Supporting Your Field Techs and Your Customers Through New Technologies and Tools

(Topline Results from SFGSMs 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey – Part 3)

SFGSM’s 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey findings also show that Field Service Organizations (FSOs) aspiring to attain Best Practices do not merely look at outcomes, like improving the bottom line, or increasing customer satisfaction; they also look at ways in which to identify the root causes of major problems and leverage process improvement opportunities through the implementation of effective technologies and tools to support their resources both in the field and in the front and back offices that support them.

For example, a majority of FSOs currently support their field technicians with a variety of online capabilities, including the ability to initiate service orders (80%), ability to track and update the current status of work orders (80%), access to product schematics/ documentation (68%), access to customer/asset service history (66%) and ability to provide customers with an Estimated Time for Arrival (ETA) (59%). Each of these capabilities also reflects between 21% and 30% of the respondent base citing them as planned actions for the next 12 months as well, suggesting a strong and growing importance within the overall services community.

Whether it is access to data and information that represents the past (i.e., customer/asset history), the present (i.e., current status of work orders), or the future (i.e., providing customers with an ETA), the leading FSOs already recognize the importance of real-time data and information access.

The key to success for many best practices FSOs is that they are also providing their customers with a comparable set of online tools to make both their – and their field service provider’s – lives easier. By providing customers with the right mix of Web-enabled self-help capabilities, the leading FSOs have essentially been able to run their respective services operations more effectively, while also increasing existing levels of satisfaction by allowing customers to become part of their own “support team”.

Self-help support capabilities, such as the ability to order parts or view current work order status, saves customers – and FSOs – significant time in that an entire series of potential two-way vendor-customer status update calls can be avoided; and customers can create their own service tickets online, gain direct access to self-service resolution scenarios, receive real-time status update alerts, and track the shipping status of outstanding service parts orders themselves. Basically, the more the customer can do any of these activities itself, the quicker service orders can be created, the quicker potential time-related problems can be identified and resolved, and the happier the customers will be with the service they are receiving from the provider.

Also, by making the customer part of the service delivery team, FSOs can also benefit from reduced time and cost-related factors. Customer access to online service order data and information is clearly a “win-win” scenario for both parties.

However, the greatest impact on the future of Field Service Management is most likely to come as a result of the growing acceptance of Cloud-based technology, as reflected in one particular series of questions included in the FSM survey questionnaire. Respondents were first divided into three (3) categories – i.e., those with existing FSM solutions already in place, those planning to implement in the next 12 months, and those considering an FSM implementation or upgrade in more than one year. The results strongly suggest that we are currently in the midst of a fast-paced sea change in the way FSM solutions are being marketed, sold and deployed.

Among the group of respondents with existing FSM solutions (i.e., already in place), 60% report they are using a Premise-based solution, compared with only 26% reporting a Cloud-based, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), solution. Accounting for the roughly one-in-seven, or 14%, that are not certain as to the specific type, this represents an approximate 70% of current FSM users operating off of a Premise-based solution – a ratio of roughly 2:1, Premise-based over Cloud-based.

The ratio completely reverses 180 degrees, however, for FSOs planning to implement (or upgrade) their FSM solution in the next 12 months (i.e., they have either just signed, or about to sign, an agreement to implement). For this category, 54% plan to implement a Cloud-based FSM solution, compared with only 20% planning to go Premise-based. In this case, however, nearly twice as many (26%) are not certain as to which way their organization plans to go … so, by eliminating the “don’t knows” from the equation, the corresponding numbers equate to 73% planning to go Cloud-based – a 2.7:1 ratio in favor of Cloud.

For those FSOs considering an FSM implementation or upgrade in the timeframe of one year or longer (i.e., they are presenting exploring their options, and/or just “kicking tires”) the numbers are similar to those planning to implement in the next 12 months; however, with nearly half (45%) indicating they are still uncertain as to which path their organization will ultimately take, these percentages are likely to shift somewhat over time. Still, the numbers reflect 36% favoring Cloud, compared with 19% favoring Premise – a roughly 65% preference toward Cloud-based FSM, and a ratio of roughly 1.9:1 in favor of Cloud.

Regardless of which type of FSM is preferred, the decision to acquire a specific FSM solution is based on many factors. In fact, a majority of respondents cite three factors as most important in making their selection; namely, a solution that interfaces with CRM (i.e., either their existing solution, or one that they plan to implement), one that is intuitive and easy to use, and one where they can work with a single provider with respect to field service functionality.

