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).]

Companion Piece to Bill Pollock’s July, 2017 Guest Blog Post on Behalf of Sprint Business (Part 1 of 2)

[This companion piece to my two-part guest Blog published in July on the Sprint Business Blogsite 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 first five of 10 questions posed by Sprint Business. Hopefully, this will provide you with additional “between the lines” thoughts and opinions.]

Q1:   In what ways is IoT transforming the field service industry, and at what pace?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the field service industry in ways that most analysts –  and practitioners – could not have foreseen just a few years ago. While most of us were focusing on machine-to-machine (i.e., m2m) communications and the prospects for utilizing Augmented Reality (AR), the IoT was already beginning to be leveraged into smart systems and Connected Field Service (CFS) solutions among the more progressive services organizations in the global marketspace.

Even as we speak, while some companies are just beginning to evaluate the benefits of integrating Augmented Reality into their services operations, AR is already morphing into Mixed, or Merged, Reality (MR) through the combined deployment along with Virtual Reality (VR) applications. And this advanced trend is not only not going to stop; it is much more likely to accelerate right before our eyes.

The growing recognition that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) applications are ultimately poised to make the difference between those services organizations that are destined to be the market leaders versus everyone else (i.e., the followers, and laggards) is also picking up steam, and will likely join the mainstream of market adoption shortly (albeit, the inner working of AI and ML are both much more complicated than the IoT – especially with respect to AI).

The IoT is not just for m2m anymore. It is the tool that can make any services (or other) process “smart”, if applied effectively. It can (and will) take services organizations to places they never dreamed possible just a short time ago – and it will be responsible for cutting the costs of delivering services along the way.

At what pace? Basically, if you merely blink, you may find yourself quickly falling behind your more progressive competitors! Many of them are already there!

Q2:   What are the highest-impact factors in this transformation?

The highest-impact factors in field service transformation will be the normalization of the playing field across all industry segments, by vertical market, size, type, geographic coverage and any other “demographic” segments you can think of. Field Service Management (FSM) is not only for the large enterprise organizations, but for services organizations of all types, regardless of size or market coverage.

The proliferation of Cloud-based FSM solutions has also moved many organizations from the historical perpetual license pricing model to a much more manageable subscription basis pricing model. This also is having a significant impact on facilitating the entry of smaller and medium-sized organizations into the world of the IoT and smart solutions.

The integration of AR, VR and/or MR platforms into services operations will also normalize the playing field even more, thereby empowering services organizations of all types and sizes, etc., to compete head-to-head against each other (as well as the market leaders) with essentially the same levels of system capabilities. It will also lead to quicker customer equipment “fixes”, at reduced costs (to the services organization), and with far fewer visits required to the customer site to perform the repair.

Q3:   What do you see as the top three or four benefits to field service organizations?

The top benefits to field service organizations, as cited in Strategies For Growth℠’s (SFG℠’s) 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, are (1) the ability to run a more efficient field service operation by eliminating silos, etc. (cited by 44% of respondents as one of the top three benefits); (2) improved customer satisfaction (cited by 39%); (3) the ability to provide customers with an end-to-end engagement relationship (cited by 35%); (4) the ability to establish a competitive advantage (cited by 30%); and (5) improved field technician utilization and productivity (cited by 26%).

Other top benefits include (6) reduced Total Cost of Operations (TCO) (cited by 25%); (7) reduced ongoing/recurring costs of operations (cited by 19%); (8) improved service delivery time (cited by 16%); (9) fostering enhanced inter-departmental collaboration (cited by 15%); and (10) ability to complete the automation of all field service operations (cited by 12%).

However, as more and more services organizations ramp up with respect to IoT-powered technologies and applications, there will likely be even more potential benefits identified within the global services organization community.

Q4:   How can organizations best leverage all the IoT data they gather?

Many reports have been written about services organizations (and businesses of all types) “drowning in data lakes”. However, the key to success is to establish early on what data is needed to effectively run the services operations, and hone in on specifically those types of data when collecting and processing the reams and reams of data generated from your IoT-based systems. Too much data is … well, too much data, if you don’t have a plan to harvest it effectively.

