Paul Whitelam

By Paul Whitelam

June 8, 2017

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Service has traditionally been a reactive practice. Something breaks, a technician is dispatched to fix it, and sometimes the repair is successful the first time. The Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication are transforming customer expectations around service delivery, forcing providers to rethink how they do business. IoT-enabled devices provide ongoing visibility into the status of a piece of equipment, as well as a richer view of the severity and source of any issues, and the ability to make predictions based on this information.

The service organization no longer waits for a panicked phone call from a customer. They can proactively maintain equipment, replace components before they break, and use an understanding of asset lifecycle and usage patterns to inform future product design. Customers increasingly expect to pay for uptime instead of equipment, and define SLAs based on their business targets. Eventually, all service organizations will have to live up the expectation of seamless service and minimized disruptions.

Shifting IoT from Novel to Practical

Although IoT in field service is still relatively new, early adopters like manufacturers of capital equipment are approaching greater maturity. They’re leapfrogging other industries in terms of first-time fix rates and overall operational efficiency. Other industries are beginning to recognize the potential benefits, and we’re seeing conversations around IoT shift from wide-eyed wonder to practical next steps.

Utility and telecommunications providers are well positioned to benefit by making the infrastructure they maintain smarter and better connected. Consumer-facing organizations can better empower customers to participate in diagnosing and repairing problems. The Smart Meter initiative in the UK is a perfect example where mass adoption by consumers will force manufacturers to advance. A couple years ago IoT in service was largely seen as tomorrow’s problem. Today, service providers are eager to take action.

When considering your IoT strategy, consider not only the potential operational gains, but also how increased efficiency and uptime can be leveraged for improved customer experience and retention.

Getting Started with IoT

One of the biggest challenges of marrying IoT and field service is developing the technological infrastructure to capture, process, and respond to the data collected by IoT-enabled assets. Turning voluminous data into business intelligence will require service organizations to completely rethink their operations. If a machine can tell you an uncomplicated part needs replacement, will you be able to dispatch a junior (and therefore less expensive) resource to provide maintenance; or simply deliver the part to the customer by drone? Will you be able to do so without human intervention?

Will you be able to use IoT data to optimize scheduling preventive maintenance while reserving capacity for emergency work? In order to fully realize the benefits of IoT, field service organizations will need to incorporate artificial intelligence driven service automation solutions that integrate with their other systems. IT support will be increasingly important, as well as expertise in data science.

The Advantages of IoT Adoption

Many technologies hold transformative potential for field service suppliers, but it’s short-sighted to either hail any emerging tech as a panacea or wholesale dismiss it as a bad fit. With IoT, as with any technology, the key to getting real value is understanding which problems need solving, then finding the solution to match. All technologies evolve, and some fall out of fashion, but business challenges remain frustratingly consistent.

At a high level, here are some meaningful ways IoT can play a role in improving your service organization:

  • Reducing the cost of travel and labor by enabling remote diagnosis and fixes of equipment
  • Mitigating risk and preventing critical failures with ongoing monitoring and proactive service
  • Providing insight into usage patterns to better serve customers and inform future iterations of a product

The urgency around IoT adoption varies from one vertical industry to the next, but the cost of service delivery and need for greater visibility are universal concerns. The old business adage “you manage what you measure” certainly applies. If your competitors have a level of insight that enables them to increase the number of jobs per technician per day or reduce critical failures by 90% thanks to preventative measure, the business benefits are powerful and quantifiable.

Investing in the appropriate framework, infrastructure, and processes is essential to fully leverage the potential of IoT. It will require a massive rethinking of your operations and the role service technicians play, but will deliver measurable ROI.

Increased efficiency and productivity, and slashing the cost of missed SLA penalties, that has direct impact on customer satisfaction and profitability. IoT can deliver exactly these types of insights and business outcomes, and only service organizations that invest in IoT capabilities will reap these rewards.

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Paul Whitelam
By Paul Whitelam

Paul Whitelam is Group VP of Product Marketing at ClickSoftware, where he works with field service management leaders across a variety of industries. Paul has more than twenty years’ experience in enterprise software, working on both the technical and business aspects of many of the areas that are fundamental to field service such as mobility and sensor technology (Nokia), data management (Endeca), and machine learning, SaaS and GIS (HERE).

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