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.

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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.

The IoT Is Changing the Way in Which We Approach Field Service Management (FSM)

The impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on Field Service Management (FSM) has already been significant – and will continue to grow in magnitude over time. This applies to all services organizations, of all types and sizes, covering all world geographies, and supporting all product-service lines. Yes – it’s that pervasive!

This is especially true for organizations supporting certain vertical industry segments (e.g., aviation/aerospace, energy, factory automation, medical devices, etc.), and is beginning to have a similar impact on all other segments, even going beyond the traditional field service B2B segments, to now include many of the emerging B2C services segments, such as consumer/home medical devices, home security systems, HVAC/electrical and plumbing services, among others.

In fact, the pervasive use of Cloud-based platforms, coupled with the integration of IoT-powered FSM solutions, has expanded the relevant market size to a near-ubiquitous universe encompassing all types and sizes of solution providers, as well.

However, as we sit here and read about IoT-powered FSM solutions, the means with which the IoT is supporting these systems is constantly growing and evolving as well. Even more, if a services organization has not yet embraced and incorporated the IoT into its services operations, they are already a step or two behind the market leaders. For example, for any one of the organizations that are still examining the potential value of incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) into their services operations, there are many others that are already looking to implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) – and, increasingly, Blockchain!

The time is now for ramping up on all things IoT, reading IoT thought leadership articles, 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 and the “new” technology it brings to the table.

The most progressive – and aggressive – solution providers have already embarked on the road to an IoT-powered FSM or Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) solution scenario. As such, now is also the time for all other FSM solution providers to do so. 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 ultimately do for them. When the global services management marketplace is more fully transformed (i.e., when the IoT is a ubiquitous factor in every organization’s services operations), your organization will also need to have made the transformation. If the market leaders are already several steps ahead of you, you cannot afford to fall further behind.

Proliferation in the use of Cloud-based and IoT-powered FSM solutions have also led to a major consolidation of the global competitive landscape. The “new” competitive landscape is now comprised of a combination of all types, sizes and categories of solution providers. Most (if not all) of the enterprise services providers are already offering FSM (or SLM) solutions (or, at the very least, “enhanced” Field Service Management solutions). They “get it”, and they’re doing something about it.

Over the past several years, we have also 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 by introducing its Field Service Lightning solution based on ClickSoftware technology. ClickSoftware went private again, but still is a strong competitor in the global FSM marketplace, while also licensing some of its software apps to other organizations.

For the most part, the mid-sized services organization market 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. Some are already on an equal footing with their larger competitors. However, where the most “confusion” and uncertainty lies is in the landscape populated by start-ups – and what, in some cases, I refer to as “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 successfully 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 opportunity (for them), in order to make a quick buck when all they ultimately plan to do is to be acquired by 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.

Yes – the IoT is definitely changing the FSM marketplace – both rapidly and pervasively. You can blame it on the IoT for this rapid evolution (and disruption); however, you will also need to share some of the blame yourself if your organization is not keeping up with the advances in services management technology!

The Future of Field Service Management (FSM) – What Lies Ahead for an Industry that Is Constantly Evolving and Reinventing Itself

[The following is a first page excerpt from SFG℠‘s Analysts Take paper on “The Future of Field Service Management (FSM)” originally published this past July, 2017. Following the conclusion of our current, updated, survey research on the topics of Field Service, Service Parts Management and Warranty Management, we will be updating this document later in Q2, 2018. In the meantime, to download the entire original document, simply click on the Weblink provided at the bottom of this page.]

The global Field Service Management (FSM) segment has re-invented itself 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 the number of “truck rolls” 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 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 predictive diagnostics, remote diagnostics and 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.”

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 technologies that will ultimately reduce the cost of performing service – for both on-site and remote repairs – over time. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) immediately come to mind.

Also, with technology visionaries like Elon Musk, who started out with his Tesla automobile 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, not just in field services, 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.

[To download the entire Analysts Take paper on “The Future of Field Service Management (FSM)”, simply click on the following Weblink: The Future of FSM (Draft-17-06-29-01).]

UK/Europe vs. U.S./Global State of Field Service Management (FSM) Survey Findings Infographic

The attached Infographic presents and compares the key survey findings from Strategies For Growth℠s 2017 Field Service Management (FSM) Benchmark Survey for the UK/Europe vs. the U.S./Global FSM markets.

The U.S./Global survey findings were presented on November 8, 2017 in a Webcast hosted by CSDP, the leading service relationship management software developer that commences every client engagement with consulting. Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst at Strategies For Growth℠, was the featured presenter.

The Infographic provides a synopsis of how the UK/Europe FSM market differs from the U.S./Global FSM by comparing key survey findings in an easy-to-follow graphical format. By viewing the Infographic, learn how the UK/Europe FSM market compares to all others for each of the key survey findings.

[Download the Infographic at: UK-Europe vs US Infographic (November, 2017).]

The State of Field Service Management (FSM) in 2017 – and Beyond!

