November 2017 - The Service Council

Looking for the Next Great Technology in Field Service, Let’s Not Forget About Mobile.

By Sumair Dutta | Perspective | No Comments

Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) are getting all the love on future technology watch lists. And they should – every organization should have a strategy around these technologies and their impact on business process, organization structure, and customer experience. This is true of manufacturers and others in the pursuit of field service excellence. However, I continue to believe that the most transformative technology for field service organizations in 2018 will continue to be mobile. Mobile can be augmented by some of the capabilities of the other technology systems, but mobile is also essential to enhancing the value of these other tools. Here’s why I believe that mobile remains untapped and must remain on the technology watch list:

Power to the Field

Three out of four field service organizations polled by The Service Council (TSC) have empowered their field agents with mobile devices and tools. I would argue that, most of these investments have been made to eliminate paperwork with the automation of work orders, billing, parts management and more. While this does enhance productivity, there is a lot more that can be done to truly empower field technicians. In a truly mobile system, most of the basic work order and other information should already be pre-filled or easy to fill with the aid of audio or video (enter AI). I have yet to see a majority of organizations actually look to leverage mobile to improve the field technician’s experience via the reduction of redundant form filling (even on a mobile device) or by making it easier to find information. We are just scratching the surface of exposing knowledge, expertise, and collaborative capabilities to field service technicians.

The Mobile Learning Platform

We think AR will significantly disrupt learning and training in the long run, but content on mobile devices will get there first. Almost every organization that we speak to is looking to develop on-demand learning tools that technicians can access on their mobile devices. These tools can be job or task-specific or they can be linked to broader career development objectives and goals. Mobile also allows technicians to record videos of service procedures and share these with the technician community. User-driven content is becoming a sought-after medium as it promotes service resolutions while also encouraging an interest in learning. In the remote world of field service, user-driven content can also help field service technicians feel connected to their broader field service team which develops camaraderie and enhances employee engagement.

The Mobile Customer

In our 2017 trends research, service leaders prioritized the need to improve the customer experience delivered via their contact center and field service teams. In field service, an improved customer experience refers to:

  • For service events. Ease of appointment setting, visibility into technician and repair status, proper billing and invoicing.
  • For the ongoing relationship. Better visibility into asset performance and easy access to self-service (account-related) or self-help (product-related) information.

Organizations, especially those that are more industrial in nature, have just begun to look at self-service capabilities for their customers especially since they recognize the cost and revenue benefits of extending these capabilities.

Data Points

This is the most underrated benefit of mobile. Organizations often believe that they need real-time (and always on) data collection to build predictive models or to feed machine learning systems. The problem is that real-time performance data is hard to get. Even with better connectivity and cheaper sensors, it is still challenging to capture real-time data. In the interim, organizations have the ability to use mobile technology to track every service need and corresponding resolution scenario (parts, skills, knowledge used). All of this failure and resolution information can be used to develop predictive service models. It can also be used to build forecasting models to service parts or to prioritize knowledge and training investments to ensure that the relevant resources are easily available for those who need them.

I believe that AI, AR, and IoT will be transformational in field service. I just think that we have yet to fully experience the transformation yielded via mobile.

I recently spoke on a webinar regarding our research on the four technology areas and their potential progress in field service in 2018. This webinar was hosted by our partners Field Technologies Online and Astea (listen on-demand). I’m happy to debate and discuss the mobile topic further, please feel free to ping me below.

Sumair Dutta
E: sd@servicecouncil.com
Tw: @suma1r

3 Trends I Didn’t Expect to See – Service Parts Leaders Discuss 3D Printing

By Aly Pinder | Perspective | No Comments

In August 2017, I felt like I was able to prove that the case around 3D printing for service parts management had been made (post here). But I may have been a bit premature in my assessment.

