Key Performance Indicators and their impact on your business

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I gave a presentation a couple of years ago to a group of service managers and executives on the subject of key performance indicators (KPIs).  I was surprised by the fact that most of the audience could not give an accurate explanation of what a KPI is.  Most people thought it was a data point that was used to measure business performance.   However, this is not entirely accurate.

The true definition of a KPI is that it is a quantifiable measure of how successful an organization’s strategies are in meeting their goals.   To be effective, KPIs must be specific to your business needs, align with strategic goals, and bring overall benefit to your business.  Most importantly, it must inspire you to set new goals.

Unfortunately, many service managers confuse KPIs with industry performance benchmarks.  They are not the same thing.  In contrast to a KPI, a benchmark is a point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed. While a company might want to benchmark their KPIs against competitors in their industry, they shouldn’t assume that they must adopt the same KPIs as their competitors.  They might want to do this if their goal is to outperform competitors on every KPI they measure.  This may be neither practical nor feasible if their business needs and strategic goals differ from those of their competitors.

Let’s look at this from another perspective.  While there maybe dozens of different field service or reverse logistics activities that your company can measure, you’ll find that there are only a handful that ultimately drive the success of your company’s business strategy.  You’ll want to make these specific measurements your KPIs.   For example, your strategic goal may be to consistently meet your customers’ expectations for timely service.  There could be multiple factors to consider when measuring this outcome like response time, wait time, resolution time, call drive time, etc.  However, you may determine that SLA Compliance is the KPI that best measures your success or failure in meeting this strategic goal.  On the other hand, your strategic goal might be to deliver high quality service to your customers.  While this could be determined through factors like trunk stock fill rate or calls closed incomplete due to lack of parts, you determine that First Time Fix Rate is the best KPI measuring service quality.

When establishing KPIs, it is important that you answer these four questions:

  1. How will I know when my goals are reached?  This is a quantitative target that you want to establish for your KPI. It could be expressed as a raw number (i.e., 4 hour average response time), a progress measure (e.g. 98% SLA compliance), or incremental change (i.e., 10% improvement in Customer Satisfaction).
  2. What are the key success factors in reaching this goal?   A description of the core functions, activities, or business practices that must be performed in order to reach this goal.
  3. What critical actions do I want to take from the KPIs? It is important to anticipate how your company will react to the KPI measurement that it actually achieves. What steps do you take if you miss your target? What if you meet or exceed it? For example, hire more resources, retrain personnel, improve processes, implement new systems, etc.
  4. What results do I achieve through these actions?  Examine how these actions will impact your business.  In what timeframe will they impact your KPI and at what cost?  Are there other aspects of your business that will be impacted?

 

By answering these questions, you’ll have a strategic road map for achieving operational excellence in your business.  It’s all about getting clear about your goals, making sure you measure the right things, tracking results on a consistent basis, taking corrective action when needed and, of course, celebrating success. Do you want to learn more about how to achieve geometric results in your field service or reverse logistics business?  Schedule a free strategy session today.

For whom the bell tolls: examining the future of field service

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I remember attending a conference in the early days of my career, circa 1987, where service executives from leading computer manufacturers at that time (e.g., Digital, Control Data Corporation, Burroughs, Univac, etc.) were predicting that field service would become extinct by the beginning of the 21st century.  Their prognosis was based on an observable trend that the equipment was becoming more reliable and easier to support remotely. Thirty (30) years later Field Service is a booming industry.

Indeed, many of these predications have come true. Technology has become cheaper and more reliable. Product life cycles are shorter, making it more affordable to replace older systems.  M2M and remote support make it possible for many companies to resolve an issue remotely and avoid dispatching a field service engineer. Self-service options also make it possible for the consumer to manage the repair process themselves.  It has also become an accepted fact that field service is a low margin business and extremely competitive in selected markets (e.g., IT).

Do these trends support the argument that field service is going the way of the dinosaur?  Market data points to a different conclusion. According to the research firm Markets and Markets, the Global market for Field Service Management (FSM) software is expected to grow from $1.58 billion in 2014 to $3.52 billion by 2019, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 17.3%.  Certainly these figures do not suggest that field service is going to disappear anytime soon.

