As a recent guest on the Field Service Podcast, Oneserve’s CEO Chris Proctor shared thoughts on innovation, servitization and the worrying discrepancy between new and retiring engineers. Field Service News Deputy Editor Mark Glover looks back on a conversation that asked uncomfortable yet insightful questions of the sector.
What is digital? “It’s about bringing people together in one global location; a world without boundaries; a world where ideas are born and developed; where people live, and most importantly; where people transact.”
These are the words on Chris Proctor’s Linkedin profile. If it is his mantra it’s a good one. It’s refreshing to get such a holistic view of digital. Do we label it a platform or technology? Who really knows? However it’s useful – and perhaps essential - to try and frame its creative potential and understand how it can seed ideas and drive innovation.
I was fortunate enough to record a podcast with Proctor towards the end of 2018 and among other threads of conversation (including the definition of digital) I asked about the industry’s progression in adopting new technologies. “I might be lambasted for saying this but I don’t think there has been much innovation,” he said, aware of the statement’s brevity. “It’s disappointing that the last real innovation in field service management was moving to the cloud and even then, I don’t think everyone is fully there yet.”
It’s a bold claim, yet one that has substance. The industry has been accused before of lagging when it comes to embracing disruptive, digital technology. In fact, writing for this magazine moreMomentun’s Jan Van Veen, suggested a knowledge gap around its definition was contributing to the malaise. “Too often, I see misconceptions about disruption and disruptive innovation and a lack of clarity on what needs to change and too slow a pace of change,” he wrote, “by consequence, manufacturers tend to make inadequate assessments and develop inadequate strategies, allowing leading competitors and new entrants into the industry to take the lead.”
“I might be lambasted for saying this but I don’t think there has been much innovation...“
To halt this inadequacy, Proctor thinks a further disruptive approach is needed to jolt the sector from its lethargy, encased in an attitude he phrases as “okay is okay”. He uses the utility sector as to expand his point. “You only have to look back at the gas or water boards where there was very little competition with very little incentive to be a lot better and I think we’ve lived with that legacy for quite a long time. “Look at what’s happened in some of the other sectors and see how much things can be disrupted when someone comes in and says ‘We don’t believe ‘okay is okay’ and we’re going to offer a very different service proposition,’” he urged.
To reach this level, servitization and the gig economy, he predicts, will have a fundamental impact on the way services are delivered. Most likely through a subscription-based model, complimented by disruptive innovations and delivered by freelancers who, in order to maintain their personal brand, deliver consistent service excellence. “I can see a world where most of your services are consumed on a subscription-type basis. You contact your service provider who then uses technology similar to programmatic advertising whereby contracts are tended and bid for and secured within seconds, all underpinned by blockchain. You then have the real emphasis of an individual providing a service on behalf of a company, then what you then see is that you don’t get the overheads that come with large contractors, but you do see service excellence from an individual who is trying to make a name for themselves and secure their own future,” Proctor said.
This small-task employment model could be the remedy for the alarming disparity between new field technicians coming into the industry and those retiring, however despite the need for a swift solution Proctor feels the time frame for such a movement is ambiguous. “Whether it’s five years, whether it’s ten years, I think a move towards that model is irrefutable” he says, “I also think the timings are completely debatable.”
I enjoyed the conversation, and I suggest you listen to the full podcast on our website. If the point of digital, as Proctor says, is to create a world where ideas are born and then developed then we need to hit reset, disrupt and collaborate. Perhaps then can innovation thrive.
You can listen to the Field Service Podcast with OneServe's Chris Proctor here.