By Olivia Cahoon
Organizations rely on field service technicians for a majority of business operations. To optimize communication for technicians to better diagnose issues, parts, and information needed for problem resolution, businesses implement field service management (FSM) software.
Within a customer relationship management (CRM) environment, FSM solutions are associated with an organization’s overall ERP solution to improve contact management, parts management, claims, repair, enterprise asset management, and product lifecycle management systems.
According to Gartner, FSM applications should possess the scope to achieve four objectives including scheduling and assigning a service technician, complete mobilization of technicians to perform end-to-end service tasks, the ability to look up inventory status in real time, and receipt of requests for technicians via the internet, phone, or an intelligent device.
FSM solutions grant higher productivity for route optimization, contract management, product configurations, and reporting and service analytics. By improving planning, quoting, execution, and follow-up services, it also caters to a heightened customer experience.
Businesses opt for FSM software to improve the quality of service delivered to the customer, improving the customer experience, and the ability to price that service at a level that yields a satisfied customer with the least cost possible, says Tom DeVroy, senior product evangelist, IFS Field Service Management.
“In the end, people look to field service software to improve profits by either generating more revenue for the company or reducing costs for existing operations,” explains DeVroy. Industry trends like the Internet of Things (IoT), field optimization, and process improvements impact FSM software and its business objectives.
Many organizations implement FSM software to gain greater visibility into their service operations and to improve efficiencies. This includes growing technician productivity and utilization, reducing costs, and improving service margins.
Lubor Ptacek, VP of product marketing, ServiceMax from GE Digital, says that once an organization’s margins improve, they look for methods to grow their service business and contribute to increased competitiveness and retention through better customer experiences.
“Some of our most advanced customers, however, look at their field service organization as a way to change their business model to deliver outcomes to their customer, not products,” says Ptacek. These outcomes cannot be obtained without making field service an integral part of the company’s offering and customer experience.
FSM software offers higher productivity for eliminating manual processes in service planning, scheduling, and execution. Additionally, it improves service to cash flow cycle times by reducing administrative tasks performed by dispatchers and technicians, says Paul Miles, segment manager, Trimble. It also improves the customer experience through more consistent responses and execution.
To further improve customer management, developments in big data, cloud technologies, and wearable technologies are available in today’s FSM software. “Cloud-based services allow for more flexibility with implementation and provide a more consistent user experience in the field and back office,” says Miles.
At the same time, mobile applications improve visibility for field-based workers while IoT integration enables visibility for planning service and maintenance. Big data grants predictive maintenance and repair capability to aggregate and analyze health and performance data. ‘Predictive maintenance capabilities enable more efficient resource planning by service providers and improve their ability to meet service contract commitments,” offers Miles.
FSM for Organizations
Any company that provides a service is a candidate for FSM software including industries like agriculture, automotive, construction, logistics, telecommunications, and utilities. Ptacek identifies the three common types of organizations that requires FSM software as manufacturers, service-only organizations, and service equipment operators.
Generally, the primary objective for manufacturers that deliver after-market service for products is to improve customer experience to sell more products. Ptacek says service-only organizations focus on growing their service revenue while service equipment operators seek to improve the reliability and performance of equipment managing costs.
FSM software includes features for cloud, big data, wearables, and IoT, but not all organizations take advantage. Instead, companies approach new technology cautiously and with slow adoption rates. For example, Ptacek says there is a huge amount of interest in the benefits derived from connected equipment and IoT, yet we only see early adopters actually implementing these tools. “We see tremendous opportunities for organizations to take full advantage of IoT technology to shift from reactive break-fix service models to proactive models, thus significantly reducing any equipment or downtime,” he adds.
Wearable technology is available in smart watches, vital data trackers, and augmented reality devices. While Ptacek sees wearable technology as something that continues to affect how technicians safely access critical data on the field, it’s underutilized by field service providers due to cost and cumbersome use.
Another aspect of FSM software that hasn’t been fully leveraged is big data. While IoT connectivity has made it easier to access consumer data, many organizations struggle with the concepts of data ownership and privacy. “While the customer that owns the equipment usually owns the data as well, the service provider can deliver much better, proactive service if they have access to that data,” says Ptacek. However, this dynamic can be difficult to navigate with an influx of IT firewalls.
On the other hand, Ptacek sees a broader number of business leaders investing more in the latest field service technology since the benefits of digital transformation have proven to be incalculable. “Most companies understand the power of business applications and data,” he says.
Select FSM software implements support technology like the cloud, big data, wearables, and the IoT. However, many companies with a service organization only take advantage of FSM software for operations and customer management, says DeVroy. In fact, he believes only a small percentage of companies, roughly 20 percent, have integrated production systems that enable IoT and big data analysis in the cloud, although there is high interest.
“Many organizations are looking for visibility into their field service operations and have yet to tap into some of the more advanced capabilities like business simulations, predictive field service, or wearables, and the business case for some of this investment varies greatly from one organization to the next,” says Paul Whitelam, group VP, product marketing, ClickSoftware.
