From The Editor | August 31, 2018

Q&A: Challenges To Expect With The Convergence Of Field Service And Digitization

Sarah Nicastro

By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
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Much of the content I read seems to oversimplify field service innovation. Maybe this is because I have so many conversations with field service leaders that, despite immense knowledge and vast capabilities, are still struggling to get a handle on the best ways to improve their businesses. You read about how companies are transforming with today’s technologies, and in many ways it looks easy, but the reality is it is just that – there are so many competing priorities, a multitude of options (a gift and a curse), and numerous paths to success. While the opportunities are exciting, it can also be very overwhelming. Not to mention, sometimes you’ve jumped head first into a project before you really grasp the full context of the change you’re making. While field service innovation isn’t always easy, it is critical and a mission almost every field service organization is working towards. That’s why I like creating articles like this one, where we can come together and discuss some of the challenges that occur along the way so that collectively we can continue to advance the trajectory of the field service space.

Ed Morris is Director of Digital Field Service for Siemens Power Generation Services. The worlds of field service and digitization are converging, and Morris is currently part of the team leading Siemens’ power services division through its own digital transformation. What he and I discussed is the fact that it is almost impossible when embarking on a project of this scope to really foresee each of the hurdles you’ll face. Here we discuss some of the challenges that have arisen, and Morris shares his input on how best to overcome them.

Nicastro: First, can you give us an overview of the catalyst for Siemens’ field service digitization project? What is the ultimate objective?

Morris: With our initiative to digitalize field service execution, we sought to improve our on-site safety, quality and efficiency (in that order of priority). What we have observed in our field service organization is that many of our core processes had gone unchanged for a long time. Digital technology is of course a regular part of all business today; however, we found that is some areas we were still driven by documents and even the transfer of handwritten data on paper.

Nicastro: One of the aspects we discussed that is challenging is that companies tend to see digitization as a technology project and aren’t prepared to expect the major impact the project has on both people and processes. Why do you think this is?

Morris: It is very tempting to believe that software suppliers offer “all-in-one” solutions (particularly with SaaS license models where you are subscribing to the current and future state of a product). When it comes to field service, you must account for how resources are dispatched, what knowledge is delivered on demand, how technicians contact experts and how data is collected…the entire organization must be aligned for the transformation and the software alone won’t solve that.

Nicastro: How do you prepare the executive team for the full scope of the transformation, knowing that at first glance it is often seen as just a technology investment?

Morris: A framework that has delivered results for us is to discuss in terms of parallel work streams. For our initiative, these streams are Platform Development, Backend Integration, Content Management, Business Adoption and Change Management. Each of these are treated as subprojects with their own expectations and deliverables. Speaking clearly in terms of all known aspects of the transformation is critical.

Nicastro: For digitization to have its intended impact, mastering that process and people part is essential. How have you learned this, and what are some tips you have for ensuring your processes and people are in alignment with the project’s end goals?

Morris: Field Service has a unique set of conditions that are helpful to an initiative like this. Technicians are at times isolated, under direct customer pressure and typically have flexibility to get the job done the way they see fit. If a digital tool does not work for them, they will ignore it. These challenges motivate us to continually improve across the board and pivot our priorities as our user base demands it.

Nicastro: Oftentimes, it isn’t until you’re making that effort to optimize your processes that you realize how far off they really were from where you’d like them to be. What’s your best advice for how to most effectively close the gap?

Morris: It cannot be overstated that processes will need to change, and the rate of change will continue to increase over time. What has worked well for many years is suddenly cumbersome or irrelevant. We have found that the Agile methodology of software development lends itself very well to business process orientation as well. Changes become incremental and much more frequent.

Nicastro: True digital transformation really changes the culture of the company, and again this is something that can be overlooked or at least underprepared for. What is your best advice for transforming the culture of the company along with the technology?

Morris: Identify your technology champions in the user base as early as possible. Having early adopters who are willing to tolerate the initial annoyances will result in loyal evangelists who help bring the rest of the organization along. They are also the ones who will give you the most candid feedback to improve along the way.

Nicastro: You made the comment during our chat that “the devil is in the details,” and I think that’s so true. Can you give us an example of one of those details that you’ve found to be so important?

Morris: We found that the impact of information security and data privacy requirements is paramount and cannot be underestimated. Our global reach means having to account for requirements that are unique to certain countries (such as GDPR in the European Union). The protection of proprietary data is critical to any service business and should be scrutinized heavily up front.

Nicastro: In summary, how would you recap your advice for a company just embarking on its field service digital transformation?

Morris: Focus on chunks of functionality that deliver obvious value and work closely with your user base to confirm that the intentions are being satisfied. Be sure to understand the full spectrum of how these changes will impact your business. Finally, accept that you don’t know what you don’t know. Conditions will change continuously, and you will need to adapt along the way.