July 2014 - The Service Council

Initial Thoughts: Oracle Acquires TOA Technologies to Enhance Field Service Capabilities

By Sumair Dutta | News | No Comments

Today we heard that Oracle Corporation (Oracle) had acquired field service and mobile workforce management automation provider TOA Technologies (TOA). The initial plan is to incorporate TOA’s field service solutions into the Oracle Customer Service Cloud with a further tie in to Oracle ERP in the future. In its brief history, TOA has established itself as a major provider in the field service space with a strong presence in the cable, broadband and telecommunications industries. Customers in that field include Dish Network, Cox Communications, Vodafone and more. Customers representing other industries include The Home Depot, Virgin Media and Ricoh.

My initial thoughts:

A Customer Service Story: Field service is finally being linked with customer support. For years, service management software providers such as Servigistics (now PTC) and Astea have talked about end-to-end service management when considering the lifecycle of a piece of equipment. PTC and Astea, and IFS to a certain extent, continue to promote the Service Lifecycle story that requires an integration of traditionally disparate service business units such as the contact center, field service and parts management. However, given the recent increase in focus on customer service-oriented solutions from folks such as Salesforce.com, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle, we have yet to see either organization take a real stand in integrating field service into the overall enhance customer support/experience story.

Is this The One?: Oracle has made forays into field service before via Siebel and the E-Business Suite. It has also delivered mobile solutions for field service, mostly with the aid of a partnership with Antenna Software (now Pega Systems). Yet, field service has never really been a major focus area for Oracle or for any of the other major ERP players. Does this signal a change in that philosophy and a true push to providing and end-to-end service cloud? While TOA’s scheduling and dispatch solutions overlap with Oracle’s existing offerings, TOA offers a powerful field service solution, an algorithm for customer appointment management, a robust mobile solution, and a growing focus on collaborative tools to enhance field service performance. All of this built on the cloud.

Will the Sun Continue to Shine on a TOA-Salesforce Partnership: TOA has spent a significant amount of time and money on building a partnership with Salesforce.com to offer service and sales cloud users an alternative to ServiceMax for field service. ClickSoftware, another major player in the field service space, has also recently upped its partnership with Salesforce.com. Does the Oracle deal spell an end to this partnership? It has to.

Our recent Q2 Service Business Trends Survey highlights that organizations are being challenged with rising service demand and are unable to field resources to meet this demand. Hence the interest in tools to raise the productivity and efficiency of the service organization, particularly in field service, remains high. More than 40% of organizations polled indicate that they currently have field service improvement projects in place, some of which involve new technology investments. The time is right/ripe for an increased field service presence for the likes of major enterprise software providers.

Over the course of the next week, we will be interviewing stakeholders and customers to get their take on the acquisition. Stay tuned for further details.

Hiring, Interviewing & Onboarding: Chronological Onboarding Checklist (BONUS Part 4) by Cary Chapman

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As mentioned during Part 3 of the Hiring, Interviewing and Onboarding Blog Series (access here), I indicated a brief chronological onboarding checklist would follow as a bonus blog in the 3-part series. Please find below a step-by-step schedule for a six week onboarding program. I have managed technicians where the training period was anywhere from 2 weeks to 9 months – adjust your schedule accordingly.


Week 1

  • Day 1: H.R. paperwork, Meet & Greet, Facility tour
  • Day 2: Orientation (if possible), Meet assigned peer coach
  • Day 3-5: Training for 8 hrs each day
  • Day 5: End of day review of Week 1

Week 2

  • Day 1-5: 8 hrs Training each day
  • Day 5: Review of Week 2 at end of day

Week 3

  • Day 1-5: Ride along with top tech
  • Day 5: Receive evaluation form from top tech

Week 4

  • Day 1-5: 8 hrs Training each day
  • Day 5: Review of week 3 & 4 at end of day

Week 5

  • Day 1-5: Ride along with 2nd top tech
  • Day 5: Receive evaluation form from top tech

Week 6

  • Day 1-4: Training topics new hire is not comfortable with. Gather evaluation forms from Direct manager, trainers, peer coach, ride along techs, H.R., etc.
  • Day 5: Final performance review before leaving for the field.
    • Are they ready for the field: their opinion and the team’s opinion.
    • If they are ready, bring dispatch supervisor into the meeting to discuss the level of difficulty for the first 3 weeks on their own in the field.
    • Technician fills out the internal onboarding survey.
    • Schedule 6 month review date to discuss their first half year performance.

