Big Data is a buzz word making its rounds across a variety of industries and the field service sector is no exception. Gartner defines Big Data as high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective,...
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Big Data is a buzz word making its rounds across a variety of industries and the field service sector is no exception. Gartner defines Big Data as high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making.
Over the last 10 years, field service organisations have become overwhelmed by the relentless flow of information coming in from multiple sources, in various formats and through an array of tools. For example, in a typical field service business data will be coming in from GPS and vehicle-tracking systems, telematics, fleet management and workforce management. Merging and organising this ‘Big Data’ is so difficult that, in most businesses, it ends up sitting unused in applications and databases. However, many are now beginning to realise its sleeping intelligence and that they need to tap in to it to help make more informed business decisions.
The major challenge they face is how to make sense of the massive amounts of data they collect daily and tame this flow in order to extract valuable insights to help hone day-to-day operations and make long-term strategic decisions.
Performance Management Analytics (PMA) has come to the fore as a solution able to tackle the Big Data challenge. PMA provides field service managers with the visibility to analyse the productivity of their field service operations. For instance, the tool can help reduce unauthorised stops, minimise excessive speeding and idling, increase the number of jobs performed daily, and improve response times.
The Big Data Opportunity for Field Service
The ability to make sense of data can make the difference between a business that is good enough and one that stands out from the pack. When a company figures out how to review historical data about itself, identify patterns, and compile metrics and statistics to determine which assets and employees are the most productive, it can use those insights for predictive analysis and better business decisions.
The reward is higher customer satisfaction and profits. In a study commissioned by Trimble, The Road Ahead: The Future of Field Service Delivery, 80% of managers surveyed cited customer satisfaction as their top priority. A 2012 Aberdeen report highlighted the importance of customer satisfaction, finding that organisations with ratings of 90% or higher successfully retained at least 90% of customers, while those with ratings of 50% or lower retained only 26%.
Big data can play a major role here. Field service organisations that have deployed GPS, fleet and workforce management technologies already have the tools that help make sense of the information and make decisions to improve customer satisfaction. To accomplish this effectively, field service organisations must set specific goals, such as reducing overtime through route optimisation and cutting fuel costs through GPS tracking and fleet management systems.
Capture and Analysis
So much information flows back into dispatch centres and offices of field services organisations that letting it go unused actually hurts the business. Distilled properly, information through GPS, telematics, fleet management and workforce management tools provide concrete, actionable details, giving managers and dispatchers real-time visibility into fleet activities.
Systems set up to capture in-day exceptions, for instance, can save a company thousands of pounds by catching bad driver habits such as fueling cars with premium instead of regular fuel, making unscheduled stops, and ignoring pre-set routes optimised for time and fuel-savings.
Fleet and workforce management systems give managers the ability to review a day’s work and measure performance results against company standards. By leveraging Performance Management Analytics (PMA) tools, managers can identify top performers, determine which schedules and routes produce the best results, and compare results from one vehicle or worker against the entire fleet.
Performance analysis can also help with job assignments, helping managers match the skills of field technicians to specific service calls. This increases the prospect of first-time case resolution. According to Aberdeen, 26% of field visits fail to resolve the problem, requiring follow-up visits, and frustrating customers.
Telematics solutions can capture a wealth of useful information, from mechanical and emissions to driver safety habits, all of which can be collected and organised into easily digestible reports. Analytics reports, for example, can leverage telematics to provide stakeholders with information in easy-to-read, relevant snapshots highlighting operational areas that need immediate attention.
The basis of telematics was originally location, but location is now merely an enabling tool for a plethora of complex business applications. Analytics now let customers see everything from the most profitable jobs to success rates in meeting appointment times. We’re moving towards an era of ‘super information’ delivered by telematics which will see the impact of the technology surge.
Immediate and Long-term Benefits
With big data, knowledge leads to action. A field service manager who knows which drivers have bad habits is better equipped to evaluate those drivers, act to correct their behaviour and schedule training for individuals who need it. Up-to-date information on the health of vehicles leads to better maintenance, which in turn leads to safer vehicles, improved fuel consumption and less wear and tear.
Likewise, the ability to collect real-time information on traffic through GPS tracking empowers dispatchers to make decisions on the fly to change routes and avoid congestion. AVL (automatic vehicle location) and real-time information on the distance between customer stops leads to routing and schedule optimisation.
Those are the immediate benefits, but understanding big data also brings long-term advantages, as companies engage in strategic planning based on historical patterns and predictive analysis. Thanks to big data, organisations can conduct predictive analysis for more accurate planning. For example, for companies focusing on repair, using historical data about when a part is most likely to fail, enable them to do better planning for the future. This is called preventative maintenance, fixing or changing a part even before it fails. Furthermore, adjusting resources, modifying schedules, planning vehicle purchases and forecasting hiring needs become less about guessing and more about precise, well-researched planning. And that’s why field organisations need to take control of their information.
