Within the last twelve months we have seen a sudden rush of Merger and Acquisition activities within the field service sector with many major brands including ServiceMax, ClickSoftware and most recently ServicePower all being acquired. So why has the field service sector suddenly become such a hotbed for investment and what does it mean for the innovation in our industry?
Kris Oldland, Editor-in-Chief, Field Service News reports...
I’ve referred to field service as a sector at times as a ghost sector because despite field service impacting almost everyone, and it crossing across almost all verticals outside those who work within our horizontal sector the role of field service management and certainly the tools that those in this field use are relatively unknown.
Yet, it seems that over the last few years someone, somewhere has certainly started paying attention.
Of course, the growing trend within global manufacturing circles towards embracing servitization has put service front and centre whilst various projected estimates of the value of the Global FSM market ranging from $5BN to $25BN will of course be flagged up on the radars of money men, and it certainly seems that the field service sector has come under more of a spot light than it has in its recent past.
“This is occurring for several reasons,” explains Michael Blumberg, President of the Blumberg Advisory Group, when I asked him why it seemed Field Service Management providers had recently become hot targets for prospective investment.”
Field service businesses tend to be less susceptible to changes in the economy - Michael Blumberg
“Second, field service businesses often generate a recurring revenue stream (e.g., service contracts) which is also something that is very attractive to investors and also field service providers often hold a defensible market position because of their long-term relationship with customers and unique capabilities.”
“When a company acquires a field service provider they also acquire its customer base which provides a captive market for cross-selling and up-selling additional products and services.”
“Finally and most importantly, field service is usually a basic offering and building block in delivering a subscription based, product-service model (think Servitization) to customers.”
With so many key reasons why field service solution providers are an attractive proposition isn’t the recent run of acquisitions somewhat overdue?
Bill Pollock, President of Strategies for GrowthSM, certainly thinks so.
“It should have happened years ago!” He proclaims when I put this question to him.
“However, the acquiring organisations seemed to have other priorities in mind with respect to broadening and strengthening their existing offerings, and tailoring them to a more narrowing-defined market space.”
Remember, there were days, way back when – when a Field Service Management (FSM) solution provided only the functionality required to run a services operation – but not a services business - Bill Pollock
“It’s a bit different today. As more and more software providers expand their offerings to run the entire business, they now market themselves as offering a “new” type of platform for doing so.”
“In general, it will be those organisations that move into (or buy into) the field services arena – for all the right reasons – that are most likely to be successful. That is, if a field service functionality makes sense as a logical extension of their existing offerings, then they will be more likely to succeed.
However, those that attempt to “ram their way” into what is already a fast growing and vibrant market sector, some without even having a complete FSM offering, will find themselves “busted” in the eyes of their targeted market base.”
Meanwhile, Sara Mueller, Field Service Portfolio Director, Worldwide Business Research believes that the fact that service has increasingly become a key battleground for competing companies is another key reason why the FSM sector as a whole is gaining more and more attention.
“Since many products have become largely commoditised, service is the competitive differentiator for organisations.” She begins.
Technology is dramatically shifting the performance of service organisations, allowing them to grow exponentially - Sara Mueller
“While technicians are an integral part of field service, technology solutions are necessary to minimise human error, capture the knowledge of and account for the retiring baby boomer generation of head technicians, even to keep technicians safer on the job.”
Mueller’s point however does perhaps reveal a potential double-edged sword.
Innovation in technology and service delivery have become wonderfully entangled within the last decade - which is why many companies have been able to move towards outcome based contracts, and why service is beginning to outgrow the ‘aftermarket’ tag and become a key revenue stream now being discussed much more seriously amongst the C-Suite.
This is of course a fundamental reason why our FSM solution providers have become such attractive investment options. However, could the very innovation that put the sector on the map dry up when independent, entrepreneurial tech companies get swallowed up by larger organisations?
Pollock certainly doesn’t think that we need to worry about the level of technology available to field service organisations failing to meet requirements at any point in the near future however.
“The currently available technology, coupled with newer technology that always seems to be lurking “just around the corner”, is already sufficient to meet (and exceed) all of the FSO’s requirements for managing their field service operations – and then some! It’s already here!” He comments.
The global services market is not likely to experience a plateau in terms of recognition, adoption and/or deployment of these new technological advances anytime soon - Bill Pollock
“This accelerating growth is likely to bring more FSM provider suitors to the forefront rather than less. For example, three or four years ago, how many field service managers thought that Microsoft would acquire itself into the fray? Many industry analysts missed the signs that Oracle was about to acquire TOA Technologies. However, with several major players already having acquired, licensed and/or organically entered the field services market, the question arises: Who will be next?
