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)]

UK/Europe Field Service Organisations (FSOs) Are Closing the Performance Gap by Investing in New Technologies and Analytics

[The following is an excerpt from the Field Service News June, 2017 issue focusing on how UK/Europe Field Service Organizations are closing the historical performance gap with the United States and, in some cases, the rest of the world, by investing in new technologies and analytics. As such, please consider this Blog as a “teaser” for the full article which may be accessed via the link provided at the bottom of the page.]

Each year, Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM) conducts a series of Benchmark Surveys directed to the global services community. The final results of the 2017 Field Service Management (FSM) Benchmark Survey clearly reflect that UK/Europe Field Service Organisations (FSOs) are continuing their focus on addressing the top market drivers that impact their geographic marketplace – and in many cases, at a significantly higher rate than their global respondent counterparts!

Susannah Richardson, Account Director, mplsystems, concurs with these findings stating that, “We’ve seen our customers increasingly asking about what further functionality they can add into mobile applications to improve effectiveness of their field force. It’s no longer simply about field technicians being at the right place at the right time with the right parts, but also about them being empowered to excel in the service that they offer and to provide additional services.”

[To access the full, published Field Service News feature, please visit their website at http://fs-ne.ws/bV9g30cBss6.]

Leveraging Customer Survey Data Directly into Practical, Tactical Applications

Most business talks about conducting Customer Surveys, but not every one actually conducts them. What is even worse is that too many companies do not really know how to fully leverage their customer survey results into practical, tactical applications. In the first case, it’s mainly an opportunity loss; however, in the second case, it’s a waste of both time and money! However, it’s not that difficult to develop practical, tactical applications from the results of your customer survey initiatives.

Every business, regardless of its type, size or market focus, can benefit from the results of a survey-based research program designed to identify, assess and evaluate its performance in meeting customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations for the products or services that it sells. These surveys can usually provide valuable data and insight reflecting:

  • Overall market demand, or need, for the company’s products and services;
  • The specific product and service components, both “basic” and “value-added“, that are desired, or preferred, by potential customers;
  • The identification of areas where existing products, services and/or customer service can be improved; and
  • The need for implementing required changes and/or improvements to the organization’s existing service delivery model.

However, in conducting any survey research program, an organization must first ensure that it has established and identified both the appropriate research objectives as well as the proper methodology for carrying out the program. Common research objectives include collecting customer/market data that can be used in the:

  • Identification and assessment of customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations with respect to the company’s products and services;
  • Identification of the specific features, characteristics and attributes that define the desired products, services and customer support that will meet the market’s overall needs;
  • Identification of customer/market perceptions and opinions with respect to the quality and availability of the products and services they are receiving from their present suppliers (including your organization); and
  • Development of suggested, or recommended, improvements to the existing products and services in order to maximize both new sales and existing customer satisfaction.

The analysis of the findings from this type of market research program can be extremely useful in providing an organization with both a strategic and tactical “roadmap” to:

  1. Modify and enhance its existing product or service lines to address the highest levels of market needs and requirements;
  2. Develop new products and/or services to reflect the most important “value-added” requirements of the market;
  3. Identify and cultivate new target markets based on identified patterns of market decision-making and purchase behavior, product preferences, user characteristics and customer/market perceptions; and
  4. Strengthen the company’s overall product awareness and image, sales and marketing, advertising and promotion, and PR activities through recommended refinements and enhancements based on the study findings.

In this way, the use of customer surveys can be much more valuable than simply for measuring “how well are we doing?”. They can – and should – also be used to identify new business development opportunities in new or emerging markets as well as cross-selling, or up-selling, opportunities within the organization’s existing customer base.

A general method of approach for carrying out a survey-based research program of this nature can generally be accomplished in terms of the following seven tasks:

Task 1 – Initial Liaison and Coordination

  • The first task typically involves the creation of a designated internal project management team to establish team members and key points of contact, identify any existing data resources and work with any outside consultants. Under this task, the project team would coordinate and develop the overall research plan and schedule, checkpoints and milestones, and means for monitoring the ongoing progress of the program.

Task 2 – Internal Management Interviews

  • Task 2 would involve more detailed interviews with designated company customer-facing management and staff with respect to gaining an internal overview of the organization’s goals and objectives; its strengths and weaknesses; perceived service delivery performance, reputation and image; desired market and planning targets; existing problem areas; and opportunities for gaining a more competitive market position through the refinement, improvement and/or expansion of its existing business lines. From these discussions, the project team would gain a full understanding of the internal company perceptions and expectations which could serve as a benchmark from which external (i.e., customers, market prospects) perceptions and expectations can ultimately be identified, compared and evaluated.