Software as a Service (SaaS) has been much heralded as a software delivery method that is set to revolutionise the way businesses operate. Often it is seen as being at the heart of business technology in the future. In the field service industry...
Software as a Service (SaaS) has been much heralded as a software delivery method that is set to revolutionise the way businesses operate. Often it is seen as being at the heart of business technology in the future. In the field service industry SaaS is already making a sizeable impression in the dynamics of the industry itself, moving the base of power away from enterprise level organisations who traditionally held the upper hand by utilising service technologies, which due to the often prohibitive costs aligned to on-premise solutions, were out of reach for their smaller competitors.
In this feature, we explore the rise of SaaS, why it is so suited to field service, the particular benefits for smaller companies and what its impact on the Field Service industry will be.
What is Software as a Service?
As a concept SaaS can actually trace it’s origins right back to the 1960’s when IBM and other mainframe providers established a service bureau business, sometimes referred to time-sharing or utility computing.
These services, which were designed for large organisations such as banks, would often include both database storage and computing power from worldwide data centres.
As we leap forward to the 1990’s when we saw the first real commercialisation and expansion of the Internet, we see the next precursor to SaaS, which was Application Service Providers (ASP’s). With the goal of reducing costs through central administration, ASPs began providing businesses with the service of hosting and managing specialised business applications.
SaaS is essentially extended from the concept of ASPs, but importantly harnesses the power of cloud infrastructure.
Indeed a common misconception is that SaaS and the Cloud are in fact one and the same however, this is not strictly correct.
SaaS is very simply, any software application that you operate which is not located on your premises. Whereas the cloud is the virtual infrastructure that the SaaS runs within, which in turn is housed on the vendor’s own data centres, or in many cases a data centre the vendor themselves ‘rents’ from an organisation such as Amazon Web Services.
Why field service is so suited to SaaS:
Whilst early applications of SaaS were predominantly either CRM or highly specific business niche products, it was only a matter of time before we saw a number of providers offering up SaaS solutions to the field service industry.
As SaaS systems are Internet based the ability to operate and access the software from various locations is a key fundamental inclusion of the system. Similarly as web protocols are becoming standardised, with the rise in device agnostic languages such as HTML 5 for example, SaaS solutions essentially allow users to access the entire application from any device - including smart phones and tablets.
It is this flexibility and mobility that SaaS solutions offer that make them such a perfect match for the field service industries and ideal for an organisation that operates a BYOD policy for it’s mobile workforce.
As such we have seen a number of vendors establish SaaS field service solutions. Including Tesseract Software, Connect2Field, Astea, ServiceMax, IFS and Click Software who all offer a variety of SaaS solutions to help field service companies improve the efficiency of their mobile workforces.
The benefits of SaaS to SMB’s
As well as the obvious benefits of having a central software solution that is accessible across numerous remote devices, that are specifically relevant to field service companies, SaaS solutions have more generic benefits also which are particularly beneficial to Smaller and Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs)
Perhaps the most obvious of these is the cost.
Whilst in the long term (i.e. across a three to five year period) a subscription model may actually prove to be more expensive, the ability to spread the costs (usually in either annual or monthly payments) is a particularly attractive route for smaller or even medium sized companies for whom cash flow remains an important factor.
Similarly the benefit of not having to have your IT team dedicate large amounts of their potentially limited resources on implementing, monitoring and maintaining a system is also particularly important for smaller sized companies.
With SaaS the software is maintained and updated by the provider reducing the burden on a companies IT significantly.
Another often cited benefit that is of particular importance to SMB’s is the lack of fixed term contract.
Often the service is provided on a rolling monthly basis or even a freemium model (where the basic functionality is provided for free and additional services are offered at a premium), which allows greater flexibility for a company to walk away.
Not being tied to a long contract for software that they may not necessarily need in a year or so’s time when their business needs change, is another attractive benefit for SMBs that SaaS offers.
What this means to the field service industry.
It has been suggested that the access to sophisticated service management solutions that were previously out of reach to non-enterprise level organisations, which SaaS delivers is potentially going to have a major impact on the dynamics of the industry.
For the first time, many smaller companies are now able to take advantage of the benefits of such systems including improving the efficiency of their mobile workforce, gaining visibility across their entire field service operation and reducing fuel costs.
Previously the cost of both implementing and maintaining an on premise field service management solution was simply too prohibitive for most smaller organisations, giving their larger competitors a clear advantage in terms of the level of service they could deliver and therefore the level of customer satisfaction they could achieve.
However, the introduction of SaaS solutions has levelled the playing field and perhaps even shifted the balance in favour of the smaller companies.
SMBs often have smaller overheads and can therefore gain greater profit margins for similar revenue levels . A result of this has led to reducing costs often being the traditional primary sales strategy adopted by SMBs when competing with larger companies , who are able to deliver superior service.
