The Internet of Things is rapidly gaining momentum and is moving from hyperbole to reality. Gil Bouhnick, VP of Mobility at ClickSoftware looks at why IoT will become indispensable in the world of field service... perhaps sooner than we may think...
With the Internet of Things (IoT) virtually any object now can have the capability to either process, store or transmit data. From infrastructure to the human body, the connected world provides the opportunity to use sensors to generate information that can be monitored, analysed and acted upon. However, while the IoT is still finding its feet, there’s no denying the positive impact it can have moving forward – not just on businesses but for customers too.
The field service space is anticipated to be one of the early adopters, largely because it currently depends considerably on human mediation between machines, meters and managers
With IoT the opportunities here are vast, ranging from devices that help the emergency services in search and rescue operations to energy companies using predictive technology and smart alerts to help identify problems as early as possible, even preventing them in some cases.
Machine-to-machine communication has been used in the field service industry for years. However, IoT has the capabilities to expand beyond this one-to-one level of communication, sending “smart alerts” to a whole network. For example, an alert may be triggered when a sensor exceeds its temperature threshold. Through this information, the sensor would be able to decide the next steps – whether this can be fixed remotely and if not, to allocate the most suitable worker for the job. The ‘smart’ alert would be able to advise what tools are needed for the job, the skills required, the estimated time it will take to fix and most importantly, how urgent it is.
With the IoT and cloud-based services, remote machines and equipment can send status updates, location information, and other condition-based, servicing data
An example of this is if a sensor identifies a crack in a waste-pipe and feeds this back to the control centre. By alerting that there are signs of erosion, a technician could get to the site and repair the pipe before it bursts. As well as this helping to prevent such issues occurring but it also cuts down the number of inspections that are needed meaning that workers can focus on more urgent repair work.
Not only does predictive technology benefit the business and technician, this also has a huge impact on the customer experience. For example, being able to lessen the number of power cuts or even keeping the customer updated on the progress of getting the power back on.
By identifying issues as early as possible and being able to allow resources to focus on more urgent areas can make a real difference to the overall experience. Customers have come to expect an instant response to potential issues and with the increased use of social media, a company’s reputation can suffer if they are not able to respond in an acceptable time, along with the consequences of missing any service level agreements in place. Pre-empting customer complaints is the next evolutionary stage in improving customer service and predictive, smart technology is one of the tools that can help businesses make that next step up and avoid potentially losing over a third of their customers due to poor service.
Driving the IoT, is the use of mobile and smart devices which have steadily become a key part of remote field service. The emergence of wearable technology has the tools capable of taking remote working, communication and convenience to a whole new level.
Combine that with IoT and status messages and updates can be sent directly between machines and the devices worn by technicians, all while they are on the move and keeping their hands free. No longer will technicians working in complex situations have to risk taking their phone out to read a new notification. Actions can now be sent straight to the wrist or smart glasses making them easier to read and act upon, increasing the experience for the worker.
While it is unclear what the scale of adoption of IoT will be, (Morgan Stanley has estimated the number of connected devices will reach 75 billion by 2020, whereas Gartner believes it will be much lower at 26 million), what we are seeing is significant investments in the technology. Take Germany for example, it has poured huge sums of money into what it calls ‘Smart Factories’ that are able to fetch and assemble components without further human inputs. At the same time, Google has paid $3.2 billion for Nest Labs which produces thermostats that can be remotely controlled by smartphones and other connected devices. Here in the UK, the roll-out of smart meters in homes is another step for IoT transitioning from theory to reality.
Whether it is changing how a field technician repairs something or how they work and communicate with people back at the office, the IoT is set to change how the person using devices and systems spend their day. It’s still early days for IoT but it seems to be only good news for the industry, bringing benefits for employees, businesses and the customer.