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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Best Practices FSOs Operate Differently to Maintain Their Best-in-Class Status

What Makes Best Practices FSOs Different from All Others? And How Do You Get There in the First Place?

[A Weblink for downloading the archived Webinar plus the companion Analysts Take paper is provided at the end of this Blog.]

Each year, Strategies For Growth (SFG) conducts a series of Benchmark Surveys among its outreach community of more than 29,000 global services professionals. Total responses for the 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey were 419, of which 43, or just over 10%, are classified as Best Practices Field Service Organizations (FSOs) (i.e., those attaining 90% or higher customer satisfaction ratings, and 30% or greater services profitability).

Overall, survey respondents identify the following as the top factors, or challenges, that are currently driving their ability to optimize field service performance:

  • 53% Need to improve workforce utilization and productivity
  • 42% Customer demand for quicker response time
  • 42% Need to improve service process efficiencies

Based on the special Best Practices data cut from SFG’s 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, the key takeaways are:

  • Best Practices FSOs are driven to improve workforce utilization, productivity and efficiencies; meet customer demand for quicker response and improved asset availability, and increase service revenues
  • Nearly half of Best Practices FSOs are adding, expanding and/or refining the metrics, or KPIs, they use to measure service performance
  • Over the next 12 months, more than three-quarters (81%) of Best Practices FSOs will have invested in mobile tools to support their field technicians, and 61% will have integrated new technologies into existing field service operations
  • Field technicians are increasingly being provided with enhanced access to real-time data and information to support them in the field, as are customers through Web-enabled self-help capabilities (i.e., to order parts or initiate service calls, track the status of open calls, etc.)
  • All FSOs face myriad challenges; however, Best Practices FSOs are better equipped to deal with them

[To learn more about this topic, we invite you to download our September 12, 2018 Webinar on the same topic, hosted by global FSM Solution provider, Astea International (www.astea.com). To download an archived copy of the full Webinar, plus the companion Analysts Take paper, simply click on the following Weblink: Webinar Registration]

Using Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) to Support Your Customers While You’re Servicing Their Equipment

Every day you deal with a multitude of customers who vary by type, size, installed base, usage, personality and everything else that ultimately differentiates one customer from another. However, one thing always remains constant – their business systems and equipment are critically Important to their day-to-day business operations. Despite this common thread that runs through virtually all of the customers you support, it is still important to recognize that each customer account will likely be different in terms of:

  • The various types, brands, models and numbers of units they have installed at their respective sites;
  • The ages of the individual units that are covered under their various Service Level Agreements (SLAs), or supported viaa Time & Materials (T&M) basis;
  • The usage patterns of the equipment at their individual locations (i.e., continuous intermittent use; single vs.multiple shifts; simple vs.complex multifunctional peripheral applications; and so on);
  • The volume, capacity or throughput they regularly execute; and
  • Many other unique and/or specific differentiators.

For some of your customers, their equipment is an integral component of what they do on a day-to-day basis. Customers in all industry segments, whether it be legal, financial, medical, real estate, government, or other highly-demanding markets, will tell you that their systems and equipment are essential to their business operations, and that when their equipment is down, their production is severely affected. For some, even a small piece of connected equipment may be the only means they have for providing their customers with a receipt, order confirmation, or other important transaction-generated documents. In fact, for many in the latter category, their reliance on the equipment you support may be even more critical to them (at least on a relative basis).

Regardless of the specific industry market segment or type of customer, there will always be a basic level of reliance on the business systems and equipment they have installed at their facility. In addition, you will find that your customers will also be relying heavily on your organization to ensure that their equipment is always up and running as required – and as expected. As such, it is important to recognize that in the customer’s mind, if the equipment is not working optimally – regardless of the technology that may have been built into it – it is worthless.

Since there is just so much that the customer is either inclined or permitted to do in order to get the equipment back in working order following a failure, in most cases, your field technicians will be the sole entities that they can count on to make that happen (that is, aside from remote monitoring and diagnostics, etc.). Accordingly, they will need to approach the servicing and support of the equipment with a great deal of professionalism and responsibility. Customers usually do not care whether the cause of an equipment problem is due to a hardware or software failure; a paper jam; or whether it was the unit’s fault, their fault, or nobody’s fault in particular. All they know is that when they needed to use the equipment, it simply did not work.

This is typically where the organization’s field technicians come into the picture. In many cases, they represent the only “real” physical manifestation of the service and support that keeps their equipment up and running – or at the very least, they may represent their first line of service and support defense. Your customers may rely heavily on the equipment itself to support their day-to-day business operations; but they rely even more on your organization and your field technicians to ensure that the equipment can continually do what it is supposed to do.

