Guest Column | October 10, 2017

The IoT Is Changing Field Service Management Right Before Our Eyes

By Bill Pollock, president & principal consulting analyst, Strategies For Growth

Field Service IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the field service industry in ways that most analysts –  and practitioners – could not have foreseen just a few years ago. While most of us were focusing on machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and the prospects for utilizing Augmented Reality (AR), the IoT was already beginning to be leveraged into smart systems and Connected Field Service (CFS) solutions among the more progressive services organizations in the global marketspace.

Even as we speak, while some companies are just beginning to evaluate the benefits of integrating AR into their services operations, AR is already morphing into Mixed, or Merged, Reality (MR) through the combined deployment along with Virtual Reality (VR) applications. And this advanced trend is not only not going to stop; it is much more likely to accelerate right before our eyes.

The growing recognition that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) applications are ultimately poised to make the difference between those services organizations that are destined to be the market leaders versus everyone else (i.e., the followers and laggards) is also picking up steam, and will likely join the mainstream of market adoption shortly (albeit, the inner working of AI and ML are both much more complicated than the IoT – especially with respect to AI).

The IoT is not just for M2M anymore. It is the tool that can make any services (or other) process “smart”, if applied effectively. It can (and will) take services organizations to places they never dreamed possible just a short time ago – and it will be responsible for cutting the costs of delivering services along the way.

But, at what pace? Basically, if you merely blink, you may find yourself quickly falling behind your more progressive competitors. Many of them are already there!

The highest-impact factors in field service transformation will be the normalization of the playing field across all industry segments, by vertical market, size, type, geographic coverage and any other “demographic” segments you can think of. Field Service Management (FSM) is not only for the large enterprise organizations, but for services organizations of all types, regardless of size or market coverage.

The proliferation of cloud-based FSM solutions has also moved many organizations from the historical perpetual license pricing model to a much more manageable subscription basis pricing model. This also is having a significant impact on facilitating the entry of smaller and medium-sized organizations into the world of the IoT and smart solutions.

The integration of AR, VR and/or MR platforms into services operations will also normalize the playing field even more, thereby empowering services organizations of all types and sizes to compete head-to-head against each other (as well as the market leaders) with essentially the same levels of system capabilities. It will also lead to quicker customer equipment “fixes,” at reduced costs (to the services organization), and with far fewer visits required to the customer site to perform the repair.

However, as more and more services organizations ramp up with respect to IoT-powered technologies and applications, there will likely be even more potential benefits identified within the global services organization community.

Integration of the IoT into FSM solutions also results in the generation of a wealth of data – much of which was never available to the organization before. However, many reports have been written about services organizations (and businesses of all types) “drowning in data lakes.” The key to success is to establish early on what data is needed to effectively run the services operations, and hone in on specifically those types of data when collecting and processing the reams and reams of data generated from your IoT-based systems. Too much data is … well, too much data, if you don’t have a plan to harvest it effectively.

Services organizations also need to be able to identify which data is “need to know” vs. which data is only “nice-to-know.” Nice-to-know data is ultimately way too expensive to collect, process, analyze, monitor, and distribute; however, need-to-know data is not only invaluable – but critical to ensuring the well-being of the services organization.

You don’t go to work wearing 12 watches; you don’t buy 48 oz. of steaks, per person, to put on the grill for a summer barbecue; so, why would you pay for more data than you will ever need when you can harvest just what you need for now (plus whatever else looks like you may need in the future)?

Think of your data repository as a storage space for all of the data you will need today, tomorrow, and in the future. If large enough, put it in a data lake – but make sure you don’t use Lake Superior for what a smaller data lake can do for you more efficiently.

The greatest barrier in taking full advantage of the IoT is typically senior management resistance at the top of the organization structure. Coupled with a general lack of understanding of exactly what the IoT is, and exactly what it can do for the organization, these two factors can too often become “momentum-killers” within the organization.

This is why making sure that all participants comprising services management are kept up-to-date with (1) advances in IoT-based technologies, (2) the introduction of new applications and mobile tools to support field technicians (and to transfer some of their historical on-site responsibilities to more remote-based scenarios), and (3) evolutions in FSM solution capabilities is so important.