Big data is used to analyze equipment performance trends and provide insight that increases operational efficiency. Leveraging big data and machine learning can identify historical traffic patterns and how they can impact the future. According to Whitelam, looking at all of the characteristics of previous service engagements improves the ability to predict the duration of a task.
Additionally, machine learning models establish which previous engagement characteristics correlate with task duration and to what extent. This can include the impact of weather, equipment type, or technicians. “ClickSoftware’s customers have seen accuracy improvements of up to 20 percent here which has significant impact on being able to provide more accurate schedules and improving field service efficiency as well as customer satisfaction,” says Whitelam.
Cloud-based software offers automatic upgrades for organizations to receive the newest enhancements as they’re made available. It also offers elastic computing capability which allow organizations to take advantage of processing power and access important data from any location.
Whitelam says organizations can run business simulations to assess the impact of implementing different methods like scheduling approaches. By taking advantage of cloud computing to run business simulations, customers can understand the trade-offs between different KPIs. “By assessing the impact of possible approaches on KPIs important to the business, the system quantifies the impact of these business decisions and provides greater insight and operational control to field service organizations,” he explains.
DeVroy believes many FSM solutions are available in the cloud so that internal IT departments don’t have to support the infrastructure. He says the biggest trend is IoT data transmitted to the cloud where it can be analyzed for trend analysis. The actionable elements of data can then be transmitted to the FSM system for disposition.
Wearable technologies offer software and efficiency offsite and in the field. The specific approach of these technologies varies but it’s most commonly implemented with the use of augmented reality devices in the form of eyewear, which provide hands-free, constantly available information.
“It reduces the need to refer to technical documentation and for complicated tasks that typically require a constant review of documents that can save a significant amount of time and increase the changes of a first-time fix,” says Whitelam.
Wearable technologies can stream to a remote expert resource that can actively view what a field worker is viewing in real time. The remote expert resource guides the technician while using in-view annotations and offering ramifications for training strategies. “What extent do you need to train all field personnel if expert insight is available at the touch of a button?” asks Whitelam.
One example of this technology is Google Glass, an optical head-mount display in the form of eyeglasses that acts as a hands-free smartphone. “Google glass was the talk of the town for some time and it just didn’t pan out,” says DeVroy.
However, DeVroy says IFS believes Microsoft HoloLens holds potential for integration into FSM software. Microsoft HoloLens is a self-contained, holographic computer that enables users to engage with digital content and interact with holograms by gazing, gesturing, and voice commands.
IFS Labs is currently underway in projects to incorporate this technology. “Our partner XMReality also has a working augmented reality product on their proprietary field of view glasses for remote guidance already deployed with IFS customers,” says DeVroy. Additionally, he says standard smartphone technology can be used to facilitate augmented reality and other field-based collaborations.
Today, organizations focus on exceptional customer experiences. With the expansion of technology across industries combined with the accessibility of cheaper products made overseas, Ptacek says it is often a critical differentiator for companies to drive revenue growth.
“FSM will be a tool the C-suite turns to create a winning customer experience as field technicians are the face of many enterprise and business to business companies, and in most cases the only touchpoint,” says Ptacek. He believes companies that invest in FSM software empower technicians to deliver more efficient, effective service and generate more positive customer interactions. As a result, today’s FSM focuses on cultivating a meaningful customer approach.
According to DeVroy, the emergence of assets as a service creates needs for metered or outcome-based contract billing. Service organizations need to invoice based on new metrics built on the asset’s productivity rather than the services delivered. “This will be a power-by-the-hour approach where operational metrics like hours of operations will drive billing instead of or in combination with maintenance events.”
Selecting FSM Solutions
A variety of vendors offer FSM solutions with different features and focuses. Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution, Ptacek recommends IT departments work with technicians in the field to truly understand pain points before deploying any technology while identifying the business’s top priorities. This includes proactive scheduling, maintenance, and offline mobile capability dependence.
“The needs of service providers not only differ along customer lines, but also across industries,” says Ptacek. For example, medical device manufacturers may rely on advanced work order management systems while oil and gas engineers are often deployed to remote areas without internet and need to access data offline.
Miles suggests organizations consider solution providers who can help them improve capabilities with first-time fix rates, meeting commitments, selecting the right tools and parts for a particular job, capacity planning, and optimized scheduling. These areas can be accomplished by determining what advanced features the FSM provider offers and how it can be used for the organization.
Before selecting an FSM software provider, DeVroy suggests organizations create a strategy and road map. This includes an achievable target and ensuring employees understand the end goal. He warns organizations to try not to do too much too fast and to not extend communications about service initiative beyond their walls to avoid surprising customers.
FSM software optimizes communication for field workers by eliminating time-consuming manual processes and improving customer experience. While the latest developments in FSM software include cloud technologies, big data, and wearables, not all users take advantage of these capabilities to improve FSM. Before selecting an FSM software provider, organizations should consider what new features are best for the organization and if the provider can help them improve their capabilities. SW
Feb2018, Software Magazine