Martin Summerhayes offers a take on the five P's business acronym that could help service directors when they switch their infrastructure back on.
Before you jump to a different conclusion, the five P’s in the title is not the normal phrase that many of you know (poor planning, promotes poor performance!).
As we are all living, and possibly working, in the current restrictions, it seems strange to be thinking of what comes as we start to transition out of these times: locked down, social distancing, restricted movement and travel, etc. Discussing with colleagues and organisations, many are focused on the immediate business needs; furloughing staff; pairing back on the services that are delivered; are just a couple of activities they are focused on. So why think about when we start to exit?
Field Service Management operating in lockdown
Well, to think of exit, we need to consider how we entered the situation. The UK was put into lockdown on Monday 23rd March in an unprecedented step to attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus (Lockdowns and restrictions were also applied across Europe and the rest of the world. If your service business relies on global networks, then this is even more of a complex situation). During the lead up to that day, many companies, organisations, and services had carried on much as normal. Shops; retail outlets; restaurants; public houses; garden centres; sports facilities; the list could go on and on; but most were trading and operating as normal. Almost overnight, the restrictions meant that many places had to close with immediate effect.
Here comes some (but by no means all) of the potential issues. For ease, I have broken them down into three categories.
Product IssuesHaving worked in IT Services for many years and been involved in the support of both new, as well as legacy solutions, two big issues with regard to the products spring to mind.
The first is, for many of the organisations that were shut down, how was their IT systems shut down? I would imagine that most, if not all, was shut down as the there were no timescales provided for the lockdown. Were these servers, storage, network devices, etc, shut down properly or were they just turned off? The implications for Windows and Unix environments when not shut down properly, can often mean that you can end up with problems when you try to reboot them (corrupt databases, applications and operating systems spring to mind). In addition, prior to being shut down, did they take a full backup, rather than an incremental one? I have seen situations where restoring incremental backups was a complete nightmare, as the backups were not all stored.Secondly, as many of us know, when you have a legacy product – say a server – over time the component boards become brittle. The solder joints and the multi-layer component boards get impacted by the constant heat. I have often seen that when an IT product is turned off – either in a planned or unplanned manner – quite often, it fails to start back up. The component boards break down and the solder joints fail.
Repair & Logistic IssuesFor many IT service organisations; and I would imagine it is similar in other technology service markets; there is a finite spare, and repair loop. One of the biggest costs of after-sales service, is the provision of spare parts available to service the needs of customers. Both in terms of “good” spares, those spares that are ready to be used to resolve issues, as well as “bad” spares, that have been swapped out of a product to resolve the issue.
"The level of service requests has dropped dramatically as the market sectors, organisations and clients that are served are closed..."This repair & logistics loop is an almost infinitive loop. Optimising this loop means only having the minimum stock of spares to meet the repair and logistics loop UNDER NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES (I have used CAPITALS as this is important!). This normal logistics and repair loop can be between fifteen to twenty days on average. The lockdown has effectively frozen this loop. Where are your spares? In the repair loop at a depot waiting to be shipped back to a repairer? At a repairer awaiting repair? Or at a repairer, repaired, waiting to be shipped back as “good” stock into your stock loop? You might even have been in the process of servicing requests, in which case the spares were in forward stocking locations awaiting call off against new service requests?
Service Staff IssuesFor many organisations, the level of service requests has dropped dramatically as the market sectors, organisations and clients that are served are closed. This means that many service technicians, technical couriers and service engineers have been furloughed; retaining the staff, but at the same time, reducing the staff cost overheads verses the services revenues received from clients.
This is where the first set of P’s comes in. “Precise Planning Pre-empts”.
We are going to come out of this at some point. However, it is not going to be a mass switch on of services; mass opening of markets and outlets. Think of a giant “Turn On” switch being pulled. Rather, it is going to be phased approach, something that the UK government is still defining. Every indication is that it will be a phased relaxation of restrictions across industries, sectors and services (I imagine that this is similar across different countries and governments as well).
If you take into account the issues above and the likelihood of the impact of IT failures, the level of service requests and the ability to be able to meet those requests when the services reopen is going to be a huge challenge. I can easily see an increase of service failures of more than 20% increase of normal failure volumes.
This is where elements of “scenario planning” and an element of “game theory” comes into their own. The “Precise Planning” element. You can take a set of scenarios to then precisely plan the impacts. This evolves around asking a series of open ended questions and describing in detail the responses and impacts.
For example: One of your customers that has a mixed legacy IT estate that is distributed across a number of outlets around the country.
- Do you know what is the makeup of the IT products across the customers estate? By outlet? By size of outlet? By type of outlet?
- As it is a mixed legacy estate, do you have failure rates by product for both new, as well as legacy products? Do you have data based on previous peeks of service (say Christmas, holiday peeks, etc)? Or have you had service outages in the past (say due to a power failure) and have details of the resultant failure rate of the products?
"Have you spoken to your customer and asked them what their expectations are?..."
- Have you engaged your most senior support and service engineers to review the estate, failure rates and the likely impact of “turn off v’s shut down” and provided their best judgement of the impacts? Their knowledge and insight are crucial.
- Did the customer instruct its outlet staff to correctly shut down the IT estate, or were they told to just “turn it off”? What is the impact of doing this? Do the support engineers believe that there will be a need to rebuild or restore servers? Replace hard disks that crashed and were destroyed? Do the field engineers have the ability to restore backups? Reinstall applications, databases and operating systems? Or can this be done remotely? If remotely, is there sufficient staff to do this?
- If the customer is allowed to open, will they want to open all of the outlets in one go? Will they phase this? Are there more significant outlets that they will want to open first? Which are the most important? The biggest? The most revenue generator?
- Have you spoken with your customer and asked them what their expectations are?
- Where is the current spares stock? At repairers? In transit? Lost? Based on collating details by product and part, from the questions above, can you proximate the level of stock that you are going to need? This is going to have to be a “rough order of magnitude” as this situation has never occurred before. Will you need to supplement spares stock? How? Do you have whole units in storage that you could break down? Do you have technical support stock that you could use? Does the customer have spare stock?
- From a field service engineer perspective, have you got the skills and technical knowledge to be able to deal with the surge in volume? How can you help the engineers be able to deal with the volume of service requests? Will you have to have extended service hours? Weekend working?
- From a health & safety perspective, it could be that social distancing is still going to be in force. How will the field engineers deal with this? What level of PPE will they need to have to be able to visit the outlet? Will they be mandated to wear masks and gloves? Will they be asked to sanitise their equipment and the outside of the spares boxes? How will you get the PPE to the engineers? Will they be expected to replace / renew PPE at each customer site or only at different customers? Who will purchase the ongoing PPE that the engineers will need? You? Will they be expected to purchase it themselves?
- Note: this list is not exhaustive.
The final part of the 5 P’s is, “Proactive Performance”? Have you captured all of the impacts, potential outcomes and put it into a plan? A resource profile? A spares planning spreadsheet? Have you shared this across your organisation teams? With the customer?
Then multiple scenario this by the many customers you serve and you can see why acting on these scenarios now will support, Proactive Performance. You will need to explore at least 5 different customers and scenarios to start to see a trend and start to see the common elements that you need to work on now.
How many service organisations are taking the time to theorise and plan along these lines during this time? Are you living the scenarios now? Are you planning along these lines? Please do share how you are planning for the future. The service community is living in completely unknown times and it is only through being open and sharing experiences, successes, as well as failures, that we can be successful.
The following quote made me smile:
“If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters – 204 if you’re in Japan.” ― Claire Cook, writer and motivational speaker