By Mark Brewer, VP of Service Industries, IFS
As companies attempt to orchestrate new product-as-a-service business models, adopt circular economy ambitions, and rise to increasing customer and employee expectations, Mark Brewer, VP of Service Industries at IFS, shares his top five field service trends for 2023.
Companies across customer-facing industries are pressured to continue to develop superior service offers to differentiate their brands, increase margins, and secure customer loyalty. In 2023, this is a task made all the more difficult by the need to embrace a more circular economy and pressure to demonstrate progress against increasingly ambitious ESG goals.
Against this backdrop, here are my five key service trend predictions for 2023.
TREND 1: Service is ready-made to meet sustainable goals
Keeping products and assets running for their maximum viable lifetime has a positive impact on sustainability. Whether it’s a smartphone, a car, washing machine, or a construction bulldozer, timely maintenance, service, and repair reduces our environmental footprint. Consequently, even in times of recession or economic uncertainty, the service sector remains inherently resilient—consumers and businesses alike want to retain products and equipment for longer.
The key service tenets within the 9R circular economy framework – refurbish, repair, remanufacture, and recycle – sit squarely within any corporate Environmental, social, and governance remit. The first two eliminate the need for new manufacturing production, and the attendant consumption of resources, and the last two minimize waste and landfill. The effects are significant: A leading consumer goods supplier has calculated that for every three refrigerators they repair, the environmental savings made equate to taking a combustion-engine car off the road. When managing 65,000 product repairs a week, that’s a significant saving.
Here, it is supply chain intelligence that will enable the effective reclamation, re-manufacture, and re-use of parts from non-repairable products, resulting in procurement avoidance.
The move towards electric vehicles in field service operations is also challenging. With the need to ensure sufficient battery capacity, routing, and scheduling needs to factor in availability of charge points, the schedule, and range. Excess van stock (including obsolete and excess stock) and even colder weather can also significantly reduce range.
We can also expect the continued move towards remote service – with IoT connected devices –providing the potential to make service more sustainable by removing the need for a service visit entirely.
TREND 2: Hitting the accelerator pedal on service innovation
There are three core accelerators driving service innovations in 2023.
Remote service: Since the pandemic, remote service is no longer a bolt on and is now an integral part of any service offering. Now a service model in its own right, remote monitoring, and diagnostics are increasingly working hand-in-hand with remote (virtual) assistance. Critical 24/7 assets such as hospital (MRI) scanners can be interrogated, rebooted, or otherwise fixed, for example with remote updates, without an engineer ever setting foot on site.
Depot-based repairs: Another growing service model is depot-based repair—devices arriving for and returning after repair via a dedicated engineering hub. More portable products can be shipped or transported (i.e., laptops, smartphones), while larger assets demand engineers or specialist collection.
Designing for Service: A consequence of the move to service-based revenues is the impact upstream into the organization, particularly on functions such as product and/or service design and R&D. With an outcome-based service model, manufacturers who embrace design for service and all the internal implication and changes this requires also need to ensure that serviceability and longevity is built into the “product”.
Regardless of the model, and how service is designed and delivered, the success depends on delivering a consistent, positive customer experience, end to end. Whether that’s when calling to book an engineer, using online resources, rescheduling an appointment, or being guided on the phone. Nothing should present itself to a customer as a bolt-on or afterthought.
TREND 3: Predictive.X – the technology is there to deliver insightful, intelligent, and automated service
The so-called “predictive everything” era, dubbed ‘Predictive.X’ will see AI and autonomy playing an increasing role in preventative maintenance, with traditional fail-fix models rapidly declining. The use of predictive intelligence will become even more far reaching. Everything from when a device might be likely to fail, to the parts that might be needed, to skill proficiency and therefore time-to-fix when allocating different engineers, is all within the scope of predictive adoption.
Two factors underpin successfully adopting these competences: the first is the availability of data. And the second is the presence of effective Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to interpret the findings, detect anomalies, and create predictive service insights. Increasingly, we can expect AI insights and analysis to augment and support human engineers. For example, based on the analysis of historic fault patterns, symptoms, and resolutions, AI can suggest the most likely parts an engineer will require as standard to secure a fix.
Insightful service is effectively a data-driven prescriptive diagnosis combined with intelligent service. At the same time, this real-time connectivity to assets and devices also enables asset performance management (APM) and ultimately asset optimization, both directly linked to customer experience and a successfully delivered service-first business model.
TREND 4: Employee experience gets its time to shine
Customer experience (CX) has hogged the spotlight now for several years. Post-pandemic, things have changed. Now, facing a global skills shortage and The Great Resignation, the service sector is also rapidly recognizing the importance of the employee experience (EX).
It’s not hard to see why. A staggering 40% of field workers are due to retire within the next ten years. Unless we can attract new talent, this invaluable knowledge and insight will be lost. Ignoring the need to create an AI-powered intelligent knowledgebase could prove a costly oversight.
In addition, 80% of the global workforce – some 2.7 billion people – are employed on the front line, “deskless”. The pandemic taught us just how important some of these workers are and, in many cases, how poorly equipped they are. In the absence of a consumer UX-style mobile-first strategy by many employers, with simple and efficient onboarding, they remain woefully forgotten and, in many cases, “disconnected”.
If organizations want to retain and engage with this workforce, they need to emulate the focus and experience given to more traditional desk-based staff (both office-based and remote).
A shift to a mobile-first focus, and embracing concepts such as gamification, turns mobile devices in the field into a powerful and pervasive technician-enablement platform – and a compelling way to attract and retain new talent. Over the coming year we can expect to see EX increasingly becoming an equal citizen to CX.
TREND 5: Periodic maintenance will get a makeover – converging heavy and light service delivery
There is a difference between high volume, break-fix service regimes for products, and servicing major high-value asset investments, where service or modernization programs may span many months or years. Historically, companies have deployed separate distinct workforces to fulfil short-cycle break-fix requirements versus the long-cycle service planning required for strategic assets and projects. However, these boundaries are beginning to blur, with a shift towards a multidisciplined blended workforce. The skills shortage means companies want to develop multi-skilled technicians who can perform both a 30-minute fix and also a day-long full asset overhaul.
There’s also a transition from the traditional fixed periodic maintenance model to condition and usage-based service. But managing schedules and maintenance plans for multiple geographically dispersed assets in this way is complex. In response, to blend the service and asset lifecycle, IFS is seeing increased demand for its powerful multi-time horizon planning (MTHP), providing resource planning and demand forecasting for short-duration intraday visits, through to multi-day, planned outages, and further long-term projects to optimize resources and shifts.
This technology is enabling leading service providers, for example Mitie, to expand their offer from fulfilling category contracts – such as servicing store fire alarms – to full facilities management contracts spanning entire retail outlets.
Fast-five for a fast-changing sector
The future for service in 2023 is exciting. Service is a critical component across the business value chain, these five trends span new and emerging business goals, products, employees, and end-customers. Maximizing each one can deliver service success in 2023 and beyond.