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How to reconnect field service workers

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The field service industry has always been an early technology adopter. TOM DEVROY, Senior Product Evangelist for Enterprise Service Management at IFS, identifies three technology-led developments set to disrupt field service.

The field service industry has always been one of the earliest adopters of new technologies, from the original PDAs to IoT-enabled devices. Now, a new generation of technology is uniquely positioned to transform the field service industry, promising to reduce costs and dramatically improve the quality of service organisations can offer. Tom DeVroy, Senior Product Evangelist for Enterprise Service Management at IFS, identifies three technology-led developments set to disrupt field service and discusses how flexible and modular resource planning infrastructure will help organisations reap substantial rewards.

Effective field service is about proactively managing your workforce and inventory in order to meet the constantly sliding scale of customer expectations. As a result, field service organisations are constantly looking to improve on the key metrics to better serve customers: first-time fix rate (FTF), mean time to service (MTTS) and mean time to repair (MTTR).

Three new technology driven developments are establishing themselves in the market, with the potential to dramatically impact these field service metrics to benefit both the customer and service provider:

·         Advanced mobility: augmented reality, instant messaging platforms and native apps

·         Predictive analytics enabling prescriptive maintenance

·         Optimised scheduling and demand forecasting in an IoT world

First: Beyond mobility: augmented reality, instant messaging and native apps

A mobile workforce needs a mobile-driven field service strategy. In a recent study on mobility, performance and engagement, 60% of employees said mobile technology makes them more productive in the workplace. But field service organisations are now moving beyond simple mobility, looking for more intelligence and flexibility from their mobile computing platform in order to take full advantage of next generation devices.

Native apps are a key part of this – allowing engineers to receive instant updates, access repair information or collaborate with product experts without leaving the job site. Instant messaging platforms such as Slack and WeChat are also allowing field service engineers to keep connected, with more information and collaboration supported on their mobile device. Engineers are able to contact other colleagues for assistance in real-time – reducing the need to return to base for assistance.

Seeing is believing

ABI Research shows augmented reality is on the rise, and Gartner predicts businesses will purchase 53 million tablets by 2016. There are instant benefits for field service engineers. Mobile solutions now allow engineers to receive real-time feedback and expertise while on the job, enabling repairs to be completed more quickly and efficiently. An IFS partner, XMReality, is already working on pioneering augmented reality projects like this.

With this remote guidance, a support technician is able to watch and guide the engineer through every step of the repair without having to leave base. Using smartglasses, engineers are able to see a real-time and interactive demonstration of the repair job right in front of their eyes. These skills can be leveraged anywhere and anytime with the capability of modern mobile technology – drastically improving FTF.

Second: Beyond business analytics: predict and prescribe maintenance

The rise of IoT sensors and integrated technology on equipment is also enabling more efficient field service. Instead of scheduling maintenance when a fault is recorded, predictive analytics and the remote monitoring of equipment through IoT means faults can be detected before they become a problem.

Combined with business intelligence to make sense of the big data being captured through IoT, predictive analytics can be used to find actionable data to inform business decisions. Enabling service organisations to be proactive in regards to equipment performance, means moving away from calendar-based scheduling and towards predictive maintenance.

IFS has a predictive maintenance capability embedded in its field service applications, allowing better allocation of an engineer’s time. With sensors deployed on the factory floor, service organisations can monitor vibration analysis of bearings and predict when machine parts will start to degrade, then schedule maintenance proactively.

Field service solutions should be able to find and collect patterns of data from past actions and use this information to create generic rules to highlight how processes and services can be improved in the future – delivering new insight into operational efficiency.

Mobile devices are now able to run intelligent diagnostics and capture potential problems. Based on the diagnostic output, the mobile device is able to recommend a maintenance plan and the various tasks needed to be performed, before the engineer gets on site. This technology is going one step further than just predicting when faults will occur, and will prescribe which action needs to be taken in order to fully maintain that asset.

Prescriptive maintenance will take into account budget, time and other constraints and provide an optimal order of actions and the work orders to fully maintain that equipment – all in a matter of seconds.

Third: Staying ahead of schedule

First-time fix rates are an important KPI for field service organisations, but recent Blumberg research shows that the industry average for first-time fixes was under 80%, meaning 20% of jobs require additional follow-ups. Inefficient scheduling results in a lower first time fix rate and longer time to final resolution, as unqualified engineers can be sent and the necessary equipment may be unavailable.

Although not a new technology, schedule optimisation is a foundation on which new technologies can thrive. By combining scheduling with data from IoT devices, the next generation of schedule optimisation tools go much further and help to forecast field service demand, SLAs and potential resource needs – all in real-time.

IoT-enabled sensors can trigger actions when an event changes, and automatically re-schedule jobs around this. This combination allows field service organisations to improve FTF, MTTS and MTTR by consistently scheduling the right engineer for the right job, at the right time.

Don’t get left behind

These new technologies are going to bring serious benefits to field service organisations because they are so tightly integrated with delivering improved customer service and improved bottom lines.

In what is a dynamic and changing market – with tech-savvy customers demanding higher and higher levels of service – it is vital for organisations to be able to implement these cutting edge technologies.

The new breed of enterprise solutions takes away the risk

Traditional field service management solutions are simply too cumbersome and inflexible to enable field service organisations to reap the benefits. To quickly benefit from these latest advances, organisations need the backing of a new generation of flexible, agile enterprise solutions.

Traditional enterprise solutions can take months or years to simply implement, let alone adapt to an entirely new technology. The new breed of modular enterprise solutions are designed to remove the time and pain of modifying existing processes, and instead maximise the opportunities of new technology. These agile systems negate the need to fully customise legacy systems – a costly and timely process – and are enabling organisations to quickly adopt new technology, without the risk of losing out on a competitive edge.

These disruptive technologies and the digital transformation they require offer benefits that resonate throughout the whole service organisation – from the top-down. Strategic planners have real-time visibility to plan tasks and schedule the workforce in an industry with many unknown elements, from customer unpredictability to traffic, and even the weather.

This, in turn, directly empowers technicians, providing them with the right tools and information at their fingertips to better perform their job. But ultimately the most important stakeholder reaps the benefits – the customer receives the best possible level of service.

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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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