2014: The year "Back to the basics" collides with "Back to the Future" in field service

Jan 27, 2014 • FeaturesManagementFuture of FIeld Service

Strategies for Growth's President, and member of the Field Service News advisory panel, Bill Pollock takes a look at how he believes the industry will fare in the coming year...

All things point to 2014 as being the year when “Back to the Basics” and “Back to the Future” are finally due to collide. The collision will not be spontaneous – nor will it be particularly disruptive. In fact, it is likely to be extremely synergistic! Moreover, our research strongly suggests that these two otherwise divergent paths will begin to work together in a more harmonious manner to propel the global services community to even greater heights with respect to both revenue growth and profitability.

Granted, similar statements are made around this time each year (some, even, by myself); however, 2014 will be a markedly different year in that there has already been a steady uptick in new technology investment evidenced over the past 12 - 18 months (i.e., supporting the “future”), coupled with a renewed appreciation that customer needs and expectations must once again be placed at the top of the list of market strategies and actions that can empower services organisations to attain higher levels of service performance, customer satisfaction and profitability (i.e., the “basics”).

Let me explain how these two paths are most likely to collide …

“Back to the Basics”

Immediately following the “great” global economic meltdown of several years ago, most services organisations almost immediately went into cost-cutting mode in an attempt to reign in expenses (both capital and operating). While some employed an orchestrated approach to cost-cutting, others may have gone somewhat overboard or, even worse, may have ended up not having cut enough waste or inefficiencies in a timely enough manner. Nonetheless, over several years, most of the leading (i.e., “best practices”) services organisations were finally able to rollback costs to a point where they were able to not only survive, but thrive in a downturned global economy.

However, as it became increasingly evident that costs could not be cut any lower (i.e., nothing more to cut!), many organisations found themselves struggling to maintain – let alone bolster – their respective bottom lines. Once again, the leading organizations recognised that the bottom line was actually an equation, influenced directly by both costs and revenues (among numerous other factors). Therefore, if they could not decrease the cost side of the equation any longer, the best way to improve the bottom line would be to drive higher levels of service revenues. Thus began a brief era (i.e., two to three years or so) that transitioned the focus from cost-cutting to revenue generation.

Fast forward to 2014, and we are now seeing a global services community that has much of its costs under control, has taken proactive and interactive steps to drive increased levels of service revenues, and has allowed itself (gratefully) to re-focus its resources on the needs and expectations of the customer – a return to a more classic approach to services strategies and actions.

“Back to the Future”

However, it seems that each year, new technologies, applications, tools and “toys” are forecasted to “change the way in which we live” – or, for the services community, “the way in which we will be able to manage our operations.” Some prime examples have included such diverse technologies and tools as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and tablets, RFIDs and scanners, M2M and remote monitoring, the Segway – and the list goes on and on. Then we all take a collective deep breath, wait a few years, and – sometimes, before we even are fully aware, they quietly become integral components of both our lives and our businesses. (Well, maybe not so much with respect to the Segway!)

Fortunately (albeit mainly for those organizations that have already prepared themselves for dealing with the “basics”), the “future” is about to collide with them – but in a good way. For example, earlier this year, it was reported that a fighter jet used by the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) flew with 3-D printed metal components for the first time. The air intake support struts, protective guards for take-off shafts and cockpit radio covers inside the Tornado jet were all made by 3-D metal printing, said defense manufacturer BAE Systems.

In October 2013, U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin said it was experimenting with 3-D printing of titanium parts for use in space flight; and NASA has plans to put a 3-D printer on the International Space Station later this year. Although 3-D printers can cost several hundred dollars or more, the question remains, how much can your organization save by 3-D printing some of its more common, fairly basic, parts?

M2M technology; big data; real-time telematics; and new mobile devices, applications and tools are being introduced to the global services landscape on a seemingly weekly basis, and – oh, yes, before you know it, many of 2013’s, 2012’s or (plug in the year) “new” technologies that may have mysteriously fallen off of our radar screens, may actually find their ways into our services organisations’ regular operating routines, thereby supporting the transition of this year’ “future” to next year’s “basics.

Enjoy the transition – and don’t forget to “mind the collision!”