It’s Not Difficult Being Green!

According to Jim Henson’s Muppet character, Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being green” – or is it? However, for many businesses, being green may now also have an unexpected economic benefit. Let me explain.

Most of us already have incorporated various facets of environmental awareness into our day-to-day lives, including the mandatory sorting of household recyclables, and the prescribed use of the omnipresent blue or green curbside recycling containers. Many of us also are striving to drive less by working some days from a home office, and generally becoming more aware of the alternative options of telecommuting and the use of remote workspaces. Others make use of public transportation. Some of us even have switched to more mileage-friendly vehicles for both our personal and work-related travel. For example, by now, virtually all of us know at least one person who drives a hybrid vehicle.

This heightened sense of environmental awareness – and protection – is great news, regardless of our individual motives or reasons for applying ourselves. As a society, we are becoming “greener” on a daily basis, even as our pocketbooks are continually being squeezed due to the historic rises and fluctuations in gasoline prices over the past several years.

However, in reality, how much of our environmental consciousness has actually spread to the corporate world? Certainly, there are many mandates governing interaction with the environment in high-risk areas including construction, renovation, waste management, and demolition, among others. There are also the passionate corporate leaders who wish to act as good global citizens. Further, there are many organizations that make it easy for employees to ride-share, encourage turning down the thermostat a few degrees, or simply make benevolent corporate donations directly to environmental causes and foundations chartered with helping to raise environmental awareness and/or deal with specific causes.

In today’s economy, it is increasingly common to find real initiatives where being environmentally-friendly also directly benefits the corporate bottom line. For example, the question arises, “What if your field technicians could drive a million miles less per year in the aggregate?” Depending on the specific types of company vehicles (or, their own) they drive, that could result in savings of roughly 100,000 gallons of gas! Current gas prices are typically in the range of US$3.00 to US$3.50 per gallon, often reaching in excess of US$4.00 in some areas of the country. As a rule, gas prices are even more expensive in other parts of the world.

For many services providers, the reduction in their gas bill alone resulting from reduced travel requirements would be extremely impressive; however, when you factor in the savings on highway and bridge tolls, wear and tear on vehicles, and other vehicularmaintenance-related costs, the savings can be downright staggering(i.e., you can do the math!). This is exactly what some field services organizations have been able to realize through the use of state-of-the-art Service Scheduling Optimization supported with street level routing.

But this is just the tip of the proverbial melting iceberg. As service executives, we all attempt to balance the dual requirements of growth and cost containment, while also striving to meet – and exceed – our customers’ expectations. The added desire to be socially responsible has only complicated the age-old quest for balancing growth against cost-savings. However, the advent of optimized scheduling now makes it easier than ever to accomplish both – while also contributing to the greening of the environment.

Since it ultimately costs far less to solve a customer’s problem remotely, or allowing the customer to use the tools of a customer portal to perform their own “fixes”, many organizations have invested heavily in Remote Diagnostics and Remote Monitoring solutions. The use of these “new” platforms and applications has facilitated and expedited the management of field service and support, and has also served to reduce the number of historical truck rolls and on-site visits.

For many users, the initial customer call is simply the launching point for the full service event. When a customer calls – for whatever reason – no amount of talking can help fix a broken pipe, install a new cable line, or repair a failed part. In all of these cases, the service provider’s field resources must quickly spring into action, travel to the customer site, show up on-time, and assess the existing situation, sometimes generating an entire new set of challenges and – even if handled efficiently – can still lead to potentially huge internal costs.

For the services provider, the questions then arise: “What are my contractual obligations to my customer?”, Who are our best-qualified field technicians?”, and more importantly, “How can I delight the customer by meeting – and exceeding – their overall service expectations?” Through the advent and proliferation of Remote Diagnostics and Remote Monitoring, all of these questions can be accommodated while still delivering greener service.

It is also not uncommon for services organizations and their customers to spend thousands – and in some cases, hundreds of thousands – of dollars relating to the printing, copying, sorting, and mailing of their service work orders every year, ensuring that all necessary documents are sent to the field, and the appropriate work instructions are being followed. A large percentage of an organization’s overall return on investment can be attributed to the automation of these processes – not to mention the saving of thousands of trees every year!

