The promise of IoT has been vast and they hyperbole around it’s impact on field service delivery are massive – but is it actually living up to the hype and what more should we expect? Kris Oldland discusses...
The early hype and industry trends
The story of IoT’s rapid rise and how it went from the top of the hype cycle straight to a standard part of industry is now well documented. Indeed, across the last two years, I don’t think I can recall a single service executive I’ve met whose organization isn’t at least seeking to implement some layer of IoT connectivity into their field service operation - many are already far down the path.
On the surface, it certainly seems that IoT is living up to its billing as “the most over-hyped technology in development today” a moniker which heavyweight analysts Gartner applied to it not too long ago.
Back in the misty past of 2014, the official line from Gartner was that IoT was ‘five to 10 years from actual productivity.’ Back then IoT was riding the crest of the “peak of inflated expectations” within the analyst’s much loved, if slightly overly poetic, hype cycle.
So as we hit the closest limits of that prediction perhaps now is a good time to establish if IoT is still on track to revolutionize the world, and in particular field service, as Gartner and others - including myself, so boldly predicted.
Back in 2014, it was a lack of standardization in the area, as well as the changing nature of the technology itself, which Gartner identified as part of the reason why widespread adoption was further away than its promoters at the time may have thought.
“Standardization (data standards, wireless protocols, technologies) is still a challenge to morerapid adoption of the IoT,” wrote Gartner’s Hung LeHong.
“A wide number of consortiums, standards bodies, associations and government/region policies around the globe are tackling the standards issues. Ironically, with so many entities each working on their own interests, we expect the lack of standards to remain a problem over the next three to five years.”
Indeed, within field service this has become something over a common theme as we have seen the technology move from an embryonic to fledgling state.
It was interesting to note for example IFS’s approach in the area was not to develop a specific propitiatory IoT solution as some of their peers in the field service management arena, such as PTC and ServiceMax had veered towards, but instead opted to bring to market an IoT connector, that was able to plug the gap between whichever IoT protocol an organization favored and their field service platform.
This type of approach, of providing some form of sorting house for various data formats has since been impressively taken up by the like of Microsoft and others also - and may well point to the where the future lies for field service companies leveraging IoT in the future.
How IoT is being adopted and outlining connected field service
Before, we can assess if IoT is as yet hitting its potential as a fundamental bedrock for twenty first century field service, perhaps we should take a moment to look at some of the key areas in which it will be applied.
As with almost any technology that makes it at the corporate grade, the first thing that everyone gets excited is the financials.
For a long time the dual challenge for field service operations has been the seemingly incompatible tasks of improving CSAT levels and reducing costs. For those service directors trying to manage this impossible equilibrium, early talk of the magic bullet of IoT would have sounded like a divine panacea, with talk about how IoT could improve both profitability and customer relationships, being at first whispered in hushed tones, before being shouted loudly from the roof tops when the first few actual cases studies started to emerge.
Within these case studies there were invariably four key areas of success:
Rather than the customer having to report problems, IoT-enabled devices can automatically contact the technician directly with specific details of the issue. The technician can then arrive with knowledge and parts to immediately solve the problem.
Devices capable of self-diagnosing issues and reporting on performance, not only reduce the need for customers to contact technicians, they also cut down on the amount of inspections required to solve an issue.
IoT-enabled devices that require servicing or new parts, now automatically flag these issues to technicians for attention. Alongside this, technicians can also connect directly to the warehouse for instant, real-time inventory data to check whether the parts needed are in stock.
Rather than simply fixing devices that already have maintenance issues, IoT is enabling serviceproviders to see and solve customer problems before they even occur. This is thanks to real-time performance data that can signal when parts are on the verge of needing replacement or interpret the signs of potential maintenance issues. A case could be made for how each of the first three of these developments could be considered something of a revolution within the field service sector. Machines that can self diagnose their faults, order the parts they need to remedy the problem and arrange for a human co-worker to come out and make the necessary repairs all sound like something from the future - and even better it is a nice happy Jetson-eque vision of the future, rather than the bleaker dystopian version that sells Hollywood movies. However, it is the fourth of these points, i.e. Redefining Service, where perhaps the true potential of IoT is uncovered.
The fundamental role IoT is playing in servitization.
In a world of exaggerated hyperbole, it is perhaps only natural to dismiss the talk of a fourth industrial paradigm that accompanies the discussion around Servitization as overegging the pudding somewhat.
At the risk of sounding like a bad pastiche of industry journalist though, I think that such talk is actually pretty much on the money. I do however, think there is there is a long way to go before we get there - and for me IoT is the fundamental technology that is required for a company to fully move into a servitized business strategy.
Wait! I here you cry, Rolls Royce, MAN UK, Caterpillar - they were all doing servitization before the IoT was even an apple in its developer’s eyes.
This is of course, very true, but at its essence all IoT has simply done is make the bespoke telematics of true innovative giants such as those listed above (and the other handful of pioneering poster boys of servitization) available on mass scale. Power by the Hour is all about the data, as is the IoT.
A simplification perhaps, but one that is founded in truth and whilst the move towards preventative maintenance, that is commonly mentioned in the same breath as IoT, isn’t servitization, it is a fundamental step towards the strategy - which is one that is becoming more and more prevalent in almost all vertical sectors.
So to answer the question in the title of this article - yes, I believe that IoT is so far living up to its potential as a revolutionary game changer within our sector. That said, I don’t think it is greedy to expect even more. As ServiceMax CEO Scott Berg discussed in a recent interview with Field Service News, there is certainly more to come from IoT in terms of the way field service companies are leveraging it.
“I think what needs to happen now, and where the real value will come from IoT, is when input from a machine can be fed into more predictive models using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. Only then we will get truly predictive services, and only then will you get a learning model rather than an alert system.”
He commented. Essentially, I think Gartner got their 2014 timeframe pretty much spot on. Five years on from that prediction and we are now generally seeing fully functioning IoT systems in place quite commonly amongst field service organizations, but I think it will be at least a further five years before those systems mature to become close to their full potential.
The analogy of PCs in the workplace comes to mind. For those companies who embraced early DOS systems, they gained an important head-start on their peers who stubbornly ignored that particular wave of technological innovation. Yet, by the time Windows 95 had emerged the technology was not only pretty much universal but had become ingrained into the fabric of industry at all levels.
Expect the same of IoT in 2025.