Guest Column | March 26, 2019

Data Collection And Analysis In Field Service

By Bruce Breeden, President, Field Service Resources, LLC

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The “People, Process, Technology” framework has effectively guided many initiatives and projects over the years and produced valuable data for reports and business metrics.  Now, we are innovating the service delivery process with artificial intelligence, the use of drones, smart devices, and sensors which make data collection and analysis a design element to change the service delivery process.

Industry-changing results include safer and efficient site assessments, predictive equipment failure and maintenance intervals, automatic work order generation, consumable reordering, connected control systems, and various service technician deployment and support models.

As business systems were previously called “data processing” systems, it is interesting that with the evolution of information technology, data is more important than ever. 

Having worked in the testing, inspection, and certification service markets, data collection and analysis is the main driver of asset integrity, performance efficiency, and regulatory compliance. 

Similarly, the equipment repair service market is data-driven for product quality analysis, operations performance, customer satisfaction, and service level achievement.

With data to generate operations metrics, the service market analysis, contract penetration, retention, and margins are provided for both operations and market analysis.  Cross-selling, lead generation, and account management are heavily based on data elements, including both live tracking as well as with static analysis. 

Data has been of critical importance and will be even more so with the ability to develop artificial intelligence and improve our workforce engagement, customer loyalty, and service innovation. 

The modern challenge is to redefine the data stream to integrate service delivery elements that will generate new results.  A successful example of this is how the oil and gas industry improved field operations with field data collection techniques, smart devices, and a team of data scientists to provide immediate analysis, corrective action guidance, and reporting.  Drones are in place for safe and efficient collection of various types of data and can generate work orders and expedite corrective actions. 

Suggesting that data be included with people, processes, and technology as a focused element will optimize the delivery value stream.  Design efficiency must be achieved with the end result in mind.  For example, collecting data can be overemphasized or field technicians may be under-equipped.  Heavy data entry requirements can lead to errors and time delays, and frustrate technicians.  Recognizing the goal of efficient and effective data capture drives the technology stack with people and process factors incorporated. 

Highlighting the need to recruit and retain field service talent, new methods for on-boarding, on the job assistance, engagement, daily coaching, and skills development are realized from timely and accurate data routed to the right company resources.   

Too often, innovation (or even current operations performance) can be compromised because of data and reporting limitations.  Data as a stand-alone design element is now vital to achieve business optimization and digital transformation. 

The questions we need to ask ourselves and the business leadership group are:

  • How can current business performance be improved by having the right data for decision making, for both field activities and for managing the company’s functional “white space?”
  • How can delivery of services be improved with a new blend of technology, data, processes, and people that achieves at least a two-step jump over current customer outcomes? 
  • What are the data results that need to be collected, and who will provide the analysis and decision making around the major data elements?  In other words, there’s no reason to have the data unless someone will have responsibility for analysis and action.
  • Consider devices for data collection, usage, and decisions – a mobile platform will simplify the process and provide the necessary routing. 

The best practice to redefine the service delivery process is to conduct a workshop with a cross-functional group of leaders, including both line managers and field technicians, that is sponsored by an executive steering committee.Having a facilitated process provides the structure to define innovative methods for data collection, service delivery, and analysis, explore alternatives, and identify obstacles and technology required.Another critical part of the workshop is to calculate the project return on investment, including hard financials and customer and human capital gains.

Data availability, routing, completeness, and timeliness are critical variables. Well organized and integrated data, processes, people, and technology provide innovation and value.

Bruce Breeden is the founder of Field Service Resources, LLC and author of the book, The Intentional Field Service Engineer.  Bruce works with FSO leaders to improve operational performance, lead digital transformation programs, conduct FSE and manager training, and implement mobile technology.