Services organizations also need to be able to identify which data is “need to know” vs. which data is only “nice-to-know”. Nice-to-know data is ultimately way too expensive to collect, process, analyze, monitor and distribute; however, need-to-know data is not only invaluable – but critical to ensuring the well-being of the services organization.

You don’t go to work wearing 12 watches; you don’t buy 48 oz. of steaks, per person, to put on the grill for a summer barbecue; so, why would you pay for more data than you will ever need when you can harvest just what you need for now (plus whatever else looks like you may need in the future)?

Think of your data repository as a storage space for all of the data you will need today, tomorrow and in the future. If large enough, put it in a data lake – but make sure you don’t use Lake Superior for what a smaller data lake can do for you more efficiently.

Q5:   What barriers do organizations face in taking full advantage of IoT, and how can they overcome those barriers?

The greatest barrier in taking full advantage of the IoT is typically senior management resistance at the top of the organization structure. Coupled with a general lack of understanding of exactly what the IoT is, and exactly what it can do for the organization, these two factors can too often become “momentum-killers” within the organization.

This is why making sure that all participants comprising services management are kept up-to-date with (1) advances in IoT-based technologies, (2) the introduction of new applications and mobile tools to support field technicians (and to transfer some of their historical on-site responsibilities to more remote-based scenarios), and (3) evolutions in FSM solution capabilities, etc., is so important.

With subscription-based pricing, cost should no longer be as critical an issue to the prospects for moving forward with the desired FSM solution – however, do your CFO and Purchasing teams understand that? Or are they still entrenched in the traditional perpetual license mindset?

Attending field services trade shows and IoT-focused conferences should “shake off the cobwebs” for most of the non-believers or nay-sayers in the organization. Collect as much information as you can, schedule some demos, and invite management to witness the benefits (i.e., the outcomes) of an IoT-powered FSM solution first-hand. This will definitely sway most of the non-believers!

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)]

Going For The “Gold” Is An Olympic Event — Especially for Services Organizations!

In light of the current proceedings of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, I thought this piece would be relevant to all those Services Organizations striving to be “World Class” (i.e., “going for the Gold”)

Even Gold May Have a Silver Lining

For Field Services Organizations, “going for the gold” may mean very different things. For some, it may mean nothing more than struggling to generate increased service revenue (i.e. “gold”). For others, it may mean attempting to upsell existing service level agreement (SLA) accounts from “bronze” to “silver” to “gold” levels (is anyone out there still offering “platinum”-level services?). However, another good way to define “gold” levels of service performance is to compare your organization to the athletes striving for their own version of “gold” — an Olympic gold medal!

The Olympic and the services communities share many things in common, ranging from striving to attain perfection to generating a profit after the scheduled event is over. However, they also share another very important attribute in that both communities typically go into an event (e.g. a 200-meter freestyle or an on-site service call, etc.) with some pre-event expectations.

For example, Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecki are, arguably, the world’s best male and female swimmers and, as such, went into the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with extremely high expectations. However, it was never a certainty that each would win Gold medals in all of the competitions for which they were qualified to compete. Nonetheless, the expectations were high for each swimmer — even before they arrived in Rio.

While Michael Phelps ultimately ended up winning five Gold and one Silver medal; and Katie Ledecki won four Gold and one Silver medal, each are still acknowledged as the best of the best in their respective fields.

The same situation also exists for services organizations. If your organization is one of the larger ones in the field or has won numerous performance awards in the past, the community will expect it to perform like a world-class provider (i.e. one that is able to meet its customers’ total service needs while delivering world-class levels of performance). By performing reasonably well in the past, the marketplace will also expect you to also perform well — and even better — in the future. The bar is constantly being raised.

For Michael Phelps, the defending champion in the previous two Summer Olympiads, the prospect of not winning several gold medals was unthinkable – although he did not seem to be all that phased that he had to share his Silver medal with two other swimmers. He has won both Gold and Silver medals before, and performed about the same in his most current Olympics.

