It's a Connected World, But Are Your Field Workers Connected?
Tom DeVroy | Manufacturing Business Technology
The field service industry has always been one of the earliest adopters of new technologies, from the original PDAs to IoT-enabled devices. Now, a new generation of technology is uniquely positioned to transform the field service industry, promising to reduce costs and dramatically improve the quality of service organizations can offer. Tom DeVroy, Senior Product Evangelist for Enterprise Service Management at IFS, identifies three technology-led developments set to disrupt field service and discusses how flexible and modular resource planning infrastructure will help organizations reap substantial rewards.
Effective field service is about proactively managing your workforce and inventory in order to meet the constantly sliding scale of customer expectations. As a result, field service organizations are constantly looking to improve on the key metrics to better serve customers: first-time fix rate (FTF), mean time to service (MTTS) and mean time to repair (MTTR).
Three new technology driven developments are establishing themselves in the market, with the potential to dramatically impact these field service metrics to benefit both the customer and service provider:
- Advanced mobility: augmented reality, instant messaging platforms and native apps
- Predictive analytics enabling prescriptive maintenance
- Optimized scheduling and demand forecasting in an IoT world
First: Beyond mobility: augmented reality, instant messaging and native apps
A mobile workforce needs a mobile-driven field service strategy. In a recent study on mobility, performance and engagement, 60 percent of employees said mobile technology makes them more productive in the workplace. But field service organizations are now moving beyond simple mobility, looking for more intelligence and flexibility from their mobile computing platform in order to take full advantage of next generation devices.
Native apps are a key part of this – allowing engineers to receive instant updates, access repair information or collaborate with product experts without leaving the job site. Instant messaging platforms such as Slack and WeChat are also allowing field service engineers to keep connected, with more information and collaboration supported on their mobile device. Engineers are able to contact other colleagues for assistance in real-time – reducing the need to return to base for assistance.
Seeing is Believing
ABI Research shows augmented reality is on the rise, and Gartner predicts businesses will purchase 53 million tablets by 2016. There are instant benefits for field service engineers. Mobile solutions now allow engineers to receive real-time feedback and expertise while on the job, enabling repairs to be completed more quickly and efficiently. Companies like XMReality are already working on pioneering augmented reality projects like this.
With this remote guidance, a support technician is able to watch and guide the engineer through every step of the repair without having to leave base. Using smartglasses, engineers are able to see a real-time and interactive demonstration of the repair job right in front of their eyes. These skills can be leveraged anywhere, any time with the capability of modern mobile technology – drastically improving FTF.
Second: Beyond business analytics: predict and prescribe maintenance
The rise of IoT sensors and integrated technology on equipment is also enabling more efficient field service. Instead of scheduling maintenance when a fault is recorded, predictive analytics and the remote monitoring of equipment through IoT means faults can be detected before they become a problem.
Combined with business intelligence to make sense of the big data being captured through IoT, predictive analytics can be used to find actionable data to inform business decisions. Enabling service organizations to be proactive in regard to equipment performance means moving away from calendar-based scheduling, and towards predictive maintenance.
IFS has a predictive maintenance capability embedded in its field service applications, allowing better allocation of an engineer's time. With sensors deployed on the factory floor, service organizations can monitor vibration analysis of bearings and predict when machine parts will start to degrade, then schedule maintenance proactively.
Field service solutions should be able to find and collect patterns of data from past actions and use this information to create generic rules to highlight how processes and services can be improved in the future – delivering new insight into operational efficiency.
Mobile devices are now able to run intelligent diagnostics and capture potential problems. Based on the diagnostic output, the mobile device is able to recommend a maintenance plan and the various tasks needed to be performed, before the engineer gets on site. This technology is going one step further than just predicting when faults will occur, and will prescribe which action needs to be taken in order to fully maintain that asset.
Prescriptive maintenance will take into account budget, time and other constraints and provide an optimal order of actions and the work orders to fully maintain that equipment – all in a matter of seconds.
Third: Staying ahead of schedule
First-time fix rates are an important KPI for field service organizations, but recent Blumberg research shows that the industry average for first-time fixes was under 80 percent, meaning 20 percent of jobs require additional follow-ups. Inefficient scheduling results in a lower first time fix rate and longer time to final resolution, as unqualified engineers can be sent and the necessary equipment may be unavailable.
Although not a new technology, schedule optimization is a foundation on which new technologies can thrive. By combining scheduling with data from IoT devices, the next generation of schedule optimization tools go much further and help to forecast field service demand, SLAs and potential resource needs – all in real-time.
IoT-enabled sensors can trigger actions when an event changes, and automatically re-schedule jobs around this. This combination allows field service organizations to improve FTF, MTTS and MTTR by consistently scheduling the right engineer for the right job, at the right time.
When One Hand Washes the Other
Take one recent example. A custodial services company – that uses IFS to optimize their field scheduling – is responsible for maintaining and replenishing washroom supplies for a large number of hospitals, restaurants and other commercial facilities. The company has a sizeable contingent of mobile workers who provide delivery and replenishment services.
Much of the work is done on a planned basis, so delivery schedules are organized in advance to streamline operations. In addition, the optimization software analyzes all SLA obligations, geographic considerations and other relevant parameters to design service routes that minimize travel times and costs, and produce the highest possible productivity levels.
Since optimizing its field scheduling software, the company has saved nearly $3 million in fuel costs alone – thanks to the optimal routes and planning the software generates and its integration with field workers' mobile devices.
Don't Get Left Behind
These new technologies are going to bring serious benefits to field service organizations because they are so tightly integrated with delivering improved customer service and improved bottom lines.
In what is a dynamic and changing market – with tech-savvy customers demanding higher and higher levels of service – it is vital for organizations to be able to implement these cutting edge technologies.
The New Breed of Enterprise Solutions Takes Away the Risk
Traditional field service management solutions are simply too cumbersome and inflexible to enable field service organizations to reap the benefits. To quickly benefit from these latest advances, organizations need the backing of a new generation of flexible, agile enterprise solutions.
Traditional enterprise solutions can take months or years to simply implement, let alone adapt to an entirely new technology. The new breed of modular enterprise solutions are designed to remove the time and pain of modifying existing processes, and instead maximize the opportunities of new technology. These agile systems negate the need to fully customize legacy systems – a costly and timely process – and are enabling organizations to quickly adopt new technology, without the risk of losing out on a competitive edge.
These disruptive technologies and the digital transformation they require offer benefits that resonate throughout the whole service organization – from the top-down. Strategic planners have real-time visibility to plan tasks and schedule the workforce in an industry with many unknown elements, from customer unpredictability to traffic, and even the weather.
This, in turn, directly empowers technicians, providing them with the right tools and information at their fingertips to better perform their job. But ultimately the most important stakeholder reaps the benefits – the customer receives the best possible level of service.
Tom DeVroy is Senior Product Evangelist for Enterprise Service Management at IFS North America.
Credit: by Tom DeVroy
Copyright Advantage Business Media
This article was written by Tom DeVroy from Manufacturing Business Technology and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
The information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. Click here for Grainger's full legal disclaimer.