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When I joined Field Service News one word appeared more frequently in my browser and in-box than any others: servitization. Its resonance was affirmed by my Editor Kris Oldland; who, during one of our early induction meetings, explained the pivotal role it plays in modern manufacturing. Three months’ on, I flew to Stockholm, and then took a two-hour car journey to Linkoping where I was to attend a conference dedicated solely to the discipline.
So, it was during a coffee break I sat down with Tim Baines, Professor of Operation Strategy at the Aston Business School and a significant player in servitization’s evolution. I was pleased to have an audience with someone who could shed some light on an area that to a layman (me) can be slightly overwhelming. We both grabbed a coffee and one of the many excellent Swedish pastries on offer before finding a quiet corner to talk.
I started off (perhaps boldly) by explaining my slight surprise that a whole three-day conference on servitization existed; that universities have whole departments dedicated to its research – many of whom were here in Sweden presenting – and that academic papers on the subject are being circulated widely. “Business researchers observe industry,” Tim said, sipping his drink. “They’re looking for phenomena, which they are trying to conceptualize and describe and test their hypothesis and understanding. They ultimately arrive at a clinical description of what that phenomena is.”
The phenomena of servitization emerged from the marketing community in the 1980s, Tim tells me, with its first research work appearing in the European Management Journal. Sandra Vandermerwe and Juan Rada’s paper Servitization of Business: Adding Value by Adding Service was published in 1988 and the former is now credited with introducing the term ‘servitization’ to represent the addition of services to enhance a manufacturer’s commercial offerings.
However, the discipline went into incubation. That was until the 2000s when Tim, along with Andy Neely from Cambridge University and Raj Roy from Cranfield niversity respectively, were awarded a research grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to resurrect its study. “We all put a lot of effort into it,” Tim recalls. “If you look at the citations; the academic citations on servitization; look at the highest cited papers on servitization, it was really down to our collective work.”
Thanks in part to the funding, as well as the efforts of Tim and his fellow academics interest in the discipline flourished both academically and in practice. Demand for a specialist, academic event grew and eight years ago the Spring Servitization Conference was born; its eight years testament to its growth and popularity. Its first incarnation was a workshop of sorts laying out the basic principles of what the group wanted to achieve; essentially something that was crossdisciplinary within a tight-knit, specialised community.
Tim explains: “The conference is a platform for people to network, to meet each other, to share those ideas, those insights, and to learn from a few carefully chosen manufacturers how they’re seeing the world. I think what we will see in a few years’ time, we’ll have a stronger group coalescing around the key topics. Ultimately, this is a community which could very well define an
equivalent of Industry 4.0 or Industry 5.0.”
“Don’t be put-off by the word servitization... all manufacturers can gain some value through service...”
Industry 4.0 discussions were a key part of that morning’s presentations. Chairing a debate himself, Tim asked panelists if servitization was part of Industry 4.0 or vice-versa? Away from the conference hall I pushed him on his own thoughts. “Most manufacturing companies,” he said, “would associate Industry 4.0 with what’s going on inside the factory. Servitization invariably is what’s going on beyond the factory gate. In reality servitization predates industry 4.0. It will exist concurrently, and in a few years’ time will be still going on and industry 4.0 will have come and will have gone.”
Aligning with the conference’s theme, Delivering Services Growth in the Digital Era, Tim suggests firms feel more comfortable adopting servitization as digital offered a layer of security. “Digital is de-risking, enabling those more advanced services to be offered with lower risk,” he says. “It’s making it easier for manufacturers to do it.”
The other driver, Tim continued, is a broader societal shift around service consumption superseding product consumption. “If you think about servitization; it’s not a question in my mind whether companies will make more money from services or less money from services – that’s an outdated question, an outdated conversation. It’s really a case in the way that society is going. We are consuming more services where the appetite is for more sophisticated services.” Sustainability, another large societal issue is also being bearing down on the servitization sphere.
Tim is hopeful that servitization - and industry 4.0 - can ultimately negate the environmental impact of material-heavy supply chains. He referenced a presentation that morning from Cranfield University’s Tobias Benjamin Widmer, who talked about the de-materialisation of the chain; reducing the consumption of raw materials while still achieving a desired outcome.
From that, our conversation naturally turned to regulation and the influence of Government on sustainability initiatives. Firm polices around electric cars, for example, would Tim Says, have an impact on the supply chains. “If the incentives are there for electric cars, why would you have a diesel manufacturing plant? If you don’t have a diesel manufacturing plant, then your whole supply chain evaporates.”
“Here’s an interesting one,” he smiles. “The number of rotational components in a diesel engine car: about 1,500. In an electric car: about 22. Now what’s that going to do your material supply chain?”
We finish our drinks, aware of the slow movement of delegates at they file back into the conference room, themselves refreshed by caffeine and pastries. I shake hands with Tim and thank him for his time, and we both agree to keep in touch.
