The Role of Data in the Servitization Journey

Data is becoming more important as we consider one of the most significant trends impacting the technology industry, "Servitization".

Several years ago, Blumberg Advisory Group worked with a company that provided hardware maintenance on film based photo labs found in big box retail outlets. Their service revenues and profits were declining because digital photography was replacing the need for film based photo labs. Although the client offered a new digital based technology to replace film based photo-labs, these systems were not being installed at the same rate as the older systems were being phased out.   Digital systems didn’t require as much service and support. They were less complex and easier to maintain than their film-based cousins.

Our client required a new strategy to offset their declining revenues and profits.  They needed a solution urgently or the parent company would shut down this division.  If we did not know the importance of data or the concept of managing the capability to serve, we would have probably recommended that the client lay off some of its field service workforce to reduce costs and improve profits.  This could have led to a downward spiral of layoffs, company morale and growth.

So what steps did we take?  We analyzed their data.  We reviewed their field engineer utilization rates, customer response times, field engineer skill levels, and the equipment on customers’ premises.  In conclusion, we found that their field engineers were not being completely utilized.  We found out that these engineers had further knowledge and expertise in supporting other types of equipment found on the customer site.  They were typically able to respond to a customer request within four hours even though the guarantee was for eight.  

Based on our analysis, we recommended that they expand their service footprint to other types of equipment located on the customers’ premises, i.e. electronic cash registers and point of sale equipment.  We also recommended that they charge a premium price to customers who required faster (e.g., 4 hour) response time.  As a result, this client went from losing 20% of their profits per year to a 50% increase in new business within 24 months of implementing our recommendations.

Ultimately, the key to our client’s success lied within the data.  Data is becoming 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).  In other words, their business has reached the stage of development where they are no longer selling products or solutions to their customers, but outcomes.   For example, instead of selling a copier machine they are selling their customer the right to use the machine to produce a certain number of copies over a specific period or time.

To deliver on this promise, the provider must not only have great people, process, and technology but access to data related in terms of machine condition and performance (e.g., alerts and notifications), parts availability, field engineer location and skill sets, diagnostics, etc.  With this data in hand, the provider can ensure resources are available when needed and that the customer receives the outcome it purchased.  The data is made available through technologies like the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, etc.   Examples of companies that are along the servitization journey are Rolls Royce, ABB, Siemens, Kone, and General Electric. They have generated profitable income and know that a truly exceptional service business is built on four foundations – people, process, technology, and data.

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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.

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.

What is Field Service Management and Why Should You Care?

This week’s post were are pleased to share a mini info-graphic based on an article by Danny Wong from Salesforce.com. You can find the companion article here.


What is Field Service Management and Why Should You Care Infographic

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Field Service Staffing — The Variable Workforce and FMS

Field Service -- FMS

The unemployment rate, outsourcing, part time employees, changes in the workforce; these are all topics that have been in the news for several years. Is it just that there are less jobs or fewer full time positions? Is the economy really in bad shape? Or is there a staffing trend that we need to examine.  Full time employment means a guarantee of wages, benefits, and paying the employee even when there is a lull in the business.  For companies in the Field Service Industry there may be peaks and valleys in workflow and need for field service personnel. And while so many functions can be performed on a remote basis, sometimes someone just has to be there.

Enter the Variable Workforce, offering highly skilled, well trained, specialized Field Service Engineers who are available on an as needed or project basis. These individuals are normally highly motivated as they essentially run their own small business and best of all; they work this way by choice.

Now we have people to hire.  How do we manage that? Freelance Management Systems (FMS) offer online cloud based systems allowing companies looking for qualified workers, including Field Service Engineers, to find them quickly and easily.  FMS provides companies with the opportunity to achieve significant cost savings over time and the ability to accelerate strategic or organic expansion resulting in new clients, new service offerings, and/or new sales territories.

So what is the actual experience of companies using a Variable Workforce and FMS platforms? Have they been able to achieve these benefits or is it just hype?

