Last week Salesforce announced the next generation of their FSM solution, Salesforce Field Service, which was designed to equip field service organisations with the power of Artificial Intelligence-powered tools to deliver trusted mission-critical field service delivery. To find out more about this announcement Kris Oldland, Editor-in-Chief, Field Service News spoke exclusively with Paul Whitelam,VP of Product Strategy, Field Service Management, Salesforce.
The development of Salesforce as a powerhouse within the field service management sector has always been on the cards ever since they first announced their first foray into the world of Field Service Management (FSM) four years ago back in 2016. As the world's most dominant CRM platform, they had the muscle to grow in this aligned technological space rapidly and have done so at breakneck speed. However, in the last 12 months, their development has been given a turbo-boost with the acquisition of Click (formerly ClickSoftware.) Given that the original iteration of Salesforces' Field Service Lighting was developed using Click's technology, there was always something of an inevitability of the acquisition. Now just over a year after the intention to acquire Click was announced we are seeing the fulfilment of the promise of this more formal union emerge.
As Whitelam explained when I spoke to him just ahead of last week's announcement of the next generation of Salesforce Field Service (now minus the 'lightening' suffix) "we evolved particularly after the acquisition of Click in October last year it has given us an really unfair advantage in terms of accelerating the integration of the Click Intellectual Property into the Salesforce codebase."
"Click had hundreds of people with twenty years plus experience in the space which is now infused into the Salesforce ecosystem..."
- Paul Whitelam, Saleforce
However, it was not just the best-in-class technology that Click brought to the marriage. As a company that spent years at the fore of the FSM sector, they also brought a wealth of industry experience.
"It [the acquisition of Click] has also accelerated our growth in areas such as go to market implementation capabilities. Click had hundreds of people with twenty years plus experience in the space which is now infused into the Salesforce ecosystem," Whitelam explains.
So, what makes the new iteration of Salesforce Field Service so exciting? Well firstly, much has been made about the ability for companies on the platform to leverage Einstein, Salesforce's own powerful AI offering. Indeed this is something that underpins much of the tools that were central to Salesforce's initial wave of messaging that we saw across the industry trade journals across the last week or so.
Understanding the New-Normal of Field Service Operations:
However, while this is an essential ingredient in the Salesforce mix, perhaps what was also apparent was how the solutions Salesforce have introduced show an increased maturity of understanding of the challenges field service organisations are now facing in a post-pandemic world
"A lot of people are now thinking about the context of what field service means in the face of today's pandemic-centric environment," comments Whitelam.
"The truth of the matter is that in terms of field service, the show must go on. These are mission-critical staff, of course in healthcare, but also elsewhere in industries such as utilities or communications that literally must continue being able to support the various infrastructures these organisations maintain.
"There are some typical ever present challenges field service companies face such as challenges around data being in disparate systems, not having a consolidated view of the history of what has taken place with an asset and information about the customer themselves," Whitelam continues.
"We have to ensure a task can be broken down, so that the points where there must be person to person interactions are minimised..."
- Paul Whitelam, Salesforce
"However, obviously there are new challenges that come from the pandemic. Safety requirements is a key issue for example. Companies need to be making sure they are not risking spreading the infection and doing everything to safeguard the safety of their staff and their customers alike."
This is at the heart of the dichotomy field service organisations now face. They must continue to deliver mission-critical maintenance, yet still some six months on from the initial lockdowns much of the exact details of the threat of COVID-19 remain uncertain. When dealing with so many unknowns, at the corporate level at least, it is essential to take every precaution possible to mitigate any potential risk while still being operationally effective.
The balancing act required to navigate this particular tightrope requires rethinking many fundamental processes within field service delivery.
"We have to ensure a task can be broken down," Whitelam suggests, "so that the points where there must be person to person interactions are minimised. Companies must do as much preparation for the job as possible in a remote environment. Also can the wrap up of the job be outside of that face to face environment?"
Finding a way to clear the backlog built up during lockdown:
While, finding a way to get back to work as quickly and safely as possible is the first and most obvious challenge that field service organisations face, the mountain of maintenance jobs that were put on hiatus during the height of the lockdowns also present another significant challenge.
