Big Data & Analytics – A Transformational Journey

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Last month I had the good fortune to attend the Reverse Logistics Sustainability Council (RLSC) and Warranty Chain Management (WCM) conferences.   Big Data & Analytics was a topic that gained much prominence at both of these conferences.  Indeed, this is a subject that is gaining much attention in business and academic circles these days.  Interestingly, there is a general consensus among academics and industry thought leaders that Big Data Analytics is one of the most misunderstood and misused terms in the business world.  For some business professionals, the term analytics applies specifically to performance metrics, for others it has to do with unstructured data sets and data lakes, while still others think it relates to predicting the future.

Big Data refers to the volume, velocity, and variety of data that a company has at their disposal. Analytics applies to the discovery, interpretation, and communication of meaningful patterns in data.  The truth is that there are actually four (4) different types of Big Data Analytics that firms can rely on to make business decisions.

  • Descriptive Analytics: This type of Analytics answers the question “What is happening?”  In a field service organization (FSO) this may be as simple as KPIs like SLA compliance or First Time Fix rate.  The exact measurement tells an FSO how well it is doing when it comes to fixing problems right the first time and meeting customer obligations for response time.
  • Diagnostic Analytics: Understanding what is happening is important, but it is even more important to understand why something is happening.  This is how managers and executives can identify and resolve problems before they get out of hand. Diagnostic Analytics provides this level of insight, for example by pin-pointing why First Time Fix Rate is low.  Maybe it’s because the company is making poor decisions about which Field Engineers (FEs) are dispatched to the customers’ sites.  Or, perhaps selected Field Engineers do not have access to the right parts when they arrive on site and must return for a second visit.
  • Predictive Analytics: Ok, so now we know why something is happening. Wouldn’t it also be good to know what is likely to happen next?  Predictive Analytics provides this level of insight. In other words, it provides a forecast about what may happen if a company continues to experience a low first time fix rate.  For example, it could show the specific impact on customer satisfaction or the measurable effect on service costs and/or gross margins.   In this case, Predictive Analytics helps a company understand with a high level of statistical confidence how long it may continue to maintain the status quo before financial problems may arise.
  • Prescriptive Analytics: The final component of analytics is Prescriptive A This level of information helps a company understand at a granular level of certainty exactly what it should do to resolve a current situation and avoid future problems.  For example, Prescriptive Analytics may reveal that a company must ensure the field engineer has the right parts on hand prior to being dispatched to arriving at the customer site.  The Analytics can show which parts must be available and where they should be located.

In summary, Analytics takes the guesswork out of decision-making.  Instead of relying on intuition or prior experience, service executives can make sound business decisions based on objective analysis of data.  As a result, the probability of making the right decision increases.   Relying on Analytics to drive business decisions involves a transformational journey.  As innovative as it seems, a company cannot just start using Predictive or Prescriptive Analytics. It must first become proficient with Descriptive Analytics before it can leverage the power of more advanced analytic models.    This journey is not just about the data.  Many managers mistakenly believe that they must have enough of the right data to make Analytics work.  The truth is that we all have a wealth of data at our disposal.  Our challenge is finding the tools and technology to process the data, making Analytics a winning business proposition.  This begs the question: does your service organization have an optimal system in place to harness the power of Analytics?  If you are not certain, it may be time to conduct an audit and assessment of your infrastructure.  To learn more, schedule a free consultation today.

Leverage Geographically-Distributed Development

Mike Miranda is a writer concerning topics ranging from Legacy modernization to Application life cycle management, data management, big data and more. He’s had over 70 articles published in 2015 by many reputable tech sites.

Global-Networks

An impressive IT strategy model known as Geographically-Distributed Development or GDD, is becoming a valuable ally for businesses in industrialized nations all over the world. GDD is taking the place of archaic business methodologies that utilize one or multiple project sites, resulting in minimized efficiency and compromised success.

In order for GDD to operate at full-potential, substantial hindrances must be eradicated or maximally reduced within the GDD strategy. Businesses embedded in a globally-distributed market possess inherent and significant expenses associated with communication and coordination logistics. Businesses must find strategies that will combat those costs since they can oppose the very benefits GDD provides. On-going challenges include cultural and language differences as well as staff having little or no access to information that must be presented in a timely fashion to meet deadlines. All these issues endanger the success of distributed projects.

An Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) solution enables companies to successfully manage and enhance the breadth and quality of communication for all stakeholders in the change process. Challenges embedded in geographically-distributed environments are to be reckoned with, and include: language boundaries, cultural differences, dissimilar software-development methods, change-management requisites, security enforcement, adaptations regarding industry protocol, and client business mandates. The ALM solution very effectively meets these crucial areas.

Companies can establish clear, repeatable, measurable and traceable processes based on best practices due to the simplicity ALM offers during every stage of application development. Point-and-click functions allow users to very easily create a portfolio of authorized processes which can automate assigned tasks and the movement of application artifacts.

Change management becomes simplified due to ALM’s streamlining regarding changes and required actions, enabling changes to be scrutinized and prioritized. The approval management functions demand that official verification be staunchly in place prior to any changes moving forward. ALM’s tracking of software changes are performed with ease by way of the ALM’s automated logging functions. Changes can be traced starting with a request being received up to a solution being presented to production.

Staff within the global development team would be notified of any assigned tasks as well as circumstances that could impact their efforts.

As the enterprise becomes increasingly interlinked, changes occurring in one system can also impact other systems. ALM’s multi-platform support means changes made on desperate platforms, among geographically-distributed teams, can travel through the application lifecycle, compatibly and collectively. A BOMP, or Bill of Materials Processor, serves as an on-board feature purposed to generate file portfolios that combine features from multiple platforms. As a result, file portfolios can to travel through the lifecycle as a combined unit. Also, various ALM solutions guarantee that parts integrated into the assemblies are situated within the corresponding platforms during every phase of the lifecycle.

General project plans must satisfy deadlines while enforcing accountability for agreed-upon deliveries. The ALM solution meets a variety of specific needs including: 1) tracking and verifying tasks and processes 2) ensuring assignments are properly performed and 3) assisting with meeting Service Level Agreement (SLA) demands within an outsourcing contract. Assigned tasks to developers are flawlessly coordinated with tasks that are a part of a project plan; and this optimizes the tracking of targeted achievements. An additional ALM feature allows reports to be generated which dependably track response and resolution times. Service level workflows provide flexibility and automate service processes. In turn, this results in a quickening of processes to respective resources which helps meet project deadlines. An assortment of reports and dashboards efficiently track performance with service level agreements.

Reaping the full benefits of GDD means the caliber of communication and coordination must be enhanced. When this takes place, management strategies can be utilized to deal with obstacles that can compromise a company’s level of success. ALM’s centralized repository presents ideas, designs, dialogue, requirements, tasks and an array of other information at one’s fingertips. Development processes and tasks are automated, coordinated and monitored via ALM’s workflow capabilities with every bit of intellectual property being vitally protected within the central repository. Project management is impressively synchronized due to local and remote software development that is highly coordinated. Cohesiveness regarding monitoring, tracking, auditing of reports, and dashboards all function together, seamlessly, to satisfy crucial deadlines. ALM caters to organizations where mission-critical solutions meet mission-critical needs, head on!

Understanding the DNA of Reverse Logistics

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A common expression among Reverse Logistics (RL) professionals is that nothing happens until a product is returned. To be more precise, nothing gets done without a Return Material Authorization (RMA). Anyone who has experienced a situation where a product just shows up on the receiving dock without an RMA knows what I am talking about. As such, the RMA process is one of the most critical elements in the management of the Reverse Logistics (RL) Supply Chain.

The RMA can be considered the DNA of the reverse logistics process because it provides all the critical information about where the product has been and the reason for its return. This information in turn provides guidance about what should happen next to the product once it has been returned. For example, should it be tested, repaired, or destroyed? It also provides information that enables the service provider to complete financial transactions related to the returns process such as warranty entitlement, adjudication, and reimbursement.

When designed correctly, the RMA function enables a manufacturer or service provider to obtain critical information required for processing the return (e.g., reason codes) and tracking labor and material costs associated with this return process. That’s why it is important for information captured in the RMA process to be linked to other corporate information systems such as their ERP, CRM, and WMS applications. Data gathered from the RMA can be analyzed to anticipate and forecast future returns. More importantly, it can be evaluated to determine the root cause of the returns. With this root cause information in hand, manufacturers can take steps to reduce returns by designing better products or improving the service delivery process (e.g., troubleshooting, remote support, etc.). In short, capturing and analyzing data about the return process will lead to reduced operating costs, enhanced service quality, and improved corporate profits.