This is a unique area where most services organizations – and their dealers and distributors – can use some help! The good news is that there is a Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) software solution available for users in every industry, size and geographic coverage segment. The implementation of anSLM solution can provide a comprehensive set of integrated business solutions that empower strategic initiatives while driving tactical execution.

Companies that install, repair, and maintain business systems and equipment can increase their competitive advantage, grow top-line revenue, and bolster bottom-line profitability through the use of an effective SLM solution. Among the basic features and benefits of SLM functionality for a typical Field Services Organization (FSO) may best be summarized as follows:

  • Comprehensive Contract and Service Level Management
  • Service and Sales Integration
  • Increased Help Desk/Contact Center Effectiveness
  • Field Service Efficiencies

Comprehensive Contract and Service Level Management

Through SLM, customer contracts and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) can be structured in ways that best fit the business, as well as the businesses of their respective customers. Key items such as maintenance and repair service; preventative (or predictive) maintenance; remote monitoring, diagnostics and repair; and draw-down contracts can all be easily established and managed. As such, the organization’s services management can be assured that all of the obligations of its customers’ SLAs are well-planned for – and met – and that all of its mission-critical commitments to the customer are being honored.

In this way, services revenues are maximized, and there is little risk of experiencing lost revenues. Company representatives can quickly and easily verify both the customer and vendor entitlements, thereby eliminating any costs that might otherwise be associated with providing customers with parts, consumables or services they are not entitled to under the terms and conditions of any existing warranties or contracts. This also ensures that any and all dealer claims will be quickly processed.

Service and Sales Integration

The Service and Sales Integration functionality of an SLM software suite can be relied on to enable the manufacturer’s and dealer organizations’ field service technicians and contact center personnel to more thoroughly service the company’s accounts, while also driving increased revenue in the process. By placing intuitive, easy-to-use sales tools into the hands of the appropriate service employees, the number of new opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell equipment, parts and consumables to existing customers will increase multifold.

The organization’s service technicians are out in the field every day talking to, and interfacing with, its customers; why not also provide them with the tools and resources they can use to close – or at least open –additional sales opportunities within this virtually captive customer base!

Increased Help Desk/Contact Center Effectiveness

SLM can also allow the organization to increase its call handling efficiencies, especially in the areas of first-call resolution and call avoidance rates. This will ultimately result in the lowering of internal service costs, and commensurate improvements in existing levels of customer satisfaction and retention. In many ways, business systems and equipment services have been somewhat commoditized over the years, and the only way that one services organization (or its dealers) can establishment a competitive advantage over another is to differentiate (i.e., improve) the way in which they support the customer base after the initial sale.

The best way to do this is to provide superior levels of help desk and call center support empowered by a robust SLM capability. By arming your call center personnel with accurate and up-to-date customer and installed equipment base information – be it entitlement, configuration, or marketing campaign data – the organization will be able to greatly increase its ability to sell, cross-sell, and upsell its entire portfolio of products, services, parts and consumables.

Field Service Efficiencies

Leveraging the field service automation tools inherent in the SLM software allows the organization to optimize its field force capacity utilization, resulting in significant operational efficiencies as field technicians quickly become empowered to increase revenue generation and recovery. By streamlining and managing the invoice process, billing cycles will be lowered, as will other key areas, such as Day Sales Outstanding (DSO), etc.

These improvements will almost immediately go directly to the bottom line as you will be able to manage your cash flow and receivables much more effectively. Similarly, by streamlining and managing your service inventories (such as trunk stock) more effectively, you will also be able to realize significant inventory cost reductions.

What many OEMs and dealer organizations seek is an end-to-end, enterprise-wide SLM solution that addresses the complete equipment/service lifecycle, from lead generation and sales quotation, to service and billing, through asset retirement. They are looking for a solution that both integrates and optimizes the critical business processes that all services organizations have to face with respect to providing their customers with the levels of service and support they require.

Services organizations that provide their customers with any combination of products, parts, services and consumables must be able to not only fix the customers’ equipment, but to fix the customer as well; however, the ability to do so may vary greatly from one organization to another. However, the most successful organizations will ultimately be the ones that have the right mix of management, personnel, tools, resources and solutions (i.e., Service Lifecycle Management), all working together to provide their customers with the levels of service and support they require – and expect!

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.

