The Internet of Things (IoT) has made “things” important again! However, these “things” are only important in the context of how they ultimately connect with “people”! Bill Pollock explains more...
Historically, enterprises have had to rely on numerous systems, devices and pieces of equipment comprising their supported installed bases, each requiring their own, individual levels of service and support. There were computers and peripherals; consumables and disposables; attachments and add-ons; and numerous other types of devices, etc. However, the introduction of machine-to-machine (m2m) communications, remote and predictive diagnostics, Augmented Reality (AR) and Cloud-based communications in real time has added billions of “new” devices to the global installed base, and each of these units, at some point, will also require service, calibration, installation and/or replacement.
Continuing advances in technology, empowered by the proliferation of Cloud-based solutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), have led to a “new” breed of field service technicians that have more power, more responsibility – and more pressure – placed on them than ever before. However, if deployed and supported properly, there are really not that many downsides to the equation – mainly upsides for both for the field technicians and the companies they work for, as well as for the customers they serve.
This “perfect storm” has led to the introduction of a “new” breed of service technician – one that could never have existed in an earlier, pre-Cloud and pre-IoT era. As a result, today’s (and tomorrow’s) service technicians are likely to be even more “Cool, Calm and Connected!” than any of their predecessors.
For the foreseeable future, these “smart” devices, relying on the power of the IoT to connect them all, will continue to raise the bar to permit all “things” to communicate – not only with one another, but with people (i.e., field technicians, dispatchers, customers, etc.) as well. As a result, today, all systems, devices and pieces of equipment may easily be defined as “things” – and, people, as well! By characterising all components of the enterprise’s Information Technology (IT) ecosystem as “things”, the IoT has allowed for the total communications between and among all “things” in support of the enterprise – and this empowerment is evidenced, perhaps to the greatest degree, lying squarely upon the shoulders of the service technicians who are out in the trenches, day-after-day, in support of their customers, and their equipment.
The secret to success, of course, will be to connect all of these things directly to the field technician (and, in some cases, customers) so that they may fully benefit from the wealth of data that is being collected, analysed and distributed by the organisation.
However connected that field technicians are today, the order of magnitude of this connectivity will certainly increase over time – possibly, even on an exponential curve! This expansion will likely be based on the combination of (1) a proliferation of more and more devices added to the global installed base; (2) more customers becoming active in self-service and support; and (3) more tools, devices and technologies (e.g., wearable technology, etc.) being made available to mobile workers on an ongoing basis.
But, how does this evolutionary technology relate directly to the field technician?
Information Entertainment News explains that, “Companies spend a lot of money building infrastructure, but they also spend a lot of money maintaining infrastructure. Now they are getting smart and spending money on sensors that monitor even the slightest change in the normal operations of that infrastructure. Currently there are 50 billion sensors in things, and that number is expected to increase to a whopping 2 trillion in the next few years. But what do these sensors actually do?”
In addition to all of the sensors, transmitters and remote devices installed in the field, there are also new wearable technologies that directly impact the field technician – i.e., in terms of the glasses, watches, clothing and other accoutrements they wear to work! Wearable technology is what propels field technicians into an evolutionary and unique world designed to (1) make their jobs easier, (2) make them less prone to mistakes and (3) providing a foundation for completing their tasks quicker. Many of the exploding number of connected devices that analysts forecast over the next several years will ultimately find themselves literally on the person of the field technician.
Through some of the more sophisticated existing technologies, such as machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI), both the machines and the humans that support them can now benefit from an enormously enhanced ability to communicate – most often, in real time! And, over time, these mutual capabilities will only grow stronger, more synergistic and more highly connected with one another!
The explosion of connected devices, platforms and applications will continue to change the way in which services organisations support their field technicians – and customers. Data will become more available in real time, from sources that have never been counted on to provide data in the past. More and more services organisations will find themselves relying on expanded data banks and/or data lakes to be able to effectively manage all of their important data that they need to make sound business decisions for themselves – and their customer base (i.e., not all collected data will need to be analysed and acted upon – just the relevant, or important data).
As such, data analytics, business intelligence and knowledge management will once again rise to the forefront in many organisations as they are introduced to a “new age” where data collection is facilitated and expedited; information is more readily shared among the organisation’s departments and individuals; and collaboration between service, sales and manufacturing/production is fostered on a more widespread basis.