The Hero’s Journey: Xerox’s Field Service Force Is Armed With Augmented Reality

This article first appeared in the April 17, 2017 edition of Field Technologies Online.

It’s not hard to imagine that in today’s market, your customer’s success is dependent on the speed and quality of the service provided by your company. This is the situation in the print market which is highly competitive. Many printers utilize similar state-of-the-art equipment and systems in their establishments and printing has become a commodity business. In a commodity market, suppliers compete based on time and cost. If a printer cannot turn a print job around quickly, say within 20 to 30 minutes, the customer will seek an alternative option.  So, it probably comes as no surprise that printers are highly dependent on their equipment suppliers to ensure that the equipment, so critical to operations, is operating properly and at full capacity during their typical working hours (e.g., three shifts/24 hours per day). Extended periods of downtime, output errors, and printing glitches (e.g., smudges, smears, color mismatches) are unacceptable.

Ensuring high levels of machine uptime and quality print output places increased pressures on manufacturers for service and support. Regardless of whether they are forced to deal with a hardware issue or an application error, customers demand rapid response and fast resolution. If service is not provided in a reasonable time frame, manufacturers run the risk of losing customers as well as click-through revenue.  As digital printing technology becomes more complex and sophisticated (think expanded features and functionality), customers need more support and manufacturers find that they must hire more field service technicians to keep up with increased service demand.

Customer Demands Become A Growing Concern

Xerox Israel found itself in a similar situation during the second half of 2016.  Increasing headcount was not an option because it would have had an adverse impact on operating margin. Maintaining the status quo was also not possible. With a 77 percent market share, Xerox’s Israel-based service management team understood that it had to find an innovative and creative solution to overcome this challenge. Otherwise, they would run the risk of losing market share. That’s when Xerox’s Customer Service Manager, Eyal Mantzur, became aware of Fieldbit Hero, an Augmented Reality (AR) software platform. The Fieldbit solution is comprised of smart glasses and software that enables collaboration of live streaming and recording of video, audio, images, and text.

Prior to implementing Fieldbit, Xerox’s customers would call the Xerox Welcome Center and notify them of their problem. The Welcome Center would dispatch a Field Engineer (FE) who would call back the customer and attempt to resolve the problem by telephone. Usually, the callback was made because the FE was at another customer’s site.  Often, the FE needed to travel to the new customer site to see the problem to diagnose and resolve it.  The net impact was that customers had to wait hours for an FE to arrive onsite to resolve hardware faults and application issues. This resulted in unhappy customers and, ultimately, lost business.  FEs were also not as productive as they could be while onsite because they were often multi-tasking on the telephone with other customers who required help.  A stressful situation for all parties involved!

New Realities, New Possibilities, Better Results

Upon learning of the Fieldbit solution, Mantzur and his team realized they needed to redefine their support paradigm to provide better service to customers and achieve better results.  They placed an experienced technician in the Welcome Center who was responsible to use Fieldbit Hero. He provided technical support to both customers and FEs, who would also have access to the application. By using this solution, the expert support specialist and FEs could observe the problem that the customer (i.e., machine operator) was experiencing and provide instructions, in real-time, in the form of AR content (e.g., video, images, text, etc.) on how to resolve the problem. If they could not resolve the problem remotely then they could provide the customer with a workaround until the FE could arrive on-site.  More importantly, they could provide the FE with the knowledge and resources (e.g., parts, repair instructions, etc.) needed to resolve the issue on the first visit to the customer site.

The Xerox team realized exceptional results in several areas of their service operation after implementing the Fieldbit.

  • Xerox improved remote resolution rates by 76 percent within four months of implementing Fieldbit
  • Xerox experienced a 67 percent improvement in First Time Fix (FTF) rates
  • FE utilization increased by almost 20 percent while the total elapsed time to resolve a service request (e.g., telephone time, travel time, onsite repair time, etc.) was reduced by two hours

Most of Xerox’s FEs are now able to handle at least one additional service event per day. These performance gains result in real cost savings for Xerox because the service team does not have to hire more staff to support customer demand and travel costs are reduced.