Using handheld devices in the field to collect call data and information also eliminates the errors that can be compounded during the historically required retyping/re-entry process, while improving the company’s Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) through the quicker turnaround resulting from real-time invoicing and faster collection cycles. Implicit in these savings is the enhanced efficiency of automated data and information processing in place of the previously required human intervention.

When any of these “green-friendly” platforms, solutions and tools are embedded into an organization’s overall Field Service Management (FSM) operations, everyone benefits – the services organization, the field technicians, the customers and, oh yes, the environment! It is exciting when capitalism and environmentalism can overlap to produce mutually beneficial – and profitable – results! The move toward service optimization clearly reflects a case where “going green” can also generate more “green” for your organization.

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Why Knowledge Discovery? Your Organization May Be Sitting on a Goldmine of Data!

These days, more than ever, businesses are operating in data rich environments. Data emanating from every-day business operations, sales and customer account activities, service call activity, financial and economic transactions, regulatory reporting and all the other business-related events of the world are routinely captured and stored in databases. Existing global databases are adding terabytes of new information daily. Every moment of every day bank transactions and electronic funds transfers, point-of-sale systems, hospital tests and procedures, factory production lines, airline reservations, service calls and even electric meters and gasoline pumps are creating digital records that are stored somewhere in a database.

The vast majority of these data, however, will never see the light of day. More often than not, these data will be stored for a specified period of time, in some cases as required by law, and then “purged” to make room for more current data of the same kind. This process is likely to repeat ad infinitum, each time replacing the “old” data with “new” data until the “new” data itself becomes “old” and must once again be replaced. Yet in many cases these data can represent a “rich ore” of valuable information and knowledge about the domain from which it has been taken.

What better source is there to learn about patterns of customers’ preferences and buying habits than from the customers themselves; not just what they tell you they need or like in a Customer Needs and Requirements/Satisfaction Survey, but what they actually buy. What better source is there to learn about equipment failures and service requirements than from the equipment itself; not just from what your field technicians tell you, but directly from the equipment. What better source is there to learn about the risk in lending or extending credit than from your business’s own financial successes and failures; not just from what your banks or creditors tell you, but from your own financial experiences, both good and bad. The list goes on and on.

Organizations are always searching for knowledge that can advance their cause and keep them abreast of the market, anticipated trends and the competition. Marketing managers would love to know what makes their customers “tick”. Manufacturing managers would do anything to find out how they could improve the quality of their products, even by just a fraction of a percentage. Not to mention the securities traders who would “sell their corporate souls” just to keep a half-step ahead of the pack in being able to detect a change in trends or receive an “early warning signal”.

Oftentimes the answers to these questions are contained in the data that businesses routinely collect, store and discard from their ever-growing databases. Many companies have already recognized the potential of this source of knowledge and have invested substantial effort and significant amounts of resources to uncover the precious knowledge “hidden” in their data. Among the various emerging technologies being utilized, some employ a combination of both the traditional and newer, more “exotic” paradigms in a field known as knowledge discovery, or database mining.

Credit card issuers are using advanced knowledge discovery methods to identify usage patterns that indicate fraud in an attempt to execute more effective fraud avoidance systems and, ultimately, minimizing their exposure to losses. Warranty management organizations are using similar methods to detect fraud in an attempt to reduce their traditional losses in this area.

Digital marketing companies use related methods to create more targeted and effective lists for the products and services they are promoting to improve their overall effectiveness. Automotive companies use the same techniques to discover patterns of failures and corresponding information to incorporate into the proprietary knowledge bases that they distribute to their authorized dealers and licensed mechanics. Many more applications of a similar nature span across businesses and industry segments of all types under the banner “Let The Data Work for You”.

The analogy of database mining to quarry mining is very appropriate too. In ore mining the process goes through tons and tons of dirt in order to extract one precious gram of gold. Similarly, in database mining, one may also need to go through very large quantities of data just to get to the “one piece of information that makes it all worthwhile”.

