The global field service market is estimated to jump from $1.58 billion last year to more than $3.5 billion by 2019, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets. This three-part series will look at how cloud is an enabler for field service organisations, how technology is allowing central control and improving people management, rounding off with a look at how technology can improve customer service and the issue of privacy.
The series has emerged following a recent panel debate with experts and academics, hosted by ClickSoftware and chaired by Forrester’s senior analyst, Paul Miller. The panel included: Tim Faulkner, Senior Vice President at ClickSoftware, Dr Carsten Sorensen, Associate Professor in Digital Innovation at London School of Economics, Katelyn Burrill, Product Marketing Manager at ClickSoftware, and Phil Wainewright, Chair at Euro Cloud UK.
The cloud as an enabler and the automation landscape
Paul Miller opened the debate: “We're here to talk about cloud and field service. A lot of the visible manifestations are out in the field, for instance the device the engineer is holding when they walk into your house is probably accessing applications and data held in the cloud – but do we really need the cloud for all that? Why is the cloud important?”
You can pool it into a vast cauldron of big data and pop out analytics and use the information to develop more efficient processes.”
“For ClickSoftware it's a different model and it brings down barriers to adopting field service solutions that were there before,” said Tim Faulkner. “Any company with its own IT department probably had a traditional approach of evaluating a solution, looking at the integrations needed, buying the hardware, setting it up and making that capex investment – as an organisation, you bank on seeing returns as you ramp up and roll out.”
Faulkner continued, “That's not easy for a small organisation to do though. Cloud is a leveller and enables small organisations to adopt the same applications. For large corporations it helps them to deploy different methods. Maybe not the big waterfall approach, but a more agile incremental way in shorter timeframes. Cloud is definitely an enabler for that, opening new opportunities for business units within larger corporations. Last year, in Europe, the adoption of our cloud-based solutions surpassed my forecasts at the beginning of the year – we expected 25% of new customers and it ended up being closer to 50%!”
Miller interjects: “Allowing smaller companies to adopt the same solution as their biggest competitors?”
“Using cloud based field service technology allows flexibility and speed,” said Dr Carsten Sorensen. “If you look at manufacturing, in the old days you'd have a siloed approach – by the time you got to the last person to sign for a new component, they'd realise it couldn't be made within the constraints and they'd have to go back and start again.
One of the key things in business is to allow individuals to make rapid decisions while at the same time making sure they don’t make bad decisions for the company.
“Business infrastructure is an important angle,” said Wainewright. “The way businesses are organised needs to be changed to take advantage of the new technologies.”
Sorensen jumped in at this point: “They need to balance ERP systems that automate the process that tells people what to do at what stage. It makes it possible to have flexible communication. The challenge is for big companies to manage this to facilitate processes but also enable discussions and flexibility. The more lightweight infrastructure you have the better it is for flexibility. Cloud technology makes it more lightweight.”
Rounding off the first part of the debate Miller asked Katelyn Burrell how organisations are changing how they deal with their own customers, with cloud playing a big part of that. “When prospects come to ClickSoftware looking for a cloud solution from you, is that recognition part of the solution? Are they thinking about the broader strategic shift?”
“They are absolutely thinking about the broader strategic shift,” said Burrell. “We started nearly 20 years’ ago with on premise solutions only, we're experts at that. It has to be a transformative project where all stakeholders are involved up-front. What the cloud has done now is enabled more experimentation within the organisation, possibly without the involvement of IT. A business unit might come to us and say they want to make this transformation and need help selling to the executives. The cloud has enabled them to do a pilot project before going on a bigger scale.
What's really driving it for our customers is that their products and services are becoming more commoditised, and how they deliver their services is a key differentiator. They need to improve their customer experience, but also keep their operations and costs in check, servicing the needs of the business and the customer.”
Look out for Part Two of the debate, when the focus switches to central control and people management, and how development of the devices available allows greater oversight and communications with workers out in the field.