Technological and business trends converged this year to make field services a major focal point for disruption in 2017. In the new digital economy, customers expect companies to offer real-time solutions and will soon look to vendors to anticipate problems and fix them before they become an issue. Traditional field service processes – such as filling out forms to order replacement parts and manually updating customer records – cannot deliver the real-time responses and fixes that consumers demand. But with the increasing digitization of the enterprise, and the explosion of cloud, mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints, businesses will have the opportunity to transform the traditional role of the field technician into a highly connected company representative that can delight customers.
The field service connection
As the trend towards “X-as-a-Service” business models continues to grow, companies will rely on field service workers as an increasingly important component of their operations. Field technicians serve as an important connecting hub for many businesses because their job requires them to coordinate solutions with different departments, partners and customers. With traditional business systems, this coordination involves an enormous amount of manual follow-up, not to mention long response times. The field technician would act as the go-between for different business departments, putting in a request form to supply management and then following up separately with billing, for example. Meanwhile, the customer would be kept waiting while the company sorted out its internal processes.
The digitization of the enterprise, in which many of these manual processes have been taken over by purpose-built digital systems, presents an opportunity to dramatically streamline field service work through integration. Connecting the various digital solutions that each department uses and sharing data across a cloud-based integration platform suddenly opens up all of these time-intensive processes to automation. Instead of filling out request forms, the new, connected field service worker will have access to information from various internal and external sources – including on-premises and cloud endpoints – and the ability to make updates, place orders and process transactions on the go, in real time.
Unlocking the power of new technologies
This is also where the recent revolutions in cloud, mobile, IoT and analytics technology are making a big impact. By definition, field technicians spend a lot of time outside the office. The shift towards cloud-based technologies with mobile-friendly user interfaces gives field technicians the ability to handle a much broader range of tasks remotely without the need to call in to headquarters or stop by the local office. This frees field service workers to respond quickly to customer needs and resolve different issues on site rather than taking multiple trips for sequential fixes and updates.
However, many businesses continue to store crucial data in on-premises systems such as ERP applications. Without a hybrid integration strategy that exposes data from these systems to cloud and mobile endpoints for field technicians, companies are forced to continue to rely on manual processes to access data on everything ranging from inventory and pricing to orders and asset management. For larger companies with a broader collection of business systems, the integration challenge will continue to be a major obstacle. In fact, the most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for Field Service Management reported that, “through 2020, 80 percent of organizations with more than 75 field technicians will miss more than 20 percent of the planned efficiency gains due to incomplete integration or deployment.”
With the rise in connected devices and analytics, field services can move beyond correcting inefficiencies to actually anticipate customer demands before they even become an issue. Cloud analytics solutions can access data shared from device sensors and alert companies to malfunctions or abnormal behavior. Instead of responding to customer requests, connected field technicians will be able to send customers warnings and schedule fixes in advance. The next generation of field technicians will proactively reach out to engage customers rather than waiting to react to a problem.
Ultimately, the new model for field service in 2017 will come down to connecting all the new technologies that companies have been bringing online in recent years. While these new solutions can have an immediate and powerful effect on individual processes by themselves, linking them together to provide a seamless customer experience and real-time responses across departmental silos requires an agile integration strategy. Field service stands in the middle of companies’ intersecting processes and relationships. Integration promises to transform the way field technicians work in the coming year.
Andrew Leigh is VP marketing and alliances at Jitterbit. He is responsible for harmonizing the way customers integrate the many applications and endpoints that automate their business. He has worked in integration and enterprise architecture for over 20 years. Prior to joining Jitterbit, he served as director of platform product marketing at Salesforce.com, defining the integration strategy for the leading enterprise cloud computing company. Andrew has also held positions at SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems and Accenture.