However, it is typically at this point where traditional analytical methods and approaches have failed, and the businesses that have historically used them have pretty much “given up”. Going through a large “mine” of raw data only to transform it into a somewhat smaller pile of statistics or summary tables is of very little use and often quite discouraging, and questions like; “What do the data mean?”, “How can we make use of it?”, and “How does it relate to our bottom line?” are all hard to tell.

Traditional statistical methods make assumptions about the data used and require a model in the form of an hypothesis that one can then either accept or reject. Quite often the data do not conform with the assumptions and there is no model. In addition statistics excludes from its realm many forms of data that are quite common in the expression and representation of some of the phenomena that are around us. To overcome these drawbacks, the process of extracting knowledge from data has turned to machine learning techniques.

Machine learning techniques, developed under the umbrella of Artificial Intelligence (AI), were originally patterned after a unique human intelligence trait – the ability to acquire and create new knowledge. From this basis, new and highly sophisticated AI techniques have been developed using a broad array of disciplines and strategies, and reflecting various levels of success.

In later stages of research some of these techniques have been incorporated into a knowledge acquisition process which represents a critical step in the process of building and maintaining knowledge-based systems. Prior to the development of such a process, this was typically the area that represented the largest “bottleneck” in terms of actually having the capability of building and using knowledge-based systems in practical business applications. Moving from this point forward (i.e., to expanding the use of learning mechanisms to database mining knowledge discovery), the distance is very short.

Today, knowledge discovery tools and methods employ a broad range of technologies and methodologies. Neural networks are probably the best known and most widely used approach to machine learning. The technology is quite versatile, relatively mature and has been used very successfully in a broad array of applications ranging from the screening of credit card applications, to placing geographically-based advertisements in national magazines, to reading handwritten addresses and routing the mail. Other discovery methods are based on technologies such as information theory, fuzzy set theory, rough set theory, nearest neighbor metrics and others.

Finally, with respect to the question “Why knowledge discovery?”, the answer should be more apparent by now. Your organization may be sitting on a “goldmine” of data which could be converted into useful knowledge – knowledge that can be used to help you focus your strategic and marketing planning efforts; monitor and improve the quality of your production and service delivery processes; and explain your customers’ sensitivity to your competitive pricing structure, customer service performance, brand name recognition, advertising and promotional campaigns or anything else you would like to learn about the markets in which you operate.

Many organizations have already recognized the potential benefits of these new technology applications and are utilizing these tools to lead them to smarter, more efficient and more productive operations. The list of such companies is growing every day – and your organization should also leverage the knowledge to join them.

Companion Piece to Field Service Experts Interview in the May, 2017 Issue of Field Service News

[This companion piece to the Field Service News May, 2017 issue focuses on the impact of the recent spate of events (i.e., mergers/acquisitions, strategic partnerships, new entries to the FSM competitive landscape, etc.) that appears to be transforming the global services industry. As is the case in the magazine’s multi-analysts interviews, most of these responses are not included in the published feature. As such, please consider this Blog as a more detailed companion piece that provides additional “between the lines” thoughts and opinions.]

Q1: Why do you think that Field Service Providers have recently become an attractive target for investment – is this indicative of the growing importance of field service to the wider economy?

The current spate of acquisitions of Field Service Providers is long overdue. In fact, it should have happened years ago! However, the acquiring organisations seemed to have other priorities in mind with respect to broadening and strengthening their existing offerings, and tailoring them to a more narrowing-defined market space.

For example, CRM vendors tended to focus more on expanding the functionality of their respective CRM platforms, while ERP vendors tended to do the same with theirs. Remember, there were days – way back when – when a Field Service Management (FSM) solution provided only the functionality required to run a services operation – but not a services business (i.e., no accounts payable/billable or accounting functionality; no reverse logistics; no human resources; etc.). In those days past, a services business would also need to acquire ancillary software packages (e.g., anyone remember Peachtree Software) in order to manage the entire services business.

However, it’s a bit different today. As more and more software providers expand their offerings to run the entire business, they now market themselves as offering a “new” type of platform for doing so.