The RMA is more than simply a transaction; it is a process that must be coordinated strategically. Indeed, products get returned for a variety of reasons at any time during the product lifecycle. By capturing the appropriate information about why the product is being returned, manufacturers and service providers can more efficiently manage back-end processes, for example by routing the returned product to the right point in the supply chain, whether it is a depot repair facility, asset recovery provider, or liquidation vendor. By anticipating returns, service providers can also take the appropriate action to ensure they have the necessary resources in place to process the returns and support the customer in a timely manner.

In summary, manufacturers and service providers are urged to place greater emphasis on the RMA when designing business processes and information system requirements related to the reverse logistics supply chain. This perspective can have a positive impact on identifying opportunities for improvement in productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction. End-to-end integration of the RMA process and related transactions with other corporate information systems is a critical element to achieving this outcome.

Innovate or Die

3 Strategies that will Transform your Service Business

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Recently someone asked me if service businesses face any fear when it comes to implementing new technologies or are they open to innovation. I had the think about this for minute and my answer is yes, they do face fear. Sure, a lot of business executives appreciate how important innovation is to the success of their company. However, few really step up and make change. Many more just talk about it or are forever planning to do it. This is fear rearing its ugly head.

Ridiculous you might say. Businesses are supposed to think rationally. How could a competent business let emotions get in the way? The answer is simple…businesses are run by people, people are only human, and fear is part of being human. In fact, business people have an uncanny way of expressing their fears as though they are rational objections. Here are just a few examples of typical objections that I have heard leaders give over then last twenty years for not adopting new technologies and the emotional sub-text (i.e., fear) about what they are really thinking:

Objection: Technology will not be able to do as good a job as me or my people
Fear: I will be replaced by a machine

Objection: Our Company is not ready for this new technology
Fear: People will resist my suggestion and I don’t want to risk my job over it

Objection: We tried something like this before and it didn’t work
Fear: I’ll be ridiculed for suggesting this idea. The last guy that tried to do this failed at it and lost his job.

Objection: This new technology is just hype. I can’t see it working for us.
Fear: I am really uncertain if we’ll be able to implement this effectively and don’t want to be the guy that failed, and lost his job because of it.

Objection: We can’t afford it. It’s not in the budget.
Fear: This could personally hurt me (us) financially this year (i.e. no bonus).

So what can leaders do to overcome their own fears? Tony Robbins, the great motivational speaker and self-help author offers three strategies:

1. Find something you are more scared of: Sure the fear of making a mistake about adopting new technology can be paralyzing but lost customers, increased operating costs, service inefficiencies and quality issues can be even more devastating.

2. Visualize what the future will be like: Imagine yourself and your company 3 or 5 years in the future. What will your future look like if you don’t make the change today? What impact will it have on market share, customer experience, or profits? If your answer is that things will be worse, much worse, then you will probably make the investment in the new technology.

3. Get Passionate about it: You can do this by defining all the reasons why you want to make a change and then make the change an absolute must.

Each one of these strategies has something in common. They require a leader to analyze their current situation and understand the implications of doing nothing versus the benefits of doing something. It also requires the leader have a well-defined plan for the future, and that he/she works diligently to carry out that plan. Remember that fear is acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Therefore the more supporting evidence you have that your plans are attainable, the more certain you will be at achieving it.

Let me know what you think of this post by sharing your comments below. If you believe you need more supporting evidence to pursue innovation in your service business then let’s schedule a FREE strategy session today. Last but not least, check out my new e-book titled “Unlocking value you within your service supply chain” for more suggestions on how to innovate and grow your service business.

Variable Workforce:

The New Field Service Paradigm

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The use of third party workers has become a common practice for Field Service Organizations. A driving force behind this trend is the economics of associated with managing a large pool of labor. Maintaining a field service workforce on a full-time basis represents a short-term, fixed cost for service providers. At issue, field service demand is variable in nature and becoming increasingly more volatile. This is occurring for a number of reasons including but not limited to the shift from reactive to proactive service, improvements in the ability of companies to resolve services issues remotely, cyclical events in the global economy, and technology changes (e.g., refreshes, consolidations, and upgrades).

