Field Service Scheduling Software and What You Need to Know

Scheduling software has long been a foundational technology for field service companies allowing them to meet customer demands.

This article initially appeared in Field Service News – September 7, 2018

 

Michael Blumberg, President of the Blumberg Advisory Group lifts the lid on all of the key aspects of this crucial tool…

If you have spent any time in Field Service, you probably understand the importance of managing service delivery functions against key performance indicators (KPIs). Among the most critical KPIs in the Field Service Leaders track are First Time Fix (FTF), Service Level Agreement (SLA) Compliance or Onsite Response Time (ORT), and Mean Time to Repair (MTTR). These KPIs measure the effectiveness of a Field Service Organization (FSOs) in delivering quality service in a timely manner.

The inability to meet KPI targets may result in exponential costs, customer attrition and loss of revenue; whereas the ability to exceed customer expectations can result in customer appreciation followed by an increase in profit margins and sales. To effectively schedule/dispatch the right technician to arrive on time with the right parts and skillset plays a significant role in meeting these outcomes. This is definitely not a small feat for your typical FSO.

Scheduling and dispatching Field Service Engineers (FSE) poses a challenge for most FSOs, particularly those with more than 5 FSEs. The reason behind this is there are many variables and factors involved.

An FSO with only one or two FSEs and a few customers may not perceive scheduling to be a major challenge. The volume of service requests may be relatively low while the options of who, when and where to send them may be rather limited. Scheduling becomes more of a challenge as the volume of service requests (i.e., customers) and the number of FSEs increases.

Adding to this complexity are the business objectives and/or constraints an FSO must optimize to meet its scheduling requirements.

With additional constraints or objectives, the more difficult it becomes to produce a solid schedule. For example, if the objective is to only meet a response time commitment to the customer, then the decision is easy – assign the FSE who can arrive in a timely manner at the customer’s site.

If FTF, MTTR, and/or SLA Compliance targets are also part of the equation, it becomes even more difficult to produce that solid schedule. Adding a profit margin objective, high call volumes, multiple geographies, and a sizable pool of FSEs, the decision becomes even more overwhelming.

The reason why scheduling is so excruciating of a task is that there are numerous factors that an FSO would need to create and evaluate to determine the optimal assignment for each FSE.

This is a time-consuming activity that requires an extensive amount of computational power to achieve. Many companies have suffered from a loss of time and resources in dealing with confusion and potential human error. The solution is Dynamic Scheduling Software.

Dynamic Scheduling Software provides FSOs with the feature-rich functionality that streamlines, automates, and optimizes scheduling decisions.

This technology ensures the FSO sends the assigned technician to the right job having the proper skill set and arriving on time. These applications typically leverage a scheduling engine that optimizes FSE job assignment. Scheduling engines vary in their complexity ranging from those based on business rules to Linear Programming (i.e. goodness of fit) techniques, Operations Research Algorithms (e.g., Quantum Annealing, Genetic Algorithms, etc.), or Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Self-Learning applications.

The complexity of the scheduling problem, number and types of resources involved, duration of tasks, and objectives to be optimized play a role in determining which scheduling engine is most functional.

Critical factors to consider may include whether the scheduling engine can handle:

  • Multi-day projects or short duration field service visits,
  • People and assets (e.g., tools, parts, trucks, equipment) or solely people,
  • The number and types of KPIs that are part of the objective, and
  • Route planning requirements.

In evaluating Dynamic Scheduling Software, FSOs are also advised to consider the following criteria:

  • Cloud versus On-Premise Deployment Options
  • Speed and Ease of Implementation
  • Integration with Back-office Systems
  • Availability of Real-time Visibility by the Customer
  • FSO Requirements for Best of Breed or Integrated Enterprise Solution
  • Total Cost of Ownership
  • Return on Investment
  • Vendor Industry Knowledge and Experience

There are over a dozen software vendors who offer some form of dynamic scheduling functionality for field service.

