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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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Worldwide ICT spending poised to hit $4.3-Tn in 2020

Worldwide spending on ICT will increase by 3.6% this year over 2019, with commercial and public sector spending accounting for well over half the total

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A new forecast from International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts worldwide spending on information and communications technology (ICT) will be $4.3 trillion in 2020, an increase of 3.6% over 2019. Commercial and public sector spending on information technology (hardware, software and IT services), telecommunications services, and business services will account for nearly $2.7 trillion of the total in 2020 with consumer spending making up the remainder.

Serena Da Rold, program manager in IDC’s Customer Insights and Analysis group, says: “The slow economy, weak business investment, and uncertain production expectations combined with protectionist policies and geopolitical tensions — including the US-China trade war, threats of US tariffs on EU automobiles and the EU’s expected response, and continued uncertainty around the Brexit deal — are still acting as inhibitors to ICT spending across regions. On the upside, our surveys indicate a strong focus on customer experience and on creating innovative products and services driving new ICT investments. Companies and organizations across industries are shifting gears in their digital transformation process, investing in cloud, mobility, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, and increasingly in DevOps and edge computing, to transform their business processes.”

IT spending will make up more than half of all ICT spending in 2020, led by purchases of devices (mainly mobile phones and PCs) and enterprise applications. However, when combined, the three IT services categories (managed services, project-oriented services, and support services) will deliver more than $750 billion in spending this year as organizations look to accelerate their digital transformation efforts. The application development & deployment category will provide the strongest spending growth over the 2019-2023 forecast period with a five-year compound annual growth rates (CAGR) of 11.1%.

Telecommunications services will represent more than one-third of all ICT spending in 2020. Mobile telecom services will be the largest category at more than $859 billion, followed by fixed telecom services. Both categories will see growth in the low single digits over the forecast period. Business services, including key horizontal business process outsourcing and business consulting, will be about half the size of the IT services market in 2020 with solid growth (8.2% CAGR) expected for business consulting.

Consumer ICT spending will grow at a much slower rate (0.7% CAGR) resulting in a gradual loss of share over the five-year forecast period. Consumer spending will be dominated by purchases of mobile telecom services (data and voice) and devices (such as smartphones, notebooks, and tablets).

Four industries – banking, discrete manufacturing, professional services, and telecommunications – will deliver 40% of all commercial ICT spending in 2020. IT services will represent a significant portion of the spending in all four industries, ranging from 50% in banking to 26% in professional services. From there, investment priorities will vary as banking and discrete manufacturing focus on applications while telecommunications and professional services invest in infrastructure. The industries that will deliver the fastest ICT spending growth over the five-year forecast are professional services (7.2% CAGR) and media (6.6% CAGR).

More than half of all commercial ICT spending in 2020 will come from very large businesses (more than 1,000 employees), while small businesses (10-99 employees) and medium businesses (100-499 employees) will account for nearly 28%. IT services will represent a significant portion of the overall spending for both market segments – 54% for very large businesses and 35% for small and medium businesses. Application and infrastructure spending will be about equal for very large businesses while small and medium businesses will invest more in applications.

“SMBs are increasingly embracing digital transformation to take advantage of both the opportunities it presents, and the disruption it can mitigate,” says Shari Lava, research director, Small and Medium Business Markets at IDC. “Digitally determined SMBs, defined as those that are making investments in digital transformation-related technology, are almost twice as likely to report double-digit revenue growth versus their technology indifferent peers.”

IDC’s Worldwide ICT Spending Guide Industry and Company Size is IDC’s flagship all-in-one data product capturing IT spending across more than 120 technology categories and 53 countries. This IDC Spending Guide will provide a granular view of the market for IT spending from a country, industry, company size, and technology perspective. This comprehensive database delivered via pivot table format or IDC’s custom query tool allows the user to easily extract meaningful information about various technology markets and industries by viewing data trends, relationships, and making data comparisons across more than three million data points.

The Worldwide Small and Medium Business Spending Guide provides detail on small and midsize business IT spending across 40 technology categories in nine geographic regions and 53 countries. Spending details are also provided for four company size categories: 1–9 employees, 10–99 employees, 100–499 employees, and 500–999 employees. Unlike any other research in the industry, the comprehensive spending guide was designed to help IT decision-makers to clearly understand the direction of SMB spending today and over the next five years.

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Hackers hit SA with fake VPN

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Kaspersky researchers have detected an unusual malicious campaign that uses phishing to mimic a popular VPN service. This helps spread AZORult, a Trojan stealer, under the guise of installers for Windows. The campaign, which kicked off at the end of November 2019 with the registration of a fake website, is currently active and focused on stealing personal information and cryptocurrency from infected users. This shows that cybercriminals are still hunting for cryptocurrency, despite reports that interest in the currency has died down. AZORult is highly active: in 2019 this malware targeted 78,189 users in Africa, with 16,975 users located in South Africa, 8,165 in Kenya and 1,965 in Nigeria. January 2020 has already seen the continuation of this dangerous trend, with 759 users hit in South Africa, 128 in Nigeria, and 639 in Kenya.

AZORult is one of the most commonly bought and sold stealers on Russian forums, due to its wide range of capabilities. This Trojan poses a serious threat to those whose computers may have been infected as it is capable of collecting various data, including browser history, login credentials, cookies, files from folders, cryptowallet files, and can also be used as a loader to download other malware.

In a world where privacy is heavily fought for, VPN services play an important role by enabling additional data protection and safe internet browsing. Yet cybercriminals try to abuse the growing popularity of VPNs by impersonating them, as is the case in this AZORult campaign. In the most recent campaign, the attackers created a copy of a VPN service’s website, which looks exactly the same as the original with the only exception being a different domain name.

Screenshot of a phishing copy of the targeted VPN service’s website

Links to the domain are spread through advertisements via different banner networks, a practice that is also called ‘malvertizing’. The victim visits the phishing website and is prompted to download a free VPN installer. Once a victim downloads a fake VPN installer for Windows, it drops a copy of AZORult botnet implant. As soon as the implant is run, it collects the infected device’s environment information and reports it to the server. Finally, the attacker steals cryptocurrency from locally available wallets (Electrum, Bitcoin, Etherium, and others), FTP logins, and its passwords from FileZilla, email credentials, information from locally installed browsers (including cookies), credentials from WinSCP, Pidgin messenger and others.

Upon the discovery of the campaign, Kaspersky immediately informed the VPN service in question about the issue and blocked the fake website.

“This campaign is a good example of how vulnerable our personal data is nowadays”, says Dmitry Bestuzhev, head of Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT) in Latin America in Latin America. “In order to protect it, users need to be cautious and be especially careful when surfing online. This case also shows why cybersecurity solutions are needed on every device. When it comes to phishing copies of websites, it is very difficult for the user to differentiate between a real and a fake version. Cybercriminals often capitalise on popular brands and this trend is not likely to die down. We strongly recommend using a VPN for protection of data exchange on the web, but it is also important to closely study where the VPN software is downloaded from.”

Kaspersky detects this threat as HEUR:Trojan-PSW.Win32.Azorult.gen

Read more about this AZORult campaign on Securelist.com.

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