The next day, I send Tim an email asking if he could possibly spare a copy of his book he wrote with Howard Lightfoot, Made to Serve. The book is seen as an excellent primer into servitization, and I said as much Tim in my email; how it could enhance my learning on a topic that I was beginning to find rather intriguing.
The book arrived in my mailbox a few days’ later; a good-looking tome with a striking cover. A contemporary, simple image of three factories, the middle one with a striking red path leaving its front gate; fanning in perspective to the base of the cover. I read the book’s preface: “Don’t be put-off by the strange word of servitization,” part of it said, “all manufacturers can gain some value through service.”
I recalled the interview in Sweden, when Tim told me about the early days of servitization; when people queried the term, wondering how you spell it, asking if they would make money out of these advanced services. “Now, we don’t have these questions anymore,” Tim had said.
What is a relatively young area of research, servitization now seems to be an integral cog of a manufacturer’s approach to revenue. As Tim suggested, technology will evolve and eventually become exctinct (Industry 4.0, for example), but servitization, as a theory and practice, will continue to grow alongside and compliment manufacturing. In short, making money from selling spare parts is no longer the revenue stream it once was.
In the first of a new four part series, we turn our attention to Augmented Reality where our panel includes Stephen JeffWatts, Senior Advisor Service Management, IFS, Francesco Benvenuto Product Marketing Manager, SPACE1 by OverIT and John Bishop, President, Librestream...
Why should field service companies deploy an augmented reality solution if they already have a peer-to-peer video tool (such as Facetime or Skype) already available and free to use?
JOHN BISHOP, PRESIDENT, LIBRESTREAM
Choosing a video chat product as a remote expert augmented reality (AR) solution can seem like an easy path to fulfilling an immediate need.
As AR platforms and capabilities like remote expert guidance have matured, enterprises have developed clear requirements for security, IT controls, usability and performance. Requirements that these kinds of tools are not able to meet. For example, how will the solution perform in low bandwidth environments? Can IT control how much bandwidth will be consumed?
How can I quickly engage supply chain experts and customers? How can I be sure my content is safe and meets privacy requirements?
We deployed the first AR remote expert solution in 2006 – long before remote expert guidance was part of AR. Over the past 12+ years, our enterprise customers like Rolls Royce, NOV, Colgate-Palmolive, SGS, and hundreds more have guided the development of our solution to solve these difficult challenges.
FRANCESCO BENVENUTO, PRODUCT MARKETING MANAGER, SPACE1 BY OVERIT
Augmented Reality does not imply the use of a mere Remote Support solution but of an advanced tool aiming at supporting field technicians in their daily tasks through advanced collaboration and content sharing features.
AR solutions, such as OverIT’s product SPACE1, offer both real-time remote assistance and access to pre-built AR work instructions simultaneously.
In this way, support means collaboration and remote problem solving, but with a groundbreaking concept in mind. When assistance was guided by standard videos, both field technician and remote operator had to rely solely on voice instructions. SPACE1 is one step ahead, allowing experts to make marks that stick where drawn and annotations to be displayed on the users’ point of view while supporting them. Moreover, it enables the sharing of digital twins to be set where the remote expertise is needed, thus broadening traditional field working modalities and creating a brand-new cooperative virtual environment. See it in action here.
By using AR products users can capture images, record live support sessions to retain and share the expert assistance (both verbal and supported by visual annotations) in the future or even generate reports and offer actionable insights into improvement opportunities while providing additional employee training.v
STEPHEN JEFFS-WATTS, PRODUCT MANAGER, SERVICE MANAGEMENT, IFS
AR is a far broader topic, with wider use-cases and implications than simply being used for video calls and ad-hoc collaboration.
One of the most compelling use-cases is in service call avoidance; where AR, when implemented in a seamless manner, empowers contact agents with enhanced diagnostics capabilities and tooling – being able to see and remotely guide the customer in triage with directive instructions, document sharing and image mark-up. These capabilities can reduce down-time, avoid the need to send a field technician to site and thus directly improve customer satisfaction. Additionally, compliance obligations can also be met through integrated session recording; which isn’t possible in the peer-to-peer space.
That same capability can then be deployed in the field; giving the technicians and the remote experts guiding them much wider capability with a resulting increase in effectiveness and efficiency. In this way, the technology increases first-time-fix rates, improving cost-to-serve and providing another dimension in improving the customer experience.
The second part of the big discussion will be published next week, when the panel answer questions on the role that AR can play in the challenges that come with an ageing workforce.
Digital devices have over the years become more portable. For service technicians this improvement in usability has undoubtedly improved the way in which they work. However, the industry’s swift adoption of these devices has perhaps been too rapid, meaning health and safety guidance is yet to catch-up with the potential ergonomic risks that smartphone and tablet use carries.
