Digital Transformation – The Biggest Change In Field Service In 25 Years

Mar 21, 2019 • FeaturesanalyticsArtificial intelligenceCognito iQLaurent OthacéhéMachine LearningmanagementDigitialisationStrategy

Digital Transformation is currently one of the key trends amongst field service organisations in all industry verticals, but it is a revolution that has been building for a long, long time writes Laurent Othacéhé, CEO, Cognito iQ. 

Field service is undergoing what is in my opinion the biggest change the industry has seen in the last 25 years.

All of our customers, across a range of industries, want to talk to us about Digital Transformation, and how they can use digital technology to fundamentally transform the way they interact with their customers, and not just about the operational ‘nuts and bolts’ of delivering a service to them.

Some customers are only at the beginning, taking small steps towards transformation by, for example, moving away from traditional software ownership models towards cloud-based products and services, such as MS Office 365. Others are further along, with strategies that embrace technologies such as IoT, big data and AI.

But regardless of their progress, at the heart of all of these conversations is the recognition that Digital Transformation will bring them closer to the goal of providing exceptional field service.

The Art Of Field Service Ops
I often think that the role of a Field Service Manager is a complex mix of art and science, with a bit of magic thrown in for good luck.

Decision making needs to adjust constantly to changes in conditions – a sudden unseasonable cold snap, for example, or a contract with a new customer. Just as service delivery metrics point to success, something changes, and there is a whole new dynamic.

Without knowing what combination of factors triggered the change, it’s hard to know how best to respond.
Get the reaction to an emerging threat wrong – too great or too small a response – and the complex balance of the operational ‘ecosystem’ can be thrown out.

Recovering that balance and restoring the conditions required for ‘flawless’ field service can prove costly and time consuming.

Data doesn’t drive decisions
Most organisations capture a range of sources and types of data - workload planning, resource availability, schedule efficiency, service outcomes, customer satisfaction levels, asset profitability – and many are integrating new types, such as that offered by IoT.

However, this data is rarely delivered in the right form to support decision making, meaning that managers spend too much time aligning and manipulating data from disparate sources. Even then, many are frustrated to find that the root cause of issues is still unclear and the likely outcome of any decision is still uncertain.

AI, machine learning and predictive analytics
This is where the latest technologies, such as AI, machine learning and predictive analytics come in.

Valuable insights into the performance of an operation often lie at the intersections of these various datasets; these technologies can enable decision support applications to identify underlying patterns of performance in the Field Service operation, including long and short term trends, that were simply too complex for traditional applications to uncover. This is increasingly true as much larger data sets such as IoT have come online in recent years.

"Field service is undergoing what is in my opinion the biggest change the industry has seen in the last 25 years..."

This deep understanding of performance, combined with the power to highlight exceptions in real-time, enables the operations team to see the correct course of action to address each challenge as it arises. And beyond simple advice, these technologies make it possible for applications to automate ‘learned’ responses to common patterns of exceptions that occur.

The next generation of decision support
This next generation of applications will be used strategically to analyse, for example, which factors within a field service operation make engineers productive, and which inhibit productivity. Some of these factors will be within the control of the engineer, in which case performance can be addressed with initiatives such as better training or incentives.

Others will relate to company processes, in which case the applications will suggest tactical improvements, the impact of which can also be measured. Others still will be external factors which can’t be changed, but can be allowed for in planning and scheduling.

Such applications will be programmed with a knowledge base, but will be learning all the time, as the outcome of each decision is fed back into the performance data, effectively automating the process of continuous incremental improvement. This will take some of the challenge of blending art and science out of the hands of the Field Service Manager, leaving them free to concentrate on other activities.

Not just software suppliers
It is clear that this massive change in the industry requires those of us who supply and partner with field service companies to change too. We can’t just be technology suppliers.

We have to embrace our customers’ goals and work with them to add value; to weave their transformation strategies into the fabric of our products and services and to bring to the table our own blend of art, science and, yes, a little magic too.

Laurent Othacéhé is CEO at Cognito iQ.