Steve Smith

By Steve Smith

September 5, 2017


Undoubtedly, predictive maintenance can be a secret weapon for smart field service teams. But new tools allow savvy professionals to get predictive with more aspects of their operational footprint than ever before. Which means making the right call about how to invest in predictive technology is also tougher than it used to be.

At face value, American football and field service share little common ground. But upon deeper examination, it’s obvious that service and football are both built around the same fundamental truth: unpredictable behavior.

And overcoming unpredictable behavior requires incredible play-calling skills.

For example, if a 300-pound linebacker comes barreling towards a quarterback on a defensive blitz, that quarterback must make split-second play change. Likewise in service, when a customer cancels an appointment at the last minute, the dispatch manager must make a quick decision about how to best utilize a technician’s time.

In field service management, having a predictive service playbook that keeps your team moving towards the goal line can be the difference between winning and losing.

In the following paragraphs we share a few predictive scheduling, travel, dispatch, and maintenance ideas to keep your team sharp.

Play #1: Predictive Travel Option Pass

In football, one of the most tried and true plays is the option pass route, in which the quarterback flanks right or left of play and waits for one of the receivers to open up while remaining on-the-go. This ensures they don’t get tackled, and buys the QB time to throw to an open receiver.

In service, keeping your technicians on the move is also key. Most organizations plan travel routes by accounting for technician location, proximity to a job site, available routes, likely travel times, and the technician’s existing schedule.

But today’s mobile devices and software can track and account for so much more. Everything from route efficiency, drive time, current weather, to traffic and technician skillsets can be incorporated into the travel and dispatch decision-making process.

Which is why the most advanced service organizations are combining all of the data featured above to improve travel and routes for their field techs in real-time.

In fact, modern artificial intelligence (AI) software can predict that heavy traffic will be the result of torrential rain, and proactively re-route a technician to a job within a closer proximity. Instead of sending out a technician to sit in traffic, your software could be aiding in dispatching the technician to work on other tasks at a nearby location until the weather passes and driving efficiency improves.

The results are higher productivity, and lower fuel costs. It’s a first down for your service team.

Play #2: Predictive Dispatch Running Back Blast

Another common, but dirt-simple play in football is the running back blast. In this play, the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back who blasts straight into the middle of the defensive line hoping there’s a weakness, or hole. A quick succession of simple blasts can often speed play, and wear the opposing line down.

In field service, using predictive technology to ensure your technicians are blasting into jobs faster can truly boost your bottom line.

Crunching the numbers on scheduling and dispatch ensures that every field technician has a balanced and reasonable dispatch schedule. By reducing time spent not working (i.e., traveling to a job site), your techs can fit more jobs in an average day.

Predictive travel software uses historical data about traffic–both time of day and day of week–to estimate future travel times. These accurate predictions allow service teams to build a better daily service schedule. Combining predictive intelligence with real-time predictive travel insights, your technicians can effectively notch one or two more jobs completed per day, which across an organization, yields major profit. At the same time, using predictive dispatch intelligence helps you avoid downtime by scheduling jobs during the busiest traffic.

When combined with real-time route optimization, predictive dispatch can mean more customer equipment getting serviced in a given day, more revenue, and happier customers.

And that’s another first down for your service.

Play #3: Predictive IoT Maintenance Dime Zone Defense

In football, a good offense often means having the best defense. A popular approach to defense in professional football is to play in zones, as opposed to using man-to-man coverage. A dime defense means having six defensive backs cover passing routes, or away from the line of scrimmage (as opposed to four, or five). This makes it highly unlikely that the offense will complete a game-changing, or long passing play.

Likewise in field service, taking an aggressive defensive approach often prevents the need for maintenance altogether.

Consider embedding Internet-of-Things sensors on heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) units, industrial parts and systems, or on environmental monitoring equipment. This allows your service team to track and predict hiccups in performance long before the larger system fails, or the end user notices.

By leveraging AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), you will more accurately predict when these smart devices need service, or how often they might fail. Simply put, combining AI and the ability to process data inputs from IoT-enabled machines allows your organization to accurately predict service and maintenance timeframes.

In one potential scenario, ongoing analysis of data from sensors embedded on an HVAC unit could uncover a specific model of fans that are consistently causing issues. In another, you might find that an Oil & Gas pump is experiencing unnatural vibrations, or temperature spikes that could be a sign of an underlying issue. Obviously, if treated proactively this could save Oil & Gas organizations thousands, if not millions of dollars.

We’ll call that a touchdown for service.

When it comes to predictive maintenance, these tips truly just scratch the surface of what’s possible. Tomorrow’s leading service organizations will embrace artificial intelligence, IoT, and many more technologies to incrementally improve the customer experience, and ultimately win in the broader business arena.

Are you prepared for the customer of tomorrow? Subscribe to field service matters for advice on all things field service technology, trends, advice, and news.

Steve Smith
By Steve Smith

Steve Smith, senior vice president of strategic industries at ClickSoftware, has more than 15 years of experience defining and delivering mobile workforce management solutions for a range of vertical markets including telecommunications, utilities, insurance, home services, medical equipment, capital equipment, and oil and gas operations. He is also co-author of the book "Service Is Hard" along with Mike Karlskind and Alec Berry.

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