A year into his tenure heading-up ServiceMax Scott Berg is in a positive mood. Field Service News’ Deputy Editor Mark Glover went to meet the CEO to discuss life after GE’s acquisition, Brexit and why IoT still has more to offer...
Note: This interview was held prior to the announcement of Silver Lake's acquisition of a majority stake within ServiceMax which sees GE to continue as a minority investor. Find out more about the acquisition here
Ahead of my interview with Scott I go online to read a handful of the firm’s customer case-studies. I browse with the intention of spotting a pattern, a pool of similar companies that can give me handle on the ServiceMax success story. Of course, the firm have always operated in diverse sectors: aviation; food production and pharmaceuticals to name a few.
As I delve further the specialism of the companies narrow into impressive and exciting-sounding niches: centrifugal pumps manufacturers; architectural coating companies; bio-analytical measurement system providers all extolling the values of ServiceMax’s solutions. With this in mind, I start by asking Scott how he keeps a handle on this array of industries, a forest of complex verticals. “You’re talking about large workforces that have scheduling needs at a real primitive level who have a real despatch and scheduling element,” Scott tells me in a meeting room at GE’s London offices.
“I think that unifies all those vertical industries for us. At the bottom of that, for the most part, there is either a complex piece of equipment and it’s really that machine or that piece of equipment that we that’s at the centre of what we do. “We tend to provide solutions for those with complex asset types of services which could be a wind turbine or a power plant, a centrifuge, or a brain-surgery machine in a hospital. When you look at it that way, there’s a lot of similarity across them.”
It will be a year this January since Scott took up the post as CEO of ServiceMax coinciding with GE’s acquisition of the firm. Despite being part of a multi-national conglomerate, a company who this ranked 18 in this Fortune 500, has the technician-focused ethos remained “This is a company that cares quite a bit about assets and equipment and machinery and engineers,” Scott says.
“I think there’s something close to 25,000 employed service engineers. There’s a real love and affinity which has been good and benefitted us.” Since the acquisition, ServiceMax have gained traction beyond Europe in countries where previously it had been difficult to get a footprint. Of course, investment has helped but Scott suggests GE’s global respect has also been a factor. “In the past 12 months we’ve had a number of customers in the Middle East fuelled by the positive brand and reputation of GE in that part of the world.”
"This is a company that cares quite a bit about assets and equipment and machinery and engineers..."
Europe though remains a strong area for the outfit with clients spanning the continent. On the day I meet Scott, Britain is reacting to Theresa May’s draft Brexit proposal, and my mobile buzzed and bleeped with news notifications as I made the train journey down.
The process of Britain’s extraction from the European Union has been fraught and complex with political commentators and business leaders offering various doomsday scenarios if negotiations falter. I ask Scott what effect, if any, Brexit could have on its European footprint? “I don’t want to get political and be on one side or the other and I can’t say I fully understand it,” he says wisely, “but there’s a demand out there for global operation in the world’s largest corporations and people are going to have to get through trade barriers and deal with the consumer on a worldwide basis regardless.”
We’re both happy to swerve further discussion on Brexit so I steer back to where it all began for Scott, in pharmaceuticals at Eli Lilly and Dendrite in the early 90s where he held Business Director and Senior Director roles respectively. A role at Connect offered a peak into the field service sector dealing with territory management systems, introducing large volumes of laptops into white-collar knowledge workers. “I had an early glimpse of the mobile workforce and what that was going to look like,” he recalls. At the time, California was the focal point of US software development. Fuelled by a growing interest in technology, Scott, originally from New Jersey headed to “chase the dream”. Fast forwarding then to 2009 and Scott is interviewing at ServiceMax.
As he plotted his experience, he was able to align his previous roles to the field service sector. “Even as I was about to join the company,” he says with a smile, “I was remembering all the things – even from pharmaceuticals – about remote working and parts ordering. We would deploy thousands of laptops to a sales team and none of those laptops had the means to service them, repair them, return then, ship them and prep them. Back in those days we had to run a full-on field sales operation because how else would 2,000 reps get what they needed.
“I had no idea how pertinent that would end up being first-hand experience of aftermarket or a parts operation where frankly where we trying to deliver a software solution.”
We work out that “back then” was 35 years ago and we both wince slightly at the speed of time passing. “My daughter calls me old,” Scott, 50, jokes. Still, the last four decades have seen a revolution in technology and software advances; the advent of the internet underpinning most applications. I ask Scott, given his experience, if he thinks the world wide web was a watershed moment, or perhaps something else? “I think the big change that I’ve seen for has been mobile,” he offers.
"The internet is not as ‘everywhere’ as people believe. It’s blocked in hospitals and airports. It’s enhanced by smart-mobile devices that have these rich capabilities but we also have to deal with the reality that they will sometimes lose connectivity..."
“Of course, this would be nowhere without the internet but going from luggable, yet heavy and fragile laptops to really smart affordable mobile devices; I think that’s a big deal.” And what about the internet? “ It’s been a bit of a double-edged sword,” he says. The internet is not as ‘everywhere’ as people believe. It’s blocked in hospitals and airports. It’s enhanced by smart-mobile devices that have these rich capabilities but we also have to deal with the reality that they will sometimes lose connectivity.