Task 3 – Qualitative Interviews with Customers/Prospects

  • As part of this task, a limited number of qualitative, in-depth interviews would be conducted within the existing and/or prospective organization’s customer base. The principal purpose of these interviews would be to determine the potential range of needs and requirements, preferences, perceptions and opinions that the market may have with regard to the company’s existing product and service lines, and to identify the primary issues to be quantified in the large-scale survey of customers/prospects to be conducted as part of Task 4.

Task 4 – Customer/Market Survey

  • Based on the results of the first three tasks, the project team would then develop an overall survey design for a customer/market survey to extend the original qualitative interview phase (Task 3) to a statistically valid quantitative customer/market base. The survey could be conducted electronically and would target the universe of present and prospective customers representing a desired, or targeted, market base. Sufficient responses would be collected from all targeted respondent segments to ensure a statistically valid survey sample. The subsequent analysis of the survey data would then be used to develop specific study findings and strategic implications that would be of direct value in refining, modifying, augmenting and/or expanding the organization’s existing product/service lines.

Task 5 – Strategic Analysis and Findings

  • The fifth task would involve a comprehensive analysis of the full survey results on both an aggregate, and individual vertical and/or horizontal market segmentation basis. This would also take into account the results of the first four tasks and would involve the development of specific study findings and strategic recommendations for action with respect to defining the optimal product/service line features, characteristics and attributes to offer to the marketplace.

Task 6 – Executive Report and Presentation

  • The sixth task would involve the preparation and presentation of the overall study conclusions to company management in terms of a comprehensive report and executive briefing. The report and briefing would focus on the key findings of the overall survey analysis, the strategic market implications resulting from the analysis, and specific recommendations for improving existing levels of customer satisfaction and market penetration.

Task 7- Development of Practical Tactical Applications

  • The final task would take the specific findings from the survey analysis, and translate them directly into practical, tactical applications for improving and expanding existing customer relationships; identifying and cultivating new market opportunities; and rolling out targeted sales and marketing activities using a tactical “roadmap” based in part on the survey results.

The only effective market research programs are those that are well-planned, well thought out, and well executed. By following these steps, your organization will be much better prepared to take full advantage of the practical, tactical applications made available through the execution of a targeted market research program.

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.]

Companion Piece to Bill Pollock’s Field Service Experts Interview, Posted by Mobile Reach

[This companion piece to the Field Service Experts interview series posted by www.MobileReach.com focuses on “The Future of Field Service Management”. As is generally the case with interview pieces, most of the 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.]

Questions for Bill Pollock:

Q1: You’ve seen field service evolve over the years in your various roles. In what ways is field service management changing now? 

BP: I’ve seen the Field Service segment evolve several times over the years, from break/fix, to network services, to software support and such. However, the introduction of the Internet of Things, or IoT, is going to have a much greater and profound impact on the global services community than anything else that has preceded it! In fact, it already is!

For years, services managers have been talking about ways in which to reduce a “truck roll” in order to save money, and repair the customer’s equipment remotely – first, by phone, or assisted self-help; and, now, via remote diagnostics and even predictive diagnostics.

Truck rolls are not necessarily a thing of the past; however, they have greatly diminished in frequency as a result of the integration of the IoT into Field Service Management (FSM) systems.

Improvements in business analytics have also assisted field service managers in their ability to manage their entire business operations – and not just the field service aspects of the business. There are more analytical tools available now than ever before, and most managers are actively engaging their dashboards, so they can intelligently manage their field service operations.

Through the use of Augmented Reality (AR) apps, now actively being combined with Virtual Reality (VR) to form a more complex and robust “Mixed Reality” (MR) capability, we are likely to see even more advances in the types of technology that will ultimately reduce the cost of performing service – for both on-site and remote repairs – over time.

Also, with technology visionaries like Elon Musk, who started out with his Tesla business, branching into solar panels and, of course, SpaceX, we are likely to see more and more technological advances coming down the pike. For example, Musk’s new venture, Neuralink, has set its goals on attaining the ability to “merge” the power of the human brain with the power of the IoT, in order to upload and download “human thoughts” onto chips, and vice versa. Imagine the impact that new ventures like this will have on all aspects of business, if successful! All of a sudden, veteran field services technicians will become just as important as the influx of computer-savvy millennials with respect to their experiential value to the Field Service Organization (FSO).

