Welcome to Digital Transformation - Please Drive Carefully

Aug 05, 2019 • FeaturesSoftware & Appsfuture of field serviceDigital TransformationIFS

At the Field Service USA conference in Palm Springs, California this year, digital transformation continued to dominate discussions. Marne Martin of IFS and our own Kris Oldland were both on the speaking roster so they caught up over a coffee to compare notes…

As someone who attends many field service conferences across the globe, there are some speakers within our industry whom I know will give a presentation that always gives me a spark of an idea for a new article or feature and as such, I always make a beeline for their sessions when my schedule allows.

One such speaker is Marne Martin, President of Service Management for IFS and CEO of Work Wave. Martin has an uncanny knack of talking about subjects that are right on the pulse of the audience. She always manages to address the concerns and present solutions that resonate with the room, but is also able to bring a light sense of levity and fun to her sessions as well – and she usually has at least one brilliantly memorable line that gets stuck in your mind for a long time.

This time around it was the fantastic throw away one liner: “You don’t want to bring a Volkswagen to a Formula 1 race.”
It was a pithy reminder that the stakes in field service have been raised in recent times. The competition is greater than ever as industry after industry adapts to the disruptive influences of innovative companies like Uber, Deliveroo and AirBnB who are not just revolutionising their sectors but those far beyond their remits by raising expectations of what seamless customer experience looks like in the age of the app.

Martin’s discussion weaved through both the digital transformation and also the cultural transformation that many field service organisations are going through, with the majority of those yet to do so now seeing such change looming on their horizons also. She touched on crucial issues being widely felt, such as talent shortages and how service organisations can get value from the technology that the pressure of increasing customer demand insists they implement.

However, the critical point she touched on was the importance of understanding and clearly defining service strategy. It is a point that I have made both in recent presentations of my own as well as in these pages. Without a properly defined service strategy, without knowing ‘who’ your organisation ‘wants’ to be, any such programs that seek to implement digital transformation will be at best ill formed and at worst an expensive failure that could really set a service organisation back.

I’ve expressed the opinion that digital transformation, has to be an ongoing process, not a one-off project. A journey, not a destination. As such, a clearly defined service strategy needs to be in place if you want to stay on the right path.

So when I sat down with Marne to grab a quick coffee away from the melee of what was a jam-packed conference, with hundreds of delegates and vendors buzzing around – this was the first area I wanted to touch base on and swap notes about.

“Think about how you empower the field, the mobile workflow enhancements, how you enable the technician to cross-sell, upsell, to close out tickets, all of these items that drive higher customer satisfaction. These are all fundamental to what makes service matter.

They all drive profitability for the service organisation, growth in revenue and customer satisfaction,” she mused as I outlined my thinking to her. “It is just that today we have more tools with which we’re able to achieve this and that allows us to achieve it at a faster more efficient pace - which is, of course, what customers want. I think it all fits together in a way that we, as a sector, are able to bring these fundamentals into the new digital era.

“It only becomes a problem when companies begin thinking about digitalisation as something disconnected from these fundamentals.” This line of thought echoes my thinking on the topic as well. However, there is an additional layer of complexity to the discussion that I have also been considering of late.

Perhaps the biggest of all shifts in the field service sector over the last decade has been the move firstly from cost centre to profit centre and now what many see as a natural extension of that into a world of servitization. In one sense, it feels as though the field service sector has never witnessed such a significant paradigm shift as we are seeing today as companies move away from the traditional break-fix approach to one of outcome-based services.

         "Digital transformation, has to be an ongoing process, not a one-off project..."

In that sense, we’re going through a complete revolution across the sector. However, I’m also of a firm belief (and have spoken to many service directors around the world who agree) that the essential thing in terms of delivering service excellence is not to lose sight of the core tenets of what good service looks and feels like, and at the heart of that remains some long-established foundational positions around ensuring an ‘Outside-In’ perspective on the service business.

Making sure you understand the customer and how they want to interact with your organisation, and then making sure processes are designed around that understanding is not a particularly radical position, but rather a well established best-practice.

The result is a dichotomy in service strategy between embracing the new while holding on to the historical precedents that underpin service excellence. It is not an impossible equation to balance, but it is one that should be considered deeply when approaching the current mega-trend of digital transformation.

This balance between yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s worlds was another area that Martin touched upon in her presentation where she used the phrase ‘Challenge the Present, Lead the Future’ and it was something I wanted to dig deeper into when we spoke. “By challenge the present I mean that field service organisations need to assess where their basics are weak, flawed or broken, and to assess how these can be improved to drive a future in which they are not,” she explained.

“If you look at all the key technology trends that are out there, we’re bringing every single one into service. Of course, some are coming faster than others as you would expect, but they all have applicability in service. However, on the other hand, the building blocks of what great service is, whom you deliver service to, and what you deliver service with remain the same.

“It’s the interplay of the fundamentals of service, the brand, the asset, the technician, and so on and how we drive the efficiencies and delivery of these forwards, with these new technology trends, into a new paradigm.

“To get to servitization or outcome based service, you still need to understand maintenance and break-fix and up times and asset performance. It’s not as if our understanding of all these core things goes away; it just has to be heightened and put together into an outcomes-based proposition. But rather than just deciding what is going to be our approach to reducing technician travel time or what is going to be our overtime strategy, companies are now looking at everything holistically to be able to asses the outcome they are delivering to the customer, how they are pricing that outcome and what is the margin on that outcome.”

Again I agree with Martin’s take on things here. The phrase that comes to mind is evolution, not revolution. I feel this is an apt mantra for many service organisations to adopt in these times of rapid technological and societal change. While talk of impending industry revolution may grab headlines, the truth is effective change is always iterative – and that very much holds true for field service organisations today.

Whether your organisation is on a journey to digitalisation or to servitization, remember it remains a journey, not a destination. Please drive carefully.