A survey seemed to me to be the best way to get answers. So we designed an online survey for the Field Service Industry to ask professionals who handle field service staffing or make decisions about field service staffing requirements, for companies with field service functions for technology equipment they sell and/or service.

We wanted to examine the benefits of Variable Workforce models, particularly FMS. In doing so, we could assess concerns regarding using FMS, the motivators for using FMS and the benefits that have been seen by using it.

Over 200 Third Party Maintainers (TPM)/ Independent Service Organizations (ISO), Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), Value Added Resellers, Systems Integrators, and Self-Maintainers participated.  The companies range in size from over $500 million in annual revenue to less than $50 million varying in size from those who manage less than 100 field service events per month up to more than 1000. These field service events included emergencies, installations, inspections, and preventative maintenance or calibration. And the types of technology supported included Information Technology, Network Connectivity, Printers, Point of Sale, Telecommunications, and more. The companies also varied on how a Field Service Business is run – as a cost center, profit center, strategic line of business, or revenue contribution center.

Over three-fourths (77%) were currently using some type of Variable Workforce Model.  The survey respondents were two-thirds TPM/ISOs or OEMs.

Most participants (81%) use the Variable Workforce for project based work.

We found that the top three reasons that companies made the move to a Variable Workforce were:

  • The ability to be agile and scale the workforce based on customer demands.
  • Over half agreed that “We didn’t have enough work in selected geographies to justify hiring a fulltime Field Service Engineer.”
  • Almost all said that controlling labor costs was a significant motivator.

One of the most important results was that the Variable Workforce users support more types of technology on average than non-users.  That is, those companies who use Variable Workforce are able to support 4 types of technology versus only 1.8 types of technology for non-users.

Nearly two-thirds of those utilizing the Variable Workforce use a Freelance Management System (FMS) to manage the staffing.  Of these FMS users, almost all have been using it for at least one year and 60% for three years or more — another sign that something must be working.

FMS users tend to support more types of technology as well. On average, companies who use FMS support 4.3 types of technology versus only 2.8 types for non-users.

Ultimately the most compelling reason to make the switch was that the FMS platform is agile, giving companies the ability to scale up quickly to meet seasonal, cyclical and short term demands. In fact, 71% of users found this to be the case.  FMS adopters have been able to gain more business and have been able to increase their field service work. They have experienced such success that 76% of them reported an increased demand for FMS just in this past year, most by at least 15%.

The survey results certainly indicate that usage of Freelance Management Systems for the Variable Workforce in Field Service will continue to increase over the next year as well.

Stay tuned for future posts where I will discuss what our survey revealed about the Key Performance Indicators and how use of Variable Workforce and specifically FMS impacts the Field Service Industry.

Improving First-Time Fix Rates

A Field Service Manager’s Guide

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In my last blog, I discussed the importance and impact of high First-Time Fix rates for the field service industry. (If you have not already read it, catch up here.)  Knowing that a high First-Time Fix rate leads to greater customer satisfaction, higher renewal rates, and lower costs for your company encourages management teams to want to improve this Key Performance Indicator (KPI). And making those changes does not have to be difficult or costly. On the contrary, making this KPI a priority will increase profitability and can make your organization flow more smoothly.

Here are 5 keys to increasing your First-Time Fix Rate:

  • Triage
  • Training
  • Dynamic Scheduling
  • Parts Planning
  • Knowledge Tools

Call Triage:  This is where it all starts.  Your customer calls in with a problem. The team on the front line needs to have the right technology and systems in place so that when a call comes in they can screen the call, understand the issue, and understand what skills and which parts may be needed to resolve the issue. Some calls may be able to be resolved over the phone if you have given the Call Triage Center the technology and systems to evaluate the call properly then no dispatch is necessary, saving time and money for you and your customer. If this is not the case, knowing as much as possible up front will help in the decision making process for the next step – dispatching the correct Field Service Engineer (FSE) with the right skills and equipment to have the highest chance of fixing the problem the first time. Is there a FSE in the physical area? Does that technician have the skills and parts to repair the problem? If not how can the FSE get the needed parts? And how do you achieve this in the time frame you have promised to your customer?  Your call center needs to know who is available and what skill set and equipment they have to make the best decisions for both your customer and your field service organization.  By conducting upfront call triage, you can provide the FSEs with the information they need to know in order to resolve the issue right the first time. Having the right systems and technology will help facilitate this process.