Obviously, no two Dynamic Scheduling applications are alike. Each one has their points of differentiation. The best solution is a function of the level of importance the FSO places on each criterion and how each vendor meets these criteria.

Regardless of which vendor is selected, the benefits of Dynamic Scheduling are clear.

In fact, industry benchmarks show that companies who implement these types of solutions can achieve a 20% to 25% improvement in operating efficiency, field service productivity, and utilization. The impact on bottom line profitability and customer satisfaction is substantial. To enable FSOs to provide customers with an Uber-like experience and significant profitability, FSOs should consider deploying Dynamic Scheduling Software as part of their service delivery infrastructure.

Avoiding the Four Biggest Mistakes FSOs make when using Contingent Labour

This article first appeared in the June 18, 2018 online issue of Field Service News.

Michael Blumberg, President of Blumberg Advisory Group  and founder of FieldServiceInsights.com discusses  some of the most crucial mistakes field service companies can make when utilising contingent or seasonal labour…

Field Service Organizations (FSOs) in North America, UK, and Europe are increasingly turning toward crowdsourcing platforms and subcontractors to augment their field workforce.

This type of outsourcing strategy enables FSOs to become more agile in meeting customer demands for service. As a result, they [FSOs] are able to reduce costs and improve service productivity. In addition, crowdsourcing and contingent labour helps solve the problem of finding skilled labour on a rapid basis.

However, turning to subcontractors and crowdsourcing platforms does involve relinquishing some level of control over the labour force. Naturally, questions emerge about the reliability, expertise, and quality of technicians that are sourced through these options.

Over the last two years, we have spoken with dozens of companies who have or currently utilize contingent labour to either augment their existing workforce or gain greater agility and efficiency over the entire field service delivery process. The majority are satisfied with their external providers and report positive results on key performance metrics such as First Time Fix and SLA Compliance/Onsite Arrive Time.   On the other hand, a few anomalies exist where the performance of contingent labour did not meet the FSOs expectations.

Quite often, FSOs who experience subpar performance make critical mistakes when retaining and managing contingent labour.

Here is our perspective on the biggest mistakes they need to avoid:

1. Failure to fully vet individual technicians doing the work

Don’t assume that every contract technician (e.g., subcontractor, freelance, crowdsource) you dispatch has the skills, training, and experience necessary to complete the work properly and in a timely manner. Insist on viewing background checks, certifications, and credentials of every contract technician assigned to your company.

2. Failure to train and onboard technicians

Quite often companies issue work orders without to contract technicians without training or guiding them on how they’d like the work to be performed.

For example, they do not explain how they’d like the tech to greet the customer and/or notify the customer when the work is complete.  Fortunately, Internet-based learning systems make it possible for companies to train and onboard contractors in a cost-effective and rapid manner.

3. Failure to communicate with contractors

This is the biggest mistake that a company can make is hand off work orders as if they were tossing a hot potato over a fence.

This will result in problem with respect to key service performance metrics such as SLA compliance, First Time Fix, and No Fault Found.  It is important that companies provide contractors with detailed and specific instructions about the activities they need to perform on each assignment.

At the same time, contractors also need to communicate with the companies that hire them on the status of calls, issues or problems they are experiencing, and results of their actions.

4. Failure to integrate contract or crowdsourced technicians into their service delivery process

Problems can occur when there is too much of an arm’s less relationship between the company and the contractor.  In other words, there is little accountability, visibility, and control between the company and contractors/technicians, and vice versa.

The key to success lies in treating contractors as an extension of your company.  Companies can achieve this outcome by leveraging communication technology, collaboration tools, and workforce automation software.  Relying on these systems will ensure the company achieves best in class service performance through its contractor network.

In summary, FSOs experience challenges to crowdsourcing when they underestimate the level of due diligence, systems, and processes they need to put in place when utilizing this type of labour. This does not necessarily mean that they must make huge capital investments.