One of the ways to deal with the peaks and valleys in field service demand is through a Variable Workforce (VWF) model. This type of model enables a field service provider to convert short-term fixed cost into a variable expense by utilizing third party workers. There are a number of options available to companies who want to implement VFW model. These include

1. Implement Master Service Agreement (MSA): with one or more companies: Under this scenario an OEM, ISOs or VAR, collectively referred to as the client, contracts with one or more field service organizations (FSOs) to provide on-site service as needed through a Master Service Agreement (MSA).

2. Manage subcontractors on their own: Another option is for a company to build its own variable workforce model. This requires that a company hire and on-board, independent contractors either directly or through a staffing company.

3. Turn toward a “Sharing Economy” model: Companies who are willing and able to manage teams of individual workers can turn to a sharing economy model. In this scenario, a company would use an Internet platform, also known as a Freelancer Management System (FMS), to recruit, on-board, train, dispatch, manage, and pay individual contractors.
The sharing economy model offers substantial cost savings to a company who is willing to pursue this course of action. Improvements in service quality and productivity are also possible as freelance contractors are typically more engaged and motivated since their income is directly proportional to the quality of work performed and number of assignments they accept.

The Freelance Management System Defined

According to the Staffing Industry Association (SIA), an FMS is a category of Workforce Management technology that enables self-management of a contingent workforce. To be considered an FMS, the technology most include the capability to 1) match freelance workers with assignments, 2)issue work orders, and 3)process payments to freelancers.

FMS solutions are available as either Enterprise systems or SaaS based solutions. At their core, they provide functionality to initiate, manage, complete, track, and evaluate work performed by freelancers. Additionally, they may include the ability to find and recruit freelancers through a marketplace functionality as well as additional services such as insurance coverage for freelance workers and the ability to manage work though mobile communications technology.

I recently authored a whitepaper, sponsored by Field Nation, titled “The Variable Workforce Model – An Optimal Solution for dealing with Field Service Uncertainties”. It discusses how FMS is creating improved outcomes for companies involved in field service. More specifically, it measures the benefits that can be achieved through an FMS platform and defines the key characteristics of an optimal solution. To learn more, download your FREE copy today.

Why reactive service is a thing of the past?

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In this week’s blog I am sharing an article written by Sarah Nicastro. She is editor-in-chief of Field Technologies Magazine and  Field Technologies Online.  Her publication covers topics related to mobile computing, field service software, and fleet & asset management. This article, in which I was quoted, originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Field Technologies Online.

I’m sure you’re no stranger to the IoT buzz that has taken the industry by storm the past year or so. And you’re going to keep hearing that buzz – IoT isn’t going anywhere. In fact, according to Gartner, the number of deployments of connected devices is forecasted to increase by 30% in 2015, with the total number of connected devices to reach 25 billion in 2020.

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Why the rapid growth? IoT solutions enable a shift from reactive to proactive service. Reactive service – customer calls with an issue, service provider responds – is quickly become a thing of the past. Customers are beginning to understand that they don’t need to settle for such a model. M2M and IoT-enabled proactive service, often referred to as predictive or preventative service, is becoming the new normal.

In a recent column written by Michael Blumberg titled Strategic Forces Shaping The Deployment of IoT & M2M, he points to two of the drivers of this shift: social forces and economic forces. On the social side, Blumberg says, “For service providers, it is no longer just about finding ways to reduce the time and cost associated with troubleshooting and maintenance. In order to optimize productivity and efficiency, and to facilitate innovation in a service business, you need data. While service executives have understood this for some time, end-customers now understand and appreciate that they also need access to this same data in order to optimize the operations and processes that comprise their enterprise.” So you’ve known the value of data and how it drives action and decision-making for quite some time, but your customers are now recognizing the value of data too. And this is contributing to an increase in use of IoT solutions that provide data that both your operation and your customers find great value in.
Costs Of M2M, IoT Come Down

As for the second force discussed, economic forces, the premise is simple – the cost of implementing M2M and IoT solutions has decreased rapidly in recent years. This makes the technology more attainable for a wider group of users, and as adoption continues to rise we’ll see a cycle of increased familiarity, greater adoption, and lower costs.