While these internal performance gains are impressive, the impact on customer satisfaction is even greater.  “The customer feels very happy and empowered when we help him solve the problem [using Fieldbit],” boasts Mantzur.  “He feels he is the service hero. The quality of interaction between customers and FEs as well as remote technical support personnel is also much better because everyone can see and talk about the same thing.  There’s no guessing anymore. With Fieldbit, customer satisfaction at Xerox improved significantly, to 95 percent, per Xerox’s most recent customer satisfaction research.  Furthermore, customers experience shorter periods of downtime and receive more accurate advice or recommendations on how to improve both machine uptime and the quality of print output.

Ensuring AR Buy-In 

Like many service executives, Eyal Mantzur was initially uncertain about what AR could do for his company.  He first learned about it from referral by  a colleague.  However, Mantzur notes that AR is a difficult concept to describe verbally. It is something that you need to see to understand. Mantzur had many pressing questions when he first heard about Fieldbit… Would it work, would customers be receptive, would the field service organization embrace it?”   These fears were quickly dismissed after seeing the product in action.  Things started to connect when for Mantzur when he realized Fieldbit could help his team see what the customer is talking about and then use AR content in the form of video, text, and images to show the customer and/or FE exactly what to do to resolve the problem.

The management team at Xerox clearly understood the value of AR. This was not necessarily the point of view of the field service organization.  Some of the FEs did not understand the power of the tool. Some were afraid of being replaced or marginalized by the tool. Mantzur overcame this challenge by showing his FEs how Fieldbit enabled them work smarter rather than harder. In doing so, he offered them a trade-off they could embrace – either continue to be stressed out by complaining customers, or enjoy a better quality of work and more satisfied customers by using Fieldbit. Once the FEs started using Fieldbit “they fell in love with it ” claims Mantzur.

Working Smarter — Not Harder — Is Better for Everyone

In summary, Fieldbit is fast becoming an integral part of Xerox Israel’s service and support strategy. The goal is for Xerox Technical Support Specialists to reside at the Welcome Center and provide first-level support to customers.  The number of specialists will also increase.  By utilizing Fieldbit, everyone from the specialist to the FE to the customer can work smarter, and FEs will no longer operate purely in demand mode. Instead, they will have more time to perform periodic/scheduled maintenance, which in turn will improve machine performance and print quality output.  “Instead of maintenance leading us, we will be able to lead maintenance”, claims Mantzur. “It will also allow the customers to be more productive during their normal business hours. They can do a better job at planning their workload. Our FEs will also be under less stress and experience greater productivity”.

In a highly competitive market like printing, manufacturers must constantly be on the lookout for ways to gain a competitive advantage.  The Xerox service organization is on the front line when it comes to ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty.  Their FEs play a critical role in maintaining high levels of uptime and quality for their customers.  Mantzur’s advice for any service executive skeptical about using Fieldbit is to see a demo and experience it firsthand. “Most people won’t understand the power of Fieldbit until they see how the technology performs,” he notes.  Even the customer will not appreciate its value until they use it for the first time; then they will demand it all the time.”  It is for this reason that Mantzur believes Fieldbit provides Xerox with a competitive advantage and a source of differentiation in the market.

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Augmented Reality State of the Art 

An Identification of Key Players 

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Considered to be one of the most defining technologies of our times, Augmented Reality(AR)  provides a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment and then augments (or supplements) this view with computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. AR improves users’ experience by enabling them to interact and learn from whatever they are observing.  Deployment of AR tools within a field service environment can have a measurable improvement on key performance indicators (KPIs) related to quality, productivity, and efficiency such as Mean Time to Repair, First Time Fix Rate, and Mean Time Between Failure.