Although the High-Tech Industry has experienced a number of trends which challenge the need for field service, there have been a number of trends which will allow field service to continue to survive and prosper:

  1. Increased use of advanced technologies:  Tools such as dynamic scheduling, mobility, knowledge management, and spare parts planning software enable Field Service Organizations (FSOs) to optimize the coordination of resources (e.g., parts, labor) required to support the field service delivery process resulting in more satisfied customers, increased revenue, reduced cost and higher profits. Furthermore, disruptive technologies like IoT and Big Data provide FSOs with the tools to expand their service offerings and be more proactive in managing service delivery. As a result, customers are more dependent on FSOs than ever before for continued support.
  2. The advent of on-demand platforms: On-demand and SaaS based applications enable FSOs to obtain critical service applications required to manage the field service dispatch on a subscription basis. This permits FSOs to quickly acquire and deploy state-of-the art Field Service Management Systems (FSMS), which at one time required a considerable capital outlay. This means that FSOs can expense the costs associated with the new system into their operating budgets and profits and avoid building elaborate ROI justification models. As result, the economics associated with maintaining a Field Service workforce have improved.
  3. Greater complexity and convergence of technology: Every major technology sector ranging from information technology, to telecommunications, to plant automation and building controls, has experienced a trend of equipment becoming increasingly more integrated with microprocessors, hardware and network operating system software, broadband communications, and network connectivity equipment. This complexity has led to new requirements for fast, reliable, and high quality field service in many segments.
  4. Acceptance of trade-off between remote support and field service: Manufacturers now accept the fact that there are trade-offs in cost and customer satisfaction in attempting to resolve all service requests through remote support tactics. Although remote support can be very effective in lowering operating costs, and eliminating the need for field service dispatch, there is a point in every service call, where it becomes more effective to dispatch a Field Engineer. The greater the complexity of the service problem, the longer it will take to resolve remotely resulting in longer downtime for the customer and higher support cost for the service provider. Field service dispatch can mitigate these costs and help to resolve the issue sooner.
  5. Growth in Servitization: Manufacturers continue to look for opportunities to generate income through the provision of value added services such as installation, integration, configuration management, training and process improvement. Field Service Engineers represent the most likely resource for delivering these services. Furthermore, many Servitization business models have their foundation in IoT and connected devices. Manufacturers are of course turning to their FSOs to roll-out and deploy these solutions.

Why were the service executives in the late 1980s so far off in their predictions? I think it was because they could not anticipate how innovations in software and technology could go on creating new revenue opportunities. Conventional wisdom at that time viewed innovation as a way of cutting costs, and of course, the biggest cost, was people (e.g.., Field Service Engineers). More importantly, most companies viewed Field Service as a cost center, not as a profit center. As a result, they were not thinking strategically about innovation. It is amazing how things have changed. To quote the old Virginia Slims commercial, “we’ve come a long way baby.”

Now it is your turn. Please share with me your ideas on the future of field service.   Let me know if you remember any predications from the past that are no longer true today. Tell me about your vision of the future. Will field service continue to thrive or will field service engineers become irrelevant? I’d love to get your thoughts on this important topic.

Six Keys to Effective Benchmarking

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It is part of our human nature to compare ourselves to others.  In business this practice is known as benchmarking.   A good criterion of an effective benchmark project is that it provides objective data to answer specific questions about a company’s performance relative to others in their industry.  It is important to have a clear outcome and purpose in order to get good data.  Here are some guidelines to help you achieve the best results:

  1. Benchmarking is a means to an end – it is not an end to itself. Quite often, managers and executives want to use the data to prove a point. Benchmarks are nothing more than a measurement. Like most measurements we need to do something with the information. Often times the benchmark results raise new questions, usually about strategy or operations that must be answered and acted upon. Have a clear objective of what you are measuring and even clearer about what you are prepared to do once you review the results.
  2. Improvement not validation – Don’t go into benchmarking with false expectations. The results will do far more than validate how you are doing; it will provide insight on where you can improve.   Rarely does a company engage in a benchmark study only to learn that everything is fine and dandy with the current status quo. Don’t for a moment think that there is nothing new to learn either. I’ve worked with many companies who commissioned benchmark studies to validate the need to make a change in one area only to learn that the perceived issue was only a symptom associated with a different problem.
  3. Scratch below the surface – Thoroughness is the name of the game when it comes to benchmarking.   Often times the answers are hidden well below the surface.   It is the job of the benchmark analyst to be an agent of change. This requires that they dig deep and go wide. Performance in one area may be directly related to a performance in another. There are a number of factors that impact performance.   Quite often these factors are the root cause of the problem and/or a function of the underlying systems and processes being measured.
  4. Look for relationships – You must understand relationships in the data if you are going to interpret it correctly. You also need to be good at spotting patterns. The goal of benchmarking is to get to the root cause of the problem and identify where improvements need to be made. Quite often only one or two corrective actions are needed to make significant performance improvements in multiple areas. This is only possible if you can effectively observe patterns and relationships in data.
  5. Seek advice of an expert – Let’s face it benchmarking can be a complex task. Work with someone who has been there before. Find someone who understands your business and the industry you are in.   More importantly, make sure you find someone who understands what’s possible within the realm of reason so that you can innovate. Ideally, you’ll want to compare you company not only to direct competitors in your market but to best practice companies in any industry or market place with similar characteristics.   After all, your customers will do this. Why shouldn’t you? It is likely you will want to hire or retain an experienced industry expert to help you with this analysis.
  6. The answers are within you – There are times when there will be anomalies in your data and sometimes these anomalies contain tons of answers to why things are the way they are. The only person who can explain this is you. Also, one thing for certain is that even the greatest expert in the world can’t make decisions for you. Only you can do this.   You’ve completed your benchmarking efforts now it is time to make real change.   Whether you use a consultant to help you make this change is up to you.   It is all about being resourceful and we all have this capacity within us.

Takeaways – Benchmarking is a strategic endeavor that must be part of every executive’s tool kit.   As the old adage goes, that which gets measured gets improved. This is the primary objective of any benchmarking effort.   The ability to effectively analyze patters and relationships in data is critical since root cause of performance is often systemic or procedural in nature. The experience and perspective of an objective third party advisor can ensure quality results and an efficient process.   While experts can’t make decisions for your company, they can serve as a valuable guide in helping you find answers.

6 Things You Need to Know When Purchasing Service Lifecycle Management Software

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I’ve spoken with numerous service executives over the course of my career  about their experiences when purchasing enterprise software for service management (also known as Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) software).  I’ve distilled the knowledge I’ve gained into 6 tips to help you when you are in the market for enterprise service software.

 

  1. What to expect in the sales process?

You are likely doing research before you ever even engage a vendor, but when it’s time to start talking to software providers, what should you expect?  First of all, most vendors will give some sort of brief, high level demonstration of the software during your initial call. This typically is just meant to give you an idea of how the software works. More detailed, customized demos will follow and at this time more thorough vendors will ask you to fill out a demo prep form so they can tailor the demonstration to your needs. You may also be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement so the vendor can freely share confidential information. Don’t expect more than a ballpark figure of the cost of the software on the first call; you’ll need to fully discuss your needs and expectations before getting more detailed pricing. This process also provides the opportunity for you and the software vendor to determine if you are the right fit for each other.

 

  1. What to look for in a vendor?

There are a number of vendors offering Service Lifecycle Management software. Wading through the options can be overwhelming. The top three factors are software feature and functionality, technical competency of vendor, and vendor flexibility. Once you have vetted all vendors on these top 3 characteristics, you will likely have a short list of vendors that you want to explore further. At that point, you’ll need to evaluate the Total Cost of Ownership, implementation schedule, and vendors’ knowledge of your business. These factors can make or break the success of your SLM implementation.

 

  1. How important is price?

Price is far from the dominant factor when purchasing service software.  As it often happens, the lowest priced vendors are ruled out because they lack the functionality and/or are perceived as lacking the resources to support the implementation while the highest price vendors are often perceived as offering solutions that are too complex to implement. So while price is a consideration, making sure that the vendor can provide a solution that truly fits your needs is far more important than price.

 

  1. How important is the role of discounts in the buying decision?

Discounts are common when pricing software so there is often some room for negotiation. Truth be told, the discount doesn’t make or break the sale.  Highly competitive situations may result in larger discounts.  Be wary of a vendor who drops the price too much without asking for a concession. The lower price may come back to haunt you during the implementation or when you require post implementation support.

 

  1. CRM/ERP or best of breed service software?

For SLM software, there are often three choices: buy service software from your CRM vendor, buy from your ERP vendor, or select a best of breed service software provider. While you may think it’s easier to just use the company that you are already using for CRM or ERP, you need to consider the benefits of a best of breed solution. Best of breed vendors place their sole focus on the services side (e.g., field service, service parts, depot repair, etc.) of the business. Furthermore, best of breed software solutions are built to contain all the functional requirements to support the full service lifecycle management process in an organization. While you may not need all of the functionality now, you should be evaluating solutions with an eye toward the future.