Training:  While it may seem like an obvious thing, you must have highly trained and well qualified FSEs available for dispatch.  Make the investment in both hiring and training your existing team of FSEs.  The more skills they each possess, the greater chance that the one closest to your customer at the time needed will be able to make the First-Time Fix happen.   How do you make this happen? First, have consistent and periodic training. Second, training should take place both in the classroom and in the field. Third have continued skill assessment and evaluation, that is evaluate your technicians and see how well they perform, then go back and do more training in the areas needed. In summary train, let them do, evaluate, and train more.

Dynamic scheduling: This means using advanced technology to identify and assign the best technician who has the skills, is available, can get there in time frame promised to customer and has or can get the required parts. Again, it may seem obvious, but if the FSE does not have the right part to fix the problem then a second trip to the customer is a given.

Parts: Parts management must be a part of any profitable Field Service Strategy.  What are the most commonly needed parts for the most common issues your FSEs encounter? What are the parts that have the highest failure rate? How do you make decisions about what each FSE carries with them for every call? And what is the availability for the parts that are not included in those most common service requests?  All of these decisions impact your organization’s First-Time Fix rate.

The fifth aspect of creating a high First-Time Fix rate is enabling your technicians to be more efficient to troubleshoot while in the field. There are several ways to achieve this:

  1. Give FSEs access to mobility solutions to access knowledge bases while in the field.
  2. Provide access to a Telephone Technical Support center they can call while in the field.
  3. Implement collaboration tools that allows FSEs to use their mobile devices to query and collaborate with other technicians who may have faced the problem and know how to solve it.
  4. Rely on augmented reality technology so that your technician can learn in real time while in the field what they need to do to solve the problem.

Investing in people, technology and processes make a high First-Time Fix rate achievable. By utilizing time and resources to have a well-run Triage Center; Train and re-train technicians; use Dynamic Scheduling to make the process efficient; implement effective parts management; and giving your FSEs the tools to be successful while at your customer, your First-Time Fix Rate will enhance the profitability of your Field Service Organization.

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First-Time Fix Rate: The DNA of Field Service

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First-Time Fix is one of the most frequently measured key performance indicators (KPI) used by Field Service Organizations (FSOs).   It is a very powerful metric to track.  This KPI measures the percentage of times field service engineers (FSEs) are dispatched to a customer site and have the skills and parts with them to resolve the issue on the first visit.  It is a powerful metric because it provides an indication of the FSO’s financial and operational health.  In this sense, it is like the DNA of field service.

Why is this so?  First, FTF is a measure of service quality and customer satisfaction.  Resolving an issue the first time demonstrates to the customer that they are dealing with a quality organization.  As a result, FSOs that deliver quality service will typically have higher customer satisfaction ratings than those that do not.   Second, FTF impacts revenue because customers are less likely to renew service contracts or purchase additional services if they are unhappy with the quality of service they are already receiving.

Third, FTF provides a measurement of field service productivity.  FSOs that experience high FTF are by definition more productive.  This is because they are able to resolve more service calls per day.   If FSEs are more productive, the FSO essentially can do more with less. In other words, the FSO does not have to hire as many new FSEs to handle additional work if service demand increases.   Assuming the additional work brings with it additional revenue, revenue per FSE also increases.   As this metric improves, so do gross margins and operating income.