Other factors cited by just under half of respondents include a preference for a solution that can roll out quickly, and one that fosters collaboration between Sales and Service within the organization. Both Premise-based and Cloud-based solutions can accommodate this list of top factors, although Cloud would appear to have an edge in factors relating to ease of use, quick rollout and, arguably, fostering collaboration.

Based on the results of SFG’s 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, the key takeaways are:

  • Field Service Organizations (FSOs) are being driven to meet customer demands for quicker response; improve workforce utilization, productivity and efficiencies; meet customer demand for improved asset availability, and increase service revenues
  • A majority of FSOs are adding, expanding and/or refining the metrics, or KPIs, they use to measure service performance
  • Over the next 12 months, more than three-quarters (77%) of FSOs will have invested in mobile tools to support their field technicians, and more than 70% will have integrated new technologies into existing field service operations
  • Field Technicians are increasingly being provided with enhanced access to real-time data and information to support them in the field
  • Many FSOs are providing customers with expanded Web-enabled self-help capabilities (i.e., to order parts or initiate service calls, track the status of open calls, etc.)
  • More than half of FSOs are not currently attaining their customer satisfaction or SLA compliance goals; and one-in-five are not achieving at least 20% services profitability (although services profitability, as a whole, appears to be improving)
  • Existing FSM platforms are reported as reflecting a more than 2:1 Premise-based over Cloud-based ratio; however, planned FSM implementations are reported as more than 2:1 Cloud-based, or SaaS.
  • While Cloud-based FSM has become the preferred mode of delivery for planned and/or considered implementations, an estimated one-quarter (25%) of the marketplace still cites a preference for a Premise-based FSM solution.

Historically, the primary factors cited as driving the services community to improve its operational efficiencies and service delivery performance have essentially been customer-driven; that is, with a focus primarily on meeting – and even exceeding – customer expectations for response time, first-time fix, mean-time-to-repair and the like. The economic bust of the past decade changed the way field service organizations thought by shifting their focus to ongoing rounds of cost cutting and downsizing (i.e., the denominator of the bottom line). This was quickly followed by a shift to the numerator, best represented by an all-out effort to increase service revenues.

In 2013, the focus once again shifted back to the customer in terms of meeting (and exceeding) customer demands and expectations – or “back to the basics”. And how are FSOs planning to accomplish this? Mainly by integrating new technologies into existing field service management or Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) systems, investing in new tools to support both field technicians and customers, and developing and/or improving the KPIs they use to monitor their improved performance over time.

New technology initiatives, such as Cloud or SaaS, afford FSOs of all types and sizes the opportunity to compete head-to-head against their competitors, while Premise-based is still preferred by many. However, one thing is for certain – more changes will be coming as the market continues to evolve.

Next up (in Part 4) will be a discussion of what the Best Practices FSOs are doing to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Field Service News Podcast: Bill Pollock on What Makes the Best the Best

[Reprinted from the March 2014 issue of Field Service News Quarterly Newsletter]

Welcome to the third edition of our Field Service News podcast. This month we are joined by Strategies for Growth℠’s President and Principal Consulting Analyst, Bill Pollock.

In this exclusive interview Bill talks extensively about his most recent research project which he undertook across the last six months of 2013 and drills down to explore those companies that are operating at a best-in-class level and what separates them from the rest of the pack.

This podcast is also accompanied by a fantastic white paper written exclusively for Field Service News by Bill and you can download both of these excellent resources for free by simply clicking the link below and filling out a brief registration form.

Taking a “Deep Dive” into PTC’s ThingWorx Platform

(A New Version Review and Post-Acquisition Update )

On March 26, 2014, PTC Influencer Relations invited nearly 200 industry analysts covering the Services Lifecycle Management (SLM), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Internet of Things (IoT) and related technology segments to participate in an “informative webcast” that would provide a “deep-dive demonstration” of the Company’s newly-acquired (i.e., December 2013) ThingWorx award-winning product.

Russ Fadel, President & General Manager, and John Schaefer, SVP Development, of ThingWorx, the still-autonomous division of PTC, provided both an industry update of what the Company has accomplished in the past 90 days post- acquisition, as well as a demo of the new functionalities embedded in the new version (i.e., v5.0) of the solution, now in limited release among selected customers.

In his introductory remarks, Fadel made it clear that ThingWorx will continue to run both as a “separate business” and “under its own brand,” with Fadel reporting directly to Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO of the US$1.5 billion+ Company. One of the main differences, however, is that, now, ThingWorx can also tap into PTC’s extensive global base of PLM and SLM customers by using the Internet of Things as the common thread, or catalyst, for providing a more coordinated point of entry. In fact, Fadel was excited to announce that ThingWorx had just received its first order earlier in the day from a lead developed through the PTC sales prospecting base.

