Modern technology is evolving at breakneck speed. As a result, technological advancement has transformed how we work, live, and conduct business. The world has witnessed major changes in the last few decades due to digital transformation.
Business, in particular, has undergone a massive overhaul. Not only have we seen a wide array of new products and services emerge because of the change, but the traditional way organizations carry out their day-to-day operations has also changed significantly.
And this is no different for the field service industry. More precisely, innovative technologies have radicalized field service management.
1. Common Challenges Faced in Traditional Methods of Service Operations
Prioritizing operations management for field service organizations requires optimizing workflows for consistent and high-quality service delivery. Unfortunately, achieving superior operational performance can be an uphill struggle for businesses that use disparate systems or processes, fail to engage their staff, or adopt a reactive strategy for field service management.
Successful field service management demands comprehensive workforce transparency. However, the complexities of a field-based workforce typical of a field service organization can potentially jeopardize its ability to fully understand everyday tasks and how they affect broader business objectives. This is primarily due to some common challenges that field service companies confront, such as:
- Information silos: To meet the needs of their out-of-office staff members, many field service organizations invest in various dispersed tools. They need to realize that this method might result in a disjointed ecosystem of resources, with each app serving a specific purpose. Field employees experience annoyance and workflow inefficiencies when they require 5-10 tools (e.g., a scheduling system, time log, communication platform, routing software, etc.) to monitor and complete their activities. If these systems don't interact, i.e., are not integrated, they can produce different sources of facts, resulting in conflicting or misleading information. It's also an error-prone strategy because any one tool's failure can lead to customer service and employee performance problems. Furthermore, disconnected systems do not provide the necessary unification for resonant, accurate insights into workforce operations.
- Communication: Field workers could better serve their customers if they didn't waste valuable time switching between text messages, email, phone calls, and messaging apps to send and receive updates. They also risk losing vital information such as scheduling changes, customer details, and essential updates from the back office. Suppose they need access to centralized real-time communication. In that case, they may be unable to contact someone in the field for assistance or receive critical information required for carrying out a job successfully. These communication inefficiencies might lead to a higher rework percentage or some return visits, affecting customer satisfaction and overall brand perception.
- Scheduling inefficiency: If you still rely on manual tools and spreadsheets, effectively scheduling and dispatching field workers with different roles, skill levels, certifications, and responsibilities would be highly complex and time-consuming. Keeping track of constantly changing schedules and matching the proper desk-less worker to the correct assignment might take much work for already overburdened staff schedulers. This process becomes significantly more difficult if schedulers are unaware of field workers' current locations or the status of their tasks. It is impossible to assess your field service productivity and how well your personnel is meeting client requests without an effective scheduling procedure and the correct support technology. They fall by the wayside if you can't track and manage job needs, travel times, and other critical scheduling issues. And suppose your field workers don't have real-time access to up-to-date scheduling information or the ability to change appointments as needed. In that case, they risk falling short of customer expectations. Furthermore, inefficient scheduling reduces productivity, which harms your bottom line.
- Reactive vs. predictive maintenance: Reactive maintenance is no longer sufficient for field service to maintain competitive advantages today. Now it requires a proactive approach. Experts anticipate intelligent homes will reach over 497.3 million active users worldwide by 2025, providing a tremendous opportunity for field service businesses. Organizations that fail to adapt and modify their maintenance strategy to deliver better customer service will likely lag behind their more competitive counterparts. Using reactive maintenance, field service technicians cannot predict changing customer demands, personalize customer interactions, or minimize maintenance downtime. Neither can field service firms monitor their assets to detect defects, proactively handle maintenance or upgrade concerns, or inform customers when an appliance may have a problem without powerful AI and machine learning capabilities. As a result, there is an obvious missed opportunity in terms of both operational efficiency and customer service.
2. A New Outlook for Field Service Management
In the last couple of decades, the world has seen the growing acceptance of remote service delivery, as well as the use of digital tools such as augmented reality and IoT to enable field service technicians and engineers to continue serving customer needs even in the testing scenarios we have faced over the past two years.
Similarly, in the "new normal" that has evolved from the ashes of these most chaotic times after the global pandemic of COVID-19, best-in-class concepts and technologies such as dynamic scheduling and seamless asset-data flow have grown significantly more ubiquitous. As such, recent years have seen a massive democratization of technology in the field service industry in various ways.
As the trends suggest, disruptive technology will significantly improve people's quality of life, boost global economies, and revolutionize business models. However, field service management is not beyond scope either. Field service management is at the crossroads of disruptive technologies such as machine learning, IoT, wearables, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence (AI). These technologies are significantly helping companies improve the lives of field service personnel and the quality of their work.
This demonstrates how quickly technical improvement in the sector, and indeed in the industry as a whole, is moving. So, with this in mind, where should we focus our attention in terms of technological advances on the horizon?
Before going there, let's look at disruptive technology to understand emerging trends better.
3. Disruptive Technology: An Overview
There are two types of innovations in technology: sustaining and disruptive.
Sustaining technology is the technology that keeps evolving from time to time. Disruptive technology, on the other hand, is a newly developed technology that adds significantly more value than existing technology and has the potential to fundamentally alter how people work, live, conduct business, and improve economic productivity.
Disruptive technology may take longer to create than existing technology and involve more risk, but it can reach faster penetration and replace existing technology, leaving a significant influence. By definition, disruptive technology is an innovation that drastically disrupts how customers, industries, or businesses work.
