Go Figure!

The answer to the labor crisis we all are facing wasn’t ‘right under our nose’–it’s on top of it!

Face it, our industry is fast heading for a cliff with the increase in demand for skilled labor, the higher level of technical skills required, and the fact that a lot of the best older service techs are either retiring or finding other work because their knees are giving out. This shortage has not only put a strain on most contracting businesses, it has forced contractors to engage in a never-ending bidding war to go after the techs who are available. 

With this occurring situation as a backdrop, I came across a new technology at ASHREA this year that I have been following that looks like it may offer a large part of the solution. The technology I’m referring to, is called telepresence eyewear. This is a fancy name for industrial grade safety glasses with a camera and audio communications built in. The company I talked with at ASHREA was called XOEye (www.xoeye.com/) out of Nashville, TN. 

With telepresence eyewear, a remote person can see and hear the same thing as the person on a job site, while communicating in real-time with the person. Better yet, not only does it give you a real-time video feed, it can record everything for future review. 

Now this may sound like the ‘jet-pack’ we all thought we’d be using by now when we were kids, but this is completely affordable and deployable today. This technology has the potential to have more of an impact on our industry than any other thing I’ve seen in the last five years–that is, if we as an industry implement it right.Think about it–with this type of technology:

  • A qualified tech could potentially manage 3 or 4 service trainees/apprentices remotely with complete supervision. This would allow you to multiply the senior technician’s skill and experience to 3 or 4 jobs simultaneously, while helping train the next generation of techs. Not only would he be able to verify their diagnosis, but it would be even better training than having the senior tech actually on site. After all, how many times do we send out a trainee with a tech, where the tech uses the trainee to just fetch tools? Using telepresence eyewear, the senior tech is forced to work through the trainee’s hands and body, forcing him to teach and coach the trainee on how to think in order to troubleshoot the equipment.
  • With telepresence eyewear, anyone can see exactly what the tech saw, or is seeing. This gives you the ability to show the condition of the equipment remotely to all necessary decision makers in real-time–even if they’re not present at the jobsite.
  • Should a technician sell a replacement while there, he can easily record the entire jobsite layout so there are no surprises for the installation department when they get there.
  • The equipment would also take technician sales training up a notch since your sales team could also ‘plug-in’ to the tech’s presence on a job and give him suggestions or pointers on communicating upgrades to the customer. Better yet, record the interaction and use it for training with all your techs.

So far, I’ve only covered the benefits of this technology when it comes to training our own techs–but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s look at it what its potential is across our entire industry:

  • Forget the long waits on those problem jobs where you need to schedule the factory rep to meet you at the jobsite. If manufacturers realize the cost-savings and instant feedback this technology offers them and they get on board with it, you could simply call their factory support and offer to share the live feed with them to get help.
  • Equipment arrives damaged to a jobsite–get the distributor or manufacturer online with you to see it.
  • Because everything can be recorded, training videos become easier to produce and publish.
  • Manufacturers can check and certify proper installation of specialized equipment remotely without having to physically be on the site.

With telepresence eyewear, the barriers that distance and location can create when more information or knowledge is needed simply go away. Because the technology is new, our industry also has an opportunity to do this right if we’re willing to make a commitment. If we, as an industry, want to fully maximize the potential benefits from this emerging technology, we need to have a timely and serious discussion around ‘standardizing and recognizing’, either formally or informally, providers whose live-feed from the eyewear can be accessed by others through a simple invite or shared link. As it stands, even if the technology makes sense for an individual company, the ability to seamlessly escalate and conference in the wholesaler or the manufacturer makes the system invaluable. With the rate at which technology is changing today, we have a window of opportunity to impact this emerging technology to help ensure that it fully lives up to what it has the potential to be for all of us in the contracting industry.

All the best. —Dave

**I would like to thank Chris Weir from the Lee Company for the time he spent with me at Ashrea going over their experiences with the product.

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