I’ve written articles in these pages (and in our recent edition of The Handy Little Book) on health and safety, referencing the potential impact on a lone worker’s wellbeing, given that their work is carried out mostly in isolation. However, another area of the broad H&S spectrum that lone workers or field service engineers are vulnerable too is musculo-skeletal dis-orders (MSDs).
Defined by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as “any injury, damage or dis-order of the joints or other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back", MSDs, according to a study carried out by HSE for the period 2017/2018, shows 469,000 workers are suffering with cases of work-related MSDs, which includes long and short-term conditions. The knock-on result on productivity is 6.6 million working days lost as a result of the condition, the same research reveals.
The study does not uncover the extent to which lone or mobile workers suffer, although the top three industries where workers are most affected include fishing, forestry, agriculture (grouped together), construction and then transportation and storage (also grouped) will arguably include a section of field-based lone workers. The condition is also common for office-based workers who are vulnerable to neck or back issues, brought on by incorrect posture while using computer equipment at a desk.
It shouldn’t be ignored however, that while field service engineers are desk-free, incorrect ergonomic use of tablets and phones – the tool of the trade for most lone workers – carries its own ergonomic risk.
But with rugged tablet and laptop devices now a ubiquitous part of an engineer’s kit why hasn’t there been more attention on their dangers? It’s useful to look more generally at society’s relationship with smartphones and tablets, which are now commonplace in people’s lives.
It is estimated that five billion people in the world own a mobile device, of which, half of these are smartphones. Indeed, the rate at which we’ve adopted them is staggering which is primarily down to their relative ease of use and in-turn part of the reason why they have found their way into engineers and technicians hands who require rugged devices that perform but also offer a practicality. However, it’s this natural uptake both in public and the workplace that, according to one expert, is enabling risks around their ergonomic use to go unnoticed.
Ed Milnes is Founder and Director of Guildford Ergonomics a consultancy firm in the UK that specialises in ergonomics and human factors in the workplace and has contributed guidance and research into the risks of smartphone and tablet use.
“I think there’s a psychological element to it,” he tells me over Skype. “It’s as if it hasn’t come onto people’s radars because we use these devices so much in our everyday lives anyway. We accept them as something that – because they’re always around – they must be safe that there can’t be any inherent risks with them. When you use them day in and day out, almost every day, it does become more of an issue.”
"It is estimated that five billion people in the world own a mobile device..."
MSD risks are linked to exposure and how long how and how often is spent on activities. In the case of service engineers this does oscilate in line with the complexity and length of a job but as technology advances – with AR soon to play a major role – then engineers will be looking at their tablets and then moving their vision and neck towards the asset and then back to the tablet.
It will, inevitably, place stress on the back and shoulder and other areas.
However, it’s the neck region, Ed tells me, that is most vulnerable to pain when using these types of devices. “The one area that does stand out, where we’re clear that there is an issue is in the neck area and the development of neck pain,” he says. “This is the absolute number one area when it comes to these devices.”
He acknowledges though, given the nature of lone workers, it is difficult to collaborate and collect insightful data. “A lot of the data on discomfort is basically self-reported data, so it’s very subjective. For example, how long people are using the devices for and how often they’re using them. It’s based on people estimating how long they’ve spent on them and very often you get people underestimating.”
Research ambiguity can in part be attributed to the lack of guidance that exists on the topic. HSE who inform legislation around health and safety in the UK, seem to have been caught napping when it comes to specific guidance on smartphone and tablet use. Their L26 guidance document, which advises on Display Screen Equipment was published in 1992 and updated in 1998 but fails to incorporate the mobility trend. “It [the L26] did its best to anticipate the development of things,” Ed sympathises, “but there is no official formal kind of guidance. It’s a real difficulty because you not only have that lack of regulatory clout behind doing anything. But it’s also about the physical aspect. People by the very nature of the work they are doing, are out and about, so they’re not under anyone’s eye.”
Back then to those office workers who receive regular risk-assessments around their display screen equipment (computer, chair etc.). For their mobile colleagues it’s perhaps unreasonable to expect a health and safety manager to attend each engineer’s call-out to ensure they are using a tablet correctly.
Ed does suggest however that companies and management need to incorporate more of a broad-based assessment and take more of an active role in the process, particularly around training, acknowledging the type of work they conduct. “It’s also about the physical aspect,” he explains. “People by the very nature of the work they are doing, are out and about, so they’re not under anyone’s eye. There has to be an understanding on the part of the company, including the health and safety manager who can potentially envisage the workers are going to face and put controls in place; putting devices in place that they can refer to to help them use their own mobile devices more safely.”
“The big thing really is training,” he continues, “which I know is right down the bottom of the hierarchy of control, but ultimately, it’s what you’re left with when everything else doesn’t really stack up as a solution.”
As devices continue to evolve more emphasis will need to be placed on their correct handling. A solution is undoubtedly required which should be driven by concrete guidance.