For Katie Ledecki, for whom this was her first (and, possibly, last) Olympics competition, the bar has been raised again for all female swimmers who will ultimately enter the Olympics in her wake. World class does not necessarily mean “perfect”! There can still be a Silver lining wrapped around your Gold standard.

By the time this Blog post is published, it is also certain that other gymnasts — from the U.S., and around the world — will excel in their competitions as well. However, merely having the goods does not assure Gold in the Olympics — and it is exactly the same for services organizations. You still need to execute — and strive to be as close to perfect as you can.

The Role Of Social Media In Service

Finally, in this year’s Olympics, social media will be expected to take on an even more prominent role than in the past. Virtually all of the Olympic events will be accessible to viewers all around the globe through various forms of Cable and Broadcast TV, Social Media and other types of digital transmissions. As a result, Twitter, FaceBook, and independent blogs will, once again, take up the slack on presenting (and editorializing) all of these Olympics-related events — all in real time! Again, the similarities between the Olympics and the services community abound.

Just as many Olympians are encouraged by their trainers to communicate often — in real time — with their supporters and fans, so must the services community adapt to the practical uses and applications of the available social media. It is truly time to recognize that social media is not merely an acquired taste, but a way of life — especially when it comes to communicating about service.

The 2016 Summer Olympics are nearly over, but already, athletes from all over the world are preparing for the next summer games just four years away. All of the medalists for these upcoming games will ultimately win their respective races by first choosing a field, then acquiring the necessary resources and skills, preparing for the race, and aggressively moving forward.

This is also how most services organizations have historically approached service, especially with respect to meeting — and exceeding — customer requirements. However, you won’t necessarily need to have a medal draped around your neck to be recognized for good service — you simply need to perform at a level of performance that is higher than an ever-raising bar, and let your customers place their perceptual medals around your neck.

Selling Services – How to Recognize Customer Buying Signals

Understanding your customers’ needs, and knowing what is available for sale, complete one key equation; however, there is still one other key unanswered question: How can you tell when your customer is ready to buy?

Recognizing a customer’s buying signals is one of the most difficult things there is to teach. In fact, many will argue that this is an innate trait that only “true” salespersons are born with. Whether this is true or not is really only a side issue. The main issue is that every one of your customers and prospects sends out signals that you can rally around with respect to determining when they are ready to buy. Some will be “hard” signals that you can practically take right to the bank; although most will be “soft” signals that will vary from customer-to-customer, person-to-person, and situation-to-situation. Let me explain.

The various types of buying signals “transmitted” by your customers may typically be classified into the following categories:

  • Overt
  • Passive
  • Observed

Overt Buying Signals

An overt buying signal is the closest thing to a gift that you may ever receive from your customers. This is when the customer calls you, or comes right up to you, and says something like, “Our copier is pretty much shot, and it simply won’t handle all of our volume anymore. Don’t you guys have a newer machine that you think can do the job for us?” Or, “You know, our machine will be coming off warranty soon. Don’t you guys offer some kind of extended warranty contract? If you do, we’d really be interested.” While these opportunities may seem just like manna fallen from the heavens, the problem is, if you do not take immediate advantage of them, the opportunities themselves may either fade over time, or go away altogether.

For example, given an opportunity like one of these, it may simply be a matter of speaking briefly with your customer, showing him or her a new brochure or directing them to your company’s web site, and casually discussing the enhanced features of a new system or service offering on a face-to-face basis. However, if your response is more like, “I have a few ideas. Why don’t I get back to you in a week or two when I’m not so busy, and maybe we can work out something.” By the time a couple of weeks go by, the thought of acquiring a new piece of equipment or service offering may have moved from your customer’s top-of-mind to their back-of-mind – and once there, it may involve much more work on your part to get it back up front.

Overt buying signals do not happen all the time; but when they do, you pretty much have to take advantage of them as they occur, rather than run the risk of having the customer push it far back into the recesses of his or her mind – or even worse, allowing them to have the same conversation with a competitive vendor’s sales or services person.

