By Mark Percy, VP of Technology at Field Squared
Futurist Ray Kurzweil is renowned for accurately predicting the shape of the spread and impact technology will have on people, industries and whole societies. Arguably one of his most controversial prophesies is known as The Singularity, made famous in the Johnny Depp film, Transcendence. Basically, the Singularity is the point of convergence between human capacity and technological innovation, where the machine is indistinguishable from the human.
Seemingly dramatic to anyone who hasn’t followed Kurzweil, it is nonetheless a thought-provoking concept. It is one that, when viewed through the lens of field service, reveals the underlying forces shaping the industry as we know it.
Over the past few years during my time at Field Squared, I have identified five converging events, in no particular order, that will change the field service industry. While a few events are already in motion to varying degrees, other events have yet to see an impact.
An Aging Field Workforce
It should come as no surprise to anyone that we are in a time of shifting workforce generations. That is to say, the Baby Boomer generation is, in general, slowly moving out of the workforce, paving the way for younger generations. The field service industry is no different.
Today’s field technician ranges in age from young adult to well into retirement. For the latter group, perhaps they enjoy the work. Or, and this is where the compounding problem begins, perhaps there is no one else with the level of knowledge available to take up their work. An aging workforce in the field service space means something entirely different than a corporate office setting, for comparison. The average field worker operates as a trade, where accumulated on-the-job knowledge is highly valued and difficult, if not impossible, to replace.
To stem the bleed as highly knowledgeable field worker retires or otherwise leave the field behind, technology must be in place to enable the capture and retention of work order history for every customer, asset, item of inventory, piece of equipment, or conversation that ever took place. The knowledge gap past generations experienced when a key employee left the organization does not have to exist anymore, as long as organizations are forward-thinking when they adopt service technology.
The Shift to the Cloud
It may seem like Cloud is a mature concept at this stage, but it is still relatively new, especially in the field service space. I don’t have to be the one to state how many industries that maintain a highly distributed mobile workforce, such as Utilities, are laggards when it comes to adopting technology; that is common knowledge. They can continue to blame it on the fear of security vulnerabilities across digital, cloud-based technology, if it helps them sleep at night. The truth of the matter is, it is one-part lack of knowledge of said software and another part lack of urgency to make a change.
The former is easily solved by educating oneself on how security can actually be a reason to move to the Cloud. The latter depends on what point on the digital transformation spectrum, as I refer to it, an organization falls at this moment in time. Either way, the shift to the Cloud is accelerating within the larger field service industry as organizations learn about the significant benefits brought about through digital transformation.
Multiple, Disparate System Adoption Overload
For those organizations that have adopted technology for field service management, some did so without a clear strategy in mind because they needed something quick. The end-goal of driving efficiency, reducing costs or gaining visibility into field operations, outweighed how to get there effectively. Instead of adopting a single piece of software that could manage everything all-in-one, many field service organizations fixed one problem, then another and another with multiple pieces of software. Two years later and no system “talks” to another. Or, invoicing is still a disjointed process, involving three departments, double data entry and five days to complete.
The underlying force at play here is multiple, disparate system adoption overload. Organizations that seek out field service management software today, look for an all-in-one software platform. A platform is not a black box; rather, a platform is intentionally built to be an extension of the organization’s business processes and operations: extensible and interoperable across the many disparate, third-party systems a service organization uses every day.
For operations managers that means continuous real-time visibility and collaboration with the field workforce. Meanwhile, field workers are empowered with digital tools, including access to third-party systems, within a single field service mobile application.
Increasing Market Competition
The barriers to entry for new organizations entering an industry within the field service space are fairly low today. Guided by established processes, the field service world is ever-expanding, increasing market competition. One could argue there is consolidation in more mature industries; telecommunications comes to mind, but that is not a hard and fast rule.
Generally speaking, increasing market competition demonstrates a healthy economic environment. The moment concerted contraction begins, disruption—whether through forces of innovation or some other outside force—is an indication of potential industry shifts to come.
Leading Edge Technology Goes Mainstream
Not just within field service technology, but in general, it is a veritable alphabet soup right now. From artificial intelligence (AI) to virtual reality (VR), technology still considered bleeding edge in other markets are on the way to mainstream across field service and enterprise asset management markets.
Augmented reality (AR), specifically, has seen a meteoric rise over the past year. Large enterprises account for most of that trend. Nevertheless, it is an important development. As field service organizations at the top make decisions about which technology to adopt, the information trickles down. I liken it to the fashion industry. Just hear me out. The clothes modeled on a runway are considered the height of fashion. Very little “adoption” of runway fashion is happening at the lowest levels, mainly due to the exorbitant cost of couture. Fashion houses at the mid- to lower levels pay close attention to the fashion that hits the runway to gain a sense of where the market is heading—accessories, fabric, color, necklines.
The same is true for field service: AI is not necessarily a fit for a small to mid-size organizations to take on themselves, but field service software providers can incorporate AI in a few different aspects of the solution. Taking this approach enables small to mid-size organizations access to AI tools where it makes sense, without burdening in-house teams with development and integration challenges.
The convergence of these events that will change the field service industry spells limitless potential for today’s service organizations of every size and industry. What organizations choose to do to move the business forward, increase operational efficiency and adopt technology today, will ultimately define the field service organization of the future. For now, it is interesting to watch, listen and learn what is to come.