Celebrate another successful launch! I hope you’ve found this blog series useful. I welcome the opportunity to connect to discuss and also welcome you to offer your own opinions and experiences in the comments section below.

Not Done Yet: PTC adds Axeda to its IoT Portfolio

By Sumair Dutta | News | No Comments

Yesterday PTC announced that it had acquired Axeda Corporation (Axeda) for approximately $170m in cash. Coming off the heels of the acquisition of Thingworx late in 2013, this move shows PTC’s continued commitment to providing lifecycle management solutions in the connected or Internet of Things (IoT) era. PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann highlighted his vision for closed-loop lifecycle management (CLLM) at the recent PTC Live user event and the Axeda acquisition supports that vision.

We have already commented on the increased interest in machine connectivity for service and customer management purposes (Read here and here). So, we reached out to a couple of Axeda customers in The Service Council (TSC) community to get their perspective. Here are some thoughts:

Customer 1: “From a business perspective it makes sense to me. Axeda has the customer base and a good data acquisition component. ThingWorx has some interesting technology on the data acquisition side but their strength is the data mashup. If you take PTC’s Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) System and integrate it into the mix, you have a relatively complete product/process.

Now if you add IBM’s Cognos for reporting (already in Axeda) and their SPSS product (high end analytics engine), you get an amazing system.”

Customer 2:“I was surprised given that PTC had acquired an Axeda competitor (ThingWorx) not that long ago. However, I think PTC has made some great acquisitions along the way in the field service segment. Couple that with the other systems like ProEng, ArborText, Servigistics, etc., they have a very good portfolio of products from the design stages into serviceable life of a product.”

 I don’t think I could have said it any better. My thoughts:

  • What a deal? PTC paid $112m for ThingWorx (with an additional earn out of up to $18m). $170m for an established player like Axeda and its 150 customers and network partners seems like a great deal. Or it goes to highlight the potential that PTC sees in ThingWorx’s tools.
  • Given the rising interest in machine connectivity and IoT one would assume that Oracle and Salesforce are looking to build a machine cloud. Seems like PTC has just been more aggressive in getting its IoT vision off the ground. Axeda has been one of visionaries in the IoT space, particularly with their early offerings for remote monitoring and remote service.
  • As mentioned by customer 1 above, I believe the Axeda ThingWorx mashup can work given Axeda’s strength in data collection, connectivity, and device management, and ThingWorx’s focus on data aggregation and app development.
  • Axeda’s partner network on the Machine Cloud is extensive and provides PTC with a wide network or hardware and connectivity partners to build on.
  • Axeda’s customer base is extensive and provides PTC with an entry into the medical device, high tech, and banking industries segments. Marquee names such as Philips Medical, NCR, Diebold, Siemens Medical, and EMC have already deployed remote monitoring solutions for service and offer PTC a nice path to further introduce its SLM and CLLM vision.
  • As Jim Heppelmann alluded to in the investor call earlier today (July 24), the next piece to fill the PTC solution portfolio will come in the form of business intelligence and analytics. Axeda’s relationship with IBM Cognos offers an option for better reporting. Perhaps a partnership with SPSS can support a more predictive analytics push that will become integral to PTC’s vision.

We’re doing some research in the coming months around:

  1. The Connected Service Ecosystem (August 2014)
  2. Big Data for Customer Results (September 2014)

With the aid of these results we’ll look to comment more on the growing interest in connected devices and the ability of organizations to make sense of the large amounts of data now accessible from the entire service ecosystem.