Rather, they are urged to design and implement processes and procedures by leveraging existing infrastructure when they can.

Devoting the time and effort to this initiative will pay off. Our research suggests that FSOs who have an unpleasant experience with contingent labour do so because they rush into the decision without much thought, planning, and preparation.

Basically, they are looking to solve an immediate problem with no consideration to future. In other words, they are taking a tactical approach to labour shortages where a strategic solution is required.

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.

The Impact Of Impending Labor Shortages On Field Service:

Three practical solutions for the labor shortage problem

One of the most pressing concerns among field service executives is the impending shortage of skilled workers. These concerns are well-founded. The U.S. labor market is expected to face a shortage of approximately 8.2 million workers by 2027, reports Thomas Lee, head of research at Fundstrat Global Advisors.

This shortage is fueled by two trends. The first trend is referred to as the “Silver Tsunami.” This is a term that describes the enormous number of employees who are reaching retirement age over the next 10 years due to population demographics. Within the manufacturing industry alone, nearly 2.5 million will have retired between 2015 and 2025, resulting in a 2-million worker shortage by 2025, according to the Manufacturing Institute, an arm of the National Association of Manufacturers.

The second trend is due to that fact that millions of people have dropped out of the U.S. workforce due to factors such as disability and opioid addiction or because of prison records that make it difficult for them to find jobs. In fact, the percentage of the adult population that are working or seeking employment has dropped by 4 percent since 2000.

Meanwhile, the U.S. population and gross domestic product (GDP) continues to grow while the unemployment rate remains at a 17-year low. The net impact is that the demand for labor is outstripping the supply of labor in the United States. What will this mean for field service?

Blumberg Advisory Group and Field Service Insights recently conducted an economic analysis of the U.S. field service industry. The study examined the demand for field service labor in 16 different vertical market segments. Currently, these segments employ approximately 12.6 million field workers. However, an additional 2 million workers will be required by the year 2021 to meet market demand for service and support.

Considering every industry sector is facing a labor shortage, field service organizations (FSOs) will need to adopt creative and innovative solutions to overcome this gap. Fortunately, several viable solutions exist.

Using A Blended/Variable Workforce Model
FSOs can turn towards freelancers as a strategy for responding to labor shortages. Many millennials prefer freelance work because of the flexibility and autonomy it provides them, while retired baby boomers also appreciate the ability to generate additional income by working freelance. In a recent study, we found that 77 percent of FSOs are utilizing a variable workforce to handle shortages, and two out of three are using a freelancer management system (FMS) to source and manage talent. Users of FMS platforms boast that greater agility, reduced costs, faster time to market, and improved efficiency are the benefits of this strategy.

Reengineer Service Delivery Processes
FSOs will need to learn how to accomplish better results with fewer workers. One way to do this is by reengineering the way in which service is delivered. For example, the typical way that most FSOs handle field service activities is by assigning new hires to a telephone technical support capacity and dispatching the more experienced field service engineer (FSE) to resolve on-site issues. This is counterintuitive when you consider that more experienced FSEs are the ones who are best qualified to provide remote support and guided technical assistance to new hires. By switching these roles, FSOs can leverage their workforce for better results (i.e., remote resolution, first time fix, etc.) and improve the customer experience.

Utilize Advanced Technology
Many FSOs are realizing that digital technology can play a significant role in resolving the labor shortages. For example, IoT enables an FSE to save time in anticipating and preventing problems. AR provides a platform that new FSE hires and end-customers can utilize to troubleshoot and resolve problems on their own or through the help of guided troubleshooting. Initial pilots have found that FSOs can experience up to a 20 percent improvement in first-time fix rate after deploying AR. Lastly, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics can be utilized to diagnose problems, isolate the faults, and recommend and implement corrective actions. In short, digital technologies enable companies to reduce and eliminate the need for human involvement in the field service process, permitting FSOs to do more with less.

