The Internet of Things (IoT) can considerably improve consumers’ experience of services delivered in the field by companies that provide assets in the field such as cable television, broadband, utilities, rail and most other companies with assets in the field. The IoT capabilities will disrupt these companies’ market and enable them to compete based upon asset monitoring and a proactive “up-time” rather than reactive service level agreement (SLA) response time business model. All this will drive customer loyalty, brand reputation and shareholder value; and in this article, you will find advice on the steps companies can take to make this a reality.
Field service companies rely on the equipment they use to deliver a satisfactory customer experience. If the broadband, asset or power fails, it impacts reputation, let alone the actual business impact of loss of use or the customer “trauma” if the cable goes down before the big game! The IoT will help technicians look to tailor preventative maintenance, do better triage and anticipate failure in new ways, all with the goal to fix assets before the equipment fails. The field service sector and some five million technicians in North America have been working hard to make this a reality, often pioneering game-changing technologies like enterprise mobility to keep assets working and the show rolling. With this same spirit, field service is also a hotbed of advancements for the Internet of Things where real ROI can be anticipated.
How can the IoT make a difference?
Gartner defines the Internet of Things as “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.”
As a real world example of how this could be useful, a sensor in a coffee machine at a cafe could recognize a failing part and, via the Internet, trigger an alert to the mobile device of the coffee machine’s nearest engineer. The engineer could then swing by and replace the part before the coffee stopped flowing. From the cafe owner’s perspective, there is no lost revenue; and customers receive their favourite choca mocha shocker as usual – there’s no need for that bad TripAdvisor review. This applies also to high-value assets in the field, elevators, you name it. So if you work for a company that supplies equipment in the field that you or a third party manufacture, make sure that the assets in question have sensors that can connect, either wirelessly or with 3G, to the Internet.
There is, of course, all manner of data that can be collected by equipment sensors and used to benefit consumers and suppliers. When are peak usage times? What parts fail most regularly? What temperatures does the equipment endure? This can then be connected to openly available data on the Internet like location or weather information to reveal all manner of business intelligence. That is where the real power is: understanding and then collating all the data to provide powerful information from which to make decisions.
Determine baseline requirements
To leverage the IoT for collecting sensor data, I recommend that companies first baseline their requirements and then, second, deploy software that can collect, display and even act upon that required information.
To baseline requirements and understand how the IoT can benefit your service company, involve business stakeholders (IT department, schedulers, manufacturing teams, field technicians and sales) in workshops where you can map out a shopping list of desirables. At this stage, I recommend working with a knowledgeable consultancy. They can guide thinking and provide you with an idea of exactly what is possible. From here, you can put together a robust business case and even map out information requirements.
Once you have completed this and the figures stack up, look to the kinds of technology that could take the raw data from the “things” and map it into the information you require. For field service businesses, modern “service management platforms” are an ideal place to start. They are comprised of integrated applications that manage all critical processes in the field. Rather than just pushing an alert to a mobile device, the information distributed by a machine’s sensors trigger a series of tasks that, enabled by technology, work in concert to deliver optimized services to the customer at the minimum cost.
As an example, that alert from the coffee machine goes to a central scheduling engine, which then considers the problem, the parts available in stock, the engineers with the skills needed to fix that particular asset, their location, the time of day, etc. When the right engineer is selected based upon those variables, all the information he or she could possibly require is delivered to the engineer’s smartphone, phablet, tablet or rugged device using device native GPS and navigation, guiding the engineer to the location, the customer’s name, the asset in question, schematics and maybe even augmented reality that guides the individual to its exact location. The engineer could then sign off the job or even take photos for future reference.
As part of a connected platform, IoT data can be harvested over time to provide a complete audit trail and identify trends that cause failure in parts and assets. This enables manufacturers to build more reliable equipment.
What does this mean for customer service?
With IoT the business model has moved from reactive – the pain has already occurred – to proactive, where disruption is avoided. In many instances, customers will not even know there was a potential problem. With the IoT, services will become more reliable; as a result, customers will be more likely to be happy advocates that are more committed to brand loyalty.
There is also cost advantage to acting before an asset fails. For some industries like oil and gas where failed equipment can halt a production line, there are often million-dollar losses on the line. Acting fast, before there’s a problem, minimizes downtime so assets can be sweated harder for better financial performance and happier CFOs.
Additionally, IoT data can be a wonderful sales tool. Information gathered by assets can be used to demonstrate reliability over time. Think how important this would be to a hospital buying life-support machines. The IoT offers the opportunity for service organizations to blow the competition out of the water when it comes to reliability and customer experience; at the same time, it offers the advantage of being able to collect and act upon the data to further improve services.
I urge executives working at companies that provide connected assets in the field to take a look at how the IoT could improve business performance. The technology is available now, and I recommend that companies that have maintenance or repair service level agreements, or provide “things” as a service look at a solution workshop and a business case analysis to understand the potential benefits. This way they can provide clarity for their organizations and start preparing for potentially the biggest opportunity for the service sector since the dawn of the Internet.
Marne Martin is CEO at ServicePower, which helps field service organizations with innovative, effective mobile workforce management solutions. She is an experienced international executive leading transformation and growth for companies in the technology and telecommunication industries. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.