Paying For Field Service With Bitcoin – Is That Even Possible?

This article was originally posted in February, 2018 on Field Technologies Online.

There has been a lot of buzz lately over Bitcoin.   With the tremendous volatility in the price of cryptocurrencies over the past 12 months, the emergence of new cryptocurrencies almost every day, and threats of government regulation, it’s hard not to take notice. Chances are you either think Bitcoin it is the next biggest thing since the Gold Rush or you think it’s the worlds’ biggest Ponzi scheme.

Regardless of your opinion of Bitcoin, you are probably wondering “What in the world does Bitcoin have to do with field service?”  In a word, “everything”.  Why? Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are based on a powerful technology called the blockchain, a decentralized and distributed digital ledger that is used to permanently record transactions across a network of computers.  Each transaction is securely packaged together with other transactions in a block.   The data on the blockchain cannot be altered or duplicated, and no single entity owns the blockchain since its stored in a network of computers. Furthermore, the data is both anonymous and public. Anyone can view the transactions in the blockchain while the identities of the sender and receiver remain anonymous.

Another aspect of the blockchain is a “smart contract’.  This is a computer program that controls the transfer of digital currencies or digit assets between parties under certain conditions.  In other words, the smart contract provides “if”, “then” instructions regarding the sequence of events or transactions that are to occur.  The digital assets that are part of the transaction maybe in the form of data, video, audio file or text.

The blockchain provides an optimal platform for managing diverse types of transactions on low-cost/no-cost basis given the smart contract feature, the fact that no single entity controls the blockchain and that it is highly scalable and secure.  There are also several use cases for blockchain technology in the field service industry including but not limited to:

  • Managing Smart Devices and IoT –  the blockchain offers a low-cost, highly scalable, and decentralized network for managing IoT enabled assets and related transactions.  The blockchain ledger provides an objective and verifiable record of what has occurred on the IoT platform making it possible for stakeholders to verify activities that occur on the network or on connected devices
  • Asset Tracking – using blockchain addresses, a service provider can track all assets (e.g., sensors, devices, equipment, etc.) on the network. It provides an efficient and fast way of collecting information.
  • E-Commerce –  the blockchain and cryptocurrency provide an optimal mechanism for monetizing IoT related service activities (e.g., monitoring, alerts, actions, etc.).
  • SLA Management –  smart contracts can be used to operationalize and monetize SLAs and maintenance procedures related to specific events observed on the network.
  •  Spare Parts Management –  the blockchain ledger provides an effective method for tracking the history and authenticity of spare parts.  For example, the ledger can provide details of failure rates, refurbishment dates, and whether it’s an original/genuine part or generic/imitation part.

While the probability of Bitcoin reaching $1,000,000 anytime soon may seem like a pipe dream, it is highly likely that we will see commercial applications of blockchain and cryptocurrency applied to the field service industry within the 1-2 years.   In fact, there are several start-ups and Fortune 500 companies who have invested in or developed applications for field service and related industries.  For example:

  • Intel earlier this year invested in Filament a provider of blockchain solutions for Internet of Things (IoT) and the enterprise.  Filament’s blockchain technology is designed to facilitate data and e-commerce transactions on industrial and enterprise machines and sensors.
  • IOTA, whose partners include Microsoft and PricewaterhouseCoopers, is a cryptocurrency that provides IoT participants an easy, fast and safe way to exchange, buy and trade datasets.
  • IBM and Lufthansa Industry Solutions have launched the Blockchain for Aviation (BC4A) project, which concerns the use of blockchain for reliable and transparent maintenance operations.  It creates a digital ledger that allows industry participants (i.e., airlines, MRO teams, and OEMs)  to record flight events, operations conditions and scheduled aircraft maintenance checks, and cross reference these data sets against each other.
  • Engineers at GE Global Research have developed a blockchain application for the renewal energy market.  It uses smart contracts to manage how much money a consumer wants to spend on electricity, how many kilowatts they want to buy, and at what price. Energy can be purchased in real-time when it is needed based on the capacity required any given time.

It remains to be seen whether cryptocurrency will replace flat currency (cash) as the preferred medium of exchange among the world’s economies. However, blockchain technology is certainly gaining traction as a lower cost and more democratic alternative for managing transactions than centralized data networks.   While I wouldn’t recommend converting your entire stock portfolio into cryptocurrency, I do suggest we keep an open mind about how blockchain technology and cryptocurrency will revolutionize field service. In a few years, it will be used everywhere around the world for field service applications in some capacity or other.

What’s in Store at Field Service USA 2018?