In general, it will be those organisations that move into (or buy into) the field services arena – for all the right reasons – that are most likely to be successful. That is, if a field service functionality makes sense as a logical extension of their existing offerings, then they will be more likely to succeed. However, those that attempt to “ram their way” into what is already a fast-growing and vibrant market sector, some without even having a complete FSM offering, will find themselves “busted” in the eyes of their targeted market base.

Q2: The FSM solution space has seen huge innovation in recent years, is there a danger that with so much M&A activity this innovation will plateau, and if so is the technology now available suitable to empower field serve organisations to meet growing consumer demands?

Currently available technology, coupled with newer technology that always seems to be lurking “just around the corner”, is already sufficient to meet (and exceed) all of the FSO’s requirements for managing their field service operations – and then some! It’s already here!

As such, the global services market is not likely to experience a plateau in terms of recognition, adoption and/or deployment of these new technological advances anytime soon. In fact, as the proliferation of technology appears to be eclipsing adoption by the marketplace, there is no plateau in sight. There is still a “mountain of growth” ready to be conquered!

As such, this accelerating growth is likely to bring more FSM provider suitors to the forefront rather than less. For example, three or four years ago, how many field service managers thought that Microsoft would acquire itself into the fray? Many industry analysts missed the signs that Oracle was about to acquire TOA Technologies. However, with several major players already having acquired, licensed and/or organically entered the field services market, the question arises: Who will be next?

On the demand side, where has Apple been? What about SAP? What about any of the large, global, systems integrators? On the supply side, what, if anything, will ultimately happen with ClickSoftware? What about the “tried and true” historical vendors, like Astea? And what about all of those Venture Capital and investment firms that seem to be gobbling up one FSM vendor after another?

The technology is already here! Watch out for the impending approach of more acquiring organisations!

Q3: Finally, the comments from each of these acquisitions almost universally refer to FSM “platforms” and certainly there is a growing trend for Field Service Management tools to be part of a wider service platform solution. Do you think that ultimately we will see FSM become as integral to business systems as ERP and CRM?

The difference between an FSM solution and an FSM platform is that the former is essentially used to run the services operations, while the latter is used to run the entire business. As far as marketing and market positioning go, doesn’t “platform” sound more important than “solution”, anyway?

CRM-based solution providers have long touted their products as full “platforms” that may be used to run an entire business; ERP-based solution providers have essentially marketed their offerings in the same manner. By incorporating an FSM solution into their respective offerings, they can now all claim (and, probably, rightfully so) that their offerings represent a complete (or near-complete) platform upon which future services functionalities can be built – whether strictly in support of field service operations, or any other business activity.

However, it is not necessarily a “slam-dunk” that FSM will become as integral to business systems as ERP and CRM, as not all businesses have field service offerings – while all have (or should have) an ERP and/or ERP capability. Further, as remote and predictive diagnostics, powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) and Augmented Reality (AR), make further footholds in the general services arena, running a field service operation may become more important, while become less cumbersome to run (and, as such, more likely to be outsourced, possibly, to a third party).

For the time being, FSM will likely remain subservient, in most cases, to CRM and ERP – but will only become more important to those FSOs for whom FSM is basically the whole business to them.

[To access the published Field Service News feature, please visit their website at www.fieldservicenews.com.]

Building Your FSM Solution on an IoT-Powered and CRM-based Platform

[Excerpt from our upcoming Feature Article in the March/April 2017 issue of Field Technologies Online.]

According to Gartner, the “IoT is not one thing; it’s the integration of several things,” requiring “advanced integration skills and end-to-end thinking.” As such, Gartner makes it quite clear that the IoT, alone, does not make field service operations work. There are still many other aspects of Field Service Management that must be addressed – although the IoT, as it stands today, is eminently ready to serve as the foundation of the FSM platform.

However, to truly benefit from an IoT-based FSM solution, the organization must also meet some key requirements that reflect its readiness for utilizing the power of the IoT in a connected FSM application. It may also be argued that there could be no servitization without the IoT; and that there could be no complete FSM solution without its integration with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform. Only in this way, could the FSM solution work together – in concert – with each of the other components of the CRM system to manage and run all aspects of the business itself – and not just its services operations.

[Watch for the complete article, including preliminary results from SFG‘s 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, in the March/April 2017 issue of Field Technologies Online.]

