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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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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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