Finally, companies with a high FTF experience lower operating costs than those with a low FTF. This is because if a call is not completed on the first visit, a second dispatch is required. Sometimes the call is not completed on the first visit due to lack of a spare part, in which case the FSE must travel to pick up the part or return when the part is delivered to the customer by courier.  In a recent survey conducted by our firm, we found that Best-in-Class companies experience an FTF rate of 98.3% compared to the industry average of 77.8%.   With service calls ranging in cost from $150 to $1,000 per event, the expenses for making repeat visits can be astronomical.  Assume, for example, an average cost per call of $150 and total service visits of 100, 000 per year.  If 22.2% of these calls are due to repeat visits then the FSO is incurring an additional $3.3M in expenses from its FTF of 77.8%.

There are of course a number of strategies and tactics an FSO can pursue to improve FTF.  First, FSOs can improve FSE skill sets through better training.   Second, they can perform better screening and diagnosis at the time of initial request so that when an FSE is dispatched he/she understands both the nature of the problem and the resources (i.e., skills, parts, etc.) needed to resolve the issue. Third, they can utilize intelligent scheduling to ensure the availability of both skilled FSEs and correct parts.   Fourth, they can provide FSEs with access to better knowledge and information in the field through knowledge tools or access to technical support personnel.

We’d love to learn about strategies your company has pursued to improve FTF.  Please share them with us in the comment section of this post.  If you need help building a business case to improve FTF contact us today for a free consultation.

The New Field Service Workforce

Images Outreach article

There has been a dramatic shift over the past 5 to 10 years in the way work is performed in the U.S. and Europe as more and more workers join the gig economy.  By definition, a gig economy is an environment where temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.  In other words, people are increasingly taking on freelance work.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 53 million Americans are currently working as freelancers.  By 2020, 50% of the American workforce will be engaged in freelance activity. Furthermore, a study published by the Freelancers Union and Elance O-Desk indicates that freelance work contributes $750 billion annually to the US economy.

The gig economy has played a significant role within the Field Service Industry.  It is driven by the trend of many companies to implement variable workforce (VWF) models. This is a business model in which a field service organization (FSO) relies on a contingent workforce to manage peaks and valleys in labor demand.  Earlier this year, Blumberg Advisory conducted an extensive research study to examine the impact of VWF models on the Field Service Industry. The study, sponsored by Field Nation, revealed  that 8 out of 10 FSOs have implemented VWF models to manage over one-half (53%) of their workforces.

One of the ways that FSOs implement the VWF model is through a Freelancer Management System (FMS).  This is an integrated software platform that includes functionality for Vendor Management System (VMS), Human Capital Management System (HCMS), Service Ticketing System, on-line recruitment tools, and reporting & analytics. Approximately two-thirds of survey respondents use this type of solution to manage their contingent labor pool of field technicians.

The single biggest benefit of using an FMS, as reported by 70% of survey respondents, is scalability.  In other words, the ability to scale the workforce up or down based on service demands.   A majority of respondents also perceive access to a vibrant marketplace of freelance technicians (61%), the flexibility that an FMS has in managing W2 and 1099 employees (56%), and lower cost of overhead (54%) that results from using an FMS, among the top benefits.  Just under half of the respondents (46%) viewed lower direct labor cost as a benefit of using an FMS platform.

In addition to these benefits, FMS platforms have a measurable impact on field service financial and operating performance.  Indeed, companies that use FMS platforms report having observed a 6% or more improvement in field service key performance indicators (KPIs) such as field service productivity (i.e., # of visits per day), labor utilization rates, SLA compliance, recurring revenue, and gross margins.

Obviously, the gig economy has had a positive impact on FSOs who rely on the VWF model and FMS platforms.  However, many opponents of the gig economy believe that freelancing models take advantage of workers and therefore are bad for individuals.  The facts point to the contrary. In 2015, Field Nation, a leading FMS platform provider to the field service industry, conducted a survey among freelance workers to understand their attitudes and perceptions of freelance work.  An overwhelming majority indicated that the freelance lifestyle is both a personnel choice (88%) and their primary source of income (73%).  Almost all the respondents were satisfied with the work they do (97%) and the career choice they had made (95%).

