Companion Piece to Bill Pollock’s August, 2017 Guest Blog Post on Behalf of Sprint Business (Part 2 of 2)

[This is the companion piece to my two-part guest Blog published in July and August on the Sprint Business Blogsite. Part two also focuses on the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on the Field Services industry. As is the case in most analyst interview-based guest Blogs, much of my responses will not be included in the final posts. As such, please consider this Blog as a more detailed companion piece for the final five of 10 questions posed by Sprint Business. Hopefully, this will provide you with additional “between the lines” thoughts and opinions.]

Q6:   How can field service organizations monetize IoT?

The ability to monetize the IoT in field services is another variation on a theme of what has dogged the field services industry for decades! Every time there are advances in technology, the more progressive – and aggressive – Field Services Organizations (FSOs) adopt the technology to streamline their processes, reduce their internal costs, and improve their service delivery capabilities. However, customers, for the most part, see the adoption of this technology as being (1) strictly for the benefit (i.e., cost-benefit) of the services organization itself, and not them; and (2) a means that should reduce overall costs for both the services organization and its customers (i.e., themselves).

The mistake that many services organizations make is trying to sell the same services to customers, at reduced costs to themselves, but increased costs to their customers. Customers will typically see this apparent disparity and question their services providers as to why they should have to pay more for something that costs their vendors less!

What basically needs to happen is for the services organizations to move away from traditional Service Level Agreement (SLS) pricing, to an outcome-based pricing model, such as “power by the hour”, “airplanes in the air” or “x levels of output”, rather than “y hours of service coverage”. Remember the “bullion” pricing model (i.e., Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze)? It bit the dust (in most cases) years ago. So, too, will traditional Service Level Agreements (SLAs) as they are replaced by outcome-based services agreements.

The best current examples of this are, as noted, are selling “uptime as a service”, rather than merely “throwing hours of support” at customers – a rifle shot, rather than a scattergun approach to selling services.

Q7:   What do you see as IoT’s impact on service lifecycle management? 

Many services organizations say they offer total Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) support, but many still only offer Field Service Management (FSM) solutions in terms of field service and support, preventive maintenance, and meager parts and inventory management.

However, the IoT, in some cases for the first time, now empowers FSOs to provide “true” Lifecycle Management for their services customers – essentially “cradle to grave” support for all of their systems and devices, throughout all of their day-to-day usage and applications.

How does the IoT do this? Basically, by automating the entire services management process, end-to-end, from data collection, through device monitoring, problem identification and resolution, routine and ad hoc maintenance services, predictive and pre-emptive maintenance, parts/inventory management – and even “end-of-life” product support! SLM is more than FSM – and the IoT can support all of the organization’s SLM services processes.

Q8:   How will IoT change how companies package and deliver their services?

The IoT is more likely to change the way in which services organizations deliver their services, first; and the way they package them, second.

By that, I mean that, first, the IoT will allow services organizations to perform more maintenance and repair service remotely, rather than on-site – and the growing use of predictive diagnostics will continue to reduce the need for on-site services (in some cases, at all) over time. As a result, many services customers may not even know that their systems or equipment have been serviced, as everything that was needed was either performed remotely – or did not need to be performed at all (i.e., through routine monitoring and minor calibrations or maintenance “tweaks”, etc.).

Through the use of a customer portal, customers can typically gain full visibility of exactly what types of maintenance have been performed, on which systems, at what times, and with what results. However, those customers not electing to utilize their customer portals (or if their services provider does not offer that capability) will have virtually no visibility as to the extent of the maintenance that has been performed. This ultimately becomes problematic for some services organizations that must then report what they have done for the customer – and try to convince them that by doing so, there was added value provided.

Packaging the “new” way of providing services through an IoT-powered FSM, or SLM, involves an entirely new way of delivering services to customers. For example, instead of providing a certain number of hours of support, within a designated time window, and providing a “guaranteed” uptime percent (i.e., or you don’t have to pay your services contract fee that month), some organizations are now selling uptime – period.

