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How the Internet of Things Is Driving Change in the New Service Era
There will be 8.4 billion connected “things” in regular use around the globe in 2017, according to research from Gartner. This is up 31% from 2016, and it is forecast that the number of connected devices will rise to 20.4 billion by 2020. The Internet of Things (IoT) is here, and it is opening up a new world of possibilities for improving field service – from household assistants such as Amazon Echo to complex machines equipped with smart sensors supporting businesses that cannot afford even 30 seconds of downtime.
Imagine if service engineers were able to anticipate service needs before they happen – problems before they arise. If, for instance, field service professionals tasked with managing your office air conditioning were able to keep it running – without fail – throughout heatwaves and hot summers because they were able to identify maintenance needs before breakdowns happen. And, right across the board, imagine if every service visit resulted in a fix first time, every time.
The IoT is fast-making these possibilities a reality, transforming customer relationships by enabling organizations to deliver more rapid, more efficient, more precise, and more proactive service. Indeed, the IoT is driving change in a new era for field service where customer experience is shaping up to be the ultimate strategic differentiator.
Increasing Efficiency while Reducing Costs
As soon as any regular, everyday piece of technology – from toasters to security cameras to HVAC – is given network connectivity, it becomes IoT-enabled, allowing machines and devices to relay real-time intelligence to field service operators and engineers. This, according to 81% of industry leaders surveyed by Worldwide Business Research (WBR), is the future of field service. The IoT will enable organizations to automate scheduling and dispatch without human interference, with a technician arriving on-site immediately after a problem is reported. And the engineers and technicians themselves, mobile- and/or tablet-equipped – perhaps even equipped with wearable technology such as smart glasses in the not-too-distant future – will be much more self-sufficient with ready access to service history and other information from previous site visits, leading to vast improvements in maintenance and failure prevention.
It is in this way that IoT technologies open up field service to predictive maintenance models – models that not only improve customer relationships and experience, but save organizations time and money as well. The ability to first diagnose and then address issues before they arise is paramount to achieving these savings, for the fewer second (and third and fourth) service requests are made, the more money the organization saves.
Let’s use the office HVAC system again as our example. During bouts of unpredictable weather, IoT sensors can, in the first instance, adjust temperatures automatically in reaction to climate trends and other data, thus reducing pressure on the system to react to sudden cold or hot spells and negating the need for a technician to manually adjust the heat. Beyond these smart controls, the sensors can also help reduce costs from reactive maintenance. Connected devices will be able to use real-time, predictive analytics to determine which services are needed and when. In an IoT-enabled HVAC system, service histories will be tracked, meaning that service trends can be automatically analyzed to predict when a check-up is due; in addition, continuous monitoring flags up potential malfunctions before they occur. The result is that no one’s rushing to blue-light engineers to get the system fixed when it suddenly breaks. Rather, the system itself will schedule a fix before disaster strikes, and will provide accurate details of the maintenance required – increasing the likelihood of issues being fixed the first time around, which reduces the need for additional service tickets and technician billable hours.
Driving Value from End-to-End
It’s not just improving (or outright enabling) predictive maintenance models that the IoT facilitates. Connections are at the heart of field service, and the true value of IoT comes in the technology’s ability to automate these connections from end-to-end.
It begins with the monitoring capabilities of the connected devices, and reporting problems when identified. Beyond the simple identification of the problem, however, the next stage is to diagnose precisely what the malfunction (or pending malfunction) is. Predictive analytics could come into play here, as well as machine learning adaptive analytics, with the ultimate goal of the technology to determine whether the identified problem can be diagnosed and/or fixed remotely, or if a service call is required.
The next stage is to order the parts needed for the fix, which, again, is a process we can expect to see being increasingly automated in the future. As can we with the dispatching of the field technician, which will in fact be the best field technician – for instance, the one closest to the customer site with the necessary skills to solve the problem. At the site, technicians will subsequently be able to use their connected mobile devices to access and retrieve the most appropriate information to complete the servicing task. Then, finally, the wrapping up of the work order can be completed via automation – everything from payments and warranties to customer surveys and case resolution documents.
Transforming Customer Expectations
As the IoT takes hold and drives change in the new service era, it is ultimately its impact on customer service that is most likely to drastically affect the dynamics of the field service industry – perhaps more-so than the potential technological advancements themselves. The engendering of predictive maintenance will not only provide end-customers with a superior service, but will also usher in a change to the way services are measured and compared. While today maintenance and repair SLAs (service level agreements) are largely based on response times, as IoT technology becomes more and more commonplace, expectations will shift from an organization’s ability to quickly repair faults, to ensuring that equipment doesn’t have any faults at all. Next-day response times will no longer be enough to qualify as an “excellent service”, for the market will deem this to be a day too late.
The IoT is set to be a hot topic at Field Service Europe 2018. Be sure to download the Field Service Europe 2018 Agenda for more top insights and challenges facing the industry today.