May 11, 2015

How Field Service Managers Can Harness IoT Today

Note: This is a guest post from Joanna Rotter, the content marketing manager at MSI. MSI is a field service management software provider and creator of the enterprise field service app Service Pro.

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Quality product support is increasingly becoming one of the most important after-market success drivers for today’s manufacturers, dealers, and field service businesses. In order to make the most of product support efforts and unlock growth after the initial product sale, field service executives need look no further than the valuable data their machines are producing.

Access to troves of machine performance, diagnostic, and maintenance data can be used to improve customer service experiences through a more proactive, preventive approach to product support.

But having the data is only the start. Sophisticated machine telematics technology and the data it produces often stands in stark contrast to the largely manual, paper-based means of delivering and tracking field service for many manufacturers, dealers, and service businesses.

How the IoT Promises to Reorder Service Operations as We Know Them

The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to be the most disruptive technological advance since…well…the Internet. Devices and equipment will be equipped with sensors connected through the Internet, where they can communicate and send alerts machine-to-machine (M2M) without human involvement.

John Ragsdale of TSIA highlights the Internet of Things as one of the top five areas impacting field teams: “today’s increasingly connected technology creates opportunities for remote access, improving productivity and reducing onsite visits.”

The ability to put sensors in all of your equipment can yield a huge amount of data, which, for field service organizations, can mean a total service operation redesign.

Steps to Get Ready for the Future of IoT for Field Service

The IoT holds huge potential for the field service industry. Here are steps you can take to prepare your team for an IoT-driven future:

  1. Collaborate with dealers exhibiting service best practices to outline how you can start using machine data to improve service operations.

Service management is complex. In the absence of automation, companies need to take extraordinary measures just to meet the day-to-day requirements of incoming service calls, technician scheduling, equipment asset tracking, components, warranties, service contracts, preventive maintenance (PM), parts, and inspections. With IoT-driven automation, there are literally hundreds of automated service actions that could potentially take place once data is properly communicated from machine to service software. Collaborate with other dealers and service businesses to get ideas for how automation can work for you.

  1. Embrace a “best-of-breed,” collaborative framework instead of a “one-vendor-fits-all” model for your software needs, prioritizing how well applications talk to other systems.

While the model of investing in a broad enterprise management suite to manage all business needs used to hold some water next to a best-of-breed, integrated software approach, the emergence of cloud-based software has virtually eliminated past advantages of the suite solution. Since cloud has made software more affordable and eases deployment and integrations, why wouldn’t companies want the best solution specific to each of their business needs?

Best-of-breed software providers are experts in their area and able to push updates quicker through the cloud than trying to customize a cumbersome suite solution. In the manufacturing industry, for example, organizations are realizing a need for deep field service functionality, achieved through mobile, scheduling, and workforce management software. To compete today, organizations can no longer rely on pencil and paper field processes. And a suite enterprise system, no matter how much it’s customized, can’t produce the efficiencies of a best-of-breed service management app. 

The pace of change has significantly accelerated, driven first by mobile and next by IoT, and will likely require more frequent, ongoing IT improvements and integrations. It might seem overwhelming to integrate different systems for each of your business needs: service management, accounting, ERP, dealer management, etc. However, with today’s flexible software options, it’s easier (and smarter) to look for best-of-breed solutions that can integrate and talk to other systems.

  1. Appoint an internal project leader to review options that meet future IoT-driven service criteria, including integration capabilities and service operations functionality.

Organizing the huge amount of data the equipment sensors reveal is a full time job. Make sure someone’s assigned to the task so you don’t get buried in data. This person can also be responsible for researching and selecting the various systems needed to run your business.

Concrete IoT Examples to Try in Your Service Business

Once you have some companies to model, an appointed leader to charge the way, and complementary technologies that work together, here are some concrete field service examples of how you can start using IoT:

  • Repair Equipment Before Problems Occur

With IoT sensors, you’ll know when repairs are needed before problems escalate into more expensive issues. For example, instead of scheduling PM assignments in regularly scheduled intervals, you can use sensors in the equipment to activate a work order automatically when a part isn’t working quite right. As the work order is generated, the system orders parts. and schedules a preliminary service call. When the parts arrive, a service truck is dispatched to the site to perform the PM. Each of these steps is done automatically in seconds since no human interaction is required.

  • Auto-Inspect Equipment

Self-diagnostics and reporting sensors make late or forgotten inspections a thing of the past. Instead of sending technicians into the field to conduct manual equipment inspections, techs can simply log into the equipment’s portal to inspect its performance levels remotely.

  • Inventory Management:

Over or understocking parts and inventory is a big expense for service departments. Through the IoT, sensors connected to parts in the warehouse can trigger alarms indicating when to stock parts so you always have exactly what you need.

In addition, with IoT sensors built into each part, schedulers can see who has which part and use that information to make scheduling decisions so techs don’t have to waste time returning to the warehouse. More accurate scheduling will also lead to higher first-time success rates.

Field Service Departments Get Proactive with IoT Intelligence

By using data from IoT, field service companies can shift their business model from reactive responders to proactive trusted advisors. As equipment sensors and data intelligence become more sophisticated, insights and alerts from connected equipment and devices through the IoT will become the next standard in service.

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