If you aren’t already looking at how M2M and IoT can play a part in your operation, now is the time to do so. Not only can the technology enable your organization to operate far more efficiently, but it will allow you to embrace the shift from a reactive service model to a far superior, proactive service approach.

Meeting Market Needs: An interview with Marne Martin, CEO of Service Power

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Last week, I conducted an interview with Marne Martin, CEO of Service Power, a leading provider of workforce management solutions. I was intrigued by recent developments in her company, most notably their release of Nexus FS, a new cloud-based software.   My interview with Marne provides some interesting insight on her company and her perspectives on the market for Field Service Automaton.

Michael R. Blumberg (MRB): Congratulations on Service Power’s progress. It looks like you are continuing to gain momentum in the market. Interim results for H12015 are very encouraging.

Marne Martin (MM): Thank you. Service Power is going through a revitalization campaign. We’ve concentrated on strengthening sales execution, managing our expenditures, making investments in new technology, and migrating to the Amazon web services platform. Our efforts are producing positive results that are the building blocks for the future.

Marne Martin 

MRB: Service Power is obviously gaining traction in the market with its core mobile workforce management software, including the patented ServiceScheduling route optimization software. Why release NexusFS™ (“Nexus”)?

MM: ServicePower’s feature rich ServiceScheduling and ServiceMobility solutions are great for the enterprise market where an enterprise might already have CRM, ERP, etc. already. Nexus FS ™ provides an easy to use, easy to implement solution for SMBs and enterprise customers who require field service management functionality separate from their existing CRM/ERP solution or simply a new all in one solution.

MRB: What perceptions existed in the market about ServicePower prior to launching NexusFS™?

MM: A criticism that we heard was that even though we had a well proven and robust scheduling, dispatch and claims products in terms of their features and functionalities, we were not prioritizing the user experience to be able to tailor UI views and information for the different types of users in an organization, as well as simplify integration challenges for customers. NexusFS™ gives customers a one size fits all solution through which we also have ready-made integrations to our other applications through our Restful API integration layer. It provides a full front-end solution that can be deployed all in one, or on a modular basis to fill gaps in a technology portfolio.

MRB: Obviously you’ve done your homework. How did you validate your assumptions regarding market wants and needs for the NexusFS™ application?

MM: Like many vendors, we relied on competitive market research to better understand our market position and opportunity. I also brought in people with alternative perspectives to validate our assumptions and test our conclusions. It is always my belief that teams of high performing individuals are the ones that create great companies and technologies.

MRB: What resistance did you get from the shareholders in your company when you told them of your plans to release NexusFS™?

MM: I presented shareholders in fall 2013 with a three year plan. It required that we focus on people, process, product first – and then profits, although we of course did commit to managing tightly expenses. This has required us to prioritize and make choices, to focus on efficiency and output internally, and we have been able to drive clear progress in all four areas as you can see from the interim results recently released. Shareholders weren’t certain back in 2013, and even in 2014, we would be able to bring out new products using internal talent and funding, but we have been able to accelerate our output migrating to a fully agile process and using small internal dev teams like “skunkworks” teams. Certainly there are some shareholders that desire us to focus only on profits and not invest in technology, but what creates a new trajectory for the company is the investment in products and marketing first, and then of course sales execution on an increasingly larger scale thereafter. 

MRB: What makes you think the is sustainable?

MM: Investors want to invest in sensible things and are happy to put cash into companies that are prepared to grow steadily and deliver a return on investment.   We have proven our ability to make the investments in our products, generate new cutting edge technology, so the next step is to add scale through our direct efforts, as well as do more in partner enablement related to indirect channels. This is all related to being able to deliver investors consistent topline growth linked to bottom line profitability, which is what they want. We must therefore show investors not just strategic results but also share tactical execution feedback with them metrics and progress, which we are doing. Examples of these touchpoints include getting NexusFS™ to market, managing the internal cost of development, migrating to the cloud and therefore more efficient IT and support structures, increasing the penetration and footprint of our existing applications, building out our professional services capabilities, and of course implementing new logos.

MRB: Thank you Marne, we look forward to learning about ServicePower’s continued success in the market.