Today however, with companies of all sizes being able to offer similar levels of service through automating elements of their field service operation, smaller companies can take advantage of this ability to compete more fiercely on price whilst offering the same customer satisfaction levels as their bigger competitors. For perhaps the first time the power lies with smaller more agile companies.
The tables have turned slightly and it is largely down to the SaaS revolution.
It’s been one of the biggest buzz words in boardrooms across the globe now for a number of years and if you look across any technology website you are sure to find an article or two shouting about it’s apparent all encompassing power, but what...
It’s been one of the biggest buzz words in boardrooms across the globe now for a number of years and if you look across any technology website you are sure to find an article or two shouting about it’s apparent all encompassing power, but what exactly is Big Data, is it really set to change the world, and what does it mean to the field service industry?
Big Data 101:
Well despite what seems to be a fairly meteoric rise to prominence, Big Data can actually trace it’s origins back to the early part the millennium when Doug Laney an analyst with META group (now Gartner) defined the challenges of modern data as threefold – the increase in Volume(the amount of data), Velocity (the speed of data in and out), and Variety (range of data types and sources).
This “3 V’s model” has now become the standard staple definition of Big Data although additional V’s such as Veracity, Validity, Volatility tend be thrown into the mix at times now also.
But for now let’s just get to grips with the first three, starting with Volume which is perhaps the most obvious and arguably what lends the Big to Big Data.
As you may imagine Volume refers to the sheer amount of data that is now available to be processed. We are living in a digital world where almost every single action we take creates data. In fact in the last three years alone, more data has been created than in the entirety of history before that point.
Very simply put, we now have lots and lots and lots of data, and as any analyst will tell you the bigger the data set, the more robust the insights taken from it are.
The second of these three V’s, Velocity, is perhaps the least defined of the group.
It has been suggested that Velocity refers to the quantum leap in processing power that makes Big Data a reality. Big Data is in the main about real-time analysis and instant insight. Even the largest and most complex databases are now often processed in a matter of hours whereas it would have been days or even weeks not too long ago.
Another interpretation is the speed at which data is being received. One example is some smart meters are designed to report energy consumption data every 15 minutes; another could be the constant stream of social media commentary that a company may receive.
Both representative a rapid and ongoing growth of a particular data set.
In actuality Velocity is perhaps best understood as a combination of both of these interpretations. Crucially though, it is the real-time ability to interpret data and draw meaningful information on-the-fly, that separates Big Data from its older and less glamorous cousin Business Analytics.
And finally we have Variety.
When discussing Velocity just now we highlighted two very different types of data sets.
Firstly energy consumption, which usually would be translated into very simple numerical data, and secondly, customer sentiment data which has been collected via social media. In very simplistic terms this is exactly what Variety is all about.
Lets explore the smart meter example first. Any one utilities provider could be and likely is drawing data from a number of different types of meter, each with varying configurations, and varying data sets so even this structured data comes in various formats.
Next we look at the more complicated ‘unstructured’ data example of social media data. Whilst more complex to interpret, there is perhaps even more value locked away in these types of data sets. However, technologies such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) allow for the interpretation and exploitation of such data.
It is the combination of all these varieties of data from both the unstructured and structured realms, and then the ability to bring these together to uncover hidden insight and understanding, is perhaps the most important strength of Big Data.
Big Data and the Field Service industry…
When we look at the digitization within business today, we must consider that every single interaction a company has with their customers adds to a potential data set somewhere along the way.
Service focused companies by definition have the customer at the centre of their business and therefore have more customer touch points than any other type of company.
For Service organizations the potential for data collection is vast, from various data sets and the flow of data is rapid and constant. In fact Field Service is an industry perfectly placed to reap the benefits Big Data.
The benefits of Big Data in Field Service?
There are a number of applications of Big Data that would benefit the field service industry.
The most obvious is the further enhancement of traditional analytics, for example the ability to both access and analyse GPS vehicle data to see how certain field teams or even specific field engineers are performing and being able to constantly monitor and improve service performance (in turn giving you a significant competitive edge by ensuring that the service you give your customers remains best in class.)
In fact we are already seeing the first ‘Big Data’ based applications being introduced with both MPL Systems and Trimble Field Service Management incorporating elements of these technologies into their latest solutions.
Perhaps an even greater, if somewhat harder to achieve aim however, is to establish the fabled 360 customer view.
By bringing together the various different datasets, you have from your numerous customer touch points (e.g. numerical data, contact centre calls, social media data, GPS data, data entered at engineer visits etc etc) and then managing, amalgamating and interpreting this data you can achieve a complete and holistic understanding of your customer, their needs and the best way to service them.
Undertaking a Big Data project is neither an easy or particularly cheap process, yet it does yield the power to revolutionize the way your business operates, including your ability to fully understand your customer and tailoring the service you deliver to meet those needs both a the macro and micro level.
With such great rewards and clear competitive advantage to be gained it is surely just a matter of time before we start seeing the real-world impact of Big Data within the field service industry.