Guest Column | October 22, 2019

Technologist As Field Service Leader?

By Bruce Breeden, Field Service Resources

Field Service Leaders

Read any service industry article and there will be reference to or a complete subject on technology.  From artificial intelligence (AI) and data scientist roles to interacting with chat bots, technology is influencing every part of a service organization and its ability to provide value and improve.  

Remember when automating a manual process for a field service management system or mobile applications were high-tech, high-cost, high-impact projects?  And those systems, which direct and process critical workflows, are constantly maintained and upgraded.  In addition to focusing on service management and mobility systems, an effective leader must also think about artificial intelligence, augmented reality, sensors and IoT, data collection and analytics, wearables, drones, chat bots, self-driving vehicles, and more.  And let’s not forget technology from other departments: HRIS for time reporting, expense reporting, projects, hours of service, safety, LMS, and documentation. 

Because technology is so important, the question is, should today’s FSO leader be a leading technologist to effectively lead, innovate and generate results for modern field service organizations?

My thoughts start with recognizing the vast types of technology and the complexity of interfacing with other functions and systems.  Applying a drone-based system to conduct remote equipment inspections is a lot different than hours of service reporting for commercial truck fleets. Leaders with experience architecting and implementing technology are valuable, maybe more so than those of us with traditional service business experience.

I think the answer lies in the long-understood fact that the service business is not simple and can’t operate in a silo.  People, parts, vehicles, products, systems, contracts, and various customer-facing organizations are all major and complex elements of a service business.  Nothing is more dynamic and complex than a field service business. The field service organization leader should be viewed as a general manager of a business. A GM understands the vital “white space” between departments and how they can interface.  Effective service leadership partnerships between functions is critical to success. 

So my answer is no – a service leader is a leader of people, processes, and technology, not just a technologist.   But any effective general manager understands the growing influence of and opportunities created by technology and has adjusted their leadership strategy and methods to account for this. 

FSO Technology – Five Critical Success Factors:

  1. Dedicate time each day/week to read about technology and service business outcomes, including change management, customer experiences, and ROI case studies.
    • Effective leaders must live outside their organization to add value internally and relate to what others may bring up.  Continuous learning is a must-have for leaders. 
    • Study technology impacts for:
      • Improving customer experiences and reducing the level of effort customers put forth for a service request.
      • Enabling technicians to problem solve and be brand ambassadors.
      • Leveraging learning communities and relying on less available skilled labor.
      • Using data for predictive failure and moving the service model to technology-based predictive failure, schedule maintenance.
      • Distributing information, data, feedback, reports, and sales leads.
      • Improving safety engagement and near-miss dialogue.
      • Reducing travel time and improving vehicle/tech utilization.
  2. Prioritize and make technology an ongoing part of management meetings and plans
    • Regular staff meetings should address the maintenance and support of existing systems while also reviewing employee feedback on their experiences and status of providing feedback or updates. 
    • For annual planning and budgeting, technology business use cases should be listed alongside headcount, equipment, vehicles, and other costly capital or expenses.  There should be some form of technology investment each year, at a minimum, to continue to lead and innovate. 
    • During field visits, ask customers and employees about their experiences and preferences to improve processes. 
    • Employee evaluations and development plans should always include adoption and use of technology systems to perform their work.
  3. Jointly with the IT group, establish a rotating focus group on technology
    • This is a very effective innovation method, but also of great value later for change management and user adoption.
    • Make sure an end-user from the field, dispatch, or contracts administration are part of this group and that they must not just attend meetings but learn and bring back interesting ideas.
    • Ensure the focus group has an audience of senior management to recognize their work and truly engage in value creation.  This will make the business use cases and ROI calculations easier.
  4. The FSO leader makes technology and the operational factors part of the conversation with their manager and leadership team
    • Technology seldom works within just one function. For example, if HR implements a HRIS and time reporting, benefit administration, performance evaluation, or training solution, those can all affect the FSO.
    • Change leadership and system adoption require stakeholders and leaders to be deliberate in planning and communicating change.
    • Partnerships must exist both sideways and upwards for sponsorship and teamwork.  A good example is product engineering adding sensors to change the service business model for predictive failure.  The service organization alone can’t design and implement such a program, because product engineering, BOMs, data circulation, sales, and marketing are all impacted.
  5. Leaders lead by example, using technology themselves
    • Don’t be the service leader who doesn’t personally adopt technology.  For example, take a group out to a business lunch and use the mobile app to image the receipt and upload to your accounts payable expense approval system.
    • You may not process work orders in your FSM, but do you use the daily dashboard or generate your own queries?
    • Even use of LinkedIn, Twitter, or other approved social media platforms help you relate to your team as well as promoting your brand or organization.
    • Have demo apps installed on your devices to converse and relate to your team.

The five critical success factors underscore the importance of FSO leadership as a dynamic business.  We don’t need to be the “technologist,” but we must widen our views, deepen our learning, and start the conversation about technology.  As with all good leaders, the ability to delegate, listen, and involve key people will drive success.  

Bruce Breeden is the founder of Field Service Resources, LLC and author of the book, The Intentional Field Service Engineer.  Bruce works with FSO leaders to improve operational performance, lead digital transformation programs, conduct FSE and manager training, and implement mobile technology platforms.