Location for Field Service USA 2018

This month I interview Sara Mueller, Executive Program Director, Field Service Events at Worldwide Business Research (WBR) about challenges and opportunities facing the Field Services Industry, and why Field Service executives should attend Field Service USA 2018 in Palm Desert, California from April 17-20, 2018.

BLUMBERG: What are the Biggest challenges in the Field service industry?

MUELLER: In talking with our attendees, speakers, and people who I speak to when researching topics for our conference, I’ve found that one of the challenges that field services executives have is finding ways to do more with less.   Basically, they want to leverage technology to make things faster and efficient.   The challenge for our conference participants is deciding where to invest by determining which technologies will move the needle on service.

BLUMBERG: In your opinion, what is the most important trend in Field Service?

MUELLER: By far, its “Next Generation IoT”!   For leading edge organizations who have been using IoT for years and years, the question has now become “What do we do with all the data?”  Field Service companies are now using data to make better business decisions about Field Service operations. The conversation has moved onto the topic of using Artificial Intelligence in predictive maintenance scenarios and reducing the dependency on Field Service engineers.

BLUMBERG: One of the most anticipated annual events in Field Service is Field Service USA.  What is it and why should people attend?

MUELLER: Field Service USA is an event created by World Business Research (WBR) in 2003.  It brings together cross industry service & support executives to network, benchmark, and share best practices and strategies for advancing service operations.  The event features big forward-looking keynote speakers as well as smaller group, niche discussions so that attendees can learn and network from the wealth of people who will be at the conference.

BLUMBERG: Field Service USA seems like a more intimate event than the large industry conferences and exhibitions with hundreds of vendors and thousands of participants that business executives often attend.  Was this format created by design?

MUELLER: While we have experienced growth in the number of participants and always looking for more, WBR events have always been a small intimate gathering.  We are interested in building relationships among  executive director positions and above.  Our objective is to have the appropriate number of participants so it’s easier for them to talk to their peers.  We strive to have a balance of peer to peer exchange with participation from the best of the best vendors at our conference.

BLUMBERG: Can you provide me with an overview of they key topics that will be presented at Field Service USA 2018?

MUELLER:

  1. Transitioning to XaaS – selling a product to selling an outcome or service; it needs to be a company-wide, cultural shift
  2. Using AI to move toward autonomous service
  3. Leveraging big data
  4. Generating more service revenue
  5. Team building – recruiting, retaining, and engagement. The higher level of employee engagement the higher levels of customer satisfaction.

BLUMBERG: What is going to be different about Field Service USA this year?

MUELLER: We attempt to build on the success of previous years by keeping what works and getting ride of what doesn’t.  This year we will have more talks around to topics of Machine Learning, AI, and AR.  We are also adding discussions on the topic of service revenue and team building, and this year we’ve added “industry board rooms” which are industry focused board rooms, on the first afternoon of the main day of the conference.  Of course, we are still offering the same interactive formats that get people talking to people who have been in their shoes before. We are also keeping things fresh by bringing in new speakers from Otis Elevator, Robert Bosch, Nokia, BP, Comcast Business, Haier America, Dish Network, Jacobs Engineering, and NCR to name a few.

BLUMBERG: Why did you choose to make these changes?

MUELLER: This event has grown. Its the largest event that WBR produces.  We want to give people the big conference feeling by having key notes but will also want to bring people together talking.  I found that when I was doing my research, every business executives brought up some aspect of team building, recruiting, training, and employee engagement. Given the fact the service revenue generation is one of our main themes and more of our attendees are responsible for this, we’ve added it to our agenda. It ties back to the shift in the business model from cost center to profit center.   We see the attendees are positioning themselves that way (e.g., as profit centers) and more and more of our attendees are focused on marketing issues.

BLUMBERG: What is one thing that people will miss if they do not attend Field Service USA this year?

MUELLER: We all get so caught up in the day to day of our jobs and group think within our own companies that we lose sight of the big picture.  Its good to get other perspectives.  People attending Field Service USA consistently have been leaders in the markets they serve, and I think its because they attend.

BLUMBERG: If someone needed come up with one reason why to attend, what should it be?

MUELLER: People will benefit no matter what their objective is for the next 12 months to 3 to 5 years.  We have small group discussions and lots of carefully planned out network events and parties.  There are lots of ways to build relationships, have fun, network and find new answers.

Does Field Service USA 2018  sounds like an event you would like to attend? Register using code: FS18BLUM to instantly save 20%* on your ticket! Book online at www.fieldserviceusa.com or call 1-888-482-6012.