May 5, 2017

How the IIOT is Changing Field Service Management

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Service technicians are still running most operations through man-made work orders. But the industrial internet of things (IIOT) promises, among other things, to make machines self-aware, able to send their own alerts, requests, and reports back to a central office. 

The traditional field service model has technicians traveling to another location to diagnose problems, but they don’t keep a storeroom full of parts with them in some magical Mary Poppins bag. This means technicians have to make one trip to diagnose the problem, spend hours looking through inventory or waiting on an ordered part, and make a second trip for the final fix.  

IIOT Changes in Store

Using embedded sensors, machines can tell the manufacturer or service provider what’s wrong before technicians even come to the site. GPS features synced with inventory management can locate the correct part within the nearest warehouse, and technicians can bring the part with them to the service call.

We’ve had a similar but less advanced model running in our cars for a long time: every time your check engine light comes on, you go to the repair shop and they diagnose the issue. Software promises to fill in the gaps between diagnosis and prescription where time and effort are wasted by connecting the machines to the larger work order and inventory system, ensuring that all parts speak to one another.

Proven Results

An Accenture study showed that implementing IIOT products in a fleet maintenance program can eliminate breakdowns by up to 70 percent. When vehicles talk to the shop and indicate they need service, teams can schedule those repairs in advance, rather than patching up after something breaks. Active monitoring means more time on the road and less time in the shop. The companies who implement IIOT also get better at staffing and labor optimization, because they don’t waste time waiting for equipment to get out of the shop.

In a similar study run by GE predicting the economic impact of IIOT, the manufacturing company foresaw that a one percent improvement in GE’s productivity could result in $500 million saved for the company annually. That same one percent improvement implemented worldwide could add $10-15 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years.

The Internet of Inventory 

Big data is quickly permeating all corners of the field service market. Even SMBs are taking advantage of the changes and advancements in technology to make small gains within their own markets. It’s now commonplace for field service teams to implement GPS tracking and mobile technology into their service models. Customers sign contracts and receipts on tablets and mobile devices rather than carbon copies on clipboards.

An internet of inventory dovetails nicely with field service, giving inventory providers and warehouses smoother and more refined practices by automating the picking process based on the real-time needs of service units. This saves man hours and floorspace in the warehouse, decreases labor and error costs, and increases overall productivity.

Big Data, Big Promise, Big Payoff

The IIOT inevitably generates tons of structured and unstructured data. Service providers can use this data to understand how customers use their products, what pitfalls are common, and how problems can turn into solutions. Tools that gather, house, and analyze Big Data help companies draw specific insights from massive amounts of information and uses these to drive business objectives. This data would have otherwise been inaccessible, because it lived on paper and not in formats software could read.

IIOT isn’t just a way companies can solve complicated problems. As the Accenture study points out, the IIOT also helps companies create new revenue streams from existing products and technology, or at the very least, increase their profitability. Plenty of great software vendors start out as practitioners, but realize they had a great software product they could sell to other practitioners (take Basecamp, for example). 

The Machines Take Our Jobs

Just kidding. Machine and robot workers won’t likely replace human field service technicians in our lifetime. We’ll still need skilled technicians and analysts to interpret data sent by the machines, react to that input, and carry out most of the repairs.

We’re a long way from armies of R2D2s fixing our HVAC and plumbing systems. As iTiZZiMO explains, “Automation and digitization can only support humans in subtasks. But those subtasks only are part of a process and therefore integrated into a bigger business context.” Even so, a network of connected devices, equipment, sensors, work order systems, and analytical tools will free up your human technicians to focus on more strategic aspects of their work without compromising throughput.

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Interested in how field service management is moving forward with IIOT, and how your company can get involved? Check out our field service management software category, or call one of our Technology Advisors today for a free consultation.