The implementation of an AR solution requires integration of multiple components which must all function together to make the solution work.  First there is the viewer technology. Most often this takes the form of Smart Glasses or a mobile device such as a tablet or smart phone.  Next is the application which allows the device to read what the field service engineer (FSE) is seeing live and produce the additional content whether it be sound, video, graphics or GPS data.  In addition, many AR experiences rely on video from the onsite FSE to a control center or remote support personnel with special information or skills to assist the onsite FSE in completing the job.  Often the communication is done using a mobile device such as a smart phone or tablet.

In this blog we examine some of the key players in the AR space who have developed both use case scenarios and actual solutions for maintenance and field service environments:

APX

APX’s Skylight is an AR enterprise platform which integrates with smart glasses or other wearables.   It allows field service engineers to receive in-view instructions and obtain remote assistance with video from a central control center. It also has the ability to capture information at the onsite location and receive live data feeds to aid in field service.

AR Media

I-Mechanic is an AR application for smartphones that enable consumers or mechanics to perform maintenance on automobiles.  In addition it can provide consumers with useful information on closest auto repair and parts stores.

Epson: Moverio- Augmented Reality Glasses

The Moverio product uses sensors to provide onsite 3D Augmented Reality assistance while detecting issues and seeing images of what exists inside the components.  Additionally it provides one way video to a “control room” providing other resources for the onsite technician to successfully complete repair. One of the use cases for the Moverio product is the inspection and repair of HVAC systems  on cruise ships.

Fieldbit

An AR software platform allows for both 3-D overlay of information and remote instruction/collaboration with experts using video and smart phone technology. It also provides the ability to catalog issues and capture technical information enabling users to log and track reasons for equipment failure. Fieldbit is currently being used in maintenance of Print Equipment Manufacturers, Medical Equipment Manufacturers, Utility Providers, and Industrial Machinery.  Fieldbit recently partnered with cloud based, field service management software vendor ClickSoftware  to deliver faster, more effective field service repair resolution once the workforce arrives on site.

iQagent

iQagent is a mobile-based AR application for plant floor maintenance.   It scans QR codes to provide maintenance related information such as process data, schematics, and other resource.   It can be customized to read an individual organizations data and information from its database.

Microsoft

HoloLens – AR glasses which can be purchased as part of a commercial suite allowing for customization for enterprise use.  Current partners include Volvo, NASA, Trimble, and others.

NGrain

NGrain consists of a suite of AR applications including:

ProProducer –  platform to create virtual training simulations;
Viewer – companion to ProProducer to view and use the virtual simulations;
Android Viewer – allows access to content created using ProProducer from Android devices;
SDK – allows building of 3-D imaging to provide AR experience including both surface of objects and what is inside and underneath.

NGrain has also developed a number of industrial applications for its AR suite of products including but not limited to:

Consort – for inspection and damage assessment;
Envoy – providing real-time updates and information to field service engineers and allows communication between technicians;
Scout – Use Case – Aircraft Repair shop floor – real time visual analysis with Floor Manager oversite improving efficiency.

PTC

ThingWorx Studio is an AR offering developed by PTC for use in Industrial Enterprise. It combines the power of Vuforia, an AR platform, with the ThingWorx IoT Platform. These technologies offer new ways for the industrial enterprise to create, operate, and service products. For example, this technology can be used to monitor machine conditions in real-time and provide step by step instructions on the operation, maintenance, and repair of these machines.

Scope AR

Scope AR offers several applications to facilitate an AR platform within a field service environment. The Worklink application allows 3-D images and instructions to pop up on mobile or wearable devices thus enhancing the FSE’s ability to get information on site. To see a video click here.

Remote AR  allows onsite technicians to interface with remote support personnel, sending video feed to allow for collaboration and assistance to the onsite maintenance team. To see a video click here.