For now though, employers need to recognise the ergonomic risks associated with the hardware as continued incorrect use could spell greater difficulties for workers’ health later on.
In the latest Field Service Podcast, Tilak Kasturi discusses the importance of a proof of concept in AI and machine learning enterprise.
In the latest Field Service Podcast, Tilak Kasturi discusses the importance of a proof of concept in AI and machine learning enterprise.
Tilak Kasturi is the CEO and Founder of Predii, an AI software company whose platform enables predictive repair and maintenance for complex equipment.
We got Tilak on to the Field Service Podcast to discuss the origins of Predii, the importance of proof of concept and how his time in radiation oncology big-data is shaping his current project.
There used to be an adage in business when it came to dealing with suppliers that jokingly went along the lines of “I only want one throat to choke.”
The idea was that if an organisation was providing you with a service, it was preferable to have just one touchpoint with them, one human at the end of the phone who understood the entirety of the relationship. One vendor who could provide the hardware, the software and of course all the services required to make that then all work.
However, today this concept seems somewhat antiquated, particularly amongst larger organisations. In a world of increasing connectivity and APIs, the prevalent thinking is more along the lines of “I want whatever you have to work with what I have.”
Best-of-breed solutions are once again returning to the fore to resolve specific challenges, often challenges that have arisen as the result of the disruptive nature of emerging technology we have witnessed in recent times and the ripple effect that disruption has on service across many varied and disparate industry verticals.
This development has led to a new wave of innovative companies rising to prominence within the field service sector. These include ‘Last Mile’ solution provider Localz who have already garnered an impressive roster of clients including DPD, Belron and UK utilities giant British Gas. The latter even having showcased their use of Localz technology as a major USP in their most recent high profile advertising campaign.
Localz is a perfect example of an organisation that has been able to identify an essential gap in the current field service management ecosystem that has been exposed by developments outside of the sector. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and fix parts that weren’t necessarily broken in the first place, they’ve instead focused on providing a well thought out, easily implemented and effective solution for an important but somewhat overlooked part of the service cycle.
“We’re not here to change the world for field service companies; we are not going to make you change everything you already have. We are here to help you quickly get big cost savings and massively improve your customer experience by simply plugging in our location based day of service software,” comments Tim Andrew, CEO Localz.
Of course, the twenty-first century has so far been the century of data. We have seen field service companies make a concerted effort across the board to knock down the silos between divisions to allow data to flow seamlessly across an organisation to enable them to attain the once fabled, but now commonplace 360-degree view of the customer.
This trend has played well into the hands of the major platforms who could facilitate this by offering multiple functionalities within their suite of solutions. SAP, IFS, Microsoft and others have all championed the benefits of the platform approach for this reason.
As is the cyclical nature of such things, it is often outside of the restrictions of enterprise providers, that we see innovation flourish and thrive. It is a well established pattern of evolution and consolidation that those of us in the field service sector with more than a few flecks of grey in our beards will recognise.
However, the difference between today and previous years is the prevalence of APIs and the increasing ease of integration, which allows a solution like Localz to plug-in on top of a broader system and deliver the impressive level of last-mile communications and visibility that British Gas has harnessed so effectively.
“Connectivity is the big thing,” explains Andrew as we discuss how technology development has evolved in the last decade.
“It’s also important for technology providers to realise they need to switch the model on how the technology works. Smarter providers have stopped putting themselves in the centre. Customers’ don’t want to hear about a solution that is the centre of their operation; they have already invested significantly in many solutions and established efficient processes that broadly work well. Now they want to improve; they want to see how we add value to what they’ve already invested in.”
"The twenty-first century has so far been the century of data..."
The solution itself can be described in a sense as Uber for Field Service in that there is a very slick visual representation for the end customer to see the engineer arriving.
There is also, other useful technology within the solution, including scan to van stock management, which can be a game changer for the P&L of some companies struggling to cope with the constant movement of spares. However, it is in its ability to allow field service companies to deliver a service experience that has become an expectation in the age of Amazon and Uber, that Localz grabs the headlines.
This is mostly because it is addressing an issue that many service companies, whether it be a giant like British Gas is universal, or a niche SMB are facing - customer expectations and understandings of what ‘good’ service looks like are evolving rapidly.
“Something I touch on quite a lot is that customers are more informed across the board today,” explains Andrew
“Whether it be in a B2C, B2B or even a B2E environment, we’re all just universally more informed today as such customer expectations are radically increased. Also, the ability to switch providers, especially in the consumer world, is becoming easier and easier. I don’t need to speak to somebody; I literally can go on a website and choose from A, B, and C and get better service.”
The term that has risen to popularity over the last eighteen months in this regard is the ‘experience economy’ where customer satisfaction is no longer enough, we have to consider and understand the total customer experience to deliver customer delight. With this in mind, tools like Localz have become an essential part of the field service equation as they play a significant role in meeting the modern expectations of that service experience.
