When I became a field service rep 31 years ago, I was told by a very wise senior technician , “If there’s something you don’t like about this job, just wait six months and it will probably change.” Change has certainly been a huge part of my career as a field technician and it will undoubtedly be a part of it until I retire. Looking back, there’s no way I could have imagined how computers and smartphones would revolutionize the industry. A “smartphone” in 1985 was a phone with redial and hold features. So how is anyone going to predict what field service will be like even a few years from now? I don’t think it is possible to predict all of the changes that might come, but there are a few trends that are just now starting to get traction which I think are a safe bet to lead us into the next decade.
Connecting to The Internet of Things
Even though this buzzword has been around for a while, IoT in field service has not yet come close to its potential. I would imagine that’s because many of the machines field service reps repair are too expensive to replace with ones that have the internal sensors and wiring that make connected machines worth the effort. But as Aly Pinder of the Aberdeen group points out in the article Flash Forward: Why Wait Until 2020 to Excel at Service, Excellence is in Front of You, “In 2015 approximately one-third of all service issues were resolved remotely.” Being able to repair equipment over the internet reduces downtime for customers and saves labor costs for the service provider. I can’t help wondering when companies like GE and Carrier will figure out cost-effective ways to retrofit existing equipment to join the IoT fleet.
Dipping into the Big Data Stream
Machines are getting smarter every day. Onboard sensors and smart chips were first installed to provide monitoring and communication between system modules to ensure smooth operation. Now they track everything from system performance to how the customer is utilizing the machine, and then IoT feeds a constant flow of big data that’s ready to be analyzed to company servers.
Analytics is a burgeoning field of study that has only just started being tapped. I used a much cruder form of analytics years ago by keeping copious notes on every service call I did. I would then average service call frequencies and parts failures with customers who had similar usage. I was able to predict when a customer was going to place a service call, on average around 40% of the time. Imagine what computers could predicted from the data that is collected today.
Taking Advantage of Technology Available Today
Those of us who have gone digital have a hard time imagining that there are still many technicians filling out paper invoices and parts replenishment forms. Today’s field service software solutions are used for invoicing, scheduling, dispatching, parts management, and much more. They’re also a great source of data to add to help further analyze your business. The only advantage to staying analog in a digital world is avoiding the cost of equipment and software. However, the cost of both have come down and continue to fall as more companies figure out that it is getting increasingly difficult to match the productivity levels of the competition: more products sold = lower prices for all. I think it’s safe to say that handheld devices that run field service software will continue to sweep through the field service industry. But only time will tell what will be the ‘next big thing’ to take us into the field service future.
Donald B. Stephens is a field service technician with 30 years of experience with the Xerox Corporation. He is also a freelance writer, blogger, novelist and humorist.