Internet of Things (IoT) / ThingWorx Background

ThingWorx bills itself as “the first platform designed to build and run the applications of the connected world, … [reducing] the time, cost, and risk required to build innovative applications for smart, connected products.” SFG‘s own recent research on the growing adoption and use of remote services and M2M technology confirms that the global marketplace has generally accepted the reality that the types of IoT-based solutions that ThingWorx – and, through its acquisition, PTC – now offers have become an increasingly important building block for both the Service and Product Lifecycle Management segments moving forward.

This foundation is apparently gaining strong momentum as PTC estimates that the number of “things” connected to the Internet “presently exceeds the total number of humans on the planet” and is “accelerating to as many as 50 billion connected devices by the end of the decade.” That’s billions! It also cites a 2013 McKinsey Global Institute report forecasting that “the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to unleash as much as $6.2 trillion in new global economic value annually by 2025” and “that 80 to 100 percent of all manufacturers will be using IoT applications by then.”

There are no two ways about it – the Internet of Things represents the primary catalyst of growth for both the present – and the future – of the ubiquitous and pervasive Service and Product Lifecycle Management markets.

PTC / ThingWorx Accomplishments in the 90 Days Post-Acquisition

The accomplishments realized by PTC/ThingWorx in the first 90 days post-acquisition have, thus far, been quite impressive as presented by Fadel and supported by a series of corresponding charts and figures. First off, however, it was made clear from the get-go that the ThingWorx strategy will remain unchanged – that is, that the main focus will remain on the Company’s three principal markets, namely:

  • Connected Industries / Connected Operations
  • Connected Products / Remote Services and Analytics
  • Connected Systems / Powered-by-ThingWorx Independent Software Vendors (ISVs)

Of the three primary markets, the initial point of entry for ThingWorx has historically been Connected Industries. However, it is the Connected Products side of the market where there is likely the “biggest overlap” between the traditional ThingWorx base and the existing PTC customer base (now ready for cross-pollination on a much grander scale). Nonetheless, the Connected Systems market also represents a strong growth potential for the Company in areas including Smart Business, Smart Farming, Smart Cities, and the like. Overall, PTC’s existing base of approximately 27,000 customers also adds a strong prospecting component for ThingWorx to include in its newly-enhanced market outreach.

Fadel went on to explain how the sudden surge in business opportunities stimulated by both an expansive market forecast and the synergies made available through parent Company PTC’s extensive market presence, sales force and related resources, has resulted in a corresponding need for a more aggressive approach to internal expansion in terms of business locations and staffing.

For example, in Q1 2014, ThingWorx expanded its EMEA (i.e., Europe, Middle East and Africa) presence by more than 70 percent, and will also be expanding its Asia-Pacific presence significantly later on in Q2 2014. The Americas sales force is also undergoing a near-continuous expansion, with new positions being offered on a relatively ongoing basis. PTC also brings to the table a complimentary business development channel encompassing roughly 350 sales reps.

Fadel believes that this expansion is necessary in order to meet forecasted growth estimates and, as such, has chartered the Company to “double down on development in order to maintain our developmental lead.” To further support this expected growth, ThingWorx has also embarked on an even more aggressive effort geared toward an expansion in the number of its existing strategic partnerships with the end result being to provide a full complement of IoT resources to the global SLM and PLM market base.

Before ThingWorx, Fadel explained, the market consisted primarily of sensors, devices and equipment; communications elements; general purpose development tools and fixed applications, all trying to work together through a common operating network to connect in as best a fashion as possible. However, they typically consisted of “rigid packaged applications,” and/or “brittle custom applications” that may best be described as requiring complex programming in support of platform services built on a project basis. Even worse, they were also typically difficult to maintain and evolve, high risk/high cost undertakings and generally standalone efforts that essentially created barriers to any future innovation. As a result, according to Fadel, this is why the first generation of M2M and the Internet of Things “failed.’

However, the research-driven ThingWorx platform introduced a whole new way of operating and supporting users in a much more user-friendly manner through its “design for purpose.” The unique ThingWorx application platform is built around a number of innovative technologies that integrate new functionalities, including a mashup builder, squeal and third-party tools to support complete system service integration, business logic (i.e., properties, services, events, etc.) and a 3D storage engine, among others. Empowered by the Cloud, these innovations also rely heavily on new communications capabilities such as AlwaysOn™ technologies, wireless provisioning and others.

