Field service automation is in the midst of exciting changes, driven by the availability of service data that was once locked up within either equipment or assets such as industrial air conditioners or commercial refrigerators. The current model has often created long and expensive product development cycles, resulting in inferior or poor customer service, and has provided little, or no, engagement with everyone involved in the service of the assets.
In recent months, there has been a surge of interest from equipment manufacturers, IT companies, and customers to connect these products to the corporate infrastructure and to begin to better understand asset life cycles. Factories, buildings, hospitals, retail businesses, cars, farms, and many more industries are now attaching low cost sensors to their existing products or are building network connectivity and data management into them.
It seems that every business is beginning its own Internet of Things (IoT) journey as they create smart intelligent products, or ‘things,’ that ‘talk’ to them and that they can respond back to.
The Next Stage of the Digital Era
By 2022, it is forecasted that over 55,000 new ‘things’ will get connected to cloud-based networks every minute. At the same time, these ‘things’ will generate more data in that time than all of the data that had been created by every digital object in 2017.
It is clear that we are entering a new stage of the digital era. Already, mundane products such as gas tanks and thermostats will become the source of real time information for a host of companies to create and provide a wide range of services to keep them up and running. Companies who layer business analytics upon the data will also open up new business benefits and revenue opportunities.
With the ‘smart intelligent and network connected product’ now at the center of interest, coordinating or orchestrating the management of its own service, usage, or environmental data becomes the cornerstone of success.
Many IT technology vendors and product suppliers have raced to create software-driven ‘services platforms’ in the hope of tapping into the data, and then farming it out to interested parties with no or little added service management functions. For the most part, these early efforts have failed on two accounts; they have been:
- closed or proprietary to a particular data type, and
- tightly coupled to specific industries resulting in limited value for the equipment data.
The Promise of Service Automation
However, the vendors that have taken the approach to build a cloud-based service automated platform that provides an open and seamless integration to any number of partners have successfully created a high value ecosystem.
Some of the core technical requirements of an automated services platform include:
- Typically, asset and equipment information is stored in data repositories from multiple internal and external sources. In every case though, these files need to be secure and shareable to all of the interested partners in the ecosystem.
- Outcomes using an analytics engine need to be generated in a timely manner and be able to be viewed by any partner who has the role of supporting the customer or the customer’s assets (e.g., contractors or service providers).
Communication through a mobile application supported on a cloud computing infrastructure is essential to ensuring the right data outcome is delivered to the right person at the right time.
- Connectivity must be seamless and automatic between business outcomes from the connected devices with back office systems such as inventory control, sales order processing, enterprise resource planning, field service repair, accounting, billing, etc. Ultimately, monitoring and reporting problems or failures of the IoT-based asset are best resolved using a real time service automation platform that seamlessly creates a service request for dispatch to a service provider with no or minimal human intervention.
Improving Customer Engagement By Using The Internet of Things (IoT)
Real time data generated by assets or equipment with IoT sensors is about to change the way everyone will think about them. New and different services opportunities that are created from running a business using a service automated platform are significant and often immediately improve customer relationships. For example:
- Service requests are automatically fulfilled at the speed of business.
- Business functions such as asset lifecycle management, inventory control, product quality control and product development are optimized through improved predictive failure, preventative maintenance and service management.
- Optimized field repair service organizations are continually informed of the product repair status and the customers they are supporting.
- There is more frequent and higher quality customer engagement within the platform ecosystem and with the customer. Often this has the outcome of higher customer satisfaction and business retention.
Bringing together smart connected products and equipment with people, data, and processes ultimately disrupts the traditional way of managing, delivering and accounting for a broadening array of services.
For example, the next time you go to the gym and the treadmill is out of order, your frustration of not getting your workout will extend beyond your training program. It will probably be reflected on the gym owners who wish that they had connected the treadmill to a service automated platform through IoT sensors that could continually monitor the equipment’s health and status.
In doing so, IoT-based data could have predicted and prevented the treadmill from breaking down or perhaps being repaired at the optimal time for both athletes and the gym owners. So the next time you join the gym, ask the owner if she subscribes to a facilities management platform for the smart intelligent connected treadmills – you just might end up being a happier customer!