As Andrew touched on, this experience economy, these increasing customer expectations, have begun to break down the barriers of what we would traditionally define as business to business or business to consumer service standards.
The impact of disruptors, such as Uber and Amazon, is being felt wide and far beyond transport and e-commerce, it’s become ubiquitous across all industries.
“It’s definitely becoming that way,” Andrew agrees as we touch on how the lines across bB2C and B2B appear to be blurring.
“Service expectations especially around visibility and communication on the day of the service call are fast becoming table stakes in B2B, but I think we’re going to see it in B2B soon enough as well.”
If indeed the zeitgeist of the early twenty-first century, in the field service sector at least, is one of seamless service experience, then tools like Localz could very quickly become an essential addition to any field service organisation’s technology sector.
It’s been an eventful 12 months for ServiceMax. In April, Scott Berg relinquished his CEO position making way for IPC System’s Neil Barua. In December, parent company General Electric sold their majority stake (held since 2017) followed by SeviceMax’s own acquisition of real time communications outfit Zinc.
It all meant that the Maximize Bologna, an event consisting of a day of presentations from company figures and client case studies - and the first of four events in 2019 taking in London, Chicago and Tokyo - would represent something of a re-set for ServiceMax, an opportunity perhaps to usher in a new era.
With all this in mind, these are the five key threads I picked-up while in Italy:
1. Service Execution Management
Lubor Ptacek, the company’s SVP of Product and Solution Marketing, gave the first major presentation of the day, and following a brief run-through the firm’s 19-year history including their start-up origins to the role GE played in their development, he forecast where the sector is headed, aligning changes in the industry to ServiceMax’s new software category Service Execution Management, a new type of approach that includes field service and asset service management respectively.
2. Platform Is Now Managing 200 Million Assets
In the same presentation, Ptacek revealed a significant landmark in the firm’s growth, telling delegates that ServiceMax’s cloud-based platform is currently managing 200,000,000 assets. It’s an extraordinary statistic affirming the company’s core-service goals are statistically being met.
3. Real-Time Communication Will Play A Key Role
The firm’s integration of Zinc’s mobile-based app as a module into its own software platform signals their commitment to real-time communication in the service journey. Text, voice, video, handsfree, push-to-talk and broadcast features will all be possible on the mobile-first solution which encourages interaction across groups to share issues and offer knowledge. “The perfect combination of Zinc’s modern, real-time communication with ServiceMax’s cutting edge and comprehensive suite will be unparalleled in the market,” Zinc President, Stacey Epstein said at the time of the acquisition affirming the strategy.
4. Automation And Anxiety
“Competencies are by far the main obstacle according to companies undertaking a path to industry 4.0,” Nicola Saccani, Associate Professor at Brescia University told audience members during his presentation. Professor Saccani, a specialist in service and digital transformation, suggested that employers are struggling to keep up with the pace of which technology is progressing. This, along with the growing competency gap created from retiring engineers and new blood coming in, presents one of the biggest challenges to the sector.
5. An Excellent Keynote
Maximise events always draw a special keynote speaker and this year was no exception with Fausto Gressini, the world’s most successful MOTO GP and MOTO GP manager in superbike history sharing his thoughts on the evolution of his sport.
Superbikes, Gressini explained, have become data sponges.
They absorb reams of information from its tyres and engines, from its brakes and exhaust; an endless spout of data that needs to be interpreted to the team’s advantage. Furthermore, the rider, as well as navigating bends at a hair raising 140mph, is expected to understand the information coming through and relay any trends back to his mechanics.
It was an excellent keynote and entirely relevant. On the surface a field engineer and superbike rider may not have a huge amount in common but when it comes to data collecting and refining there is a definitive link. It was a fascinating session and one that delegates appreciated and could genuinely use in their own processes going forward.
A Final Thought
ServiceMax is in a transition period, albeit a positive one and the event nodded towards another interesting 12 months. We’ll be following their progress in these pages as well as fieldservicenews.com. Stay tuned!
The next ServiceMax Maximise event takes place 7 to 8 October in London. Click here for more information.
From Singapore to Sweden and from California to Coventry and everywhere in between - where there has been an opportunity to learn more about developments in field service we’ve been there. As such we’ve spoken to more field service management professionals and field service solution providers than anyone else on the planet and we think we’ve a pretty good idea of what the solutions the industry is most keen to see and the companies that have emerged to deliver the solutions that meet those needs.
So without further a do here is our list of three of the best new solution providers service the Field Service Sector who have really impressed us across the last 12 months...
You can’t go to a conference, not just in field service, but in any sector and avoid the term Uberization. Within our sector alone there has been endless articles, white papers and presentations on how to ‘Uberize’ field service. Half of these are just focused on what the hell Uberization means in the first place.
Well a good place to start is implementing Localz, which can act like a plug in to go on top of whichever flavour of FSM or scheduling tool you have and deliver a very cool end customer interface that allows them to see the ETA of your engineer on route across the last mile.