Hiring, Interviewing & Onboarding: Onboarding (Part 3 of 3) by Cary Chapman

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Cary Chapman is an Advisory Board member of The Service Council and is the former National Service Manager of Mettler-Toledo, Safeline. With over 40 years of experience in field service and service management leadership positions, Cary is well-respected and is a frequent speaker at industry events, including The Service Council’s Smarter Services Executive Symposium. You may also enjoy Part 2 of 3, The Interview and Part 1 of 3, The Search in this guest blog series.

Onboarding the New Employee

An important caution to begin with is the need to stay focused on the new candidate. I have seen several instances where the attitude becomes “well they have accepted our offer, now we can relax”. For some period of time our new candidate is still being contacted by companies they had communicated with during job search. With some frequency a better offer comes as a result of the previous interaction and, if we do not continually impress them, they might be tempted to accept the better offer. Usually there is time between acceptance and the start date. Be sure to stay in contact with the new employee while working on the variety of items that need to be completed as part of the onboarding process. I like to forward the new hire an agenda for the first six weeks. This should break down their activities week by week outlining when they will be free to travel home for a weekend and what they should be mentally prepared to do during training. If the new hire will be living in extended stay accommodations during their training, provide them a map of restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, laundromats, and gas stations, etc. This will help them to quickly acclimate to the area they will be living in during their training and it also demonstrates the company’s care for its employees. Caution number two would be their housing. I have seen many companies house new employees in very inexpensive hotels. I strongly believe that inexpensive equates to bad experience. It is not necessary that it be an expensive property but it does need to be a good, solid middle of the road hotel that is comfortable with the best chance of quiet nights.

Beginning on their first day of work, the intent should be to have a well-organized plan with no gaps; it makes the day go faster for them as well as an opportunity for us to view them with a solid work load. At the end of the first and second weeks, I practice conducting a formal sit down to bring any issues that either of us might have out on the table to be quickly addressed. Another practice to consider is assigning a peer to the new hire whom they can contact any time with questions because sometimes the new hire is far more comfortable with a peer than a manager. During their training period, I like to get the new hires out for two one-week ride along sessions with different peers (one being the assigned mentor). This provides the opportunity to expose the new hire to our very best and also allows our seasoned techs the chance to provide some valuable feedback to us on the new hire. The front line manager will have frequent discussions over the training period, however when the training is complete, I like to have a wrap-up discussion just before the new hire heads to the field to operate on their own. I’m looking for the new hire to be almost in the mode of pleading to get started on their own. If they are hesitating, I try to get to the bottom of “why” because the last thing we want is to have techs acting indecisive in front of the customer. We should also solicit an “okay” from the training department to release the new technician or hire into the field. When the tech is in the field operating independently for the first several months, I or one of the front line managers will work with dispatch as to the new hire and which calls would be appropriate for them. The last thing we want to do is put them in situations for which they are not prepared. I am a strong opponent of the sink or swim mentality that so often exists in the service ranks. This normally is justified by commenting “well if they survive it will make them stronger” or “when they learn the hard way they will never forget it”. Any gain realized by the sink or swim mentality will potentially result in a significant negative customer experience. We want to encourage new hires not to give up easily and to work their way through an issue with phone support, or logical step by step trouble shooting. However, in the final analysis, we do not want them to embarrass themselves or our company in front of the customer.

New hires are made aware of a prearranged six month review that I like to have with them. In this review, we talk about their onboarding progress and that, if their performance is on track, a dollar an hour increase will be given. During this first six months, the management team should be talking with all who came in contact with them: their assigned peer, trainers, ride along techs, their first line direct manager and HR. The highlights of this information should be included in their six month review. With this being the conclusion of their first six months, it is the perfect opportunity to have the new hire fill out a short questionnaire on their opinion of how the overall onboarding process went. With expected progression being met we would, through dispatch, continue to increase the difficulty levels of their assigned service calls based on their completed levels of training and their monitored performance. Generally speaking, at the conclusion of the first six months and the review, the new hire should be acclimated enough that you now treat them like the rest of the staff with regular reviews etc.