An SFG℠ Analysts Take: There’s Nothing Artificial About Artificial Intelligence

[After you read our latest Blog, below, please be sure to take the time to participate in our 2018 Field Service Management Survey Update. We’ve already sent out our “Last Reminder” and will be closing the survey shortly. However, we don’t want to miss out on receiving your responses and insight! Simply click on the following link to access the survey questionnaire: https://t.co/wbTKMLWdpP.] 

The global field services community is always looking for “the next big thing” to impact Field Service Management (FSM), and many research analysts (including myself) are far too willing to debate whether something like 3-D printing, wearable technology or Augmented Reality (AR) are merely new technology “fads” or, rather, transformative technologies that will ultimately (and quickly) change the face of field service forever. [Note: I believe they’re transformative!]

Whenever a new technology (or a new application for existing technology) is introduced, the initial discussions may range from “It will be the best thing since sliced bread” to “it will never be accepted by the marketplace”. Most, fortunately, find their way into the ability to support the increasingly expansive functionalities of today’s (and tomorrow’s) FSM solutions. Technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) have already established a strong foothold in field service, both as a standalone platform or, integrated with Virtual Reality (VR) into a Mixed Reality (MR) platform.

However, the one “new” technology for which there is virtually no debate, even among the industry’s diverse research analysts, is Artificial Intelligence (AI). For that matter, you can also include Machine Learning (ML) in this category.

What makes AI and ML so different from most of the “new” technologies we have seen talked about in the past is that, first and foremost, neither one is really a “new” technology. The term “Artificial Intelligence” was first introduced in 1956 at an academic conference. However, it was not until 1961 when mathematician Alan Turing (the lead character in the movie, “A Beautiful Mind”) wrote a paper on the application of machines to “simulate” human beings and their ability to perform intelligent tasks – initially to play chess (and to win at it!). [Even I co-authored a published article on neural networks and artificial intelligence applications for field service back in 1993!]

Fast forwarding to today, we see just about every services analyst writing about AI and ML. For example, analyst firm, Gartner, included both AI and ML among its “Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017”, stating that, “AI and machine learning have reached a critical tipping point and will increasingly augment and extend virtually every technology enabled service, thing or application. Creating intelligent systems that learn, adapt and potentially act autonomously rather than simply execute predefined instructions is primary battleground for technology vendors through at least 2020.”

Further, Gartner “advises CIOs to look at areas of the company that have large data sets but lack analytics. AI can provide augmented intelligence with respect to discovery, predictions, recommendations and automation at scale” – a perfect fit for field service!

However, research firm, Forrester, believes that “there is still a lot of AI progress to be made before machines can truly understand and guide next best actions” and that “Robots, AI will replace 7% of US jobs by 2025 (i.e., “16% of US jobs will be replaced, while the equivalent of 9% jobs will be created – a net loss of 7% of US jobs by 2025.”)

UK-based firm, iTouchVision cites the following four areas where it believes AI will likely have the greatest impact on the field service segment in the coming years:

  • Customer Experience – Primarily through the use of chatbots, “it will be possible to help customers with more speed and accuracy. These bots containing the customer and their equipment information can find out the problem and suggest a quick fix”.
  • Work Productivity – AI overcomes the hurdles faced by manual dispatchers. In the near future, we may also see the replacement of human dispatchers with an AI virtual assistant that considers all the service event parameters including unexpected events. It increases the job completion rate in the first visit by ensuring the worker has right tools and skills.
  • Predictive Maintenance – Predictive, rather than Preventive, maintenance is “the way to increase asset life and quality. The machine-to-machine interaction and the connected devices drive predictive maintenance. It eliminates the unnecessary technician visits to check machine condition”.
  • Data-Driven Decisions – “AI is all about data. With AI in use, it is possible to take more strategic decisions. Reduced repetitive administrative work allows human operatives to focus on predictive analysis. It governs end-to-end work and data flows with automation. Continuous data evaluation and processing presents a clear picture with analytics.

Overall, AI (and ML) are certainly not “artificial” – nor are they simply current fads or trends that will eventually bite the dust. They are real – not artificial; and, as such, should be carefully – and quickly – considered for incorporation into the field services management solution your organization uses to run its services operations.

SFG℠’s Analyst Take Perspective on the PTC – Rockwell Automation Partnership

Rock Solid? Or, Just Another Stop Along the Way to PTC’s Next Partnership and/or Acquisition

On June 11, 2018, PTC, a global leader in assisting companies to “reinvent the way they design, manufacture, operate, and service things in and for a smart, connected world”, and Rockwell Automation, “the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and information”, announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement for a strategic partnership that is expected to “accelerate growth for both companies and enable them to be the partner of choice for customers around the world who want to transform their physical operations with digital technology”.

