In 2017, field service will experience its own major renaissance

SUMMARY:

Trends in politics, technology, demographics and servitization all portend a renaissance for field service in 2017, writes Athani Krishna of ServiceMax

Engineer and wind turbine with cloudy blue sky © kinwun - Fotolia.comAn elevator goes on the fritz or a wind turbine isn’t pulling its weight, so the repair company dispatches a technician after the customer calls to complain. ‘How can I help you?’ the tech asks. He or she digs into the issue at hand, pulling up the machine’s history and inquiring about the outage. The customer stands by, making sense of the tech’s observations and answering what they can before the diagnosis.

That scene has played out thousands of times in the history of field service — and in 2017, it will surely continue. But what if I told you that entire exchange took place between the equipment itself, and a technician in the field carrying an iPad? The field technician is working remotely, connecting to the customer site from the web and proactively analyzing data from the machine’s extensive data history thanks to info-gathering sensors. That’s not all — once the tech determines the error and a course of action, he puts on the augmented reality goggles to fix the machine’s issues virtually!

The old model of service is rapidly shifting to a new proactive — and increasingly predictive — one, and all kinds of emerging technologies are enabling this shift. Service is at the forefront of concerns for companies with industrial infrastructure and equipment in the field, and guaranteeing uptime while leveraging technology has become possible in entirely new ways.

While 2016 served as a banner year for field service — with organizations putting machines online, the number of field service professionals edging up, and prominent industrial companies fully realizing both top-line and bottom-line opportunities in service — all of this happened as disruptive technologies like augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence and drones found real use cases in this space.

As the race to dominate digital industrial revolution continues in 2017, field service will only play a more crucial role and as these trends continue, next year is shaping up to be a big one. Here are a few of my predictions for the coming year and how they’ll impact the industry.

1. New president equals growth in service

As President-Elect Donald Trump continues to pressure companies to create (and retain) higher-wage manufacturing jobs in the US, they will be forced to look at new business models in response to the rising cost of their products. With innovation in service business models, and advances in service technology, companies will provide ‘outcomes’ to customers versus simply selling them products — creating new revenue streams, more service jobs and a higher-value customer experience. Additionally, the push to reinvest in infrastructure will increase service delivery needs nationwide — creating even more growth in service.

 2. Companies get better at measuring data they already have

The Internet of Things is exciting, and we love talking about the possibilities it unlocks. So many organizations want to reap the benefits that IoT connection provides, but they neglect to understand how much the data they already have could impact their businesses. As we continue to see IoT become more prevalent in field service, many organizations will also get savvier at analyzing the data they already have. In 2017, CIO’s will make more strategic investments to allow companies to dip a toe in the field of data analytics while still improving their business.

3. As the workforce ages and changes, AR and VR help out

While field service jobs grow in numbers, companies hiring these technicians face difficulties attracting new, young talent as the industry ages out and engineers board the job-hopping train. As organizations work to fill their ranks with skilled employees, the increased adoption of augmented and virtual reality will find a welcome home in field service in 2017. Whether facilitating jobs remotely, institutional knowledge transfer or hands-on learning in the field, VR and AR will not only help supplement the changing field service workforce but may in fact prove a useful recruitment tool as well.

4. Manufacturers battle service providers for profitable service revenue

The shift towards servitization will put pressure on organizations who find themselves hard-pressed to increase their outcomes-based service offerings and resulting service-level agreements. A battle will break out between manufacturers who want to service their own equipment in the field and third-party service providers who are trying to provide low cost or local alternatives.

On one hand, manufacturers have a leg up on service providers because they can access and modify sensors already in the machines they build, putting them in the perfect position to continually evaluate and service machines. However, smaller, more nimble service providers are an inherent — and specialized — part of the service landscape. As 2017 approaches, both sides of this equation will aim to outpace the other and control the field service industry.

My take

With 2017 bringing political, economic, and service-related changes, it’s hard to say what the industry will look like after 12 months. But as these and more changes come, no doubt that field service as a whole will continue to evolve strategically and grow.

Image credit - Engineer and wind turbine with cloudy blue sky © kinwun - Fotolia.com