The process goes on and on, and field service management will continue to evolve over time, as a result.

Q2: What are the strategic opportunities you’re seeing for field service organizations?

BP: The greatest strategic opportunities for FSOs will be to gain additional efficiencies as they use the IoT to power their field service operations. Of course, the converse is equally true, in that those FSOs that do not step up to the challenge will ultimately find themselves falling further and further behind the technology curve, their customers’ expectations for quality of service delivery, and their ability to compete head-to-head against not only the market leaders, but any small, medium or enterprise-sized services organization that has already embraced the new technologies.

There may still be a “wait and see” attitude toward AR, VR and MR at this time, as no single solution provider has come out with an industry-leading solution just yet. Anyone remember the decision as to whether to go with the Sony BetaMax or VHS? For many organizations, it’s the videotape wars all over again!

However, regardless of the organization’s size, vertical industry segment or geographic coverage, there are ample opportunities for ALL services organizations to take advantage of the IoT and Cloud-based FSM solutions to take their operations to the next level.

From our most recent Field Service Management Benchmark Survey Update, conducted in December/January 2017, we find that the top two drivers influencing the global services community, as cited by a majority of respondents, are (1) customer demand for quicker response time, and (2) need to improve workforce utilization and productivity. The question arises, then, “How can the services organization adequately address these two key issues without the strategic advantage of an IoT-powered FSM solution? ”The answer, of course, is increasingly. “It can’t!”

Other strategic opportunities can also come through strategic partnering with complementary technology solution providers. PTC is doing this with ServiceMax, and their respective relationships with GE Digital (ServiceMax’s parent company); and many smaller FSOs are involved in supporting partnerships with either Microsoft, for its CRM capabilities, and/or Salesforce, for its sales and marketing management tools; etc. Customers want what they want, and in most cases, they don’t care whether their primary FSM solution vendor is offering its services directly or indirectly through strategic partnerships. In fact, many customers like the fact that their FSM vendor is linked in some way to GE Digital, Microsoft, Salesforce or other industry giants.

Q3: What features in field service platforms are critical now and what will be necessary in the future?

BP: For many FSOs, a standard scheduling functionality is simply not doing the job anymore, and many have set their sights on solution providers that can offer optimized scheduling, etc. The same applies to standard business analytics vs. advanced analytics, as well as for the various components of spare parts and inventory management. In fact, what used to be “passable” in the past, now looks a little bit “dusty” and, as such, some FSOs have elected to move forward with more robust functionalities made possible through the integration of the IoT into their FSM systems.

Nowadays, legacy platforms may not be able to accommodate such new technology apps as AR, VR and MR, and, as a result, newer platforms need to be implemented to power these new capabilities. The same goes for implementing predictive diagnostics and remote diagnostics capabilities for most FSOs.

Mobility is also important, particularly with respect to real-time data collection, sharing and transmission to relevant parties within the organization. Can the organization’s existing platform handle all of these new technologies? Probably not! Therefore, newer platforms will need to be implemented, and they will need to be pretty much state-of-the-art.

Q4: What role do you see the Internet of Things playing in field service management?

BP: The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming an integral component of ANY FSO’s desire to be able to improve its services processes, streamline its services processes, collect and share business analytic data, and serve the customer better. It’s already here!

FSOs will be greatly behind the technology curve if they do not have existing IoT-powered FSM capabilities – or at least a primary FSM solution provider that does. The IoT is quickly becoming the chief differentiator that divides those FSOs that can meet the challenges of the present, let alone the future; from those that cannot.

Without the IoT, there can be no predictive diagnostics; there could be no AR, VR or MR; there could be no chance of being able to compete directly against those FSO who do have these capabilities. Just as Cloud-based FSM solutions normalized the playing field across all services industry segments, the IoT is now doing the same – but on steroids!

In the past, falling behind the technological curve still gave the FSO an opportunity to catch up in another year or so. However, there is not that much time available for catching up anymore. Falling behind for just a few months may represent too much of a gap to make up.

The IoT allows all FSOs to keep pace with the market leaders, regardless of their size, reach or reputation, etc.

Q5: How are mobile technologies changing the way field service organizations interact with and serve customers?

BP: Mobile technologies are, of course, also of critical importance to FSOs. Without a full complement of mobility, it would be as if you’ve got all this technology “hidden” in your office, but you can’t share the benefits with your field force or customers. This is particularly true with respect to customer engagement activities and business analytics.