These findings suggest that the nature of work within the Field Service Industry has changed for good. The days of individual commitment to a single employer and vice versa are long gone.  Freelancing is not a passing fad within Field Service .  Furthermore, Freelancer Management System (FMS) platforms make it possible for FSOs to achieve positive, measurable results from implementing a Variable Workforce Model. Clearly, the gig economy is here to stay.

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What Do Pokémon Go and Service Lifecycle Management Have in Common?

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Augmented Reality (AR) became a physical reality earlier this month when Nintendo launched its Pokémon Go application. This is the first example of a consumer based, augmented reality application that can be downloaded free on any Android or iOS device.  According to Vox Examiner, “Pokémon Go is a game that uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokémon “appear” around you (on your phone screen) so you can go and catch them. As you move around, different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is. The idea is to encourage you to travel around the real world to catch Pokémon in the game.”

Many analysts believed that consumer applications for AR would not hit the market until 2017.   Nintendo was ahead of schedule.  Pokémon is taking the world by storm and fueling the market for  AR applications, a market that Digi-Capital reports will reach $90 billion by 2020.  Goldman Sachs estimates that 60% of the AR market will be driven by consumer applications, with the remaining 40% of the market attributable to enterprise usage.

In case you have not been paying attending to technology trends, 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.  The technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.  AR improves  users’ experience by enabling them to interact and learn from whatever they are observing.

Prior to the launch of Pokémon Go, AR applications where limited to the enterprise market.  I saw an example of a real-world-use case for AR at PTC’s LiveWorx ’16 last month in Boston.  At this conference and exhibition, PTC provided a proof of concept of how AR can be utilized within the context of Service Lifecycle Management.  In conjunction with their customer FlowServe, a leading manufacturer of pump and valves for process industries, PTC demonstrated an integrated solution which provides users with a better experience when it comes to operating, maintaining, and managing centrifugal pumps.  Sensors on the pump identify when an anomaly is detected.  Using AR, a virtual representation of the machine is placed on top of the device to expose the root cause of the problem.  AR is then utilized to identify the exact steps that need to be taken to resolve the problem.

By implementing AR solutions, companies can expect to realize significant improvements in key performance indicators related to Service Lifecycle Management.  For example, AR can help equipment operators anticipate and/or avoid machine failures and thus increase equipment uptime.  AR can also facilitate repair processes, thereby reducing both repair time and downtime while improving first time fix.  In addition, AR can improve the learning curve of novice field technicians, enabling them to become more proficient in diagnosing and resolving problems.  Furthermore, the contextual knowledge that is made available through AR enables equipment owners to make smarter decisions about operating the equipment, which  in turn can help extend the equipment’s life.

These results are only possible if field service technicians embrace AR and actively utilize it.  How likely are technicians to embrace this technology? This of course is the big question on people’s mind.  One scenario is that AR adoption will be very high, so high that technicians will become dependent on it.  The implication is that technicians will lose their domain expertise and be unable to resolve problems without it.  This could pose a challenge if for some reason the AR interface is not working properly and the machine still has a problem that requires resolution.  This outcome can be avoided through ongoing education, training, and skill-assessment drills.

A more likely scenario is that adoption rates will occur gradually.  Although technicians may embrace the use of AR in consumer applications, they may have some resistance to using it in a technical environment.  This is because AR requires technicians to modify their workflow and perceptions of themselves as problem solvers.  Technicians have been conditioned to rely on their own experience, intuition, and “tribal knowledge” to solve problems.  AR changes that basic premise.  Technicians will have to remember to activate AR applications when they are in the field and rely on the information that is presented to them to complete the task at hand. They’ll also need to become proficient at analyzing and acting upon the information they observe.  These activities are not second nature and may take some getting used to for veteran technicians because it represents a different way of working and a challenge to their conventional way of thinking.  Companies that want to leverage the value of AR can overcome these challenges by managing technicians’ performance against key performance indicators (KPIs).  They can observe who on their team is using AR and evaluate the impact on performance. They can in turn incentivize and reward good performance as well as identify who needs more training and coaching on the use of AR.

