Field Service News' Deputy Editor Mark Glover caught up with regular Field Service News' contributor, IDC's Aly Pinder to look back on what's been an eventful 12 months in service. The pair were speaking at at Sycron's innovate2019 conference held in Stockholm on 13 and 14 November, where Aly was one of the keynote speakers.
Mark Glover: I was wondering if we could perhaps take a bit of a step back, a bit of a reflection of this year and also, perhaps like we doing at the conference, look forward as well. This year has been quite a big year for acquisitions in the sector. Do you expect that trend to continue as we go into 2020 and beyond?
Aly Pinder: I definitely see that the next couple of years will accelerate the ecosystem play that is either looking at acquisitions or partnerships that are strategic to help build upon a view of how technology providers can either fill gaps or support verticals that they’ve yet to build a domain expertise that drives the value and growth that they’re trying to attain.
A number of the key players in the industry have reached a point of growth where they may not be able to find the same numbers coming from the same industries that they’ve sold to in the past, so how can they accelerate their overall growth goals, which is obviously there and there’s a market which digitally transform around field service or overall service life cycle management, but those buyers are now coming from either newer companies or newer industries that haven’t been [supportive/supported] in the past. So I think building ecosystems of partners or acquiring that domain expertise will help them accelerate at the pace that they’re trying to get to, which means there will be more excitement and exciting news in the industry in the coming year to two years.
At conferences like this I continue to hear more and more excitement from manufacturers who are understanding that now is the time to invest in digital technologies to support that next shift of their organisation. So if you look back five, ten years ago, how do we get ipads in the hands of all of our technicians? How do we think about AR and VR technologies and tools? I see those pilots changing and evolving into deployments and that’s going to allow the market to say we need to move on this excitement faster than we even perceived eighteen months ago.
MG: On that adoption, one of the presentations yesterday, was about how to communicate that to the board or people at the top level, which can be a challenge in itself. A service director has many hats but one has to almost be a salesman to do that.
AP: I think it’s definitely a sales job and role to sell the value to the end customer and the need to support this new way in which we’re doing business, and how technology will enable that new way of doing business. Because just cobbling together something isn’t going to work at the speed at which things are changing and evolving.
So I think selling that future vision of what the interactions will be with customers and the need to have personalised insights at the level of the front line technician in the palm of a hand at any given moment in time and the connectiveness of that data flow demands that we view technology differently and view the investments we’re making differently, and need to accelerate the types of tools and technologies we’re leveraging because an application by itself isn’t going to connect the way we need to connect at the speed in which we need to do it. So I think going to the board and communicating the fact that we can’t continue to be the after team.
We need to be the forward looking team that allows us to look at how technology will enable us to be the forward team that’s customer facing and delivering those experiences that we all know that we need to deliver. [Inaudible] coming from the contact centre. You know, this front line field service organisation is the one that is going to solve the problems of today and tomorrow when you give them the tools of tomorrow to solve those problems.
MG: We were talking yesterday over coffee about re-framing service, and the terminology used around it, and perhaps the negative connotations it can have; It’s an afterthought; it’s something that gets thrown in at the end when it should be designed in at the beginning. On that, do you think the sector has a bit of a PR problem?
AP: I think the industry as a whole has a challenge with not being perceived to be innovative. I talked a lot in my presentation around the value and I jotted some notes down, a few takeaways from day one that bled into today. I don’t think the value that’s being created from the service organisation is communicated clearly internally to the organisation. Like obviously the service people that are here, or at any of the events that we attend, understand and are passionate and understand the value they’re creating, but they don’t really have a sounding board to go back to the rest of the organisation and say, “this is what we do every day”.
This is our impact we have on our customers, and can we cultivate an image in the other style or functions of the business that know what we do for a living, that is really transformative and will help us get to that next level. But I think as we get to the point where we have better tools and data that show what service is doing ahead of failure, providing visibility back to the rest of the organisation and to suppliers and dealers and customers, I think that mind-set might change a little bit because now we have visibility of what were enabling and avoiding as opposed to the fact that we’re coming in after the fact to put out the fire, we’re actually enabling the fact that the fire never occurs, and we have visibility to how that is being solved.
MG: Do you think there’s a time frame for that? Or is it just going to be an on-going, slow transition?
AP: I think as the board and the C-suite begins to see the impact to margin that service is providing, that message will not only come from the service people that don’t have the megaphone or the amplifier, it will come from the c suite that says we recognise this. This is the path for our organisation to move forward. That is where it comes from. And for, you know, a decade now, at least, everyone knew that service made money but you made money on parts and labour. Not on value creation. And I think as that changes a little bit to understanding about it’s being created and driven by additional services, [value add] services being delivered, I think that message then resonates a little bit more, because then you realise, okay, we need to build things differently. We need to market things differently. We need to sell service differently. And that changes the organisation.
MG: One of the issues in the sector now is a knowledge gap of engineers, particularly in the UK, of engineers retiring and then there’s a bit of a lag in new engineers coming through. So there’s a bit of a burning platform going on and it’s been recognised in the industry. Everybody that I talk to is aware of it. But what do you think can be done?
AP: I think it goes back to the marketing service differently and thinking about service differently. If manufacturers and service organisations are going to identify, hire and retain the next crop of workers that think differently, want to work differently, and assume they’ll have technology to support that different view, we need to market service as being an innovative channel to use technology in everything you do and you can work with technology on a day to day basis. And this is how technology is going to enable your ability to solve problems.
I’ve grown up with technology and I assume things should work. When I open an application it should work. It should connect. I have a certain smart phone that is integrated with my email and my calendar and all those things work. When I go to an office and work with enterprise applications, oftentimes they don’t communicate. So as service is looking at bringing that next swathe of workers, service applications need to work and you need to go to companies like Syncron and all the players that we talk to and help them understand that if we’re going to identify, hire and retain the next crop of workers all of our tools and applications need to talk to each other.
Going back to my first comment about acquisitions and partnerships. Can we truly build an ecosystem that can support from a technology perspective the desires and demands of that next crop of workers so they don’t necessarily think they have to go to Google or Facebook or Amazon to have an innovative opportunity to work with technology and to solve customer problems. Because that’s why they’re going there, because they want to work in a creative environment that’s going to solve problems with innovative technologies and tools. Why can’t manufacturing and service who is used to building really cool stuff, support the technicians of the future with really cool tools and technologies to support and solve complex problems.
MG: You’ve been writing for us for a while now, and I always try to ask our contributors or people that I speak to what inspires them about what they do? It would be interesting to hear what inspired you to do what you’ve done for so long?
AP: The impact that field service specifically has on an end consumer and an end customer. I think we were talking a lot about the service hero that shows up and wears a cape and is a super hero, and that person not being replicated in the next crop of workers coming through the pipeline of talent.
So I think what drives my passion around the industry is how do we highlight the value that’s being delivered by these super human people in an environment where that’s becoming a finite resource that is decreasing. So how can we amplify the value that’s being created and the impact and importance of this role in all of our daily lives. But we see service every day in our daily lives and if something doesn’t work it has a really tangible impact on all of our lives and our productivity. So I’m passionate about this because I think we don’t think about it as much as we should and the impact that we can have on everyone’s daily life and productivity.