Localz is capable of a ton of other stuff all centred around ‘Last Mile Communications’ but this really is the Uberization of Field Service many have called out for and with an implementation of weeks it is little wonder the have already secured some very high profile clients like British utilities giant British Gas. Localz can be as lightweight as a plug-in and delivers exactly what the market has been asking for in a brilliant way.
When Google Glass first came around everyone in the field service sector rushed to embrace it. All the Field Service Management Software guys raced to get the first App developed for it and there were loads of reports of companies doing beta trials everywhere.
Why? Because Hands Free working in field service just makes a massive ton of sense.
However, ultimately as we know the idea was great the technology not so much. And whilst there have been some very good alternatives coming onto the market in the field service sector for a while now, nothing has dominated because the price point for entry is just so high companies are uncertain if they will see a quick ROI if any at all.
Enter Mira who have the potential to absolutely dominate in the sector through a simple, well thought out and smartly designed headset that takes advantage of the fact that pretty much every engineer has a phone in their pocket.
Their headset allows a phone to be placed into the frame, much like the gaming VR headsets such as Samsung’s Gear VR or Google’s Daydream but also gives the user visibility of the real world through a clear display.
The headset itself is exceptionally well thought out and you can see the team behind this product come from a design background - little touches like easily attaching to standardised hard hats for PPE compliance are testament to this. Similarly, as the headset is literally powered by your engineers existing smartphone there is no additional MDM concerns. A low cost, yet effective way to implement AR today.
Sticking with Augmented Reality, the last company on the list is Augmentir, who come with a very strong pedigree and a very neat approach to things.
At first glance, you may be forgiven for thinking that Augmentir are just another of the many Augmented Reality providers that have suddenly noticed the potential in the field service market. However, scratch the service and you will see that there is actually quite a lot more to them than that.
The first thing to pay attention to is who is behind this brand. It is the same team that previously developed ThingWorx, which was ultimately sold to PTC and became the backbone of their IoT solution and recognised as an industry leading solution. They were also responsible for Wonderware which statistically almost two-thirds of our readers from the manufacturing sector will already be using. So when these guys rend to turn their hands to something they have a pretty good track record of getting it right.
However, the really interesting thing about Augmentir is that they’ve gone far beyond the initial approach that many of their peers are offering when it comes to Augmented Reality (AR) and dived straight into an Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered approach. In their own words they position themselves as ‘the first software platform built on Artificial Intelligence in the world of the augmented or connected worker.’
This could be a significant game changer in terms of AR being used in field service because it takes the technology beyond its initial use case and into something far, far more useful by leveraging another exciting technology in AI directly alongside it. In fact, as their VP Marketing Chris Kuntz told us they are “a 100% AI first company” who have just been smart enough to realise that AR is the interface that makes most sense for modern field service operations.
Ed Fraser, Managing Director at Parcel Holders responds to a Field Service News article on spare parts being the "black sheep" of the sector and wonders what role the supply chain will play in parts logistics...
Ed Fraser, Managing Director at Parcel Holders responds to a Field Service News article on spare parts being the "black sheep" of the sector and wonders what role the supply chain will play in parts logistics...
Following on from Kris Oldland's informed piece about parts management labelled the ‘black sheep’ of the service industry, I’d like to reflect on this constantly shifting sector of the service industry, discuss what’s available (and most often used), and offer some solutions.
As MD of a company which was set up to solve problems associated with getting parts to engineers, I can sympathise with the issues faced by parts managers - there are just so many ways to manage parts, and to get them where they need to be. Maybe you’ve just got to grips with one method when your engineers or boss start suggesting something else entirely! We know it can take a while for us mere humans to catch up with today’s constant change in technological innovation.
Let’s face it, technology has made much of the world and how we interact with it, almost unrecognisable to that of 20, even ten years ago. Some of us even remember flicking on a light switch to activate the tungsten element in a spherical bulb! Halogen bulbs, mini fluorescent tubes, long-lasting energy efficient LEDs… now, if we have Alexa, we don’t even need to lift a finger to illuminate a room. The way we socialise, watch TV, drink coffee, light, heat and cool our spaces, and pay for it all, presents us with a vast arena of change and choice.
But is change just due to technological innovation? Well, I would argue it has just as much to do with development in laws surrounding regulation.
Remember those dirty words: CFC gases? Those ozone-depleting nasties? Well, happily of course, they’ve been replaced with more enviro-friendly refrigerant gas. Renewables: wood pellet heaters, solar-electric systems, ground source and air source heat pumps are increasing in popularity. Your client wants the latest ‘green’ thing, it makes them look and feel good. But are your engineers up to installing, maintaining and fixing it? That’s the real challenge, getting the parts to them to do these jobs shouldn’t be.
