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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Will 2017 be the break-out year for Augmented Reality?

This article first appeared in Field Technologies Magazine on January 24, 2017

Augmented Reality burst onto the market last year through the launch of several enterprise and consumer oriented applications leading media and industry analysts to proclaim 2016 the year of Augmented Reality.  While the adoption of AR is in its early growth stage, the market for this technology has tremendous growth potential.   Per market research firm, Digi-Capital, AR will be a $90 Billion market by 2020.  Goldman Sachs estimates that 60% of the market will be driven by consumer applications, with the remaining 40% ($36 Billion) of the market attributable to enterprise usage.

The Field Service Industry represents one of the largest enterprise markets for the deployment of AR.  Considering the vast number of manufacturers, resellers, distributors and 3rd party service providers who must support a growing installed base of electronic and electro-mechanical technology, the opportunity is enormous.   AR improves users’ experience by enabling them to interact and learn from whatever they are observing.

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 facilitate repair processes, thereby reducing both repair time and downtime while improving first time fix.   Furthermore, the contextual knowledge made available through AR enables equipment owners to make smarter decisions about operating the equipment, which in turn can extend the equipment’s life. Given this potential, there is little doubt as to why Augmented Reality is considered one of the most defining technologies of our times by industry experts, participants, and observers.

I conducted interviews with approximately two dozen field service executives and my findings echo this sentiment.  When asked, which trend will have the greatest impact on the future of field service, the respondents answered Augmented Reality.  The most frequently mentioned benefit is its ability to accelerate the learning curve of less experienced technicians. This is important because the service leaders I interviewed also expressed concern about the growing shortage of experienced field service technicians.   A shorter learner curve implies faster and better service by novice technicians.

Despite the consensus that AR will have on a positive impact on field service operations, many field service executives do not fully understand what’s involved with implementing AR and/or how these initiatives will be funded within their organizations. Indeed, there are multiple components which must function together to make AR work. However, it’s not a matter of there being a one size fits all solution.  For example, companies can choose between smart glasses or tablets as the viewing device. They can also choose to display either video, graphics, or GPS data, or all three types of content.  The choices are many and the solutions can range from basic to complex.  Let’s also not forget that there are approximately a dozen AR vendors who focus field service that need to be considered.

Given these challenges, it’s easy for field service leaders to take a wait and see approach to deploying AR.  In other words, wait and see what other companies are doing or if someone else within their company will champion AR before they go down this path.   However, this could leave their service organization vulnerable. Competitors may implement it first or investment dollars for AR may be allocated to other area like product sales rather than service.

Clearly, there are enough use cases and early adapters of AR for field service companies to warrant a closer look.  Projects usually get approved when there is compelling business case to do so.  Field Service executive must who think they can benefit from AR must start building their business case today.   Leadership is everything when it comes to deploying new technology. Consider other major technological developments in field service over the last twenty years, they’ve all occurred because field service executives embraced the mantle of leadership and influenced their companies to act.    This year, 2017, may just be the break-out year for AR within the Field Service Industry.  It’s up to field service leaders to make this happen.

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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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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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