It is my feeling that if we have gone through the challenging and time consuming process of finding and interviewing a candidate, we should be willing to invest the time in onboarding these good candidates solidifying them as one of our key players on our service team. With the demands of today’s business world, it is very easy to lose sight of the necessity to remain focused on our new hires to ensure we enable them to fully prosper. The quality of the person we put in front of our customers is a direct reflection of our company and its ability to delight our customers. I sincerely hope that in this three part document I have provided a few nuggets that can potentially improve this process within your organization which will lead to happier customers. I wish you a successful search for your next candidate.

BONUS: A companion blog (4th in the series) which we will publish over the coming week will highlight a 6 week chronological onboarding checklist guiding you through the first weeks of on boarding the new employee.  It isn’t meant to be a one size fits all approach, but rather a recommended set of activities which you can adjust based on the nuances of your particular business model and market segment (I have managed technicians where the training period was anywhere from 2 weeks to 9 months – adjust your schedule accordingly).

The Looming Crisis in Field Service

By Sumair Dutta | Perspective | 12 Comments

Over the previous decade, field service organizations have invested in process change and in automation to first improve productivity and then enhance revenue opportunities via resources in the field. While investment in these initiatives continues, another area of concern is rising in the minds of service business leaders: the fight for field service talent.

In the quest for field service talent, there are three primary challenges that business leaders need to address.

  1. Loss of field service knowledge and expertise with a retiring workforce
  2. Retention of service knowledge and transfer of knowledge to current workforce (and customers)
  3. Acquisition of new talent to replace retiring workers.

In a recent talent management survey conducted by The Service Council (TSC), nearly a third of respondents indicated that the loss of knowledge from a retiring workforce was currently a major challenge for their business. Another 39% indicated that it will become a challenge in the next 5-10 years. That’s 7 out of 10 organizations indicating that the loss of talent and knowledge in field service will be a major challenge in the coming years.

Figure: Looming Talent Shortage in Field ServiceSource: The Service Council, July 2014

Therefore a large percentage of organizations are looking at strategies and tools to retain and store the tribal knowledge that is about to head out of their organizations and to develop a systematic way of transferring this knowledge to the remaining or incoming workforce. Some of the most popular strategies being deployed:

  • Development of a formalized succession plan for the field service workforce
  • The formalization of mentoring and coaching programs
  • Investment in knowledge management tools to capture resolution practices
  • Provision of tools to field workers to record and retain resolution practices
  • Establishment of formal working teams comprising of retiring workers with new hires

We also see a push from organizations to retain their retiring workers on a part-time basis to support training or technical support initiatives.

While the strategies highlighted above address knowledge loss from a retiring workforce, they don’t support the discovery of new talent, another major challenge for field service leaders. In fact, field leaders need to find new field service technicians right away in order to meet rising work demands. This is being reported by a number of organizations in the TSC community. This general shortage of talent seen by our community is global in nature and validated by research done by ManpowerGroup. In their 2014 talent shortage survey, ManpowerGroup reported that the technician position was the third most challenging job position to fill behind skilled trade workers and engineers. To offset these challenges organizations were looking to revamp their training regimes and to rely on new talent sources. These talent sources comprise of untapped or under-tapped talent pools such as youth, older workers, military veterans and more.

In addition, organizations are beginning to look for workers who might not have the necessary technical skills, but have customer management and communication attributes and the aptitude to learn and absorb technical information. Our field service talent survey found that customer management attributes were rated as extremely important in the hiring of new field service technicians

We also see organizations begin to align and partner with educational institutions and technical colleges to essentially develop a farm system of talented field workers. By committing time and resources to these institutions, organizations are able to recruit skilled and talented workers (and some who are already familiar with that particular company’s products) right out of school.

There are a couple of factors to consider when looking at the upcoming talent gap due to a retiring workforce. While demand for field service workers is up due to an increased amount of work, the increased reliance on remote monitoring technology and self-service practices will reduce some of the labor-centric burden. More so, we anticipate organizations taking steps to increase their reliance on part-time contractors and outsourcing organizations for field work. This will especially be true for work that is not mission critical.

How is your organization dealing with the talent shortage? Post your thoughts to let us know. Better yet, spend a few moments with our current talent management survey.

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