XMReality

A Swedish company whose product, XM Reality Remote Guidance, allows onsite technicians to use video to connect to a central control center to receive visual instructions from qualified technicians with the information on how to fix the onsite problem. Their products include Smart Glasses, a Guide Station from which to provide the remote assistance, a tablet, interface with mobile phones, and a heavy duty casing for Microsoft Surface Pros to be used in the field.

Although the AR market is in its early growth stages, the vendor landscape for these solutions is already quite vast.   We anticipate that more vendors will emerge while others evolve into more robust solution providers as the market continues to mature. There are of course many other applications for AR as well outside of field service and maintenance such as retail, consumer, building and more.  We hope that you will join the conversation and let us know about your experience with these and other companies in this marketplace.

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4 Ways Service And Support Adds Customer Value

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This is a guest post by Sam Klaidman. He is a consultant focused on Service Marketing and Customer Experience. You can read his blog and follow him on LinkedIn. If you want to guest post on this blog, email me at michaelb@blumberg-advisor.com and write “Guest Blog Guidelines” in the subject field.

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service and support

Today, customers are looking to receive more value from their partners than ever before. The two primary reasons are:

  1. Customers are “crazy busy” and need relief because they are drowning in problems, opportunities, issues, and challenges. This relief is one form of value added by the supplier (partner).
  2. Partners see many “similar” situations at their customer’s locations and so should have a good idea about what will work to help the customer and can be implemented with little effort or risk, with a high likelihood of success.

Almost sounds like the customer wants the supplier to solve their problems and expect no more that a “thank you.” The first part of the sentence is correct but not the second part; smart customers are perfectly willing to pay for value added services if they understand the benefits they will gain.

Who is best suited to deliver value-added services?

For a number of reasons, service organization are best situated to deliver value-added services to existing customers. Here’s why:

Of the two primary customer-facing organizations, the “sales” department is generally charged with selling products. Their compensation plans are based on closed business; they have marketing breathing down their necks pushing them to turn leads into orders and their nature is to be hunters.

The other group, services, is totally different. Their role is to make the customers successful; they enjoy helping customers, frequently have little or no revenue objectives, are totally familiar with the products and, organizationally, have seen all the customers and how they have attempted to solve their problems

How can Service and Support add value to customers?

  1. Technical people understand their product’s capabilities and limitations. When they are talking with individual customers they should be asking questions like:
    1. What exactly are you trying to do with our product?
    2. What do you wish it could do but have not found a way to do it?
    3. Where in your process is our product helping you? Slowing you down? Making it impossible to do everything you need to do?
    4. Do you know of any other products that help you do your job?

 

As they get a better understanding of the customers jobs-to-be-done, they frequently can teach the customer how to use the capabilities they already paid for and did not know existed.

  1. When we see how our product is integrated into the customer’s job stream, we frequently can identify unnecessary steps. By sharing this with the customer, we add value because we help them do their job quicker and easier.
  2. Many hardware owners are totally concerned with uptime; they bought our product because they needed to use it when they needed to use it. However, the person who sold the service contract, or the one who actually purchased it, may not have discussed the critical uptime requirements and so only discussed the standard plan. When the Service Marketing person works closely with the equipment owner, there are frequently creative ways for the customer to increase uptime (for an additional price) while the service group provides unique services that can be integrated into their workflow.
  3. Finally, if your service and support people identify a value adding opportunity but do not know how to actually accomplish the customer’s needs, they should get the case into the hands of the product manager. He can then research the feasibility of adding the feature, assess the market size and implementation cost, and potentially move ahead in a future upgrade.

 

Your service and support team has a number of separate roles to play. Here they are:

  1. Fix the customer’s problem. This is Job #1. Helping them get full value for money for their purchase is critical; without it there is no business relationship.
  2. Collect information about product performance and put into a useful format for your Engineering or Manufacturing departments to use to improve the products.
  3. Identify opportunities for the business to add additional customer value. The front line service and support professionals should always be thinking about ways that your customers can squeeze additional value from their purchases. When they find opportunities they must not only help their immediate customer implement changes but must also spread the word throughout your company so other customers can take advantage of these new findings.