A disruptive technology washes away the systems or behaviors it replaces because it has superior characteristics. It enhances products or services in ways that the marketplace neither requires nor anticipates but which swiftly become known as the most desirable customer choice. As a result, businesses and executives must comprehend technology, develop technical expertise, apply essential technologies, and gain a competitive edge in how they run their organizations.
As a competitive industry, field service has been at the forefront of adopting disruptive technologies. With several companies offering the same services, it is mandatory for anyone operating in the sector to harness the competitive advantages if they wish to stand out.
And this is the reason why this industry has been so prompt to embrace innovation. Adopting disruptive technologies is no longer a preference or strategy; it has become the demand of the hour for field service companies. The skyrocketing popularity of digital tools like field service management software and mobile applications for field technicians only fortifies this claim.
Specific technological trends have garnered significant attention in the field service industry. Let's see which disruptive technologies have made their marks in the sector and which ones are likely to take control of future trends.
4. Latest Trends of Disruptive Technologies in the Field Service Industry
Shift from Reactive to Proactive Service
Gone are the days when it was good enough for a field service business to wait for the customer to report malfunctioning or downtime issues. In today's competitive environment, forward-thinking providers take the initiative and deal with problems before anyone knows their existence.
Regular maintenance and servicing agreements help solve a piece of the riddle by periodically bringing technicians on-site to inspect things and ensure that nothing wears out or gets close to breaking down. In this sense, technology is also assisting. For example, sensors enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) can continuously analyze equipment status and relay it back to the field service provider's systems.
These sensors are sensitive enough to detect the onset of an issue much earlier than the human operator could – and without the need for one to be constantly present – Facilitate the repair or replacement of malfunctioning parts before they completely shut down and disrupt productivity.
Augmented reality technology has progressed from a novelty, adored by mobile game lovers and other recreational distractions, to a highly disruptive technology used in a wide range of organizations. One prime example is field service.
Augmented reality assists engineers in their work and even facilitates skill transfer between generations of workers. For example, AR glasses can superimpose blueprints over real-world equipment, assisting engineers in navigating it. This is especially advantageous for younger workers who may utilize augmented reality to learn from their seniors digitally.
Augmented reality can also help reduce the need for a technician to visit a job site in person. Instead, the engineer can independently guide the client through the repair or part swap while wearing AR-enabled glasses and using a headset. Of course, this is only appropriate for specific easy jobs, but empowering customers to resolve certain issues quickly can boost your brand's reputation.
Cloud Storage and Database Management
The use of computer hardware and software resources to provide convenient, on-demand network and information access and services to a shared pool of configurable computing devices over the internet has become a significant trend in recent field service management practices.
In other words, companies are aggressively leaning toward cloud technology for storage and database management. As the industry continues to embrace paperless technology and automation, cloud technology has helped field service organizations manage and facilitate seamless access to data for their field employees. This has been an enormous help regarding remote collaboration, which is integral for the sector.
Unlike most industries, field service has to rely on people working outside the office. But if they lack on-demand access to critical data and assistance from the back office, it will affect the service quality. On a positive note, easy access to data via cloud storage can also significantly increase first-time fix rates for field technicians, which is paramount for a field service brand's success.
Dynamic Scheduling and Dispatching
Scheduling field technicians effectively and efficiently is perhaps the biggest challenge for field service providers.
If the job wasn't complicated enough, there are also the daily disruptions of last-minute bookings and emergency requests. Technicians' schedules on the go must accommodate these without disrupting their other appointments and causing the slightest delay due to off-route detours.
This can be a challenging mental exercise for an operator unless they are an AI bot. However, it is a piece of cake for dynamic scheduling and dispatching technology. Dynamic dispatching employs artificial intelligence to generate engineer schedules based on mathematical models, selecting the best routes and job orders to maximize available time.
When an unexpected appointment pops up, the AI can swiftly analyze the active schedules on that day and pick the optimum place to fit into the new job with a minor interruption. Moreover, the AI learns over time and only improves at the designated position. So, you can expect your operational performance to improve over time.
Technology is driving field service in so many fascinating new ways that it can be difficult to keep up. However, by incorporating any of these exciting new services into your field service offering, you can position yourself as a forward-thinking thought leader who is not afraid to embrace change.
With a solid tech-enabled field service management strategy, an organization can better understand how customers use its services and expand the number of user touchpoints, providing it with more significant opportunities to look into and respond to customer needs.
To realize this goal, it is essential to be well-versed in the latest technologies in the industry. For field service, the trends mentioned above are important to keep tabs on. Overall, the field service industry is moving towards automation, and paperless methods are taking the driver's seat in moving the sector forward. If you want to join the bandwagon, you must ditch traditional paper-based methods and quickly embrace digital transformation.
Adopting new technology is always challenging, especially for those who are not fully aware of the ins and outs. It can sometimes be overwhelming. But this is far simpler than it sounds. You can start by signing up for a field service management software system and moving forward with more advanced digital tools.
But here is a fair warning for you!: Don't let fancy tools deceive you when selecting new technology for your business. Instead, identify your specific pain points in your operations and pick a digital tool that serves your purpose. After all, it is your hard-earned money, and you should invest it wisely. But more importantly, there is no point in wasting your valuable time dabbling with unnecessary gadgets, especially when the industry is moving at a lightning-fast pace.