[This Blog post contains a sampling of the content and information that will be presented in our upcoming Webcast, Wednesday, November 8, 2017 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm EST. To register for the Webcast and receive a complimentary copy of the full Analysts Take white paper, please go to: http://bit.ly/CSDPWebinarNov8.]

As we near the end of calendar year 2017, many Field Service managers have begun to wrestle with the question, “What lies ahead for us in the next 12 months and beyond? Of course, there is no quick and easy answer – and everything can change in a heartbeat due to unforeseen internal and/or external factors.

As such, it becomes increasingly important for Field Service Organizations (FSOs) to understand the specific impact that the next 12 months (and beyond) will have on the quality and performance of their field service operations. In fact, the future state of Field Service Management (FSM) will depend largely on what strategic actions FSOs plan to take in the next 12 months or so. Since these actions will be directly linked to the multitude of drivers that are most likely to influence decision making within the global services community, this would be a good place to start.

The results of Strategies For GrowthSM‘s (SFGSM) 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey reveal that the top drivers cited as influencing FSOs today may be categorized into three main areas:

  1. Customer demand and/or preferences
  2. Need to improve service workforce utilization, productivity and efficiencies
  3. Internal mandate to drive increased service revenues

When asked to cite the top three drivers currently influencing their ability to effectively manage field services operations, 56% of respondents cite customer demand for quicker response time, and nearly one-third (32%) cite customer demand for improved asset availability.

However, the need to improve workforce utilization and productivity is also cited by a majority (51%) of respondents as a top driver, followed by the need to improve service process efficiencies (39%). An internal mandate to drive increased service revenues is then cited by 31% of respondents as one of their top three drivers.

Once the key market drivers are clearly identified, FSOs need to create – and implement – the most effective strategic planning actions to address them head-on. As revealed in the SFGSM survey, the most commonly implemented strategic actions, currently, are:

  • 48% Develop and/or improve KPIs used to measure field service performance
  • 40% Invest in mobile tools to support field technicians
  • 36% Automate existing manual field service processes and activities
  • 31% Integrate new technologies into existing field service operations
  • 30% Provide additional training to field service technicians and dispatchers
  • 26% Improve planning and forecasting with respect to field operations
  • 25% Increase customer involvement in Web-based service process
  • 24% Provide enterprise-wide access to important field-collected data

These data strongly suggest that there is a pattern of synergy among the top four cited strategic actions that builds a foundation for all of the other actions that will ultimately be taken by the organization; that is, that nearly half of the FSOs comprising the global services community already recognize the need to build and/or improve their KPI measurement program – this is essential! This is the first step!

Based on the SFG survey data, Jerry Edinger, President, CEO and Chairman of CSDP Corporation, a leading Service Relationship Management software developer, explains, “This is why we start every one of our client engagements with consulting. We ensure that your business processes are designed correctly before automating them. Software alone cannot improve KPIs. We design the exact Field Service Management solution based on the needs and requirements of the organization.  We detail how a solution automates the entire service delivery and customer service processes into a fully integrated field service management system and maps it into the overall enterprise workflow. Once the consultative effort is completed, we then have a detailed roadmap of how to build the most effective solution to meet the organization’s field service goals and objectives.”

However, along with the development and/or improvement of a KPI program, nearly as many organizations also recognize the need to invest in state-of-the-art mobile tools to support their technicians in the field, while concurrently, automating their existing manual field service processes and activities to provide an enterprise-wide foundation for collecting data and information, and disseminating this process to field technicians (and, in many cases, to their customers) on an as-needed basis. Further, about one-third of FSOs recognize the need to integrate new technologies into existing field service operations to make it all come together.

This synergy is built on, first, ensuring that there is an effective KPI measurement program in place, and using that program to establish a benchmark, or baseline, for measuring the organization’s current field service performance. Second, there needs to be a comprehensive internal effort to bring the technical aspects of services operations into the current (and future) timeframe – this can be done mainly by investing in an effective package of mobile tools to support the field force.

Finally, it will be the integration of these new technologies (e.g., mobility applications, the IoT, wearables, 3D printing, Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), etc.) into the overall mix of resources and tools deployed by FSOs that will empower the field force do their jobs more productively and efficiently. The desired results, of course, would be the improvement of service delivery performance and the resultant improvements in the levels of customer satisfaction (and retention).

The data make it clear that there is no mistake – that is, if your services organization already finds itself behind the curve with respect to:

  1. The automation of its existing field service management processes (or lack thereof);
  2. Its ability to meet (if not exceed) its customers’ demands or requirements;
  3. Its ability to support its field technicians and customers with real-time data and information; or
  4. Dealing with escalating costs associated with running its services operations; this gap will likely only get larger over time – unless it considers implementing a new, more state-of-the-art, field service management solution;

SFG’s 2017 FSM survey results clearly show the impact that doing so will have on the organization – as well as on its customers and its bottom line.

[For more information on this topic; to register for the companion Webcast hosted by CSDP on Wednesday, November 8, 2017; or to download a copy of SFG’s companion Analysts Take report, please visit the registration Webpage at: http://bit.ly/CSDPWebinarNov8.