Field service is the most sexy occupation in the world.
Pitched to a roomful of field service chiefs, this statement was calculated to be both provocative and alluring. Who wouldn't want to discover their role had suddenly transformed from a disregarded housekeeping function into the glittering center of enterprise attention? Connected digital technology is the catalyst for this Cinderella-like metamorphosis, as Hari Subramanian, co-founder & CTO of ServiceMax, went on to explain to his audience at the service management vendor's MaxLive Europe conference in Paris this week:
Think about it — iPhone, iPad, Google Glass, augmented reality. Field service is going to be the most modern in terms of technology, enabling the best experience for the workforce.
The entire event had a strong Internet of Things theme to it, with IoT guru Kevin Ashton declaring in a keynote:
Field service is the killer app for the Internet of Things.
Instead of arriving on site with a ruggedized handheld or battered laptop and little clue as to what they'll find, the message was that tomorrow's field service engineers will turn up before the breakdown even occurs, carrying the correct replacement part and fully briefed on upsell opportunities at the customer site. As ServiceMax CEO Dave Yarnold told me in conversation later:
It is really cool to see techs who have been neglected for so long and been expected to do more — basically perform more jobs, on a daily basis — without the advantages of new technology. Now, we're giving them this amazing mobile app on these amazing devices. We're changing their lives.
To prove the IoT meme was more than mere hype, customers took to the stage to show off their experiences of connecting field service teams with smart devices. Energy equipment maker Schneider Electric demonstrated an app that will allow engineers to view live metrics from components mapped on a 3D image of the device they're servicing (hence the mention of augmented reality). Digital imaging manufacturer Sony PSE talked of how it collects metrics from sensors that continuously measure the performance of installed products.
It isn't only big-ticket items designed by global corporations. Yarnold cited the example of a smaller company that is using sensors to help it in its business of maintaining loading docks. Customers seem to be eager to take advantage of IoT technology, he told me, while admitting it is still early in the adoption curve.
Even the smallest, simplest companies are finding ways of cost-effectively getting there. It's moving faster than I thought it would.
We have been dealing with this incredibly conservative group of service professionals. For some reason — this ability to connect to customers, connect to products, and all the goodness that that brings — I see people moving ahead quickly.
Time will tell. I agree with you that we're still in the early stages, but it sure feels like this has legs. As a trend, this has tremendous legs and the business case will be there.
Getting to first base
Yet for every customer that can demonstrate a proof-of-concept for IoT-enabled field service, many more are still figuring out how to get their core systems and processes in place to get to first base.
Jérôme Piche, SVP of global customers at bioMérieux, a €1.7 billion revenue ($1.9bn) medical equipment maker, put a typical point of view in a fireside chat on stage with Yarnold:
We are not yet at the Internet of Things in bioMérieux. We just finalized with Salesforce and ServiceMax in order to roll out sales, marketing and servicing.
Today we are probably very much organized in silos and by using this tool we can break down those silos and get a holistic view of field service.
We have 1500 doing customer service in bioMérieux. Today they have a tough job because they have many things to fix and they are supporting and fixing issues, not selling, and we need to support them. Using ServiceMax, we can have some metrics to review the cost of service and we can create opportunities to have some sales as well.
Nordic asset health business Inspecta is in the midst of a three-year roll-out of ServiceMax to 1500 staff in eight countries. The diversity of its operations means that COO Timo Okkonen has to be mindful of cultural factors:
We know how to do it technically. The biggest leap now is to get the change going and get buy-in in all the countries.
But those who have begun to collect data from customer equipment in the field are positive about the impact. Manish Gupta, SVP of enterprise systems at Schneider Electric, commented:
We are realizing more and more when you sell a product to your customers, you want to track how they are using it. We want to ensure they can use it better and we can give them more and more services.
To me it's really the low hanging fruit. It's more about how do we start exploiting it?
John Cooper, head of service at Sony PSE, which went live with ServiceMax in May this year, emphasized the value of knowing how products are performing outside of the occasions when there's a reported problem.
We had built up systems and processes inside of our own world. There was a lack of visibility at a time when margins were being squeezed. Now we can show that we do a great job 99.5 percent of the time.
In every corner of the enterprise, digital transformation seems to be creating three classes of technology user.
- The most disadvantaged group are those who are still saddled with outdated client-server technologies that can no longer keep pace with the high-speed information flows and process agility of the modern world.
- Then you have those who have begun the move to better connected, more agile systems that allow them to monitor performance, collaborate effectively and adapt to changing business demands.
- Finally there are the lucky few that are beginning to harness the potential of connected digital devices and cloud resources to move to a new level of operational efficiency.
Field service management, mainly because so little of it has been connected in the past, does seem to present huge opportunities for transformation to those in that third group.
It is very early days, and the business cases need to be carefully prepared, but at least some of the excitement ServiceMax has been encouraging at this week's event does seem to be justified. Subramanian has a point: field service probably will get to use some of the most desirable tech in the 21st-century enterprise.
Image credit: Event photo by @philww.
Disclosure: ServiceMax is a diginomica premier partner and funded the author's travel to MaxLive.