Now, if your answer to improving service is to increase van stock, then you may have missed the point slightly. Sure, if you’re completely virtually integrated and your engineers are employed to fix one specific brand of machine, then van stock may make a lot of sense. But, for companies looking to win new business where part of the deal is maintaining a portfolio of equipment from a broad and expanding range of manufacturers, then van stock can easily become obsolete. It’s a burden on your service rather than an asset.
It's worth asking whether metrics show if doubling the van stock you can confidently predict doubling first time fix rates. If the answer is no, then this would indicate increasing vanstock is putting your business on a path to Malthus’s l law of diminishing returns. And with continual change in the marketplace, this method of managing parts is only going to get harder and more costly. Nonetheless, common sense will tell us there are certain things that the field tech shouldn’t turn up to a job without. But the more we stock the more we are depending on knowing the future and the further we get from the ‘just in time’ work philosophy which is considered a large factor in the meteoric growth of Japan’s economy.
I would argue that the way forward is better phone diagnosis and a faster supply chain. Sourcing parts and negotiating terms with suppliers can be a profession in itself! But if you want to keep this in-house then perhaps parts managers should spend their time sourcing supplies that can meet your business demand rather than stocking up on ‘general’ components that are increasingly unlikely to be needed.
"I would argue that the way forward is better phone diagnosis and a faster supply chain..."
In light of this, many field service businesses are looking to pass back their stock of inventory to primary suppliers. But what they may not realise is that these suppliers are equally reticent to order smaller and smaller batches of parts they may never ship. As such, suppliers are increasingly drop-shipping parts direct, and in doing so, not just saving themselves the threat of investing in static inventory but also saving on the extra logistics of the part travelling to their warehouses, plus the time it takes to stock the inventory only to subsequently pick and package the part once again for re-shipment.
It looks like this trend inevitably leads to more and more complex supply chains that are increasingly hard to manage. All of which makes the ‘holy grail’ of first time fixes ever more elusive.
In addition, sourcing the right part is a very different ball game to getting it into the hands of the engineer that needs it. Most field service businesses make all their revenue charging for the parts and service their engineers provide to their clients. But I’d argue that product complexity and increases in regulation mean that the scope of equipment an engineer could have at one time ‘tried their hand at’, has become ever more restricted. This, together with the natural desire to win new business means engineers increasingly work over wider territories. If you’re going to have them return to base to collect parts then during that time on the road, their skills (which you’re paying for) are redundant as they assume the work of expensive same day couriers.
OK, so I’ve thrown out stocked vans and driving to base/depots. What now?
If parts managers want engineers generating income, then they don’t want them sitting at home waiting for parts to be delivered. Sending parts direct to clients sites? It works in some sectors, but the bigger the site, the more this tends to be fraught with problems as parts are mislaid and jobs are delayed, as recipients on front desks fail to report parts’ arrivals. (This method is impractical of course in the domestic market with homes empty during working hours.)
Logistics businesses have seized the opportunity to offer premium solutions for the field service sectors with in-night delivery, forward stocking locations and locker boxes. But, far from simplifying the delivery process, they invariably require the part to travel though their delivery network, protracting an ever lengthening supply chain.
So, what if the supply chain could be turned on its head? What if we take inventory management out of the equation altogether? This at least seems to be making life easier for parts managers. Some are now cutting out the parts journey from supplier to van / home / site / locker box. Instead they are sending parts direct from suppliers and their suppliers, straight to engineers using alternative methods like PUDOs (pick up, drop off points) which are ‘open all hours’ and in convenient locations, within a few miles of engineers’ homes.
Field Service business can rest assured, innovations and change isn’t restricted to physical products. It’s equally providing greater insight into the supply chain than ever previously achieved and minimising the path and time taken for engineers to receive the parts they need. But perhaps in the midst of technological advancement and future-gazing, we may just need the human touch more than ever.
Click here for more information about PUDOs.
Will the asset eventually become more important than the engineer? It’s a question I put to most of the guests when I’m hosting The Field Service Podcast. As a journalist, I get a thrill of throwing a curve ball into interviews, and while it is often patted back with a straight bat by most; Paul Joesbury, Operations Director at utilities firm Homeserve is firmly on the side of technology. In fact, Paul is fought technology’s corner as part of a very juicy debate at Field Service Connect in May entitled, Today’s field service workforce will soon be redundant: The future lies in embracing technology to replace the need for human intervention when he went head-to-head with Anita Tadayon, Optimisation Director at British Gas, who argued for the engineer and technician.
Leading up to the event, I was fortunate enough to record a podcast with Paul where we discussed his views (It must be said at this point – and in the interest of journalistic impartiality – that Anita at British Gas was approached to also record a podcast, but her busy schedule meant it was not a possible) on the role of the human in future service. Straight away, I asked him if indeed, he felt there really would never be a case for human intervention in any area of service. “Certainly, from my perspective I can definitely concur,” he says confidently. “I do believe the asset will be more important than the engineer. I think assets are becoming smarter, I think we’re also seeing associated technologies, whether that be bots or something that’s aligned to the actual asset itself learning from each other.”