The end result for the customer/user is that the ThingWorx platform was designed to reduce the overall time required to build their IoT/M2M applications, and to run them at “10x faster” – a dual promise that ThingWorx still makes to each of its customers today (and quite a compelling value proposition). As such, its last two versions (i.e., v3.x and v4.x) were presented to market essentially in terms of their speed of build and “ease of use.” According to Fadel, it was at this point where PTC President & CEO, Jim Heppelmann, came to the realization that, “We have to buy this company, because they have exactly what we’re planning to build, but it will take us years to develop and stabilize a product to the point at which the ThingWorx platform exists today.”

New/Improved Functionality of ThingWorx Version 5.0

The latest ThingWorx release (i.e. v5.0) builds upon past releases by adding new and expanded areas of “deployability and scalability” – two areas that really excite the ThingWorx team! However, the first step will be to “educate the marketplace in realizing this functionality” (i.e., in that it really exists!) “Federation” is the term that ThingWorx likes to use to tie these two areas together.

Federation essentially answers the prospective customer’s question, “How do I scale the management of my remote operations? I manage 100K devices today, but will be expanding to 1 million in a year, and more than 5 million over the next several years. How do I grow the solution?” The Federation Phase 1 offering addresses this question by providing a number of new (and expanded) functionalities, as follows:

  • API Server with Manage Edge Thing Connections that allows scale to any number of connected things by adding stateless request/response servers; and
  • Next Generation Web Socket Edge MicroServer with a configurable duty cycle, Web Socket integration to the ThingWorx Platform Server, improved Store & Forward, Software Update to edge devices (including EMS updates) and SDKs for Java, .NET, iOS, Android, & C, with others planned (e.g., Python, Node.js)

Other innovations now available via ThingWorx v5.0 include:

  • Matrixed multi-tenancy for the collaborative world (i.e., visibility control via hierarchical “organization” entities to manage access to Model assets and data sources)
  • Improved alerts (i.e., rules for generating alerts from properties, priorities for contextualization, alert acknowledgement, new service to return properties and alert status for summary views)
  • Localization of runtime
  • Productivity updates
  • Improved integration to source control systems, with differential exports to individual files, organized by collections
  • Additional options for branding and personalization

In a more practical sense, what all this means to the ThingWorx user is an improved level of functionality via version 5.0 that assures:

  • Once the device calls in (or is called) for the first time, it remains in the system “for good” (i.e., no need to re-enter, re-submit or re-key, per event)
  • Quicker time-to-value and, therefore, quicker time-to-productivity
  • Ability to put the customer’s own brand on the application
  • Ability to share assets across organizations (with discrete sharing of individual device information/data, as applicable)
  • Individualized “theming”, or the ability to provide a uniquely different “feel” for each user on a highly scalable and easy-to-use basis
  • Ability to “mashup” widgets, “renderers”, layouts, and visual data displays, as desired, simply via “a few clicks”, and “drag and drop”
  • Ability to see the actual movement of trucks/vehicles, etc., on the screen in real time
  • Ability to “push” new data automatically (i.e., without needing to initiate a request)
  • Many others

[Please note that this Analyst’s Take focuses primarily on the market aspects of the Company’s industry update and new v5.0 version functionality, and not the technical aspects of the platform itself. For more information, please contact ThingWorx directly.]

Basically, SVP Schaefer describes ThingWorx as “a complete events-driven solution” and one whose mission is “to radically change the effort it takes to build an IoT app through the use of open APIs, the integration with third-party systems and reduced risk” – and all at 10x the speed! He also cites the ThingWorx platform as being built squarely on the concept of “Federation”, which he refers to as the “big bang” coming out of the v5.0 release.

Finally, when asked by this analyst “Which side of the market does ThingWorx expect to benefit most from its newfound relationship with PTC? The SLM side of the market, the PLM side – or some combination of the two?” Fadel’s response was immediate and clear – initially, the primary focus will be on the SLM side, as the overall value proposition would be more easily explained and justifiable to prospective customers in terms of attaining higher levels of Service Level Agreement (SLA) compliance, quicker response time and other metrics used as conventions for measuring service delivery performance in the global community.

However, in the long run, Fadel believes that the PLM and manufacturing side, fraught with ongoing production- and quality-related issues, will ultimately represent the Company’s primary target market as it ramps up the curve in terms of the adoption and use of Internet of Things-based platforms and solutions. Overall, each segment has its own unique (to them) story about how the IoT can support their long-term goals and objectives, and, as a result, both represent the future for the Internet of Things – as well as for ThingWorx and PTC.