“We acknowledge the mobile workforce and the internet connectivity and getting data to people; we acknowledge the mobile devices and how important they’ll be but the only way to really do this properly is to think about that device and software operating in a connected and dis-connected way,” he pauses. “It’s a balance of the two. Relying on connectivity, the Internet of Things (IoT) goes beyond laptops, smartphones and tablets. Monitoring our heating and air-conditioning and even dimming our lights, its potential impact across heavy industry is huge."
In a previous interview with Field Service News’ Scott said that IoT had been an “unfulfilled promise”. Does he stick by the statement? “I think what needs to happen now, and this is where the real value will come from IoT,” he says recalling the earlier Interview.
“I think what needs to happen now, and where the real value will come from IoT, is when input from a machine can be fed into more predictive models using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. Only then we will get truly predictive services, and only then will you get a learning model rather than an alert system.” He elaborates further: “Part of the early benefits for our customer base have been error logs and early warning systems. Now, what we offer for field service management and asset performance management can be through IoT and the predictive side; and then measure whether or not that had the impact that was wanted.”
"I think the version of autonomy that applies to complex services is a smarter machine that asks for help before it needs it..."
So, not only pre-empting but learning from pre-empting? “Exactly,” he affirms.
“We talk a lot about the closed-loop mentality; where you’re predictive about the maintenance instruction, then you capture the service that was actually executed then feed that back and now the model gets smarter over time.”
Despite the speed in which technology is progressing Scott believes the technical role of the engineer will remain.
He’s wise and experienced enough however, to know it is changing.
The asset, assisted by IoT and Machine Learning, will come to complement the technician. He references the term autonomous, suggesting – perhaps correctly – that people only associate it with self-driving cars. “I think the version of autonomy that applies to complex services is a smarter machine that asks for help before it needs it, a smarter machine that provides realtime data to advise the technician,” he says.
While IoT is certainly changing the field service marketplace, the hype around the technology is bringing a side-effect, a bi-product that requires effort for an end-user to control: data, reams of data. Scott is sympathetic towards clients who find themselves drowning in error-codes.
He tells me about a client he met the previous day - a provider of cancer surgery equipment.
“Every morning,” he says shaking his head, “the technician woke to an email reporting 2,000 potential error codes. And it’s all on this technician to decide what’s meaningful and what’s not. Sure, it’s a good IoT application that’s come up with 2,000 codes, but which one actually matters?”
The issue of data-overload affirms Scott’s earlier point, that IoT needs to be reined in by a strong predictive model that can filter the relevant information.
“That’s where things are really advancing now,” Scott affirms.
“To go from IoT spewing data at people, to layering a predictive model on that to advise and lead a technician’s actions, delivered through a smart mobile device that can present the relevant information.”
All of this ultimately adds up to efficiency, a key factor for those organisations whose business models are asset-heavy; the wind turbine or nuclear reactor for example. The effect of down-time across an assembly line, for even a short period can have serious financial consequences.
“They can’t afford for it to be down,” Scott explains, “and you can’t just call anyone to come and fix it. This isn’t a Google or a Yelp search to get someone with credentials to climb 300ft and fix a wind turbine.”
"The effect of down-time across an assembly line, for even a short period can have serious financial consequences..."
With good timing, a week before our meeting, a GE press release lands in my in-box announcing the launch of PreDix ServiceMax Asset Service Management software aimed squarely at these heavy-asset sectors. I’m drawn to the safety and compliance element of the software where the solution creates documentation for workers to check the correct Personal Protective Equipment is fitted.
“Even a simple checklist at the start of each technician’s day that asks if you are equipped with the right boots, or hard-hat or eye wear; just the reminder can contribute to a reduction in safety incidents,” Scott says.
Importantly, signed employee safety and maintenance documentation creates evidence of compliance. Scott outlines the process: “It [the documentation) shows that every technician, that morning acknowledged that safety procedure and that instruction, the documentation can prove it occurred. Along with the maintenance documents, it shows that everything that needed to get done was done.”
Checklist management has been a focus at ServiceMax.
The firm have produced capabilities around form-data capture, the uploading and capture of photograph as well as video; all feeding into the battle against inefficiency. To make this point Scott cites describes wind-turbine maintenance, which to take place, a technician must climb 300ft, a journey that can take several hours.
“Imagine the tremendous inefficiency if you weren’t perfectly ready with everything you needed when you got up there. “You don’t want to get all the way and not have the right bulb,” he says, only half-smiling. You have to be perfectly ready to execute because you’re about to spend four hours getting to a destination.”
I wrap up the interview by asking Scott what inspires him to do what he does?
He lists the variety of industries that they serve, clearly enjoying the different experiences this brings.
However, he finishes – unsurprisingly, as is the ServiceMax ethos – by bringing it back to the engineer.
“I think the field-service technician is an underserved, individual skill,” he says. So, perhaps serving, literally, millions of technicians is part of what drives me.”
Scott Berg is CEO of ServiceMax
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