How SaaS transformed business and the role of field service

Profile picture for user AthaniKrishnaprasad By Athani Krishnaprasad October 3, 2016
Building on the Salesforce software-as-a-service platform has helped ServiceMax transform the role of field service, writes co-founder Athani Krishnaprasad

Clouds making a heart shape © Delphotostock -
When Marc Benioff founded Salesforce almost two decades ago, it’s unlikely that the business world truly understood what was coming. Then, the cloud was a novel concept (outside of meteorology circles, anyways) and software updates via physical compact discs were the norm.

Today it’s no secret Salesforce has become the go-to CRM offering through its impassioned ‘no-software’ stance to cater to massive enterprises and smaller businesses alike.

By organizing its offering around a customizable platform, it allowed companies to build upon Salesforce’s pre-existing software to create management systems tailored to their businesses. The result has been an entire ecosystem of companies and applications tied into the Salesforce workflow, built on the platform.

But while Salesforce has consistently changed the idea of software delivery, it wasn’t until it became a platform company that things really started to get interesting. And it’s worth looking at how far the industry has come — especially as it relates to field service — before jumping too far into the future.

Some may recall in 2008 when we at ServiceMax won the $2M challenge (back then we were called “Maxplore”). Before that time field service management really just meant scheduling optimization - in other words, coming up with schedules for technicians to go out and fix malfunctioning machinery. Cloud and mobile were just gaining mass adoption.

We set out to change that, and create the first, modern end-to-end operational system for field service in the cloud.

Changing an enterprise afterthought

For so long, field service was considered an afterthought for the enterprise, mostly because it was something companies were required to offer – like warranties or basic service plans. There wasn’t much happening in the space before we arrived – mobile was still Blackberry’s realm and the cloud didn’t have mass adoption like today. Let’s be honest: the field service space was boring.

But we put two and two together and saw back then what the cloud, mobility and building atop the platform could mean to bring field service to life. So we forged ahead, using to build out our field service management offering.

Today we’ve come to champion what we believe are the core tenets of field service – people, process, promises and products – that each have underlying engines that drive functionality from optimization to reporting and metrics, service flow processes and entitlements as well as unprecedented mobile capabilities. In a nutshell, these are what separate a field service management platform from a traditional ERP or CRM system and comprise the heart of field service.

As the field service space evolves, the complexities and nuances of field service will continue to drive our relentless innovation and will certainly challenge the basic functionality of legacy system bolt-ons from folks like Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and even Salesforce themselves.

Still, I consider the moves of these legacy system vendors into the field service a huge validation for the vision we laid out almost a decade ago.

The service becomes the product

Disruptive technologies like IoT and predictive analytics have been around for a little while now, but recently they’ve come together with field service to truly prove a killer application. Being able to remotely monitor industrial equipment, gather data on its performance and automatically schedule technician visits before products break has proven a game-changer.

So now, thanks to these new technologies, we’re entering a reality where nearly every company can offer service like a utility. Think about how a utility operates: they’ve laid a gigantic infrastructure – a power grid – and then they turn it on, sit back and generate revenue from the service they provide. Why can’t every company think of itself this way?

Imagine a company like GE, Schneider Electric or Elekta no longer deriving a majority of their revenue from selling products but instead driving a majority of their revenue by servicing their customers. This is the essence of what I call an outcomes-based business model.

I’ve witnessed these companies and others like them build an entire infrastructure of smart sensors atop of their machinery and equipment in the field – just like a utility – which enables them to charge customers not for equipment per se, but rather the service that the equipment actually provides.

So, an HVAC company can start guaranteeing and charging for constant temperatures; jet-engine manufacturers can move to a model where they charge for hours in the sky versus the engine itself; or an elevator-lift company could base their revenue model on load/unload times.

At the core of delivering such an outcome-as-a-service is the ability to maintain these machines with the highest degree of reliability, and doing so in the most efficient and cost effective manner. This is why field service is such a valuable proving ground for IoT.

When servicing the machine has been removed from the customer’s equation and the manufacturer takes it on, guaranteeing outcomes, it completely changes the conversation. With data from hundreds or thousands of smart sensors in the field, companies are now able to offer service as the product.

If you are major retailer you don’t want to build and service your own cash registers.. You want rapid and reliable transactions - and look to partners who can consistently provide that outcome.

So with an outcomes-based model, what manufacturers are doing now is basically taking over all service of the product in the field and guaranteeing varying degrees of uptime to generate the desired outcome, whether it’s flight time or reliable wind farm operation. And you have the ability to do that based on a service plan enabled by smart devices and a cloud-based mobile field service software platform that automates the entire service process.

And this is radically changing how companies differentiate themselves now, especially in industries where the product is somewhat commoditized. Customers get their outcomes. Manufacturers get more steady revenue streams.

Looking ahead

We’ve certainly come a long way since basic scheduling.

I’d of course say that’s still an important piece of the puzzle, but our space and what our customers ask of us has evolved so significantly since then that field service is truly a critical enterprise system of record.

And not only does the customer conversation change with outcomes-based field service management, but companies will also need to rethink how they run their business. It’s a very different reality than simply selling products and tracking revenues. Service can provide a competitive differentiation, and I for one am excited to see how companies innovate around field service.