On the demand side, where has Apple been? What about SAP? What about any of the large, global, systems integrators? On the supply side, what, if anything, will ultimately happen with ClickSoftware? What about the “tried and true” historical vendors, like Astea? And what about all of those Venture Capital and investment firms that seem to be gobbling up one FSM vendor after another?”
Indeed, Mueller’s view also supports the assertion that the current technology is certainly sufficient to meet the growing needs of service delivery.
“The field service management technology today can accomplish remarkable results and drive business transformation. But service organisations are at widely varying degrees of adoption and sophistication, and are looking for more diversity in solution offerings in order to find the right choice for their priorities and budgets.”
However, she also sees the innovation at the heart of our industry as a key driver for continued technological innovation as well adding, “Just as customer needs keep evolving, FSM solutions will need to do so as well.”
And this latter point is also echoed by Blumberg.
There will always be lean, nimble, start-up companies focused on FSM that drive innovation and fill any void created by M & A - Michael Blumberg
“I’ve been a consultant to the Field Service Industry for over 25 year and have experienced several M & A cycles, and this is exactly what has happened. It is also very unlikely that innovation will plateau even within larger software companies who have acquired FSM solutions. To quote management guru Peter Drucker, business has only two functions… innovation and marketing.
This a basic tenant of business. Without innovation, companies lose their relevancy and competitive edge.”
So whilst the consensus is that the current M&A cycle won’t lead to any halt in the ongoing development of technology to support field service, one message does seem to be coming out of each of the field service providers acquired and that is reference to the future of FSM solutions being part of wider platforms.
But how far will the FSM platform go? Will we ultimately see FSM become as integral to business systems as ERP and CRM?
Mueller for one believes that this is where the future lies.
“It can be as integral to business as ERP and CRM systems.” She comments
“Given that service is a competitive differentiator for these organisations, FSM platforms are essential to provide the level of service now being expected from customers. The experience a customer receives through field service is often how they will shape their opinion of the product and whether they will buy again. Field service is the front line of the organisation and FSM ensures the experience with field service is ideal.”
Pollock, however, disagrees.
For the time being, FSM will likely remain subservient, in most cases, to CRM and ERP - Bill Pollock
“The difference between an FSM solution and an FSM platform is that the former is essentially used to run the services operations, while the latter is used to run the entire business. As far as marketing and market positioning go, doesn’t “platform” sound more important than “solution”, anyway?”
“CRM-based solution providers have long touted their products as full “platforms” that may be used to run an entire business; ERP-based solution providers have essentially marketed their offerings in the same manner. By incorporating an FSM solution into their respective offerings, they can now all claim (and, probably, rightfully so) that their offerings represent a complete (or near-complete) platform upon which future services functionalities can be built – whether strictly in support of field service operations, or any other business activity.”
“However, it is not necessarily a “slam-dunk” that FSM will become as integral to business systems as ERP and CRM, as not all businesses have field service offerings – while all have (or should have) an ERP and/or ERP capability.
Further, as remote and predictive diagnostics, powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) and Augmented Reality (AR), make further footholds in the general services arena, running a field service operation may become more important, while become less cumbersome to run (and, as such, more likely to be outsourced, possibly, to a third party).” Pollock concludes.
“FSM software is already an integral part of business systems among those companies that operate Field Service as either a strategic line of business or a profit centre. And there’s the rub, many companies that service products do not have requirements for FSM functionality.” comments Blumberg.
I find it interesting that there are no fully integrated, end to end FSM platforms on the market today that include the complete array of functionality for managing a Field Service Organisation - Michael Blumberg
“If an FSO wants to implement such as solution, they often must deploy multiple enterprise systems and point solutions from different vendors. In addition, FSM functionality usually needs to interface with other enterprise system platforms such as CRM, ERP, and most recently IoT to obtain critical data to complete the service transactions,” he adds before summarising.
“On the other hand, I certainly see a need in the market for standalone, functional robust FSM platforms. In fact, I have been advising both private equity groups (PE) and software developers for the last 20 years to make investments that achieve this outcome. Unfortunately, given market dynamics, capital requirements, and technology considerations, it unlikely that PE or software developers will invest the necessary resources to create such a platform.”
“Therefore, it is likely that FSM functionality will continue to remain an add -on purchase to existing enterprise systems.”