While attending ServiceMax’s customer event Maximise in Italy, Mark Glover sat down for lunch with the firm’s SVP of Product and Solution Marketing Lubor Ptacek. As well as sampling some fine cuisine, the pair discussed the news that its cloud-based platform was now servicing over 200 million assets and plotted what a future in service might look like. Would robots be fixing robots?
I made my way through the lush array of produce, tastebuds tingling, and splintered off to one of the event halls, the site of ServiceMax’s Maximise event, and the real reason I was here, despite the temptations of where I’d just come through.
That said, after registering I was offered some excellent espresso and connoli, little cream-filled Italian pastries, so sat down in the conference sipping and nibbling both, content and prepared for the day ahead. ServiceMax have been holding these events annually since 2010. Coined Maximise, presentations cover client case studies, new software announcements and an overall strategic look where the cloud-based firm are headed, delivered by ServiceMax’s leadership team.
Lubor Ptacek is the company’s SVP of Product and Solution Marketing gave the event’s first major presentation of the day, entitled The Next Evolution of Field Service Management. During which, he revealed that the company had just reached an important milestone: that 200 million assets were now being serviced via ServiceMax’s platform.
It’s an astounding figure, but should we be sur-prised given the multitude of sectors the Service-Max platform straddles? “It’s a pretty impressive number if you think about it,” Lubor explains to me over lunch following his presentation. “We decided quite early on to be horizontal as a piece of software. We want to cater to as many verticals as possible, but we can see opportunity and traction in certain vertical where we can then go deeper.”
“From day one GE put a lot of added investment into ServiceMax which we benefited from..."
Breaking 200,000,000 serviced assets is indeed, as Lubor says, an astounding figure, made more impressive when you consider the various transforma-tions the firm has recently gone through including a change in CEO with Scott Berg standing aside and parent company General Electric’s (GE) decision to reduce its majority stake in the company.
The multi-national, multi-industry conglomerate acquired ServiceMax for a cool $915 million in 2016. Employee numbers swelled by 50 per cent and the firm’s expansion in to tricky markets such as oil and gas in the Middle East took shape. ServiceMax were able to walk through the doors help open by GE who were already established and operating in these geographies. Once through, they developed propositions and now, in the Middle East, for example they have several sales people and thriving business in this previously difficult vertical.
“GE brought us with some really good intentions”, Lubor says of the company’s purchase. “From day one they put a lot of added investment into ServiceMax which we benefited from. We’ve seen very solid, tangible growth as a result of that.”
Of course, an outfit the size of GE comes with layers of stakeholders, longer conference calls and slow budget decision cycles. Does the company stream-lining following GE’s exit feel like casting away the shackles? “I think we benefitted from it,” Lubor smiles. “It’s refreshing to be on small calls and making quicker business decisions. My CEO [Neil Baura] is now next door and if I need a decision I just look over. That’s the beauty of being a small company again.”
Being a small company again. Long before they had serviced 200 million assets; long before they were hosting customer events with cappuccino and mozzarellas; and long before GE sniffed an opportunity, ServiceMax were start-up, the result of a 2007 re-branding of Maxplore Technologies, a digital consultancy whose client request to build a field service module on the Salesforce platform, became the blueprint.
Yet, 12 years is a long time in service and its evolution has correlated with the rate of technological innovation. Throughout this period, ServiceMax has had to pivot and adapt, flex and absorb in order to keep pace with their clients’ demands. Assets are getting smarter and data is getting larger but running concurrently to this is the financial loss an asset accrues while it is offline. Fixing a coffee ma-chine is just as important is fixing a gas turbine yet the latter, ServiceMax now classify as a “complex job”, work carried out in large asset operator spaces such as oil and gas, power utilities and aviation.
"Will we be seeing robots fixing robots in a dystopian/Blade Runner society?..
“Every minute counts,” Lubor says, using the gas turbine example. “When it’s offline, it’s not making money for the operator. The service needs to be truly orchestrated right by facilitating not just one technician, but a team of people who work in shifts around the clock. Shift planning, job dependencies – these are the new types of capabilities that need to be built for these types of industries.”
And what does the future hold for service? Given how far ServiceMax have evolved will we be seeing robots fixing robots in a dystopian/Blade Runner society? “Sometimes I fantasise, it is like Blade Run-ner, perhaps in 2040, and the robots are repairing robots and maybe we don’t need the engineers, perhaps they’ve all retired,” he pauses and smiles, “but you still need software and that does a lot of what we do today.”
Until then, a challenge remains in the growing workplace disparity between those retired workers and new young engineers coming through. A “paperaging” workforce of retiring engineers, so called because their knowledge is stored as printed, even handwritten, files in bulging folders rather than digital clouds, are making years of accrued, specialist knowledge difficult to pass on to those workers coming through, that’s even if the sector can encourage young graduates and school-leavers to consider a career in service in the first place.
“Let’s make service a little cooler,” suggests Lubor, “because when it’s pencil and paper young people don’t get excited. When you get a mobile phone application or a tablet application, it’s a little more cool right? When you get an AR piece of technology that helps you guide through the operations that’s pretty cool? It may take a more than AR and apps to encourage the younger generation to consider a career in service, but Lubor’s point is a valid one: tech-savvy youth should naturally be drawn to an industry that makes use of technology that they are already using and, in some cases, have only ever used and known.
"Digital mentoring is one of the terms being thrown around at the moment..."
Similarly, those dropping off at the other end, the retiring engineers have only ever known the pen and paper process; which they’ve successfully delivered for many years. For some, it may be too late and financially, from their employee’s point of view perhaps not worth upskilling them to current processes. But is it too to create another way of utilising this slice of still very important workers, some of whom may have a handful of years before they hang up their tools and I-pad. A mentor role perhaps?
“Exactly,” Lubor says, “In fact, digital mentoring is one of the terms being thrown around at the moment.” He references the real-time tech firm Zinc, recently acquired by ServiceMax whose platform allows for swift trouble-shooting through “hotlines” for engineers to access. Helplines, Lubor says, that experienced workers could man. “Maybe they can do a hotline, working from home, maybe a couple of hours a day and be on a call for the young guys who might need their help, because they’ve got all that enterprise in their hands.”
We finish the interview at this point, and both concentrate on the excellent lunch (as you’d expect from such a venue). We discuss the next three stops on the Maximise tour this year, which takes in London and Chicago (both in October) and Tokyo in November. A route that encompasses many markets and indeed cultures (the Japanese service sector, Lubor says, is very interesting) and shows the reach that ServiceMax are now operating with.
I finish an olive, drain my orange juice and shake hands with Lubor, thanking him for his time and suggest we meet in London when Maximise comes through my home city. I wonder if the food there will be just as good as Bologna.