 

If not already in place, these behaviors must become part of your company’s culture. People must be able do these things as though it were it standard operating procedure so that everyone wins!

A Strategic Analysis of ITAD Trends

ITAD

The data is now in from our large scale market survey conducted on behalf of Arrow Electronics on the subject of IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) trends.  The results validate a popularly held view among IT industry practitioners that ITAD considerations continue to be a top concern for all size companies.   In fact, knowledge of ITAD best practices continues to evolve and improve among C-suite and IT Executives.  However, as one might expect the issues and concerns between the two groups vary somewhat.

Our research also indicates that all companies, regardless of size, are more likely today than in the past to budget for the ITAD process.  In addition, corporations are becoming more aware of penalties arising from improper disposal of IT assets, which has led to an increased implementation of formal ITAD strategies.  While the most important factors for creating an ITAD strategy have remained the same over the last few years (data security concerns, commitment to “Green” business practices, and mitigating legal and financial risks), companies are far less likely to apply their ITAD strategy outside of North America.  It is also clear that companies who have developed a formal end-of-life ITAD strategy are far more likely to have an ITAD provider handle their IT assets when compared with companies who do not have a formal ITAD strategy.

Companies using a 3rd party service provider to manage their end-of-life IT assets are currently very satisfied with their providers.  When choosing these providers, ISO industry certifications are particularly important, with R2 and e-Stewards being the most important environmental standards.  Due to their equal level of importance and credibility, most companies feel that R2 and e-Stewards should be combined into one standard.

While most companies have a data security policy regarding their end-of-life assets, data security concerns are still prevalent.  Data security concerns are particularly high among companies with a formal ITAD strategy as well as companies who use 3rd party service providers.  Most companies use multiple tactics to alleviate data security concerns, which includes using 3rd party service providers.  However, with nearly 2 out of 3 companies selecting a method such as “Delete the file directory on the hard drive” which does not fully eliminate the potential for data security breaches, there remains some uncertainty as to which methods are truly effective.

With most companies adopting a BYOD policy that allows employees to bring at least one device to work, there has been a dramatic increase in the implementation of policies to ensure that company data on BYOD devices is secure during active use.  The vast majority of companies are also implementing policies to ensure that company data on BYOD devices is eradicated once those devices are no longer active on the company network.

Corporate social responsibility/sustainability has also become increasingly important, with approximately 93% of companies expected to have a program in place by the end of 2015.  Companies who currently have a corporate social responsibility/sustainability program in place typically report their program’s progress in their annual report and/or other forms of corporate communication, both public and private.

The cloud is having a significant impact on the purchase of IT assets, with a majority of companies purchasing more assets to support the cloud.  Some of these additional assets purchased likely include tablets, whose use continues to increase.  As a result, ITAD practices and policies will continue a critical topic among C-suite executives and ITAD Managers.

Details of our survey results can be found in the Arrow IT Asset Disposition Trends Report. To obtain a copy, click here.

The Impact of IoT on Enterprise Service Management – Part II

interent of things

As follow-up to last week’s blog post, I wanted to share some more answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the impact on IoT on Enterprise Service Management (ESM):