The Evolution of Enterprise Field Service Operations

Enterprises Embracing On-Demand Workforce to Drive Growth in a Hyper-Responsive Service World

[Excerpted from the SFG℠ White Paper of the same name, sponsored by Work Market.]

Historically, Field Service Organizations (FSOs) within enterprises had a relatively easy time dealing with the staffing and management of their own field service workforce – basically, they recruited, hired, trained and placed their service technicians in strategic locations situated within a city, throughout the region, and across the country.

However, in the last several years, the field services market has grown ultra-competitive. Increasing customer expectations, pricing pressures and growing talent shortages mean enterprises are facing a perfect storm. They must find new ways to adapt in a rapidly evolving market or succumb to being left behind. And this is especially true for enterprises that are supporting a large installed base of equipment, comprised of a large variety of products, distributed in multiple geographic locations.

Historically, almost every major platform, device or piece of equipment had its own set of metrics, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It was by these KPIs that services organizations – and their field technicians – could track their performance over time to ensure that the customer’s equipment was always running as smoothly and efficiently as possible – and with as little downtime as possible.

Equipment performance was optimized, for the most part, by strict adherence to a periodic schedule of both routine and preventive maintenance. KPIs such as MTBF (i.e., Mean Time Between Failures) and MTTR (i.e., Mean Time To Repair) were the two most commonly used metrics in an age when equipment typically failed up to several times a year.

Fast forward to today. The field services landscape has changed quite dramatically – largely as a result of the introduction of new and improved technologies, an intensely demanding and volatile market economy, and an increased emphasis on technician skills, training and certifications. For these reasons, many enterprises and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) now find themselves either overwhelmed by the demands typically associated with the recruiting, training, on-boarding, managing – and paying for – their respective field service technicians. Others have decided to get out of the direct business of performing services themselves – even on their own equipment.

[Click here to read the entire white paper, compliments of Work Market, the company that provides an end-to-end Workforce Solution to help organizations manage their freelance workstream.]

[Click here to register for our July 29, 2015 Webcast on the same topic, also compliments of Work Market.]

The Internet of Things (IoT) Is Here to Bring Smarter Technologies to Your Organization!

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is not a new “thing” in and of itself, but rather a pervasive resource that may be used to help run your company’s business. What it does is empower you to leverage all of the tools and resources that had previously been available to you; combine them with newer Web-enabled tools, technologies and resources; and help you manage your services organization in real time.

The explosion of practical – and affordable – Cloud technology has made the IoT even more important with respect to its ability to support all things service, mainly due to its ability to offer the same levels of support to any and all services organizations, regardless of type, size, vertical or geographic coverage.

In fact, the results from Strategies For Growth’s (SFG) 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey clearly show that the global business community is experiencing a “sea change” in the way services are being packaged, delivered, utilized, monitored and managed, and that services organizations prefer Cloud-based delivery by a margin of nearly three-to-one – and growing!

When you think about it, your company is in business for three main reasons: first, to Mobilize your products, services and acquired knowledge to, in turn, enable your customers to discover, select, use and share your products and services by providing relevant information, at just the right time.

Second, and possibly even more important in today’s world, is the ability to Transform the customer experience, i.e., to make it better by simplifying customer interactions and delivering better value and utility throughout the entire customer experience lifecycle.

And, third, relating directly to the bottom line, Monetizing the opportunities for growing revenue and profitability through meaningful metrics, like realizing higher revenue per customer by reducing churn, increasing repeat purchases, and growing incremental sales of related products and services.

However there are many other aspects to also consider within each of the components of Mobilize, Transform and Monetize; namely,

  • Offering customers an enhanced ability to effectively connect, engage and help them on a personalized basis, wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, and with the end result of delivering a personalized and optimized customer experience.
  • Personalizing and socializing every customer touch-point to delight customers by saving them time, money and effort; making customer engagement fun and rewarding, using proven gamification models such as points, leader boards, and badges; and increasing customer conversion, loyalty, referenceability and retention ratings through a customer-centric approach.
  • Up-selling, cross-selling and re-selling products and services utilizing the knowledge gained from capturing these customer insights; and realizing greater Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) for your existing customer base, while lowering the cost of customer acquisition via better customer ratings, reviews and advocacy.