 

  1. What happens after the sale?

Sometimes SLM deployments fall short of expectations. For example the implementation did not go as smoothly as planned or there were problems with the vendor’s level of support post implementation.  To avoid these situations,  it is important to understand exactly what the vendor’s expectation are of you during the implementation as well as understand the level of resources the vendor will commit over the lifecycle of your purchase.  Reference checks of companies similar to yours in terms of technology supported, size, and financial structure are a must.  You’ll also need to get a clear idea of the skill sets, experience, and capabilities of the individuals supporting the implementation. How much experience have they had in implementing the version of software that you are about to purchase?   A well-defined Service Level Agreement with penalties for non-compliance will also help to keep the vendor accountable during the support phase.

 

Purchasing any kind of software can be daunting, but when you are purchasing a mission critical solution, like Service Lifecycle Management, the stakes are especially high.  As they say, knowledge is king so the more you know about what to expect before, during, and after the sale, the more likely you are to succeed.  Need more information to ensure a successful outcome?  Schedule a free consultation to discuss your issues.

The Gift of Competition

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I received a very interesting email last week from a manufacturer of industrial automation equipment. It was a marketing piece promoting the use of their “original” spare parts over “generic” parts sold by third party providers.  I gather this manufacturer was losing market share in the Aftermarket and was taking steps to rectify.  I don’t know how I got on this mailing list because I don’t own any of their equipment.  Nevertheless, what I found so troubling about the email was that it attempted to discredit “generic” parts by claiming that they were cheaper in price because they were of inferior quality.

I find these types of claims troubling for three reasons.  First, they “trash the competition”.   Effective marketers and sales people know that going negative is not good for business.  Most manufacturers would not use this approach when it comes to selling their equipment in their primary market. Yet some believe anything is fair game in the Aftermarket.  The second reason why I oppose this type of advertising is because it’s just not accurate.  The truth is that generic spare parts can be more reliable than original parts. This is because third party manufacturers often spend many hours reverse engineering original parts in order to learn how to design and manufacture new ones.  In doing so, they can find ways to improve upon the design and reliability of the original part. This is particularly true of remanufactured parts.  Third, in some markets the parts used by OEMs and Third Parties are the exact same parts.   For example, a device assembled with commercially available off the shelf (COTS) parts.

The bigger issue is not about false advertising but about what role Third Party Maintainers (TPMs) also known as Independent Service Organizations (ISOs) and Generic Parts Manufacturers play in the Aftermarket.  Obviously, these providers create competition for OEMs.  However, this type of competition is really not a bad thing for a number of reasons:

  • It legitimizes the market – – Markets are defined by the presence of competition. In order to win business, competitors must actively market their products and services. As a result, customers become more aware of the options available to them and purchase more quantities and more frequently.
  • It creates choice – Competition offers customers the freedom of choice. The theories of capitalism and free trade are built on this basic premise.
  • It improves quality & efficiency – Competition in the Aftermarket forces third parties and OEMs to continue find ways to improve the quality of products and services offered while at the same time finding ways to cut costs and improve efficiency.   In other words, competition raises the bar and results in better prices for customers.
  • It leads to innovation – In addition to raising quality and improving costs, competition drives service providers to become more innovative. Without competition, it is hard to know whether or not service providers would focus on finding ways to add value. Would service providers be just as compelled to invest in new systems and technology like SaaS, Mobility, and IoT if not for the impact that competition has on innovation?
  • It leads to greater cooperation – OEMs also have the choice to subcontract service to TPMs/ISOs. This can help them improve their own cost structure, fill in white space in service delivery, and obtain access to capabilities that they may not otherwise be able to build themselves. Under this scenario, OEMs and ISOs can learn from each other and use this knowledge to drive innovation, reduce costs, and improve quality

In summary, competition in the Aftermarket is good for all parties concerned.  Everyone benefits; from the customers to the OEMs and third party providers. Even the technology vendors benefit from competition in the Aftermarket.  Quite frankly, any company that feels that is has to trash their competition is probably troubled in some way.  Rather than resort to this tactic, a company that is very concerned about their competition is advised to look within their own organization to find ways to leverage competitive forces to their strategic advantage.

Please share your thoughts and reactions to this post.