The Field Service Trickle-Down Effect

Why SMBs Should Be Embracing The Service Evolution

The following first appeared on June 25 and was written by Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies

This column is for those of you out there in the SMB category that might be reading about how large Field Service Organizations (FSOs) have transformed their business thinking, “that’s nice, but not practical for me.” You’ve got that wrong! There has always been a trickle-down effect at play. The largest service companies are early adopters of a trend, shift, or technology – they lead the charge on embracing change and adopting new business processes and tools. Then that change trickles down through tier after tier of service organization, to even some of the smallest. Just because you’re running a small service business doesn’t mean you can’t – or shouldn’t – be innovative.

In fact, research illustrates the degree to which SMBs will embrace technology in the coming years. IDC reports that by 2021, SMBs are expected to spend an estimated $676 billion on IT, with business services and software spend growing the most rapidly from 2017 to 2021. This means that now is the time for you to be really looking at how you can use the innovation that’s occurring in the field service space to your advantage. Let me give you three compelling reasons why you should be embracing field service transformation now:

#1: The Technology Is Attainable

It used to be a valid concern that SMBs couldn’t have access to the same types of technologies to positively impact their businesses that a large company could. But present day, this just isn’t true. Software has moved to the cloud and there are a number of solutions geared specifically toward SMBs that provide real business value without breaking the bank. And unless your field service operation occurs in a rugged environment, you can use said software on an iPhone or Android phone with a protective case. Even more advanced technologies like IoT, AR, and AI are becoming more attainable for SMBs.

#2: The Business Case Is Clear

If you’re still running a paper-based service business, the ROI on automation is incredible. From efficiency and productivity gains to a much more professional presentation to your customers, it’s a bulletproof business case. If you’ve gone electronic but your system is aging or not overly effective, think about researching what else is out there – the software industry has come a long way even in the last two years. You have more options at your fingertips than ever before. Keep in mind, too, that as this trickle-down effect occurs, more and more businesses your size will be adopting the technologies available. This means that acting now could give you a leg up on your competition.

#3: You Have The Benefit Of Learning From Those That Have Gone Before You

If you have a team of 15 field technicians, you’re not going to have as involved of a transformation as a FSO with 500 field technicians.  However. there’s a lot of valuable insight to glean from the experiences of those larger, leading service organizations even if their businesses aren’t the same industry, size, or scope as yours.  Research and benchmark  their strategies, methods, and lessons learned and choose what you think could be useful for your situation. It’s important to keep in mind that the real transformation that’s happening in field service reaches farther than just investing in or upgrading your software – it’s more of a business process transformation that typically involves revisiting how you deliver service and making improvements, training up and re-energizing your people, as well as investing in new tools.

In summary, the message here is that further innovation of service as a whole is inevitable – so it behooves you to embrace that fact and start determining how, as a small business, you can make changes to stay on pace.

Field Service: A Mid Year Review

Opportunities, challenges, and what lies ahead

Now that we are half way through 2018, I wanted to take some time to look at where the Field Service industry is right now.  Here are some of my thoughts on the biggest struggles facing Field Service Organizations (FSO), where some of the greatest opportunities lie, and what trends to look for in the coming months and years.

Field Service Organizations must continuously strive to maintain customer satisfaction while operating within various business constraints (e.g., cost reduction, revenue targets, labor shortages, etc.).  The challenge is these objectives are often in conflict. On one hand, companies must keep customers happy; on the other, they must find ways to lower costs and do more with less. In addition, they must keep up with innovations in technology and find ways to deliver an exceptional customer experience. At the same time, they must find ways to monetize technology investments without gauging the customer on price. Meanwhile, field service leaders in these companies are bombarded by data and information about where to invest their time, effort, and resources. This of course presents a challenge of its own.

In broad terms, FSOs should be seizing opportunities that make the highest and best use of their most expensive resources, namely talent and capital. What does this mean exactly? The answer is investments that simultaneously fulfill multiple objectives such as cost reduction, quality and productivity improvements, revenue generation, and profit enhancement. While this may seem like a tall order, FSOs can achieve this outcome by leveraging technology and being more effective in creating offers that customers value. For many FSOs this also means seizing on trends like digitization, servitization, and Uberization.

Digital Transformation has been a hot topic and big buzz phrase especially in Field Service.  I think it is one of the most important topics for FSOs. Companies who do not embrace digital transformation will become laggards at best or irrelevant at worst. Digital transformation is how companies develop innovations that lead to a better customer experience, improved operating efficiency, and increased financial value (e.g., revenue, profits, earnings, etc.) in the marketplace.   Digital transformation is what makes servitization and Uberization possible.

Many in our industry talk about IoT but the question is how does it fit into a successful FSO. As with many disruptive technologies, a small segment of field service is far along the adoption curve, while the majority is either in the early stage of adoption or just now beginning to consider it. At issue, IoT adoption in field service is a function of market penetration in the product/technology market. Adoption is the highest among large, Fortune 1000 companies and innovative start-ups in industrial automation, building automation, and home automation because these are the companies who are the furthest along in terms of integrating IoT into their product solution sets.

Many FSOs think that IoT is the answer to all their problems. They think it will solve all their labor, cost, quality, and revenue generation challenges. They need to understand that a great deal of planning is required to effectively roll-out IoT solutions. FSOs need to develop a vision, strategy, business plan, and road map that considers when, where, why, and how IoT will be implemented. They must consider which technology platform to use, what type of applications and analytics will be performed, what problems it will solve, and how to price and package it.

I have been talking and writing about Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence a lot because I feel that these technologies are a perfect fit for the field service space. I first became aware of them over twenty years ago and have patiently awaited their maturity and commercialization. I am bullish on them because they solve very real problems that FSOs face like labor shortage, first time fix challenges, requirements to reduce costs while improving productivity, etc. They also enable new possibilities. For example, the ability to anticipate, resolve, or avoid service events. I also like the fact they permit the creation of new income streams for service providers.

Other important trends that Field Service leaders should watch would be service marketing and sales, cognitive and predictive analytics, 3D printing, and drones. There are of course many more including the use of block chain technology which lies out on the horizon.

Stay up to date and catch more of my insights by visiting Field Service Insights, a subscription-based, community site bringing you thought provoking perspectives on industry trends and best practices.