The impending labor shortage is not a myth. FSOs must be prepared to deal with it. Within every challenge lies an opportunity. This situation is no different. With a little planning and innovation combined with effective execution, FSOs can achieve remarkable results with fewer people.

Value and Price: Understanding the Forces that Influence Service Revenue

This article was first published at Field Service News.

I am often asked by clients to help them implement strategies to grow their service revenue.

Often these engagements occur because a client perceives that they are not getting their fair share of revenue and it’s impacting the profitability of their company.

Developing new revenue streams does not happen by magic, a consultant doesn’t just waive his wand and suddenly sales take off. Increasing top line service revenue takes a little work but the results of this effort can pay off  handsomely.

All too often, Field Service management teams attempt to solve their revenue woes without first understanding their root cause.

They assume that the reason why more customers are not purchasing services from their company is that they price is too high. After all, that’s what their customers are telling them, so it must be true.

Companies that get caught up in this line of reasoning often find themselves implementing sales strategies based on some form of price concession, discount, or gimmick.

For example, charging the customer a small upfront contract fee for the right to purchase Time & Materials (T &M) service at a discounted rate, or treating service contracts as though they were a paid-up T & M retainer and allowing customers to carry unused portion of the retainer into the next year.

The assumption behind these pricing strategies is that more customers are likely to purchase the service because it is more affordable.

Unfortunately, the logic behind this line of reasoning is a bit flawed. Sure, the company may be able to secure more equipment under contracts through price adjustments. However, they will more than likely need to sell more service contracts to achieve the same gross margins as before the increase.

A company with a 40% Gross Margin target would need to generate an additional 35% in service revenue if they were to lower their prices by 10%.

For example, a company with a 40% Gross Margin target would need to generate an additional 35% in service revenue if they were to lower their prices by 10%.

At issue, price may not necessarily be the only reason why companies don’t buy service. This assumption would hold true if all customers are price sensitive. The truth is all customers are not. It typically a small percentage.

More importantly, customers will always point to price as their primary reason for not buying services if they are not presented with other compelling reasons to buy.

The reason many customers do not purchase service is because of the perceived lack of value.

Customers think prices are too high when they do not recognise or understand the value they will receive from the service provided.

The problem is that it is difficult to articulate the value of service.

Most companies, particularly manufacturers, don’t know where to begin.

The more distinctions that can be made about a service, the more tangible it becomes, and the higher the probability that more customers will buy it.

As consumers, we’ve all become accustomed to describing value in terms of the tangible aspects of a product. For example, its size, colour, workmanship, reliability and price. However, service is an intangible. How does one describe the value of something that is intangible?

The answer is by making distinctions about it. In other words, by describing the service in terms of the problems it solves, the outcomes or results it create, and/or the time it takes to complete.

Indeed, time is usually one of the biggest value drivers in field service.

Consider this, the more distinctions that can be made about a service, the more tangible it becomes, and the higher the probability that more customers will buy it.

Assuming no difference in price, which service offering sounds more appealing?

  • A) a service contract that simply provides parts and labour or,
  • B) one that provides 7-day by 24- hour coverage, parts, labor, same day onsite response time, remote support, and guaranteed uptime.

My hunch is that you picked B. This offering provides more value. Don’t you agree?

Unfortunately, most companies are not making these types of distinctions about their service offering.

It is should comes as no surprise that customers think the price is too high and don’t buy service contracts, and instead choose to take their chances and purchase service when needed on a Time & Materials basis.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not urging field service companies to sell service features or outcomes they can’t deliver.

On the other hand, I am recommending those companies who are struggling with selling service contracts consider whether their service offerings or portfolios are defined with the customers’ perception of value in mind.

For the service to have value, it must be described in terms of the experience or outcome provided.

Does it save time or money? Does it increase machine utilization? Does it improve the quality or cost of operations?

