It was a lovely week in Palm Springs last week at Field Service USA (especially since I left four inches of snow in Erie, PA). The consensus at the event was that there was an energy about it quite unlike previous years, and I think that the energy stemmed from a field service audience that has become truly ready to embrace innovation. We talk about the shift from cost center to profit center and the view of the field service function as becoming more strategic, and I think this evolution is why the 2018 event seemed so much more energetic. Gone are the days of vendors preaching the need for XYZ trend or technology to an eyes-glazed-over audience — we've reached a point where the field service organizations are taking charge of driving change and modernizing their operations, and that is an exciting thing!
There were a few ways that innovation was apparent to me at the event, and the first was among the audience itself. This year's attendees seemed overall more knowledgeable, decisive, and motivated to not only learn about how their peers are transforming their field service businesses, but to take next steps on their own plans as well. While I spoke with companies that are still working on more foundational elements like standardization of processes and systems as well as automation of manual tasks and processes, there were some shining examples of companies ready to adopt more cutting-edge technologies.
Interest Grows In AR
From last year to this year, the interest in augmented reality (AR) applications at the event had grown significantly. Real-world success stories like those relayed by Tim Spencer, sr. VP and GM of service operations at BUNN helped to solidify the view of what AR can do in field service by those who have yet to adopt. There were a number of AR vendors exhibiting, including Atheer, Fieldbit, Help Lightning, ScopeAR, and Upskill. In talking with Jeremy Jones, CIO of Comfort Systems, today on a post-event chat, he noted that he sees the AR competition as fierce. "I believe the AR competition is more competitive than most believe at this point. The frontrunners could be turned upside down — the space is very fluid, and there's a lot of room for disruption. It's really too early to tell which horse will win that race," he explains.
Use Cases Begin To Demistify AI
On Wednesday, I chaired a track on artificial intelligence (AI) which included a panel featuring Greg Lush, VP of innovation at EMCOR; Mike Groesch, VP of services enablement at NCR; Charles Johnson, sr. manager of multi-vendor projects at Philips Healthcare; and Lisa Kant, product marketing leader at Zendesk. Hearing these folks describe how they use AI painted a clear picture of the impact this broad term can have specifically in field service. Greg Lush talked in his own session about how EMCOR is using chat bots to provide knowledge to field technicians when they need it most, and it was powerful to hear him simplify their use case to illustrate how AI can be attainable and provide real ROI.
Partnerships Form To Make Innovation Easier
Another point to note are some of the partnerships among vendors that were announced at the event. For instance, HP and ServicePower are partnering to offer an "out-of-the-box" field automation solution. ServiceMax from GE Digital and Zinc announced a jointly-developed solution to enable field teams to have "real-time conversations in context, with a 360-degree view of the work at hand." Astea and XOi Technologies announced a partnership that integrates XOi's visual intelligence and AR solution into Astea's field service management platform. And I'm sure there were others I'm forgetting that I'll be reminded of via email once this article goes live. The reason these partnerships are notable is because they show that field service organizations are ready to embrace new technologies, particularly when it's made simple for them to do so.
The Field Service USA team did a great job planning and executing the event, and I enjoyed each of the conversations I had. I'm especially excited to bring to life the tales of field service leaders I spoke with at the event as they execute on their own real-world stories of innovation and business transformation. Stay tuned!