From The Editor | September 6, 2017

Konica Minolta's Progression Toward Futuristic Field Service

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Sarah Nicastro

By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
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Konica Minolta, Inc. is a large Japanese technology company headquartered in Tokyo, serving over 150 countries worldwide. Konica Minolta Healthcare Americas, Inc., headquartered in Wayne, NJ, is focused on imaging technologies including Digital Radiography, Ultrasound, Healthcare IT and Service Solutions. In the Americas, Konica Minolta Healthcare employs 50 direct service technicians, and 250 dealer-based technicians.

Kevin Chlopecki began his career as a field service engineer, and is now the VP of Service Operations for Konica Minolta Healthcare Americas (Konica). Konica is making strides toward its vision of what field service of the future will look like. That vision includes the use of Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality (AR) to evolve the service operation from a reactive model to a prescriptive model — to be able to anticipate issues and problems before they ever occur. In Chlopecki’ words, the company’s ultimate goal is to provide “seamless connectivity and unprecedented customer service.”

He provides an example: “We have recognized one potential opportunity.  We’ve noticed a potential correlation of hard drive degradation three to six months after a sector has been reallocated. With that bit of information, we can potentially keep our customers up and running by replacing the hard drive, proactively and predictively, before it reaches a potential catastrophic event. Furthermore, by intervening before a that event occurs the technician does not need to make a special trip and can do it when they’re close to the facility, while also, preventing a down event. We scheduled a service that was previously going to be unscheduled, and we took care of the customer before they knew it was a problem,” explains Chlopecki.

Providing prescriptive field service will benefit Konica, but more importantly it will also benefit Konica’s customers and the general public by reducing overall healthcare costs. “In the United States healthcare is a problem. What each person is spending on healthcare is approaching nearly $10,000 per year, per person. That’s not in line at all with other developed nations. By comparison, Italy is $3,000, and the UK, is $4,000. So if you’re expecting to pay $10,000 per person, per year, you would expect that the U.S. outcomes are far better than all these other developed countries — but the problem is that they’re not. Konica is a very social company, and we want to do our part to close this gap,” Chlopecki says.

While Chlopecki’s excitement and conviction about the company’s mission almost makes it sound simple; the reality is that accomplishing what Konica has set out to do is no small feat. Talking about IoT, the end state of connected devices that communicate information and enable better decision making, often oversimplifies all that goes in to getting there.

The Challenge With IoT Is Data

Konica has spent the past couple of years putting the company in a position to achieve its goal — necessary prep work to be able to accomplish its ultimate objective. The biggest challenge with IoT is data, and that is true both in terms of being able to effectively use the technology as well as to effectively communicate the findings once the technology is in use.

To be able to work towards its futuristic field service vision, Konica first had a big data challenge to tackle. With as many products and devices as it offers, the company needed to have a clean and accurate system for tracking these products. The company is in the process of migrating to SAP, and has deployed a new version of the Astea Field Service software suite along with iPads for its field technicians.

The migration to SAP and deployment of the field service software included a major overhaul of the company’s device trouble coding system. This was a crucial step in the process of reaching its prescriptive service goal — Konica needed to ensure that all products had consistent and accurate coding across systems. The company spent the necessary resources to update all of the cause codes and resolution codes for each product line so that communications to, from, and about each product would be clear. “With the implementation of a robust coding system linked back to products, and then the opportunity to go mobile with our field force and provide real-time information back to Japan through our call center, our field force mobility solutions have completely changed the way we do business today,” says Chlopecki.

iPads Enable Use Of AR

With the appropriate data input into the system, the Astea solution will enable Konica to monitor data from its products and eventually dispatch technicians as (or even before) issues arise. Previously Konica technicians used laptops to access job details, but did not complete work orders in real time. The rollout of iPads offered two valuable capabilities: the technicians now use the devices to close out jobs on site, making the process of work order resolution much faster; and the iPads allow Konica to leverage AR to help technicians on-site diagnose and resolve issues. “We use an augmented reality connection to our engineers, and we can actually log into their iPad, we can see what’s going on at a customer’s facility, and we can get information quickly to Japan or the manufacturer, wherever they may be, and solve problems faster,” Chlopecki explains.

While the progress Konica has made is impressive, the company remains intently focused on reaching its vision of prescriptive service. To get there, the company still has some steps to take. The first step is to IoT-enable each of its products to be able to communicate data back to Konica. The second step is to establish connectivity with its customers so that the communication with those devices is possible. From there, the company is working to develop a business intelligence (BI) dashboard to be able to effectively communicate the data from its products to its customers.

The Future of Field Service Holds Endless Opportunities

The IoT data Konica will collect from its products truly provides endless opportunities. Konica will be able to communicate data directly to Japan on product performance and use, which will assist with product development. The IoT data will also be helpful to Konica’s customers in regards to better understanding how equipment is being used, and potentially shaping behaviors in scenarios where it isn’t being used properly or to its fullest potential.

These new capabilities will provide Konica the opportunity to create additional service offerings, including alerts, trainings, remote service, and more. “The service contract is changing. IoT means devices are talking, and Konica is listening. We’re trying to understand, from a customer’s perspective – and most importantly, from the patient’s perspective — what information is most important to optimize patient care. Every day, we’re finding new ways to do that.”

Many companies are overwhelmed by the potential of IoT, and by the direction field service is taking. It’s refreshing to speak with a company like Konica that is truly excited and passionate about the next steps in field service and all of the room there is for advancement and improvement.