As a utilities company, Homeserve has the potential to lead the way in this type of service. “We’re doing a lot in water and boiler technology which I can definitely see it will tell us more about what the problems and faults are and will be less reliant on a human to come and do the diagnosis.” Paul explains.
He continues: “We’ve been having debates with our suppliers around use of drones to deliver parts, boiler diagnoses itself or what the problem is, then actually all we need is that part to be delivered and someone to fit it. It doesn’t need that highly skilled technician. Now obviously there may be certain appliances which do require a certain level of technical ability, however you could take it even further, when assets start fixing them themselves. Now that’s a really experimental concept,” he admits. “but there are things out there, nanobot technology for example, which is very, very clever.” When does he see this fundamental shift taking; where the human ceases to have a place in service? “I definitely think in five years’ time that there will still be humans in service but I think we’ll be doing different roles,” he predicts. “I think the important aspect over the next five years is to learn to trust the technology and equally for the technology to work.
But can the human ever truly be replaced? Surely face to face interaction is just as, if not more important? “Clearly there’s always the human empathy piece, that’s the bit that I haven’t yet seen any of this technology yet replicate to a high standard,” Paul admits. “I think there is still that human interaction. It’s different if you’re a lone worker fitting a part but certainly in our industry, the one I work in which is around going into customers’ homes, there is that empathy and there’s still a human approach to that, and I haven’t seen empathy replicated anywhere particularly well yet.
And perhaps this is where the rub lies and I’m in danger of opening up a bigger debate here beyond service; but nothing will ever truly replace the emotion of a human. That said, with self-driving cars around the corner nothing would really surprise me.
The Internet of Things (IoT), another buzz world (and acronym!) is a crucial element of Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution as it’s also called; the use of data automation and data exchange in modern manufacturing. Loosely described, IoT is everything that is connected to the internet.
However, it’s the increasing ability of devices such as laptops, phone, watches, cars and fridges to “talk” to each other that is coming to define what it actually is. But how does it work? The blood of this digital eco-system is data, and its oxygen is automation. When combined, information is gathered, analysed and acted on producing an outcome. We’ve all probably got an Alexa-type smart device blinking in the corner of our living room or kitchen, our TV knows when to record Game of Thrones and our thermostat remembers when we’re coming home from work so the living room is nice and toasty but as much as your fridge sending you a text to tell you you’re out of milk is handy, it’s in the realm of service that IoT can really make an impact.
On the surface, its potential is enormous. I often write about the asset becoming more important than the engineer and enjoy the debate that comes from such a statement. Yet, with machine learning, AI and in particular IoT it’s looking more and more likely that eventually, at some point, the role of the human in service could go all together. The smart asset – a wind turbine, for example – could flag-up a fault through a sensor, communicate with another turbine about the failure, who could respond with a solution, without the need for an on-site engineer.
This, example, I admit is rather woolly, but you get the idea; the potential is huge and in the industrial sector its impact is starting to be felt. Research conducted by PwC on US manufacturers’ attitudes towards digitization revealed 70% of those surveyed predict to be at a stage of digital advancement by 2020, compared with 33% currently. Furthermore, those firms are investing $907 billion annually on greater connectivity and smart factories suggesting, firms are realising the financial benefits of such technology. However, with all disruptions there comes challenges.
"On the surface, its potential is enormous..."
A report from Gartner in 2014, around the time the IoT enthusiasm was building, checked the momentum slightly by highlighting issues around security and consumer privacy. Given the vast amount of data being shared by the possibility of a breach could have severe consequences. On the flip-side data collected on consumers and their behaviour is another area for concern. And while data collection can enhance a company’s ability to provide better services, any sort of mis-hap can in-turn, be just as damaging to firm’s image and the market in general.
Furthermore, as the number of connected devices increase real-time processses could be affected as storage and security requirements widen Five years on, where are we with IoT governance? Gartner’s 2018 report Top Strategic IoT Trends and Technologies Through 2023 suggested that some sort of protocol was essential. “As the IoT continues to expand,” the report’s summary read, “the need for a governance framework that ensures appropriate behaviour in the creation, storage, use and deletion of information related to IoT projects will become increasingly important.
Governance ranges from simple technical tasks such as device audits and firmware updates to more complex issues such as the control of devices and the usage of the information they generate. CIOs must take on the role of educating their organizations on governance issues and in some cases invest in staff and technologies to tackle governance.” There’s no doubting the potential of IoT. As mentioned, it can truly change the way service is delivered.
However, citing the statistic in the standfirst of this article, 75 billion devices are projected to be connected by 2025 and with that, the potential for. It’s the role of all firms, from the top-down to ensure they’re ring-fenced accordingly.