"For me, I think [the backlog of work] has really put a new light from our perspective on the value of automation," comments Whitelam.
"What we have seen with our platform is that levels of engagement with our customers on our platform are 20% higher than it was before the pandemic. In field service at least, it is not so much a v-shaped recovery, but something more akin to a checkmark because we are simultaneously playing catch up on all of that maintenance activity as well. Companies are going to be best placed to address this new dynamic by automating as much as they can and having their dispatchers and specialists focus on exceptional cases. Automation is the surest way to free up the appropriate time to allow them to do that.
However, while automation will go a long way to helping remove much of the non-essential day-to-day tasks within the field service workflow, it may still not be enough alone to get things back on track.
"Elasticity in the workforce is another example of something that as we entered into 2020 was a best-in-class attribute, a nice to have, rather than a necessity. Now, it is essential..."
Put simply; there will still be a need for a human pair of hands to resolve issues, even in some of the most routine maintenance work. This is where the concept of the blended workforce must become more prevalent.
"Companies should be making sure they are deploying the full range of workers included badged employees, contract workers and third-party labour," agrees Whitelam when I put this motion forward to him.
"At Salesforce, we have a number of ways of engaging with those third parties. You can very easily set them up in the system and you can allocate work to them and gain visibility into that work progress. Being able to support that kind of work model and having a more elastic workforce is really important."
Elasticity in the workforce is another example of something that as we entered into 2020 was a best-in-class attribute, a nice to have, rather than a necessity. Now, it is essential. This is especially so when there is just such an unknown availability of resources generally.
"If suddenly your people can't come to work, which is still an issue we face as an industry and a society, you've got to be able to pivot and you've got to have alternative options," Whitelam asserts. "Having an elastic workforce to address these new challenges is critical," he adds.
Of course, while some jobs simply cannot be completed without an onsite field service technician, increasingly we have seen service organisations turn wherever possible to utilising remote service delivery as an alternative.
"There are a couple of aspects to this shift to remote service delivery," explains Whitelam.
"One is ensuring the field service technician has got access to knowledge when they are at the point of service. This involves recommending articles and best practices to resolve the problem or connect them with other experts within the field service organisation that have experience of the task at hand.
"However, I think in the future there is going to be more recognition of ways to serve the customer without necessarily rolling a truck. Salesforce has something of an advantage here in that the field service piece is part of the Service Cloud already.
"Field Service is one way to solve a problem, in some use cases it is going to be the only way to solve a problem. However, in many other use cases there may be alternative approaches to finding resolution. These could involve the call-centre, digital engagement tools, knowledge management and even self-service – the fact that you have all of these in one platform, that actually gives a lot of companies many advantages. They can solve a problem in one of many different ways depending on the cost profile and the nature of the issue," he adds.
Indeed, the challenges we as an industry face as we look towards the final months of 2020 and hopefully to a far less turbulent 2021 are many. However, the technologies and tools at our disposal can allow us to not only ride the tsunami of disruption caused by COVID-19 but to come out of this the other side more robust, more resilient and more responsive to our customers' needs.
With this latest iteration of their FSM solution, Salesforce have now absolutely established themselves as being at the vanguard of the organisations delivering these tools.
- Read the initial news report about the announcement of the latest iteration of Salesforce Field Service @ www.fieldservicenews.com/blog/salesforce-announce-the-next-generation-of-field-service-ai-powered-tools-for-trusted-mission-critical-field-service
- Read more about digital transformation in field service @ www.fieldservicenews.com/blog/tag/servitization-and-advanced-services
- Read more about the impact of COVID-19 on the field service sector @ www.fieldservicenews.com/en-gb/covid-19
- Read previous articles by Paul Whitelam @ www.fieldservicenews.com/blog/author/paul-whitelam
- Find out more about Salesforce Field Service @ www.salesforce.com/uk/products/service-cloud/field-service-lightning/
- Connect with Paul on LinkedIn @ www.linkedin.com/in/paulwhitelam/
- Follow Salesforce on Twitter @ twitter.com/salesforce