Copperberg’s Thomas Igou reflects on some of their most recent research that outlines how although most companies within the field service sector on a program of digitalisation to leverage emerging technologies to improve the efficiency of their service operations both in the office and out in the field, almost half of companies cite adapting current IT infrastructure for Future Digital Strategy as one of their biggest challenges...
Field Service Organisations today would like to move into predictive maintenance, connect the back office to the front and augment knowledge virtually to field technicians through digital devices to boost productivity, increase profitability and stay ahead of the competition.
However, according to the Copperberg Research’s Annual Field Service Report conducted with over 120 FIeld Service DIrectors in 2019, 42% of the respondents listed adapting current IT infrastructure for Future Digital Strategy as one of their biggest problems. There are so many technologies to implement yet having a unified IT infrastructure for these systems and platforms is no easy task, and can make or break a Digital Strategy if the data between systems cannot speak to each other.
With the advent of numerous sensors, faster data capturing and transmission, sorting, processing and making use of all the data can be a big challenge requiring a massive investment in upgrading IT departments. Most companies in the field service domain are just getting started on the digital journey where going fast could be useful, but the important question to ask is if it is worth going faster than your customers? Or, is the best approach to take is one of step by step collaboration with partners, suppliers and customers. According to the survey, the next big challenges according to 30% of the field service directors is deciding on the digital transformation tools along with workforce planning and scheduling (32%). However, the important observation from the survey is one about change management.
To be able to implement the digital tools and keep pace with the industry, change management is crucial, which has to trickle down from the company strategy through the top management to the field service engineers. Michael Porter famously said, ‘’Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different’’.
Industrial organisations are fighting their own internal struggles of moving away from the traditional transactional business model they have been running on since their p77 inception towards a different one more adapted to today’s Experience Economy based on partnerships, value creation, subscriptions, outcomes and productivity. 53% of respondents in the survey claimed that only top management makes the decisions which could be a double-edged sword in today’s dynamic industry.
Strategies have been imperatively flowing top-down in organisations but might offer a challenge to adoption at the bottom level as they will be the ones using the deployed technology. Most leaders today are discussion preventive maintenance and some about building machines that will not break down avoiding maintenance operations and associated costs. 31% of the industry is still stuck in reactive maintenance which is concerning given the plethora of tools, case studies and resources available to move into proactive maintenance are available and have been publicised over years now.
Having the field service workforce motivated to pitch into the companies strategies will lead to motivated technicians. Top management has to involve the technicians when deciding on new digital tools, continuously train them and have the technicians help each other to understand the new technology.
This will help the younger technicians learn from experienced ones and also make the older technicians easily ask the young workforce on adapting to the new technology, bridging the competence gap. In the Survey, 80% of leaders rate their field service workforces adaptation to new tech, helping each other and providing feedback as average with only a very small number rating it as high. Competence Development of Field Workforce tops the list of priorities for field service leaders in the next 5 years.
Jim Baston, of BBA Consulting Group Inc. has a different take: ‘‘It is interesting to note the growing place that technology plays in field service. With remote diagnostics, artificial intelligence and visual reality, as well as embedded intelligence in the serviced equipment, the technical competence of the service person, will become less important. As they rely more on their tools to troubleshoot and repair and less on their experience, it opens up the door for less qualified individuals who will be able to give comparable levels of technical service.’’
In conclusion, to connect all three aspects of digitalisation, strategy and competence management, Adam Neale of Arqiva group states, ’’We will see a significant reduction in the number of highly skilled Field Engineers. We will be more low-skilled with 3rd line support assisting with technology such as Augmented Reality. Without great employee engagement, you will not succeed. Your employees build your customer reputation which can be positive or negative. If they were engaged with what your company does each and every day, then they will deliver high standards.’’
The quantitative survey conducted by Copperberg Research had over 125 respondents reflecting the state of the current field service industry. Field Service Organisations are trying to balance the growing customer expectations and associated challenges that implementing new digital tools are bringing along. The survey brings to light the major challenges the industry faces, the tools that will be important to implement in the next 5 years along with addressing the needs for Field Service Engineers.
The survey is divided into three chapters: Digital, Workforce and Strategy to streamline the needs in these three spheres complimented by insights from industry experts.
You can download the report here.