Instead of throwing service contract hours at an aviation customer, they now provide “airplanes in the air” to this segment. Similarly, instead of selling a standard SLA to a wind farm customer, they are selling “power by the hour”. Instead of selling standard SLAs for extermination services, they’re selling a “rodent-free” environment. And so on.

However, this ”new” way of packaging services will be difficult for some services organizations to deliver – and for many customers to acclimate to. It will take time, and it will not be an easy conversion for some. But, it is the way of the present already, in many cases – let alone for the future.

Q9:   What specific steps should organizations take now in order to ride this transformation?

For some organizations in certain segments (e.g., aviation, energy, factory automation, medical devices, etc.), if they haven’t already embraced and incorporated the IoT into their services operations, they are already a step or two behind the market leaders. For those that are still examining the potential value of Virtual Reality, there are others that are already looking to implement Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

The time is now for reading up on all things IoT, attending IoT conferences, viewing vendor demos, establishing “long lists” and reducing them to “short lists” for vendor consideration, etc. Gaining management buy-in is also a must – in fact, it is basically a must for all things services management anyway – but, especially with respect to the IoT.

Prepare a plan for embarking on the road to an IoT-powered FSM or SLM solution scenario – do it now, because many of your competitors have already done so, and many of your customers (and prospects) are already at least somewhat familiar with what the IoT can do for them. When the services management marketplace is more fully transformed, you will need to have made the transformation as well. The market leaders are already several steps ahead of you; you can’t afford to fall even further behind.

Q10: Within the field service industry, where will the greatest disruption come from – startups, midmarket, enterprises, or a combination?

The expected disruption to the global services industry will be manifested as a combination of all types, sizes and categories of “new” entries to the competitive landscape. Most (if not all) of the enterprise services providers are already offering true Services Lifecycle Management solutions (or, at least, enhanced Field Service Management solutions). They “get it”, and they’re doing something about it.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen many of the large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) companies (e.g., SAP, Oracle, etc.) acquire their FSM solution capabilities. For example, Oracle acquired TOA Technologies, IFS acquired Metrix, Microsoft acquired FieldOne, and so on. Some larger companies have also elected to go more organically, such as Salesforce that created its “new” Field Service Lightning solution based on ClickSoftware technology. ClickSoftware went private again, but still operates in the marketplace itself, while also licensing some of its software apps to other organizations.

The midmarket is only a step or two behind the enterprise services providers in terms of embracing and incorporating the IoT into their FSM and SLM solution offerings. However, where the most “confusion” and uncertainty lies in is the landscape populated by start-ups – and what I call the upstarts!

In addition to the ongoing spate of mergers, acquisitions and alliances, and organic development, there has also been a significant increase in the numbers of “new” entries into the FSM solution marketplace. In fact, probably more of this type of activity has occurred in this segment recently than in the past many years – or decades!

These “new” start-ups can essentially be divided into two main categories: (1) FSM Start-ups, that are trying earnestly to find a way to enter – and penetrate – the FSM market, by leveraging new technologies, experienced leadership, deep (enough) pockets, investment capital and a bit of luck into a services growth segment where they believe they can actually make a difference.

However, it is the FSM Upstarts, that are basically trying to ride the Cloud-based, or SaaS, solution wave into a “new” market (to them), in order to make a quick buck when they ultimately plan to sell out to a larger organization in another year or two. As such, it is truly a “buyer beware” market, as there are a great number of “new” upstart FSM solution providers that will not be around for very long.

Hopefully, my responses have helped you to better understand the ways in which the services management market is changing – both rapidly and pervasively. Blame it on the IoT for this rapid evolution; however, blame yourself if you’re not keeping up with the advances in services management technology!

[To access the published Blogs, please visit the Sprint Blogsite at https://business.sprint.com/blog/field-services-iot-makeover/. Or, if you prefer, you may access the complete SFG℠ Analysts Take paper simply by clicking on the following Weblink: How the IoT Is Transforming the FS Industry (Draft-17-07-21-01).]

