By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
I’m going to jump right to answering the question in the headline and then go on to explain why I felt it important to make this distinction. Field service automation refers to the use of today’s technologies to replace manual tasks. Field service optimization is the process of improving and transforming the business, which includes the use of field service automation.
Why does this matter? Because I think “field service automation” as a term has been overgeneralized to mean more than what it actually does, and this frustrates me because it undermines the hard work field service organizations put into optimizing their businesses. For instance, when visiting a field service software vendor’s website recently, I saw the wording that its solution “guarantees customer satisfaction.” There’s no way a software solution — regardless of how great it is — can guarantee your company will satisfy its customers; your company has to do that.
Now don’t get me wrong; field service automation is a necessary and valuable tool toward the broader objective of field service optimization. While it isn’t true that a field service software solution can guarantee customer satisfaction, it is true that you won’t continue to satisfy customers by using outdated, manual methods in your field operations.
Optimization, however, encompasses more than automation. And I see field service leaders even in large, sophisticated organizations who are astounded by the work that goes into truly optimizing their businesses that even they didn’t anticipate or feel prepared for. The point is, the broader business transformation that I think most field service organizations are striving for when they look at field service automaton won’t be achieved by simply layering on technology.
The optimization of field service includes:
- Company-wide, executive-level buy-in on the strategic vision (which for field service organizations today often involves a shift in the service delivery model)
- Process evaluation to determine what aspects of the business need to evolve to deliver on that strategic vision
- Alignment of company resources to the strategic vision, which should include ample communication, training, and change management
- The agreement on and benchmarking of KPIs from which to measure improvements
- The selection and implementation of relevant automation tools to improve service operations and delivery
- Ongoing evaluation of progress, collection of employee and customer feedback, and translation of data into continual improvement actions.
As I said before, I don’t think the overstatement of automation is intentional; I think many technology vendors assume that field service organizations recognize the scope of what’s needed to make the technology have its desired impact. Some do, but some don’t. Those who do deserve credit for all of the hard work that goes into the true business transformation. Those for whom this isn’t intuitive can benefit from more conversation around not just how to automate a field service operation, but how to optimize it.