For example, competitors may already have the capability to generate customer contracts, invoices and other types of paperwork right at the customer site. They can obtain a customer’s signature immediately and, by doing so, eliminate much of the “float” that has been historically associated with paper-based forms management and USPS “snail” mail, etc.

Mobile technologies can also make an FSO’s business analytics capabilities much more vibrant. What good does it do to collect real-time data if you can’t share it in real time? In other words, a full-bodied mobility platform can improve any FSOs “velocity of service” by shaving off days, if not weeks, of delays and potential paper-based mistakes, etc.

Having the IoT generate data in real time, but not getting relevant data and information out to the field in real time, is a big mistake. The combination of the IoT and mobility can help FSOs avoid this opportunity cost.

Q6: How are you seeing field service organizations use mobile technologies to drive revenue and maintain a competitive advantage?

BP: The float issue is only one small component of how mobile technologies can assist in driving revenue and maintaining a competitive advantage. There are many others, as well.

However, it is important to note that, if all you’re doing is automating bad processes, then you’ll only be doing all of the wrong things faster – but not better! That’s why it’s so important to use the tools of a Cloud-based FSM solution, powered by the IoT, to improve your processes first; empower your field techs with real-time data, information and analytics; empower your customers through customer portals and self-help platforms; and generally perform all of your services activities better. Then, you can see additional benefits by doing it all faster – that is, through the functionalities of the IoT, etc.

By doing so, customers will recognize the improvements you have made and, therefore, will be more reliant on the organization for future services needs and requirements, upsells and cross-sells, etc. This will have the combined impact of reducing the cost of customer acquisition, while simultaneously increasing the existing revenue stream. Then, increases in customer satisfaction metrics can be used to promote the organization’s competitive advantage, which can also benefit from the fruits of social media coverage and word of mouth. But, it all starts with making improvements to the processes!

Q7: How can field service organizations better capitalize on sales opportunities?

BP: One area where many services organizations do not do a good enough job is in the area of contract and warranty management. It’s so simple; but it’s not “sexy” or “glitzy” enough.

However, by using an FSM solution that has a contract management and warranty management capability built into it, or by finding a reputable warranty management solution provider, an FSO can focus directly on contract attachments, contract renewals and contract management, all of which can contribute to generating not only an increased revenue stream, but one that is also a more predictable revenue stream.

The increased use of business and customer analytics can also provide the organization with increased insight into which customers may require expanded services agreement based on anything from surpassing their throughput limits for existing equipment, repetitive failures for the same problems; or to make adjustments for an expansion of the business, a recent acquisition or merger, or the increase in the number of daily shifts using the equipment; etc.  This is something that the organization’s field techs can recognize either through the customer analytics they have access to, or simply by being at the customer site on a recurring basis.

Many FSOs also do not have the expertise for upselling and/or cross-selling their existing customers. This is a critical component for any business – not just for field services. If you do not already have these capabilities, you may need a new, highly-trained salesperson, or a process for ensuring that no sales opportunity goes unrecognized.

Q8: How is the broader economy affecting field service management?

BP: The broader economy affects businesses of all types, including field services. However, field services has one thing going for it that many other industry segments don’t (i.e., particularly manufacturing and product sales) – that is, while not necessary recession-proof, businesses will always need their systems, equipment and devices to be up and running for the duration – in many cases, in spite of what it may cost to do so.

Even at reduced capacity, factories will need their production lines to continue to operate; hospitals will need their medical devices to be readily available; banks will need their transaction-related systems to run continuously; and so on. However, Business-to-Consumer, or B2C-focused services organizations may feel the full brunt of any economic downturn, as a majority of consumers may opt to wait until they can afford to have their home electronics serviced until they can better afford to pay for those services.

A broadly robust economy can stimulate increased product sales, which in turn, can stimulate increased services opportunities; conversely, a poor economy can dampen everything – including the field services segment.

However, the sign of a truly progressive services organization is one that has already taken into account the effects of a weakened economy and planned on how to best deal with a temporarily reduced workforce (through the use of a Freelance Management System, or FMS, solution); temporarily diminished service call activity; or the like. If these types of economic-influenced events occur, those FSOs that have already taken measures to address these temporary downturns can more effectively “roll with the punches”.

Q9: How is the role of Chief Service Officer evolving?