Passive Buying Signals

Passive buying signals may not be as obvious; however, they are still fairly easy to identify, and even easier to take advantage of. The tell-tale clues that your customers may give to you typically manifest themselves in comments or questions such as, “Man, this old machine keeps breaking down, and breaking down, and breaking down. I don’t know what I’m going to do if it shuts down during one of our big production runs”; “Ever since this machine came off of warranty, whenever we call for service, we end up paying you guys on a time and materials basis. There’s got to be a better way”; or “I don’t know. It just seems like our other division on the next floor gets their copy work done a heck of a lot faster than we do. I think they have a new machine up there, and they just keep making us look bad in comparison”.

Any of these comments or questions represent just as valid a selling opportunity as any of the overt buying signals we just talked about earlier. The only real difference is that, in these cases, you will typically need to be the one who initiates the conversation about replacement units, new machines, and/or enhanced service level agreements – and not the customer.

Even so, you may still be surprised as to how receptive your customers will be in having such a conversation. What’s more, since you already understand your customers’ needs and requirements for business imaging systems and equipment, and you know what your company has available for sale, you can probably step right in, provide some specific suggestions or recommendations, and convert a potential customer problem into a potential company sale.

Observed Buying Signals

Sometimes the customer does not even have to say a word. Since you already visit the customer’s site, on average, about once a month or so, you are probably in an excellent position to observe how one or more of their machines are routinely being overused, misused, or otherwise used improperly. You have probably also seen some of your customers reach new levels of frustration in dealing with machines that simply cannot ratchet up to their increased levels of volume or throughput, or effectively deal with emerging areas of business imaging applications.

We have all heard the expression that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In both the overt and passive buying signal situations, it will primarily be the words that are either conveyed to you, or conveyed by you to the customer, that will ultimately lead to the potential sale. However, in an observed buying signal situation, it is the “picture” you observe at the customer site that will ultimately tell you the “story” that you will need to focus on in order to ultimately make the sale.

At the end of the day, it really does not matter whether the buying signal you get is overt, passive, or simply observed – what does matter though, is that you get the signal, you know what to do with it, you take advantage of it, and you serve effectively in your role as an intermediary between what your customer needs, and what your company offers.

Smarter Decision-Making to Improve Field Service Management: The Implications of Analytics on Field Service Business Models

[A brief summary of the discussions that took place in a series of five Astea-sponsored “Blitz” sessions conducted at Copperberg’s Field Service Summit 2016 held at Oxford University, UK on 12 April, 2016.]

The attendees at Copperberg’s inaugural Field Service Summit 2016 Conference earlier this year in Oxford, UK represented a microcosm of the greater UK/Europe and global Field Service Management (FSM) communities. Although comprised of more than 100 major and niche Field Services Organisations (FSOs), from a variety of vertical industry segments, and offering oftentimes disparate services portfolios, the discussion participants shared a number of common thoughts regarding the key aspects of managing a services business – especially with regard to data analytics!

From the series of five “Blitz” interactive discussion sessions, a clear pattern of thoughts, perceptions, preferences and intentions were presented by leading UK/Europe services organisations beginning, of course, with an acknowledgement that since traditional service models are still being used by many (i.e., too many?) UK/Europe FSOs, the Customer Experience outcomes will need to improve across the board, as customers want more insight into all assets and services that impact their operations. It is safe to say that this will require an upgrade to existing data analytics capabilities – also, across the board.

For some, cross-training for older and more experienced engineers will be required; while for others, there will be a need to integrate the “newer” engineers (i.e., new hires, etc.) with the organisation’s more experienced, older, engineers who typically have already established long-term relationships with their respective customers. One discussion participant cited that his company’s field engineers are presently being backed-up by a second line in the organisation’s back office, comprised exclusively of experienced engineers. This has been very helpful thus far – especially in support of the company’s newest hires.

It was also universally acknowledged that it typically takes about two years or so to successfully transfer knowledge to new engineers, as cited by multiple session participants – and that most companies would like to see even more information gathered and distributed directly from the customer’s devices/assets. In any event, there was a general acknowledgement that there would be much to gain by performing more repairs/fixes remotely.