By defining the portfolio in this way, Field Service companies can test different offerings through competitive analysis, survey research, and conjoint (i.e., trade-off) analysis.

They would, of course, need to ensure they can deliver on the promise of the portfolio prior to offering it to the customers.

Conducting this type of research, also allows companies to determine which service offerings are most optimal or in demand by their customer base.

All things being equal, Customers will always choose the service offering the provides more value as defined by more distinctions

In addition, distinctions provide the basis for differentiation and creating a competitive advantage. All things being equal, Customers will always choose the service offering the provides more value as defined by more distinctions then one that does not.

Some segments of the market may even pay a higher price for high value services particularly if they cannot purchase them elsewhere.

With the trend towards offering anything (e.g., products) as a service (XaaS) and Smart (i.e., IoT) Services, Field Service companies will need to become more adept at selling outcomes.

To do so they must be able to describe distinctions and articulate value. XaaS and Smart Services will not just sell themselves.

Field Service Executives are advised to start developing these skills now with service offered on existing equipment so they learn to be proficient at selling service contract when their XaaS and Smart Service programs are actually launched.

Walk Before You Can Run

A Blue Print for Creating an IoT Enabled Field Service Organization

Despite the enormous benefits of IoT, field service leaders face many challenges to implementing IoT platforms.   First, many of these leaders have not defined a clear outcome for IoT projects.   In other words, they haven’t created solid use case or achieved clarity around what types of actions, decisions, or benefits they can obtain from IoT.  The possibilities are endless and often overwhelming.   Second, these leaders need to create a clear road map with respect to when, how, and where they will implement IoT.  Questions often exist as to whether they should implement IoT on their existing installed base or roll-out with new product releases.   Applying IoT to an existing installed base may seem like a time-consuming and arduous task.  However, the benefits that a FSO can achieve when a large segment of their installed base is IoT enabled is significant.  Third, IoT produces a vast volume of data.  FSOs are often not sure how they will make sense of all the data or how they will ensure that actionable and measurable results will be achieved from this information.   Fourth and most importantly, many field service leaders are concerned that they must overhaul their entire service delivery processes prior to taking advantage of IoT.  This seems like an impossible order when they may have millions of dollars invested in the current ways of doing things.

Implementing IoT does not have to be this challenging or complex.  Ultimately, field service leaders desire a solution that helps them achieve actionable and measurable results in a reasonable time frame.  More importantly, they want a solution that does not bog them down with tons and tons of meaningless data and one that enables them to work with their existing service delivery processes and systems infrastructure.

Quite often, corporations that implement IoT solutions do so within the context of a Digital Transformation (DX) initiatives.  These initiatives typically involve a complete re-design of the service model.  While they have positive impact on the customer experience and share-holder value in the long run, they maybe counter-productive to the near term objectives of field service leaders to support their customers’ installed base on an efficient and productive basis.  This is because DX initiatives require corporate buy-in, multi function coordination, dedicated investment capital, and considerable time to implement, whereas field service leaders are more pragmatic and want results now.

The best approach for field service leaders is one that enables them to implement IoT in parallel to larger, corporate DX initiatives. By doing so, FSOs can realize short term gains within the context of serving their current installed base using the FSO’s existing infrastructure and service business model.  This approach reduces the requirement to re-design the entire business model and postpone the realization of results that are possible through IoT.

Field service leaders can think of this transformation as “a walk before you run” approach to implementing IoT.  It requires field service leaders to think of IoT in terms of moving from a reactive service model, to conditional, to prescriptive and finally to a predictive service model.  Reactive service is the modus operandi of most of today’s FSOs.  Service is provided when the customer acknowledges they have a problem and request a solution.  Conditional service represents the next phase in the transition to IoT.  It uses IoT technology to monitor the customers’ installed base and provide alerts to the FSO that service is required. This enables the FSO to be more responsive to customer issues, ensure first time fix, and minimize downtime.  A prescriptive model is one in which the alert includes a recommendation or instruction about what action the FSO should take next.  Predictive service goes one step further. It monitors the customer’s installed base to anticipate service events and take corrective action before they occur thus avoiding downtime altogether and eliminate operating costs and overhead from the service operation.

