The internet of things and field service...

May 12, 2014 • FeaturesCore SystemsFuture of FIeld Servicefuture of field serviceInternet of ThingstechnologyTechnology

The Internet of Things has certainly gained momentum recently but what does it mean to the Field Service Industry? Kris Oldland, Editor of Field Service News looks at how it could impact the industry and at a first generation of IoT field service software from Core Systems

Internet of things 101

According to the Gartner Hype Cycle for 2013, the Internet of Things was sat just below Big Data, nearing the peak of inflated expectations that emerging technologies inevitably go through. Indeed just as Big Data seemed to be the key item on the agenda in corporate offices around the world this time last year, so the Internet of Things is doing the rounds currently. So what exactly is it and what exactly does it mean to the Field Service industry at large.

Well the term Internet of Things (IoT) was first coined some 15 years ago having been proposed by British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton and largely does what it says on the tin. In a famous article for RFID Journal Ashcroft outlined the concept explaining:

“If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost.”

The idea itself is fairly simple. If we give the ordinary items that surround us the ability to essentially communicate with the world without the need for human input, the world would run just that much smoother.

With RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) essentially the ability has existed for a while for such data transfer although other tracking technologies such as NFC (near field communications) digital watermarking, low powered Bluetooth, QR codes and their humbler, older cousin the barcode can also provide the same solution.

In reality there have been two key developments that have propelled the IoT into existence.

Firstly with the latest Internet protocol IPv6 there is now room for the Internet of Things to exist. Whilst it sounds crazy, the previous protocol IPv4 just isn’t big enough and we are running out of Internet. Given that an estimated 26 to 30 Billion devise will be connecting wirelessly to the IoT within the next six years, we need somewhere these devices can call their digital home, the newer larger protocol of Ipv6 is just that and has evolved a  somewhat symbiotic relationship with the IoT.

Secondly there is the rise in smart devices such as mobile phones. These can take the role of translator between ‘dumb’ devices and the internet. Whilst the hyperbole surrounding the IoT may seem futuristic, with domestic appliances being given intelligent capabilities, the reality is that the days of ‘smart fridges’ that keep in touch with your supermarket of choice to make sure you never run out of milk being in every home are still a little way off.

However, a simple QR code placed on the front of your current ‘dumb’ fridge could give it a digital life of it’s own via your smart phone. Access to user manuals, serial numbers, replacement parts and communicating with local service engineers are suddenly possible and an early stage in the IoT amongst the general populous is very quickly becoming reality.

Internet of Things and Field Service

It is along just these lines that Swiss company Core Systems have evolved their product to date.

Whilst offering many of the features you would expect from most modern Field Service software solutions, including some neat dashboards, plenty of employee data, inventory management etc, they have also included IoT functionality.

By including a QR code or other tagging device on their products, ‘Core Systems ‘ clients are able to to offer their customers a first generation IoT interface via the cloud based CoreSuite, CoreSystems’ field service platform. End users are thus able to use their smart phone as a bridge between the ‘dumb device’ and the service company.

This allows customers of the service company to use their phone to schedule a service visit, providing an additional channel of communication alongside more similar methods such as phone, email and webchat. Also the same interface provides the opportunity for increased customer maintenance by putting machine specific information in the hands of the customer, resulting in fewer service calls for basic issue resolution.

Similarly it is not just the customer who benefits from this bank of machine specific knowledge. Should an engineer be required to attend a site, he to is able to gain access to information relating to the faulty machine including its maintenance history, in a quick, efficient and simple manner.

In the not so distant future…

Admittedly beyond the IoT element CoreSuite doesn’t break the mould of many of the other cloud based field service management software systems that are available, this first iteration of IoT based field service management system undeniably offers companies the ability to add the wow factor to their approach to service.

However, it is perhaps the next few generations of this technology that will be truly intriguing to the field service industry. As manufacturers turn to developing smart devices from jumbo jet engines through to white goods, machine to machine diagnosis and preventative maintenance will become the accepted norm and so IoT based field service management systems will in turn become more in demand.

If this proves to be the case then Core Systems are well positioned to become a major player in the field service software industry and have made an early start down an exciting and promising path.

Want to know more? Visit this years Service Management Expo where Field Service News Editor Kris Oldland will be interviewing Core Systems CEO Phillip Emmenegger on the rise of IoT and its applications in Field Service, as part of the programme for the Field Service Solutions Theatre, hosted by Field Service News.