Other specific activities identified as being critical to the overall well-being of the services organisation included:

  • Selling services – driven by customer procurement and, therefore, essentially predicated on the basis of price (i.e., agreed by a quorum of attendees, that price directly impacts the bottom line).
  • Performing more fixes remotely – however, requiring that customers need to become more involved in the overall service process.
  • Generating more leads from the field – directly from the field engineers.
  • Problem Management/Root Cause Analysis – targeted to improve first time fix rates.

In general, it was also acknowledged that first time fix rates need to improve, overall. To do so, the best path forward would be to, first, try to resolve the issue remotely before dispatching a field engineer. In most cases, traditionally, service calls have been assigned directly to the field engineer, resulting in “too high” service costs. Performing fixes remotely is seen as the best example for addressing high service costs.

One company has implemented a connected services model that uses data gathered from the remote monitoring of the customers’ assets to help their field engineers to provide higher levels of support for their customers. They typically use the collected data gathered via remote monitoring to prevent otherwise unnecessary service visits – and asset downtime. However, in doing so, they cite the importance of mentoring new engineers by the company’s older, more experienced, engineers.

Other individual company case studies referenced include:

  • Company A – asked engineers to return from pension in order to (1) benefit from their collective retained asset knowledge, and (2) transfer that knowledge to the company’s newer engineers.
  • Company B – as each of the company’s engineers has already established their own respective “site ownership”, they are asked to assist in the transference of this knowledge to new engineers approximately six months before retirement, using an internal Wiki system that also includes instruction videos, etc.
  • Company C – recognises the importance for their field engineers to understand each customer’s individual and unique business processes and, as such, believes that the retention of knowledge relating to their customer base’s older assets is key for them to cultivate, retain and pass on to newer engineers. They are encouraged to plan for cultivating this knowledge, and working in conjunction with their customers with respect to suggesting upgrades and/or new systems, etc.
  • Company D – recognises that it is increasingly dealing with an ageing workforce, and that engineer “churn” has grown higher over the past four years, or so; as a result, there is a growing need to establish a framework for retaining this knowledge.
  • Company E – encourages field technicians/engineers to be part of their new product design review board. By doing so, they believe they can help to prevent situations where a new material or part is causing too much labor in the field when installing the product, etc. One example was cited where a cheaper part was manufactured/fitted to a new equipment model, causing three additional days of installation work due to the complexity and incompatibilities experienced during the final installation.

The importance of using Data – but, not necessarily Big Data – in support of the Field Service organisation was also discussed as one of the key components of Field Service Management (FSM). Also discussed was the growing importance and capabilities of the Internet of Things (IoT) side of the equation, particularly in terms of how it can be used to collect and generate vast amounts of data. While all participants expressed their preference for having that capability, most believed that they would also require a strong reporting department to generate and distribute the resultant reports for them – sanctioned and managed by the Service Department, rather than the Finance Department.

In all cases, the importance of data analytics was first and foremost in the minds of each of the participants. However, how to best manage the collection, analysis and distribution of the vast amounts of data that can be generated via the IoT represented the greatest challenges that they would expect to face moving forward.

[For more information on Data Analytics and a full array of Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) solutions for the Field Services segment, please visit the Astea Website at www.Astea.com.]

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

[Excerpted portion of our Feature Article published in the April 21, 2016 edition of Field Technologies Online]

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 service organizations (FSOs) typically relied on batch-collected and processed data generally obtained from multiple sources over an extended period of time together with data often read and input by hand into numerous paper templates so they had to wait for the proper review and approval before the processed data could be distributed to relevant parties. Fortunately, those days are long gone!

Field Service Methods And Measurements Are Changing

However, real time may no longer be good enough for the global community of FSOs and their respective field technicians. As traditional KPIs (key performance indicators), 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 service organizations. And even when equipment is about to fail, the easy availability of predictive diagnostics, remote diagnostics, and real-time communications has made this formerly important KPI nothing more than an afterthought for many FSOs.