  1. What new skills sets are required to support an IoT environment?   IoT generates an extensive amount of real time data, some of which of is unstructured. In order to make use of this data in any meaningful way, a service provider will need to employ “data scientists”. These are individuals skilled at analyzing and interpreting data through predictive analytics.
  2. What impact will IoT have on Call Center personnel? The always on nature of IoT and its ability to send automatic alerts to the service organization will reduce the demand for personnel that handle basic call handling and dispatching procedures. However, there will be a greater need for remote support personnel with the ability to monitor service events in real-time, apply predictive analytics, and initiate corrective action.
  3. What will be the role for Field Service Engineers (FSE)? IoT has the ability to improve the percentage of service events that are resolved remotely without dispatching a FSE.   This does not necessarily equate to a diminished role for FSEs. In fact, the need for FSEs will increase. First, FSEs will be required to deploy IoT solutions. Second, FSEs will be needed to provide onsite diagnostics and troubleshooting when remote resolutions prove ineffective. Third, FSEs will function in the role of onsite consultant in helping the customer obtain maximum benefit from the technology operating at their site.
  4. How will IoT impact the Supply Chain?  Most people agree that IoT will enable Supply Chain personnel to proactively ship a replacement part or consumable to the end-customer before the customer is even aware of their need. The reverse logistics supply chain will also benefit from IoT in the sense that it will gain better visibility into events occurring at the field level that impact demand on return center and depot repair operations.

I know that these answers barely scratch the surface of the questions people have about the impact of IoT on Enterprise Service Management (ESM).  In the weeks and months ahead, I will continue to share my insights on IoT and ESM.  As always, I am interested in other people’s perspectives on this subject.  Please feel free to post any comments, thoughts, or fun facts that could help advance the body of knowledge around this subject.

The building blocks to Servitization

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The “Servitization” of Manufacturing is taking the High-Tech Industry by storm!  By definition, Servitization is a transformation from selling products to delivering services.  It typically involves two components:

  1. The idea of a product-service system – an integrated product and service offering that delivers value in use.
  2. A “Servitized” organization which designs, builds and delivers an integrated product and service offering that delivers value in use

In more practical terms Servitization turns the product–service offering into a “utility” that the customer pays for on a subscription basis.   Under this model, the customer pays a monthly or annual fee equal to the amortized cost of the equipment plus the value of services provided for a specified period of time.

The concept of Servitization is nothing new. As early as the 1950’s, manufacturers provided their customers with the option to lease equipment with services attached to the lease agreement.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, companies like ABB and GE begin to offer tperformance based service contracts to their customers.

Servitization is more than just a pricing strategy.  It is an overall business model that attempts to maximize and monetize value in use to the end-customer. This requires a manufacturer to proactively identify all the services that an end-customer may require over the lifecycle of equipment operation, understand the value that the customer assigns to these services, build this value into the subscription pricing model, and then deliver on that promise.

The trend toward Servitization has picked up steam in recent years for a number of reasons. First, market participants (i.e., OEMs and End-customers) have a greater appreciation of the strategic value of service to their overall business models.  Second, manufacturers recognize that service can generate more revenue over the lifecycle of the equipment than the actual purchase price of the equipment itself.  Third, the Great Recession forced many manufacturers to rethink the economics associated with how their customers justify the acquisition of new equipment.  Fourth, service tools and technology are now available that facilitates the design and operation of an integrated product-service system in a cost effective and real-time basis.

Ultimately, it’s the technology that is having the greatest impact on advancing Servitization business models.  There are some basic building blocks that any company will need to implement in order to deliver on the promise of Servitization. First, they’ll need a state-of-the-art service management system. It needs to perform the basic activities involved in managing a service organization (e.g., dispatch, scheduling, parts management, etc.). Second, they’ll need to have a way to connect with and monitor the condition of equipment within their serviceable installed base.  They will also need to integrate this information into to their back-end service management system. The third step is a mobility solution to communicate with people in the field. Finally, analytics are needed to evaluate what’s happening. Most companies will probably benefit by using a big data solution, as well, so they can look at unstructured data from their installed base and the customer’s environment at large, and start to analyze, predict and forecast.

In summary, Servitization is a transformational process that requires manufacturers to rethink all aspects of their business from marketing and sales, to pricing and financial management, to service delivery infrastructure.  The benefits of Servitization are great including the ability to build a multiyear annuity stream, gain account control, and create deeper and longer lasting relationships with customers.