This is where the IoT comes in – as the facilitator to the ability of the organization to connect, engage and help customers, resulting ultimately in a more effective way to acquire, delight and retain customers.

[Click here to read the entire article, compliments of m-ize, the company that directly connects customers and extended enterprise with brands, enabling easier access to products, knowledge, and services.]

It’s 2015 – Time to Revitalize Your Services Portfolio!

After a while, even the most innovative services offerings begin to lose some of their appeal, ultimately being perceived as commodity-like offerings, rather than as representing a differentiated portfolio. What was initially offered to the market as a specialized service, often without much competition, soon becomes just another service commodity positioned ineffectively among scores of increasingly competitive offerings.

Regardless of your organization’s market share or position, it is important to gauge exactly where your service portfolio stands at any given point in time with respect to the perceptions – and expectations – of your targeted market base. In most cases, it is the new, innovative upstart companies that are typically conducting the bulk of the market research and competitive intelligence prior to launching their new products and services, not necessarily the companies that are still selling their older commodity-like offerings.

However, there may still be a great deal of life left in the more mature business lines that comprise the majority of your company’s product or services portfolio. Even better, these lines tend to already be “tried and true” with respect to market acceptance, and may only need a gentle marketing or promotional “push” every once in awhile to stimulate additional market interest and sales. Even NASA uses a “mid-course correction” every now and then to ensure that the rocket gets to the proper destination!

There are many ways in which a business can determine exactly how much “kick” its services offerings still have in them, or, conversely, whether it is time to “kick” some of them out of the portfolio altogether and replace them with newer, more innovative and technologically-competitive lines.

The path recommended to evaluate the overall health of your present portfolio of services, is to conduct a strategic business assessment that focuses on:

  • An assessment of your customers’ – and the market’s – perceptions,
    needs, requirements, preferences and expectations with respect to your existing portfolio of services offerings.
  • The specific features and characteristics (e.g., attributes, benefits, value, cost, etc.) that currently define your services lines, and what it will likely take to “ramp them up” to the new and/or emerging market requirements (i.e., the Three R’s: Refine, Re-design and/or Re-package).
  • Customer/market perceptions and opinions regarding the current quality and performance of the services offered – both from your organization and its competitors.
  • A set of recommended improvements to your existing portfolio in order to better position it against the competition, and to maximize both sales potential and ongoing customer satisfaction.

The assessment and evaluation of the findings from such a study would be extremely useful in terms of providing your company management with the strategic, marketing and promotional tools it needs to:

  • Identify the basic customer/market needs, requirements, preferences and perceptions that can be used to assess and “fine tune” the overall strategic market positioning of the organization’s existing service lines.
  • Ensure that the company is effectively marketing the right services; to the right market segments; by communicating the right marketing, branding, and promotional messages; all through the right media.
  • Modify and enhance existing product/service lines to address the highest levels of customer and market demands.
  • Develop new products and/or services to address the emerging needs and requirements of both the existing and prospective customer bases.
  • Identify and cultivate the most attractive target markets based on identified patterns of customer decision-making and purchase behaviors, and product preferences and perceptions.
  • Strengthen the company’s overall product/service awareness and image, advertising and promotion, and sales activities through the execution of the recommended refinements, enhancements and/or modifications based on the study findings.

While your present business lines are probably the key factors that helped
your company grow to its current size and market position, they may have become “dusty” over the years and may now be in need of a good “dusting off” – or even, retirement.

Putting a “cash cow” off to pasture before it is time can cost your company a great deal of money in terms of lost potential. However, keeping it on once its gone “dry” may cost you even more in the long run in terms of giving your company a perceived market image as being less than innovative, or no longer offering anything more than commodity-like products and services.

Assessing where your product and services portfolio currently stand in terms
of market perceptions, and your ability to meet the market’s – and your customers’ – changing and evolving needs, will allow you to determine just how much “dust” has collected on your existing offerings – as well as what you will need to “dust off” in order to compete more effectively.