Based on a comprehensive review, augmented by interviews with key PTC executives, SFG℠ believes that there are many aspects to the PTC-Rockwell Automation partnership that are generally positive, with only a few potential red flags that may potentially become somewhat problematic down the road. Basically, it will all depend on the ability of both organizations to execute effectively, and in sync with one another.

[To download a complimentary copy of the full SFG℠ Analysts Take paper that provides additional details, please click on the following Weblink: @@@ PTC-Rockwell Partnership Analyst Take Paper (18-07-24-01)]

Service Lifecycle Management: The Catalyst for Integrating All of the Organization’s Services Operations

The concept of Service Lifecycle Management, or SLM, has been around for some time now; however, the tools and technologies used to actually make it work within the organization are still emerging and evolving. Not only that, but as they continue to evolve, they also build upon themselves to provide users with more power and flexibility to manage their services operations than ever before.

The upside of this growth in empowerment is that if your organization has already implemented SLM, then it is already on the fast track toward being able to effectively manage its total base of capital equipment, mission-critical assets, and human capital. The downside, however, is that if you have not already embraced the concept, you may be wasting precious time.

We define SLM as “a solution that supports the complete service lifecycle, from lead generation and project quotation, to service and billing, through asset retirement”. We further define SLM to encompass the integration and optimization of critical business processes including the contact center, field service, depot repair, logistics, professional services, and sales and marketing. We believe a comprehensive SLM suite also extends into portal, business intelligence, data analytics, dynamic scheduling, and mobile solutions; and must be applicable to services providers supporting customers in all vertical segments, and in all geographies.

While we have witnessed a great deal of growth in the acceptance of SLM over the past several years, many services organizations still find comfort in relying on their existing solutions essentially on an à la cartebasis. That is, they may have a Field Service Management (FSM) solution already in place, along with Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Services Parts Management (SPM), Supply Chain Management (SCM), Warranty Management (WM), Asset Management (AM) and others. The problem is, however, if these individual solutions and applications do not interact with one another, the organization will not be benefiting from the full value of their collective – once integrated – impact.

In an age where FSM, CRM, SPM, SCM, WM, AM and all of the other acronym-based solutions simply cannot cut it in and of themselves, only SLM addresses each of the factors that are important to services organizations for whom downtime is not an option, and resource utilization directly impacts financial performance. This is what SLM is designed to do, and an SLM solution is what the most progressive types of services organizations are now using to differentiate themselves from the also-rans.

The servicesmarket is constantly looking for proven solutions, based on practical business operations functionality, and powered by the latest technologies, to maximize their respective bottom lines. As such, the primary drivers behind the growing acceptance of SLM are also fairly universal – and quite compelling – as business managers across-the-board are essentially looking for the same things. Things like the ability to:

  • Streamline and automate their business processes;
  • Compress the contract-to-cash cycle;
  • Identify incremental sales opportunities and improve revenue recovery;
  • Collapse non-value-added workflows;
  • Enhance resource utilization and reduce downtime;
  • Coordinate the efforts of their sales, marketing and service organizations;
  • Improve compliance with Service Level Agreements (SLAs), contracts and warranties; and
  • Synchronize every customer touch point for increased customer satisfaction and retention.

While other disciplines like CRM, SCM, WM AM, et al, may only address one, two or more of these drivers, only SLM addresses them all – and this is critical, as no organizations in today’s business economy either have the time, resources or money that would allow them to build an effective service delivery model, piece- by-piece, on a non-interrelated basis, and hope to have it function as an all-encompassing solution. Only SLM affords them this opportunity.

Service Lifecycle Management is a fluid, or dynamic, discipline. It is also an agile tool that can evolve with the trends in the market, the needs of the user, the integration of new technologies, and the evolving goals and objectives of the customer. Choosing the right SLM solution to get started is critical; but so is the need to choose the right vendor, as well as the appropriate technologies to make it all work. It is not just another acronym – like CRM – to simply be tossed around interchangeably with customer service or satisfaction, asset or supply chain management, or any of the other “acronym” solutions and applications.

SLM is virtually a living, breathing entity that helps poorly run businesses run better, marginal businesses run more profitably, and well-run businesses excel in their markets as acknowledged leaders in customer satisfaction and profitability. The concept itself is sound, the technology is readily available, the need is irrefutable, and all you need to move forward is the recognition that there is an SLM solution out there that meets your organization’s specific – and often, unique – needs. By choosing the right solution, fully supported by the right vendor, and empowered by technology, your organization will certainly have a better chance of thriving in an increasingly complex and customer-focused business environment.