I’d love to get your thoughts on Servitization.  Let me know if your company is pursuing Servitization.  What benefits do you expect to achieve? What obstacles remain in the way to realizing these benefits?   Last but not least, if feel free to schedule a strategy session with me if you want to discuss how Servitization could impact your business.

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.

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.

5 New opportunities created by IoT and the challenges they present

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There has been some excitement in the media these days about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the promise it creates for businesses, consumers, and governments.  John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, said on CNN’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria that IoT will create approximately $19 Trillion in economic value over the next 5 years.  As an example of the opportunities that are possible, Chambers points to the fact that the city of Barcelona created 40,000 new jobs through its connected city initiative.

While the upside potential is great, there are still many who believe that the disruptive force of IoT will have a negative impact on certain industries; eliminating jobs and destroying businesses instead of creating them. The proponents of IoT remind us that similar claims were made about the internet in its early days. However, according to a 2014 study by McKinsey and Company, 2.6 new jobs were created by the internet for every 1 job it eliminated. Will the same be true for IoT?

To answer this question, I think we have to look at how IoT will impact specific industries.  For example, let’s look at five (5) new opportunities that IoT creates for the High-Technology Service & Support Industry and the challenges they present.

  1. Facilitation of Remote Monitoring & Diagnostics: IoT makes it possible for manufacturers to implement remote monitoring and diagnostics solutions on a low cost and rapid basis. Of course, these solutions are as effective as the knowledge management tools behind them. Nevertheless, remote diagnostics can eliminate the number of emergency dispatches which in turn could have an impact on Field Service Engineer staffing levels. On the other hand, it is likely that new jobs will be created to monitor and analyze the data collected by these solutions as well as respond to the actions that are generated by this analysis.
  2. Greater integration with the supply chain: One the largest beneficiaries of IoT will be the service supply chain. By monitoring service related events, the service supply chain can have more visibility into the demand for spare parts and be more effective in planning and forecasting inventory stock levels. In addition, supply chain mangers can be more proactive in anticipating demands on forward stocking locations and depot repair & refurbishment centers. The net impact of IoT on the supply chain is an enhanced level of productivity and efficiency which is great for profits and job creation.
  3. Creation of barriers to entry: It is very possible that IoT will create new barriers to entry for service competitors. That is because once you control access to a device, you control the device itself. Manufacturers will need to think through how their channel partners participate in IoT solutions. Will channel partners participate in the revenue stream that comes from managing connected networks or will they simply resell the solution on behalf of the OEM? What options will be available when it comes to service & support? Will manufacturers implement open systems which make it possible for anyone to service the network or will be a closed solution keeping out competition?
  4. Collaboration between business partners: It is also likely that IoT solutions will be comprised of products and components from multiple suppliers. This will require greater collaboration between business partners. Manufacturers will need to establish new business protocols and rules of engagement when it comes to supporting IoT solutions involving third party products. This is likely to result in new job creation.
  5. Need for new business models:  IoT makes it possible for manufacturers to offer new added value services to their customers. At issue, these services are most likely to be monetized through subscription based models. New financial KPIs will be needed to manage these models. Instead of focusing on attach rates and gross margins, manufacturers will need to pay attention to monthly recurring revenue (MRR) and customer churn rates.   Revenue ramps up slowly under these scenarios and customer attrition rates are high so manufacturers will need to create marketing and onboarding programs to facilitate growth of MRR and reduce churn.

 

In summary, IoT will have a positive impact on the High Tech Service & Support Industry in terms of job creation and financial returns.  Indeed, IoT is likely to create multiple new jobs and businesses for everyone that it replaces.  While some companies and individuals may be at risk, they can mitigate the downside by taking a proactive approach to strategic planning.  Furthermore, companies who stand to benefit from IoT the most can ensure maximum returns, and thus double down on their investment, by incorporating fundamental strategic design principles into the development of IoT solutions.  To learn more, schedule a free consultation.