Field Service Management (FSM) has transformed field service delivery in the same way that the Internet of Things (IoT) is poised to transform FSM.
A lot of mystery still surrounds the concept regarding the Internet of Things (IoT). This is probably because its potential reach is so vast that it doesn’t easily lend itself to a neat, cohesive definition.
In simple terms, the IoT is a huge network of connected things that collect and exchange data. These things can be any device that has an on/off switch and is internet-enabled. So things like cellphones, headphones, wearable devices and household items like coffee makers, lamps and washing machines are just a small number of examples.
Industry predictions for the number of connected devices by 2020 range from 26 billion to over 100 billion. Regardless of exactly how many there’ll be, the number will be staggering, with billions of relationships consisting of people-to-people, people-to-things and things-to-things.
But the IoT phenomenon didn’t arise from a vacuum. It was facilitated by the greater availability of broadband internet, the decreasing cost of connecting to the internet, the explosion of devices created with WiFi capability and overall smartphone penetration. All these factors combined to create the perfect environment for the present and future growth of the IoT.
But what exactly is the value of having so many interconnected things?
While not immediately obvious, the implications of living and working in this interconnected environment are many and, in some cases, life-changing. Service organizations are poised to benefit exponentially from the opportunities arising from this interconnected landscape. Field technicians become connected to their equipment and head-office in real time via their mobile devices, changing the way that technicians respond to service requests, as well as how diagnostics are performed.
All of this change paves the way for a truly proactive and cost-effective service experience, in contrast to the more reactive way of doing business. In fact, by working alongside the IoT, the field service industry has established interoperability across devices, applications and platforms, transforming the very nature of the technician’s role and function in the field.
Prior to this collaboration between field operations and the IoT, however, the development of FSM technology resolved some of the greatest challenges that field service operations (FSO) were dealing with by introducing automation in the field. Consequently, the possibility for human error was significantly reduced, while the probability of increased customer satisfaction and workplace efficiency grew substantially.
The increased efficiencies ushered in by FSM technology enabled FSOs to benefit greatly from this innovation, and the marketplace rewarded software companies that catered to this highly specialized market. This technology quickly became an indispensable tool for field technicians, managers in the head office and their customers.
The next phase in field service automation, which incorporates the integration of the IoT with FSM software, provides opportunities that go beyond the improvement of scheduling and dispatching service professionals, and begins to incorporate machine-to-machine (M2M) communication (bypassing all human interaction) in ways that will transform the service industry.
But what are some of the tangible benefits that the FSO industry can expect to draw from this partnership?
The opportunities for field service with IoT enhancements are very broad, touching on many sub-segments of the market. But one of the most significant changes is in the nature of the relationship between the organization and the customer.
Customer satisfaction has remained a top priority for companies pursuing successful growth strategies, and the IoT provides a path to furthering these strategies. As the increasing intelligence of devices and hardware become more commonplace, the typical culprits — poor communication and lack of information — are becoming less and less of an issue in straining customer relationships.
As field service continues to evolve into a predictive service vs a reactive one, more and more customers are beginning to accept this level of service as the new normal. Industry studies point out that a majority of customers (some studies indicate as many as 89%) are willing to pay a premium for this level of service.
The advancement from devices that signal a need for service only after a system failure to devices that proactively schedule a maintenance call prior to a failure is recognized as the most productive way forward for the service industry.
Another opportunity that’s offered by the close-working relationship of the IoT and FSM technology is in the critical area of cost savings.
In fact, cost savings are aligned quite closely to customer satisfaction, because many of the conditions that go into strengthening customer service also present opportunities for companies to reduce costs. For example, the predictive analytics powered by the IoT provides the means to diagnose and address issues before they occur, saving time, money and making customers very happy.
By capitalizing on the ability to learn more about the service cycle based on machine learning models, organizations can optimize their practices and processes by gathering the information generated by sensors in the network. By coordinating activities with the full intelligence of the IoT network, it’s possible to generate the optimum service cycle for a device that incorporates inspection, preventive maintenance and repair, if required. Furthermore, many device inspections can be completed by technicians by remotely logging on to the equipment’s portal.
IoT sensors can also sound the alarm when inventory parts need to be stocked, ensuring the availability of parts when they’re needed. This solves the problem of over- or under-stocking parts, given that inventory is a big expense for service departments.
The cost savings inherent in the process changes of many of the activities that make up field services, as introduced by the IoT, are significant. The continuing opportunity for innovation across the field service landscape multiplies the possibilities for cost savings that will significantly impact the company’s bottom line.
Field service companies have a unique opportunity to dramatically shift their business model in a potentially beneficial and fruitful direction based on their ability to optimize the use of data generated by the IoT. They can essentially transform from reactive responders of customer problems to proactive partners and advisors in the lifecycle of connected equipment and devices, thereby endorsing the next standard in service.