This is where augmented reality (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, enhances the perceptual reality that you, the viewer, are 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.

[To read the full Feature Article, please visit the Field Technologies Online Website at: http://www.fieldtechnologiesonline.com/doc/when-is-real-time-not-enough-when-augmented-reality-makes-it-even-more-real-0001?atc%7Ec=771%20s%3D773%20r%3D001%20l%3Da&utm_content=33205462&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.]

Business Analytics in Support of an Effective KPI Program: The Importance of Data Analytics

From the results of the Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM) Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, updated in 2015, more than one-half (52%) of respondents cite that developing and/or improving the metrics, or KPIs, they use to measure field service performance is the top strategic action currently being taken with respect to optimising their organisation’s overall service delivery performance.

However, for Best Practices Field Services Organisations (FSOs) (i.e., services organisations that are already attaining levels of customer satisfaction at 90% or higher, and services profitability of 30% or greater) this figure increases to 61%. The percentage jumps even higher, to 64%, for UK/Europe-based services organisations; that’s right – more UK/Europe-based respondents cite their respective KPI programs as the top strategic action they are currently taking – moreso than the survey’s top-of-the-line Best Practices survey segment!

So, why is the establishment of a services KPI program so important? Mainly due to the targeted applications that most of these organisations have for using the collected, analyzed, measured and distributed data – basically for the following top reasons:

  • To improve field service
  • To make product design changes/improvements
  • To make manufacturing changes/improvements
  • To make changes to product documentation
  • To make purchasing decisions

Nearly as many respondents in the UK/Europe (i.e., 48%) also cite the use of a business intelligence/analytics solution as one of the top technology applications currently used to support their services operations – and another 39% cite knowledge management as a top-used application. However, few of them actually refer to these programs as “big data” – just, simply, business analytics!

What this proves is that, for most FSOs, data collection, analysis, measurement and sharing is not conducted merely for the sake of doing so – but, rather to:

  • Build, maintain and apply these data to a formal services KPI program
  • Distribute/share the collected and analysed data with the appropriate departments and individuals within the organisation
  • Establish and maintain an enterprise-wide knowledgebase from which all facets of services operations can benefit from – and build upon
  • Share the database/knowledgebase with all components of the enterprise (i.e., manufacturing/production, warranty management, forward and reverse logistics, etc. – rather than simply “holding the data hostage” within the FSM or Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) areas of the business
  • Use the data, and resultant database, knowledgebase (or, for the largest of organisations, data lake) to foster a more collaborative relationship between and among the key departments/divisions that ultimately have an impact on supporting the customer

But how big does your data really need to be in order to support each of these functions? The required size of the database, or knowledgebase, will depend largely on the size of the organisation, the volume of field service activity conducted on a regular basis, and other key measures of throughput that characterize the overall “size” of the organisation and its requisite data analytics needs. Similar types of organisations, with similar characteristics, but with order-of-magnitude differences in one or more key throughput factors may find themselves with totally different needs for data; big, small or otherwise.

The one thing to remember is that all services organisations need a minimum of data to support their respective operations. Call it what you will, but they will still need the analytical support contributed by a formal Key Performance Indicator (KPI), or metrics, program; the structure of a formal service call data activity repository; a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database; accessibility to a centralized database, or knowledge bank to support management decision making; and all of the performance metrics and measurements required to evaluate and assess the organisation’s performance over time.

An effective business analytics program is what most organisations need – not big data, data lakes, or the construction of overly-sophisticated, cumbersome and highly inefficient knowledgebases. It should never be primarily a matter of how much data needs to be collected; but, rather, the ability to collect enough data to support the organisation’s overall business analytics goals, objectives and targets.

[Our thanks to Astea UK for commissioning this Blog on Data Analytics. For more information, directly from Astea, please visit their Website at www.Astea.com.

You may also wish to visit the Astea UK booth at Copperberg’s 2016 Field Service Summit in Oxford, UK, 12 April, 2016. For more information on the Summit, please visit the conference information Webpage at www.fieldserviceexcellence.co.uk.]