-by-step guidance by annotating photos and sharing any needed resources.
- Video troubleshooting: Sometimes photos can’t tell the whole story. Enter video troubleshooting, a simple way for field technicians to convey the problem to the remote expert.
The complexities of managing a hybrid workforce
There are many reasons why today’s field service workforce is increasingly a mix of full-time employees and contractors brought in on a project basis. It might stem from the difficulty in recruiting the skilled workers you need. It could simply be that the need to quickly ramp up your team leads you to bring in an outside contracting firm that already has a “shovel-ready” team in place. Or it might be that the nature of the ups and downs in your demand cycle means it makes more sense to maintain a more fluid workforce.
Whatever the reasons, today’s increasingly hybrid workforce introduces new challenges into your field service operations. In addition to some of the same issues you’ll find with your own new-employee onboarding, a hybrid workforce introduces additional issues:
- With a mix of contractors and third-party agencies, you’ll have less control over the devices that technicians use in the field. That means your mobile applications need to be compatible with a broad range of smartphones and tablets, offer intuitive interfaces, and a rapid learning curve. Otherwise, you’ll have slower and lower adoption rates of those applications. And it doesn’t matter what kind of functionality those apps could theoretically provide if few people wind up using them. Your goal should be to provide field applications with consumer-grade mobile experiences for faster and higher adoption rates.
- Hybrid workforces can exacerbate the challenge of maintaining visibility across all types of users. And high visibility is an essential aspect of a high-performance field operations solution. You need to know where your technicians, jobs, and inventory are, what kind of problems you might be facing from unexpected difficulties arising from weather or traffic, and so forth. Fortunately, a comprehensive solution that provides end-to-end visibility into what’s happening in the field, the backoffice, your customers, and data about the outside world can ensure optimal visibility for all stakeholders.
Regulatory and uptime issues
A common challenge for any industry experiencing growing pains is ensuring high levels of uptime. Uptime is critical for several reasons. When uptime suffers, you’ll experience the impact in terms of customer dissatisfaction, new customer adoption, lost revenues, and overall brand deterioration. And in a market like EV charging in which there are government interests driving expectation in the form of regulatory mandates and financial incentives, the pressures to sustain high uptime levels are especially high.
And the reality is that, across the EV industry, uptime levels have room for improvement.
Consider the end-user perspective. Everybody who drives an electric vehicle has the same fear: You pull into an EV charging station and see the dreaded "out of service" sign on the charger. And then you see the same sign on the next charger. Getting your EV charged is now either going to be impossible, or will involve a lengthy wait as everybody waits for a working charger.
So how can the inventory improve its uptime levels, whether it’s to satisfy regulatory mandates, customer expectations, or pressures from other stakeholders? Here are a couple of solutions:
- Improved inventory management is sometimes all it takes to transform a repair headache into a quick fix. When a technician travels out to the job site only to discover that he or she doesn’t have the needed part, a simple repair can escalate into a frantic search for an elusive part, as well as a technician with the right skills to perform the repair, and a repeat trip (maybe more than one) to the worksite. With robust inventory management — down to the unit-level — you won’t prevent breakdowns, but you can ensure they’re resolved as quickly as possible.
- On the other hand, sometimes you can, in fact, prevent breakdowns. Predictive maintenance solutions can provide sophisticated recommendations based on machine learning models that analyze historical data about when and where parts break down as well as factors (like extreme weather) that can contribute to early part failures. With prompts from predictive maintenance solutions, you can mitigate downtime even before it becomes a problem.
- The expectations from a wide range of stakeholders — from regulators to customers to shifting business models — are changing quickly. That means you can expect your business requirements to change quickly as well. A no-code development environment means you can quickly and easily adapt your field service solution without costly updates or time-consuming delays resulting from a dependence on specialized developers.
Find out how the Zinier platform can banish your EV charging field service nightmares so you can enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep. Schedule a demo here.