Real Time May Not Be Enough When Augmented Reality Can Make It Even More Real!

[This is the full, unedited, version of our Feature Article published in the April 21, 2016 edition of Field Technologies Online. The Blog version includes portions that did not make the publication’s final cut.]

Augmented reality may just be the “next big thing” in field service.

It hasn’t really been all that long since the field services community was introduced to the concept of “real time”. Prior to the introduction of real-time data collection, analysis and dissemination, most Field Services Organizations (FSOs) typically relied on batch-collected and -processed data; generally obtained from multiple sources, over an extended period of time; with data often read and input by hand into numerous paper templates; and having to wait for the proper review and approval before the processed data could be distributed to relevant parties.

Fortunately, those days are long-gone!

The proliferation of the application of the Internet; the advent of machine-to-machine (m2m) communications and the Internet of Things (IoT); and the exponentially growing degree of connectivity between not only machines and machines, but between machines and people – and people and people – has resulted in a real-time environment that has propelled the global services community to its current technological positioning.

However, real time may no longer be good enough for the global community of FSOs and their respective field technicians! As traditional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), such as Mean-Time Between-Failure (MTBF), have steadily shifted from measurements reported in numbers of days, weeks or months just a couple of decades ago, to practically “never” today for many products, this particular metric finds itself diminishing in importance, and is no longer being measured by a growing number of services organizations. And even when equipment is about to fail, the easy availability of predictive diagnostics, remote diagnostics and real-time communications have made this formerly important KPI nothing more than an afterthought for many FSOs.

This is where Augmented Reality, or AR, comes into play.

According to whatis.techtarget.com, “Augmented reality is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.” Think of the “yellow first down line” that magically appears when you’re watching a football game; that’s AR, in that it doesn’t create a “new” virtual reality, but, rather, it enhances the perceptual reality that you, the viewer, is able to visualize while watching the next down take place. It’s not a new creation; it’s an enhanced reality that makes it easier to process what’s going on, and what needs to be done next.

This is exactly how AR is able to assist in a field services environment; that is, to provide the field technician (who may not ever have been called upon to service a piece of equipment with such a long MTBF) to actually perform the repair by “overlaying” an enhanced reality – in 3D motion – over and above what he or she would otherwise be able to visualize, in order to make a quick, clean and complete fix.

Think of it this way: When field technicians are called on for service, they may be facing either a piece of equipment that they have rarely seen in the past; a device that is inherently complex and difficult to disassemble and/or reassemble; or a system that is so business- or mission-critical, that a single delay or misstep could bring a factory’s total production line to a screaming halt – or any combination thereof!

The ability to “see” this Augmented Reality – in 3D motion – with accompanying instructive text, metrics and repair parameters overlaid and easily articulated will undoubtedly provide, at the very least, an extra measure of comfort to the technician, as well as access to a readily available tutorial for performing the repair as quickly, accurately and safely as possible. As such, another historically important KPI, first-time-fix-rate, may also go quickly into the twilight, same as MTBF! And all it takes is the appropriate pair of special glasses for the technician to “see” what needs to be seen!

However, talking about Augmented Reality – rather than actually seeing it in action – is like trying to tell a Southerner how cold the Northern Winters are – in words. It’s just not possible. That’s why AR is best understood by actually seeing a demonstration of it in action.

At a recent field services conference, I was asked to cite what I believe would be the “next big thing” in field service. I suggested “Augmented Reality”. Why? Because we really can’t do things any quicker than real time; and we can’t make repair tutorials any smaller, more compact and/or transportable than they already are. What we can do, however, is make it easier for the field technician to “see” what needs to be done, in real time, and with an “augmented” view of what reality alone cannot, and does not, necessarily provide.

AR has already made it easier to follow – and understand – football games. Isn’t time that it was also used to make it easier to perform field service activities? The answer is resoundingly “Yes”!