Today we heard the news that ClickSoftware was being acquired and taken private by Francisco Partners. Personally, I have covered ClickSoftware and worked with their team over the course of the previous 10 years and wish them the best as they enter this new journey. ClickSoftware has been, and continues to be, a key player in the field service automation space, and I look forward to tracking their progress moving forward. Over the course of the previous 12 months, two major software providers focused on field service, in TOA Technologies (by Oracle) and ClickSoftware, have been acquired. Most of the field service providers that started off as scheduling optimizers have now been accounted for. There aren’t many independent enterprise-focused field service software companies left.
The path that Francisco Partners chooses to take to maximize their return on investment remains to be seen. Over the course of the previous three years, ClickSoftware has taken numerous steps to position itself for continued growth, primarily with a focus on the cloud, via a partnership with salesforce.com, and through an extension of its solution to SMB (small and medium sized business) and contractor workforces. Will these be the foundation of continued growth and who will lead that growth? These questions will be answered in the near future.
Whenever an acquisition like this takes place, one tends to believe that it was a good deal. The acquiring company sees untapped value in the company being acquired and this value will be gotten to via a continued focus on business growth, or a significant focus on efficiency and cost optimization. Stepping back from the ClickSoftware situation for a moment and looking at the broader field service market, I believe that the discipline of field service is vastly undervalued. This undervaluation is represented in the way organizations view and evaluate their field service workforces. It is also seen in the general in the value software and solutions companies place on the growth prospects of the field service discipline. Here’s why I hold this point-of-view.
Early Stages of Mobile Maturity. While 60-80% of enterprise class (Annual revenue of USD 1b+) organizations we poll provide their field agents with mobile devices, a much smaller proportion are actually leveraging mobile applications or tapping into the deeper functionality of these mobile applications. While there is greater maturity around automating calendars, schedules, and basic work, there is a big gap in the provision of greater information and intelligence to field workers via mobile apps. In SMBs, particularly smaller field organizations, the adoption of mobile applications is even lower.
Wrench Turners to Customer Ambassadors. There is a changing mindset around the role played by field service. Field agents are not only seen as transactional wrench turners, but are now viewed as service and customer ambassadors. Since these agents are quite often talking to and connecting with customers, there is a premium being placed on the relationship being established with customers. This relationship yields greater knowledge of customer needs and wants and offers the opportunity for improved customer management and increased revenue. For field agents to truly become ambassadors, two things need to happen:
- Field agents need to be better equipped. This extends all the way to the hiring and training of field agents but also to the tools available to these agents when in front of their customers. We’re just beginning to see this type of information being extended to customer service agents in the contact center, but we haven’t seen it done in a consistent manner with field service agents.
- The organization needs to be prepared to collaborate with field service and act on the information available from field teams. For instance, sales and account management should be tied at the hip with field service in order to get a better understanding of customer needs. Yet, most organizations have an adhoc relationship established between service and sales (16% indicate a well established and periodic system of collaboration between these groups).
Talent and the Infusion of Contractors. There continues to be a major shortage of field service workers, an issue that is likely to become worse before it gets better owing to a large retiring workforce and low entry and recruitment rates of young field service apprentices, engineers, and agents. Forty-six percent (46%) of organizations indicate that they closed 2014 with unfilled positions for front-line field service agents. In the short-term this has led to an increasing number of contractors being leveraged for field service work, in both B2B and B2C field service environments. The contract workforce continues to get larger, and most of it has yet to be mobilized.
IoT-enabled processes and self-service business models will have an impact on field service and lead to the elimination of some field-based roles. In instances where these roles have been eliminated, the workers have been reallocated to office-based tech support or training roles. In these positions, they continue to support customers as well as other field-based service agents. As a whole, IoT-enabled connectivity will provide another layer of information and intelligence for organizations to equip their field agents. With this intelligence, field agents will be tasked with solving customer problems, but will also be required to deliver and communicate value to the customers. In our opinion, IoT will create a new normal of service delivery and customer relationship management, raising the premium on face time enabled via field service visits.