BP: The role of the Chief Service Officer (CSO) has already evolved significantly over the past several years. In many cases, today’s (and tomorrow’s) CSO must also be a Chief Data Officer (CDO) willing and able to manage the data and business analytics that drive the operations of the services business.

He or she must also be a Chief Customer Officer (CCO), once again, willing and able to interface with the customer directly when customer problems need to be escalated. As you can imagine, the role of the CSO can also be expanded to be the Chief Operations Officer (COO), Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO), Chief Social Media Officer (CSMO) and …, well, you get my gist!

The days of simply managing a staff of dispatchers, field technicians and administrative assistants are long over. From this point forward, all CSOs must also be accomplished and experienced in a much larger variety of customer-facing, analytics, business development, sales, marketing and social media functions.

Q10: What are the top three KPIs that you recommend FSM organizations focus on? How might those KPIs change five years from now?

BP:  Basically, the rule of thumb is that you should be measuring all of the metrics that focus on areas where you are underperforming, or have recognized (or suspected) problems in service delivery. For example, if your customer satisfaction ratings are lower than desired, then you will need to measure and track customer satisfaction ratings; if your on-site response time is deficient, then you will need to measure things such as on-site response, providing an Estimated Time for Arrival (ETA); etc.

There are also several Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, that a majority of  FSOs measure, based on the results of our 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey. For example, the top KPIs currently being measured by a majority of FSOs are:

  • (73%) Customer Satisfaction
  • (62%) Total Service revenue
  • (61%) Total Service Cost
  • (53%) Field Technician Utilization
  • (50%) On-site Response Time
  • (49%) First Time Fix Rate

However, it should also be noted that a majority of Best Practices FSOs (i.e., those that are attaining both 90%+ Customer Satisfaction and 30%+ Services Profitability) typically measure twice as many KPIs as the average FSOs.

Five years from now – actually, even sooner – there will also be an entirely “new” way of collecting data and reporting KPIs as a result of remote diagnostics, Augmented Reality and the growing influence of the IoT. It will be analogous to keeping two sets of books – that is, one set of KPIs, like Mean Time to Repair (MTTR), Elapsed Time from Problem Identification to Correction, etc., for the way service has historically been performed (i.e., having a field tech dispatched on site), vs. the “new” way via remote diagnostics and repair. Combining the two will not make sense, and will need to be measured, monitored and tracked separately.

[To access the published Mobile Reach feature, please visit their website at http://info.mobilereach.com/blog/field-service-expert-interview-bill-pollock.]

Market Outlook: The Impact of the Convergence of Field Service and the Internet of Things

[Excerpt from our upcoming Feature Article in the April 2017 issue of Field Service News.]

There have been myriad times in recent years when a new technology seems to control the conversation in the business world – and, particularly, in the services sector. And, field service is typically one of the first areas where customers and users catch their first glimpse and initial understanding of what each of these “new” technologies can do for the industry. However, it usually takes a while longer before they truly understand what these new technologies can do specifically for their respective organisations.

Many of these new technologies enter the mainstream of the business world – and the global services community – after some initial fanfare, trade press, blogs, tweets and white papers, etc. However, most of them will actually take years to be fully accepted and deployed via a more staggered and drawn-out basis over a lengthy period of time. For example, 10 to 15 years ago, RFIDs were all the rage, with seemingly every article and white paper talking about the potential use of RFIDs for everything from tracking parts shipments, to identifying personal items that consumers send to the dry cleaner for laundering.

The evolution of RFIDs, however, was fairly steady to the point of almost being modestly linear over the next decade and a half. But, fast forward to 2017, and Tesla Inc. founder and CEO, Elon Musk, has recently announced the formation a new company, Neuralink Corp., which The Wall Street Journal describes as a “medical research” company that plans to build technology “through which computers could merge with human brains”, essentially using embedded chips to upload and download thoughts directly from humans. In less than a couple of decades, RFIDs went from the “talk of the town”; to a backdrop of steady (albeit non-glitzy) market adoption and deployment; to a virtual science fiction-like catalyst between the technology of today and the advanced future.

That is why the introduction and accelerating proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) in field service is such a big deal. Because, as most industry analysts tend to agree, the projected growth path for the full integration and convergence of the IoT into the global services community – particularly in field service – are stunning!

[Watch for the complete article, including findings from SFG‘s 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, in the April 2017 issue of Field Service News. I’ll also be presenting some toppling data as part of my opening Keynote at the 2017 Field Service Summit in Coventry, UK, on April 11, 2017.]