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3D Printing and The Digitization Of Field Service

3D Printing

This blog post has been reprinted with the permission of Field Technologies Online.

3D printing has received a great deal of attention by the media in recent months as this technology is rapidly being adopted in a broad array of market segments. Also known as additive layer manufacturing (ALM), 3D printing creates items using computer-aided design (CAD) and then builds them by adding thin layers of powder, melted plastic, aluminum, or other materials on top of each other. 3D printing requires fewer traditional raw materials and produces up to 90 percent less waste then traditional manufacturing. As a result, 3D printing is less costly. Furthermore, 3D printing enables companies to compress the supply chain and cycle time associated with bringing products to market.

The Role Of 3D Printing In Field Service
Indeed, 3D printing is a hot market. According to Canalys Research, the global market for 3D printers is estimated to reach $20.2 billion by 2019. This represents a sixfold increase from 2014 when the market was only $3.3 billion. Fueling this growth is the fact that 3D printers are becoming more affordable and mainstream. Given this trend, it is no wonder that the field service industry is quickly developing use cases for this technology. One example is Siemens, which uses 3D printing to make replacement parts for gas turbines. Rather than waiting weeks for an ordered spare part to arrive, Siemens can print the part and ship same day. As a result, Siemens has lowered repair time by 90 percent, which means less downtime per customer when it comes to gas turbines.

Another use case that has been proposed involves equipping service vans with 3D printers, permitting field engineers to print replacement parts on demand. This may not be practical or feasible. Many companies are moving toward variable workforce models and cutting back on company-owned vehicles. Even though 3D printing is faster than traditional manufacturing, it still requires a lot of time to print certain types of parts. This means that service calls would be extended, leading to longer customer downtime and lower productivity for the field service organization (FSO). 3D printing is also not a one-size-fits-all solution and can’t print complex parts. 3D printers vary according to the types of additive manufacturing methods employed, the types of materials utilized, and the size of the product manufactured. Unless all replacement parts have the same specifications, an FSO would need to install multiple printers in each van, which would add to the balance sheet and overhead expense structure of FSOs.

Despite these shortcomings, the concept of pushing the 3D printing closer to the customer and shortening the supply chain is very compelling. To capitalize on this idea, UPS has launched a full-scale, on-demand 3D printing manufacturing network. This network will leverage UPS’ existing global logistics network by embedding the On-Demand Production Platform and 3D Printing Factory from Fast Radius in 60 of UPS’ U.S.-based The UPS Store locations. UPS will also partner with SAP to build an end-to-end offering that marries SAP’s supply chain software with UPS’ on-demand manufacturing and global logistics network. This will simplify the production process from parts digitization and certification, order-to-manufacturing, and delivery. Now UPS’ customers can manufacture parts in the quantity they need, when they need them, and where they need them.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this solution is that instead of trying to force innovation (i.e., 3D printing) into our traditional way of thinking about spare parts management (i.e., in-house parts networks), UPS has turned service parts logistics into an on-demand economy business a la Uber. Under this model, the value for the FSO is not in the physical assets it manages (e.g., parts, 3D printers), but in the digital assets (e.g., designs, drawings, etc.) it owns. Eventually, developments in nanotechnology will enable 3D printing of all types of parts, even complex ones like microprocessors and capacitors. This creates the potential for FSOs to transform themselves into asset-light businesses. As a result they can deliver a better return on investment, lower profit volatility, greater flexibility, and higher scalability, things that weren’t possible a few years ago. UPS is of course an early entrant to the on-demand market for 3D printing. Look for more companies to offer similar solutions in the near future.

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