Guest Column | August 3, 2020

Accelerated Disruption In The Field

By Aly Pinder, IDC

Field Service Automation

As we reach the half-way mark of 2020, it is important that we re-assess our service operations. Now, as a result of our current crisis and the stages our organizations are in with regard to resilient business models, true recovery may seem far off. Predictions are often wrong, so I won't make one here as our lives and businesses evolve rapidly by the month, week, day, and hour. That being said, IDC has seen manufacturers and service organizations make two years' worth of digital transformation initiatives in two months. Business model, operational, workplace safety, and customer engagement have all dramatically changed, for most global markets, since just March. But some things haven’t and will be tough to change. Equipment will break or work less efficiently. Customers will need help. And products will need to be installed, monitored, and supported. So can field service keep up with this Next Normal?

I think the answer is yes. Digital transformation has often come slowly for field service organizations, as they can be known to spin their wheels in pilot purgatory moving from one isolated pilot project to the next. But this is changing as the criticality of supporting customers across a global install base becomes a focal point for service organizations. In the Next Normal as organizations, industries, countries, and regions come out of lockdown, businesses will begin the process of ramping up production and in some cases attempting to stretch the limits of their operations and equipment. This is further compounded by the growing trend that new purchases will be delayed due to financial pressures impacting many industries.

This perfect storm means service will be needed more than ever to ensure productivity goals can be achieved. A couple of data points I recently came across struck me as quite telling. IDC's 2019 research showed that two-thirds of manufacturers see artificial intelligence and machine learning as important or very important for their service innovation efforts. You may be thinking, great that was the push pre-COVID-19 and AI has been hyped for some time now. But in our bi-weekly COVID-19 Impact survey, we recently found that six out of ten manufacturers stated there will be no impact or they will increase spend on AI in the wake of the COVID-19 environment, highlighting how important these capabilities are for transforming the ability to deliver service and support in a more remote world. Digital transformation isn't a pre-COVID-19 concept, it is the way organizations will close the digital divide and accelerate resilience. So how can investments in digital transformation impact field service and accelerate disruption and resiliency?

  • Predictive response – IoT-connected products and equipment have provided service organizations with a massive amount of data. But unfortunately, many organizations have been slowed in making use of this insight for real-time action. The data is often used as a look back, not a look forward. AI can close this gap and ensure manufacturers and service organizations can begin to approach predictive field service as opposed to a reaction to a service call.
  • Personalized service experience – As margins shrink in a potential down economy, every customer becomes more and more important. Delivering value in each field service interaction is critical to enhancing the customer experience and not giving them a reason to look elsewhere for support. Cloud, IoT, mobile, and AI can enable service organizations to plan the right field service experience for the right customer profile in turn go beyond the fix to deliver wow moments.
  • Continuous loop of innovation – Connected the service experience with future innovations that have been talked about ad nauseum. But with enhanced digital tools and an integrated technology infrastructure, the field service interaction and work completed on a work order can be analyzed in real- or near-real time to be used by product design, engineering, marketing, supply chain, and operations to make improvements in the product and the experience.

Our world is changing quite rapidly and the field service operation will need to be resilient to keep up. This is not the time to delay thinking about which tools can aid in digital transformation as neglecting innovation will lead to a critical missed opportunity.

About The Author

As Program Director, Service Innovation & Connected Products, Aly Pinder Jr leads IDC research and analysis of the service and customer support market for the manufacturer, which includes topics such as field service, warranty operations, service parts management, and how these service areas impact the overall customer experience. Mr. Pinder Jr. is also responsible for research which aids manufacturers as they evaluate innovative technologies like 3D printing for service operations, augmented and virtual reality in field support, and the use of IoT and advanced analytics for remotely monitoring and managing assets. Mr. Pinder Jr. establishes a roadmap for the manufacturer to better understand how technology can transform service and support functions to drive exceptional customer experiences and customer value, profitable revenue growth, and improved efficiency in the field.