Information about the Internet of Things (IoT) has been coming so quickly that it’s a bit overwhelming to take stock of where field service plays in this arena. We know it’s related. We can feel the potential. But it’s too early to draw a line around IoT with new insights coming daily. The one area where most analysts agree is that IoT is a revolution:

The Internet of Things is going to explode. It is starting to develop completely new services and completely new economies. There are a whole heap of different things that are being enabled by the fact that the costs of chip sensors is now so low that it is affordable to stick it on to anything you like and then collect that data. (Key facts about Internet of Things and how it will benefit Businesses, Ed Thompson, June 23, 2014)

IoT will have a huge impact by broadening the potential for service touchpoints, so it’s not too much of a leap to assume there’s some strong potential for our old friend, field service.

Increasingly, manufactured products from cars to airplane engines to medical devices are being outfitted with sensors and Internet connectivity that allow them to broadcast back to manufacturers information on things like how they’re being used and why they broke, and when they need to be serviced. In fact, it’s estimated that, by 2020, 40% of all data generated will come from such sensors. GE calls this trend the Industrial Internet…  (Manufacturing Trends to Watch in 2014, Jeff Moad, December 31, 2013)

So, within six years, if 40% of all data generated will come from machines, what does this mean for field service? Two themes seem to bubble to the top:

  • Capitalizing on The Internet of Things (IoT) is a lot closer than we think.
  • All things “service”, and most importantly, field service, are multiplying to create interesting long tails.

How the Field Service Long Tail Intertwines with the Internet of Things (IoT)
Recently, a client explained how their division is one of few within the company — a large capital equipment manufacturer — that provides service. More than 90% of their divisions are still focused on making, buying and even blackboxing other technology. The revenue focus for these groups has been on selling these large machines.

It’s obvious that service can be a revenue driver, and this manufacturer’s service division is now being scrutinized on ways to increase first time fix rates, absorb other divisions’ shortfalls, and find innovative ways to increase this revenue stream. They began talking to their manufacturing partners, those who create the components used within their own large machines, and the component manufacturer agreed to include devices and sensors prior to sale.

Now, these large machines — not just the core machine itself, but the various components — have embedded technology that can be invoked or detected. This may be defined as machine-to-machine (M2M) connections that have been talked about for years — or it may be viewed as the start of the application of the Internet of Things (IoT). Four areas stand out at this seemingly common scenario:

  1. Parts and components of larger machines (not just the core component) are becoming device-enabled, setting the stage for an IoT of a company’s own, specific things—the Internet of Your Things.
  2. Efforts to create unique, innovative services is a driving factor to increase revenues.
  3. As these components become enabled, the potential to connect increases dramatically. To start, mini-networks with dashboard visibility will pave the way for more elaborate network connectivity.
  4. It seems inevitable that new, dynamic types of field service opportunities will arise.

The Pervasive Access of Field Service
There’s been a paradigm shift in field service. This shift is from just looking at the three core pieces of service — scheduling, work order management and mobile — to taking a more birds-eye view: a top layer of functionality and innovation that enables you to take advantage of the long tail of service.

Some of the biggest challenges our field service clients face include all the different touch points through the global supply chain – customer, technician, dispatcher, agent, dealer, dealer’s dealer, vendor, manufacturer, company acquisitions, and finally, new concierge services.

Users are shifting roles. Companies are fluid. They need a service solution to be nimble and flexible but have the depth of automation that many field service solutions lack (Step Outside the Box: The New Imperative for Service & Manufacturing).

Pervasive Access and Disruptive Social Technologies
This type of pervasive access which stems from the many connections a corporation has to their many customers and their connections (think dealer’s dealer) is on the rise.

Just to be clear, this shouldn’t be confused with disruptive social technologies — the communities and collaboration platforms at the apex of business strategy and social technology (for insight check out “Transform” by Christopher Morace, 2014). This is an adjunct — at times including the social approach, but typically enhancing and integrating to these technologies.

Using innovative service technology can change the dynamic of how a service business can be run and provide a vision of what opportunities are available. In essence, it can provide the tools for you to create your own long tail of services.

The Tip of the Spear for Customer Experience – The Field
Along this same line, recent analysis of findings from “GE’s Global Innovation Barometer” suggests that although 67% of survey respondents agree that agility and speed in adapting and implementing emerging technologies into their organization is essential to innovation, 57% agree inertia and the inability to be agile in their organization is a huge obstacle. (Insights From GE’s Global Innovation Barometer Show Executives Need To Be Disruption Ready, Ray Wang, June 23, 2014.)

