Big Data and Field Service

Nov 10, 2013 • FeaturesNewsFuture of FIeld Servicebig dataSoftware and AppsManaging the Mobile Workforce

It’s been one of the biggest buzz words in boardrooms across the globe now for a number of years and if you look across any technology website you are sure to find an article or two shouting about it’s apparent all encompassing power, but what exactly is Big Data, is it really set to change the world, and what does it mean to the field service industry? 

Big Data 101:

Well despite what seems to be a fairly meteoric rise to prominence, Big Data can actually trace it’s origins back to the early part the millennium when Doug Laney an analyst with META group (now Gartner) defined the challenges of modern data as threefold –  the increase in Volume(the amount of data), Velocity (the speed of data in and out), and Variety (range of data types and sources).

This “3 V’s model” has now become the standard staple definition of Big Data although additional V’s such as Veracity, Validity, Volatility tend be thrown into the mix at times now also.


But for now let’s just get to grips with the first three, starting with Volume which is perhaps the most obvious and arguably what lends the Big to Big Data.

As you may imagine Volume refers to the sheer amount of data that is now available to be processed. We are living in a digital world where almost every single action we take creates data. In fact in the last three years alone, more data has been created than in the entirety of history before that point.

Very simply put, we now have lots and lots and lots of data, and as any analyst will tell you the bigger the data set, the more robust the insights taken from it are.


The second of these three V’s, Velocity, is perhaps the least defined of the group.

It has been suggested that Velocity refers to the quantum leap in processing power that makes Big Data a reality. Big Data is in the main about real-time analysis and instant insight. Even the largest and most complex databases are now often processed in a matter of hours whereas it would have been days or even weeks not too long ago.

Another interpretation is the speed at which data is being received. One example is some smart meters are designed to report energy consumption data every 15 minutes; another could be the constant stream of social media commentary that a company may receive.

Both representative a rapid and ongoing growth of a particular data set.

In actuality Velocity is perhaps best understood as a combination of both of these interpretations. Crucially though, it is the real-time ability to interpret data and draw meaningful information on-the-fly, that separates Big Data from its older and less glamorous cousin Business Analytics.


And finally we have Variety.

When discussing Velocity just now we highlighted two very different types of data sets.

Firstly energy consumption, which usually would be translated into very simple numerical data, and secondly, customer sentiment data which has been collected via social media. In very simplistic terms this is exactly what Variety is all about.

Lets explore the smart meter example first.  Any one utilities provider could be and likely is drawing data from a number  of different types of meter, each with varying configurations, and varying data sets so even this structured data comes in various formats.

Next we look at the more complicated ‘unstructured’ data example of social media data. Whilst more complex to interpret, there is perhaps even more value locked away in these types of data sets. However, technologies such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) allow for the interpretation and exploitation of such data.

It is the combination of all these varieties of data from both the unstructured and structured realms, and then the ability to bring these together to uncover hidden insight and understanding, is perhaps the most important strength of Big Data.

Big Data and the Field Service industry…

When we look at the digitization within business today, we must consider that every single interaction a company has with their customers adds to a potential data set somewhere along the way.

Service focused companies by definition have the customer at the centre of their business and therefore have more customer touch points than any other type of company.

For Service organizations the potential for data collection is vast, from various data sets and the flow of data is rapid and constant. In fact Field Service is an industry perfectly placed to reap the benefits Big Data.

The benefits of Big Data in Field Service?

There are a number of applications of Big Data that would benefit the field service industry.

The most obvious is the further enhancement of traditional analytics, for example the ability to both access and analyse GPS vehicle data to see how certain field teams or even specific field engineers are performing and being able to constantly monitor and improve service performance (in turn giving you a significant competitive edge by ensuring that the service you give your customers remains best in class.)

In fact we are already seeing the first ‘Big Data’ based applications being introduced with both MPL Systems and Trimble Field Service Management incorporating elements of these technologies into their latest solutions.

Perhaps an even greater, if somewhat harder to achieve aim however, is to establish the fabled 360 customer view.

By bringing together the various different datasets, you have from your numerous customer touch points (e.g. numerical data, contact centre calls, social media data, GPS data, data entered at engineer visits etc etc) and then managing, amalgamating and interpreting this data you can achieve a complete and holistic understanding of your customer, their needs and the best way to service them.

Undertaking a Big Data project is neither an easy or particularly cheap process, yet it does yield the power to revolutionize the way your business operates, including your ability to fully understand your customer and tailoring the service you deliver to meet those needs both a the macro and micro level.

With such great rewards and clear competitive advantage to be gained it is surely just a matter of time before we start seeing the real-world impact of Big Data within the field service industry.