The time for FSOs to think about implementing IoT is when they are replacing or upgrading their Field Service Management Software.  Perhaps the requirement for IoT alone is the primary reason why a FSO would want to upgrade or replace now.  Assuming this is the case, FSOs are advised to seek out software vendors who offer IoT feature functionality as part of a complete solution. This will minimize the number of moving parts (e.g., vendors, applications) that need to be included in the solution.  This in turn will lead to reduced implementation costs, an efficient process, and less headaches for the FSO.  In addition, it will ensure that the IoT solution works within the context of existing service delivery processes and procedures as opposed to the other way around.  In this way, FSOs can walk before they run.

 

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Data – The DNA to Developing Your X-Factor in Business

If in the past you interviewed any great business leader about what it took to build a great business, they would probably have pointed to three (3) basic elements:

  1. People – Comprised of all layers of personnel, from C-suite executives to the warehouse clerks, who bring vision, creativity, leadership, and passion to bringing products and service to market, and pleasing customers.
  2. Process – The structured and disciplined series of actions, steps, and procedures personnel must complete to perform the work of the company. These processes are only as good the people who design, manage, and perform them.
  3. Technology – Systemic infrastructure that automates processes, tracks and controls transactions, and reports on the company’s operational and financial performance.

This statement is no longer complete to model modern day businesses, especially those involved in service.   Why not?  The statement doesn’t include the most crucial elements of managing a service business; data.

Data enables service companies to forecast and anticipate when, where, and how often service will be required.  This in turn enables the provider to ramp up or scale down service resources (e.g., people, parts) based on demand patterns. In addition, it provides service providers with the business intelligence they need to guarantee specific levels of service to their customers.  Furthermore, data forms the basis of a service company’s research and development efforts.  By examining trends and patterns in the data, a service company can identify opportunities to help their customers in new and better ways.  More importantly, data allows a service company to optimize (i.e., make the highest and best use of) service resources, improve service productivity, maximize efficiency, and enhance the customer experience.

Typically, when service businesses face financial troubles it is because they do not appreciate the importance of data to their business.  Without the ability to utilize data to manage service capability, service quality (i.e., performance) suffers, customers become dissatisfied and eventually leave.   In addition, service providers miss the opportunity to offer high margin, value-added services to their customers, such as 4-hour response time, remote telephone resolution, or overnight delivery of spare parts.

Data becomes ever more important as we consider one of the most significant trends impacting the Technology Industry, “Servitization”.  This trend describes the transformation that many companies are undertaking as they move from primarily selling products to generating a sizable portion of revenue and profits from services.   Ultimately, the path toward Servitization leads companies toward offering anything as a service (XaaS).

To deliver on this outcome in the high-tech industry (e.g., copiers), the provider of the XaaS solution must ensure the machine is available and running at optimal performance when the customer needs to use it.  Otherwise, the provider cannot deliver on its promise.  Neither the provider nor customer can afford extended periods of equipment downtime, or else they lose money since their revenue is tied to outcomes.   This means the provider must be able to anticipate problems before they occur and avoid them, or quickly mitigate or resolve them once they do occur.   With this data in hand, the provider can ensure resources are available when needed and that the customer receives the outcome it purchased.

Given the crucial aspect of data to managing a field service business, it is no wonder that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming so popular in Field Service.  These tools enable service providers to quickly and efficiency analyze large pools of data to diagnose, anticipate, and predict service events.  Data, leveraged by AI, provides field service companies with the unique X-factor they need to achieve achieve exponential growth, exceed customer requirements, and maximize financial returns.

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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.