These two ideas are opposing. One way to overcome this is to look for technology that can rapidly be deployed across a spectrum of services.

The bottom line is that customer service and now field service has become much more strategic in nature, and the questions we’re getting asked from our base and prospects focus much more on customer experience than in the past. This means that combining touchpoints from a technology perspective—creating a base and then implementing various groups, including those in the field—are essential to create a more seamless experience.

Esteban Kolsky elaborates on the importance of the “Experience Continuum” for all organizations, not just those companies with a field force:

Experiences, not customer only, is something that all organizations must embrace for all stakeholders…We cannot design an experience for customers without considering that a) they are going to be part of an end-to-end process (and thus must be an end-to-end experience), and b) they must accommodate all parties involved in this end-to-end delivery….you must begin to think of them…encompassing many stakeholders along the way – and design and implement them that way. (The Foundation Components for Digital Transformation, Esteban Kolsky, January 13, 2014)

It’s not too surprising. In the area of Top Business Improving Technology Investment priorities within the next five years, Gartner’s research suggests the number-one priority (50% of respondents) will be Customer Experience Management (“CRM Bootcamp:  Who Cares about CRM in Your Organization?,” Michael Maoz, Gartner Customer 360 Summit, 2014). In Gartner’s 2013 study of CEO/CFO technology investments, Customer Experience was already at number three (“CEO and Senior Executive Survey 2013:  Financial Services CEOs Grapple With Costs and Uncertainty,” David Furlonger, Gartner, March 25, 2013).

Why is Field Service Key to the Experience Continuum?
If you’ve been in field service for the past 20 years, you know that the business is quirky, dynamic and complex. Field service systems need depth, nuance, and functionality to not only capture Preventive Maintenance (PM) schedules, but also to dynamically change based on new data and proactively generate new service requests as needed. Fields on a screen to capture data are useless without the flexible business logic that makes the information useful.

What is it about field service that makes it such an important component of the Experience Continuum?

  1. Field service is the most complex of the “service” functions. Due to its dependency on inventory and financials, strict integration with ERP and customer service-related functions is key. It’s one of the most difficult solutions to get right from a functionality standpoint.
  2. In addition, field service is the one area of service where your organization can have a pre-scheduled, face-to-face meeting with your client, and impact their loyalty by enhancing their experience. No other service function gets this close to the customer. Field service provides the opportunity to upsell/cross-sell and, frankly, make the customer smile. This may turn the current vision of your field personnel on its head—but it’s true, and should be considered in your future service planning.

The “Industrial Internet” and the “Internet of Engagement”?

GE calls this trend of manufactured components with internet connectivity the “Industrial Internet”. One analyst chips at the IoT hype explaining that in every-day life, “the ‘Internet of Things’ focuses on the anonymity of the transaction:  take in signal, compute signal, respond to signal. Antiseptic, clinical.”   He further explains that we might be better off as a next step to create an “Internet of Engagement”. (Fooling ourselves with an Internet of Things, Michael Maoz, June 30, 2014).

The bottom line is that field service is the end touchpoint for a customer (Why Field Service Has the Upper Hand When it Comes to Social Collaboration). In the real world, devices and sensors can send messages and invoke an amazing series of intelligent business processes to resolve a problem. But the pace of internet-enabled devices that simply need a service to invoke them opens up a world of potentially impersonal service, or even worse, plain old bad service.

Have you ever asked the GPS voice-response system in your car to “Go to Starbucks”, and gotten the response, “Going to Roebucks”? The world will have a difficult time assimilating the rate of internet-enabled devices vs. the ability to service the equipment as automatically as customers expect. Moving more toward an “Industrial Internet of Engagement” may just be the answer.

The Field Service Glue
Five years ago, field service seemed like one of those industries that would slowly wind down as equipment became more sophisticated and processes more automated. We saw customers trim and outsource various service divisions, and push remote monitoring through the contact center and combine it with a smaller field force. This push and pull between customer service and field service has been occurring for 20 years.

However, what we may find with the emergence of IoT is that the glue for taking the “Industrial Internet” and this potential “Internet of Engagement” may well be the one type of service we never dreamed would stick.

Field service may be the one area of service that will reinvent itself with endless offshoots of opportunity. It may be the one industry that can provide the glue to a rapidly increasing, device-enabled world.

Be it proactive engagement via increased predictive maintenance or traditional service, field service may well be stickier than we imagined—stickier, and maybe even cool.

As one analyst recently mentioned to me, “Who would have thought after all of these years, field service would be cool?”

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