As noted in my earlier post on the topic, several organizations such as Hewlett-Packard, NASA, the US Navy, and the US Coast Guard have displayed the real-world efficacy of 3D printed service parts. However, in a recent research survey of service parts executives, early results showed that less than half could foresee their organizations using the technology within the next 5 years, let alone have a pilot in place in 2018! This number, though taken from an initial sample, was surprising to me as these service leaders noted a number of disruptive challenges facing their service parts businesses which seem ripe for 3D printing to help solve.

Chart – Most Disruptive Challenges Facing Service Parts Leaders in Next 12 Months

TSCData-2017-P-3DPSPM-Figure1-Challenges

As listed in the above chart, service leaders are trying to navigate a world which is unpredictable, costlier, and more demanding. So why aren’t more service organizations and manufacturers kicking the tires on 3D printing or at least thinking this will be an option for them to improve customer service, decrease the cost of moving parts across a complex service network, or mitigate the uncertainty of fluctuations in future service needs. Three lessons jumped out at me as I looked through the data from the service parts leaders who chose to share their thoughts on the topic –

1- A reduction in inventory is not necessarily the driving factor for an investment in 3D printing. Service parts executives noted that the reason they would explore an investment in 3D printing was to Improve responsiveness to customers and increase satisfaction levels. So, in thinking about what might drive a decision to invest in this technology which as noted by our early results may be cost prohibitive, the cheaper option is to prioritize incremental improvements in the current resources to support parts movement across the network (i.e., mobile visibility in to parts available, better routes to get to the problem faster, better triage and diagnosis). The leap into the future of 3D printing still remains too much for these parts leaders to bite off on when other fixes are more tangible and cost-effective.

2- Solutions still aren’t business ready, at least in service. More than 80% of our initial sample of service parts leaders either felt solutions weren’t ready or they didn’t quite know yet. That comes in stark contrast to the marketing materials and excitement displayed regarding the topic. The service community often takes a wait and see approach to new technologies. The investments can be too large, the time to deploy too long, and the risk of failure too high for many service organizations to jump into new endeavors that have yet to be proven out. We still see organizations managing a field team from a whiteboard or spreadsheet. To be business-ready, these service parts leaders expressed concerns both about the technology (i.e., quality of printed materials, cost) but also about their internal capabilities to support such an investment. The latter is a challenge that won’t be easy to fix quickly and takes a strategic vision from service leadership to cross.

3- The problems 3D printing solves aren’t top of the list of critical challenges for service parts leaders. When looking at the barriers noted by this initial sample of service parts leaders to investment, I expected that service leaders would state the technology is too expensive or they didn’t have the resources to execute (which they listed). But I didn’t expect to see that a number of service leaders noted that they didn’t think this investment would actually solve a problem they felt they currently had. For the technology to gain traction it must solve problems that are top of mind for the service parts leader, otherwise, 3D printers will be relegated to a piece of cool technology and not become a priority when service parts leaders allocate budget around their key initiatives.

The exuberance of tech geeks, marketers, and analysts like myself regarding the technology of 3D printing can’t be overstated. The promise and the value seem to be there. But as noted above and in recent data, this initial sample of service leaders still struggle with making the connection between promise and value for today’s service parts organization AND gaining the necessary momentum to bite off on the investment. To close this gap, I think service parts leaders need to further explore the technology, the price of 3D printing solutions need to come down a bit, quality of printed parts has to be proven, and the market must communicate how 3D printing solves the specific pain points of the service parts leader and technology buyer. But despite the skepticism and numerous hurdles to increased investment, the interest in the subject continues to be high amongst service parts leaders and I plan to continue to gather data points and take the pulse of the market. So stayed tuned in…

And if the topic of 3D printing for service parts management is of interest to you or a colleague, please take the 10 minutes needed to share your thoughts in this survey – https://www.research.net/r/tscp3d2017. I will be publishing some additional insights in a report later this year.

As we exit 2017 and enter another year, please do let us know topics you are interested in or you feel need more insights from The Service Council Research Team.

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