We all have heard the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. It means that taking action before bad things happen is always better than waiting for a problem to occur. We agree it’s a good thing to do in managing our health, financial advice, business contracts, and information technology services. The only problem we have is knowing when and what kind of prevention to administer. That is the big question field service engineers and the industry wants an answer to.
The Internet of Things (IoT) can empower field service
Instead of waiting for a customer to call the help desk with a complaint, have a ticket opened, reviewed, and forwarded to the appropriate support team, IoT used effectively can enable a predictive approach to an incident and problem management. Maintenance can take place before a breakdown occurs by a service scheduling software proactive task of an onsite visit or execution of a remote change.
The development of small and cost effective smart devices that can constantly measure and monitor, streaming data by wire or wireless via the Internet, has given rise to the Internet of Things (IoT). There are thermostats that learn from what you do or can be remotely controlled from your smartphone, virtual assistants like the Amazon Echo waiting for your voice command, personal medical devices transmitting vital signs, and electronic monitors that sense the environment and key conditions inside the machine that a field service engineer is required to service are some of the examples. The IoT has created a wide world of opportunities for improving field service management.
Field service is a huge industry employing over 20 million field service representatives, from technicians to engineers, spread across the world. They maintain mission critical equipment in hospitals, must have elevators in high rises, and million dollar safety conscious heavy manufacturing machines. Continuous improvement and prevention is a mantra in those situations. At this scale for negative impacts and potential for huge repair costs, minor positive adjustments to service delivery such as time to repair can have huge consequences for the client and the maintenance management business. The sensors designed for real-time monitoring and part of the IoT can provide the facts and the data to service management software from which decisions can be made and actions executed to adjust present conditions and prevent future incidents.
In another scale are the computer systems inside a data center, air conditioning units spread throughout a major metropolitan area, public safety systems in remote locations, or point of sales kiosks at thousands of stores. With IoT enabled capabilities in all of them, field engineers can have constant, real-time, ready access via service management software to their maintenance history and current conditions. Triggers can be programmed to generate alerts when certain environmental or operational parameters are approached or exceeded, potentially creating service tickets without customer intervention. Even if the worst occurs and a problem can’t be prevented, the data gathered over time, collected from tens, hundreds, or thousands of machines, can be stored and analyzed. In this way, the power to apply artificial intelligence systems (AI) and human analysis and insight can unlock the creation of predictive models and move field service management from a reactive to a preventive model. Most industry experts concur that the adoption of the IoT and AI, driven by the promise of lower maintenance costs and better customer service, will become a primary tool in the field service engineer’s arsenal and become a reality sooner than expected over the next few years.
Once the data collected by IoT devices and analyzed by AI systems, presented in an easy to understand dashboard becomes a reality for field service engineers, they and service scheduling software can make the decisions for proactive action and prevent that angry customer help desk call from happening. Customer complaints would be reduced, better service delivery experiences can be created for the consumer, and significant cost reductions for the maintenance and repair business can be enabled by eliminating or reducing onsite visits, break/fix repairs, and costly emergency reactions.
The IoT and the service vision it represents is good news for the field service industry. The results it promises still need more work and refining but it’s just a matter of time. Other industries are already reaping the rewards from IoT and the field service industry won’t be an exception with its passion for continual improvement and enhancing the customer experience. Increased customer retention and business performance will come as a consequence.