It’s not too early to get a head start on next year’s trends.
Yes, the new year’s two months out, but if there’s one thing that seasonal creep and the Boy Scouts can teach you, it’s this: be prepared.
With that in mind, here are five field service management trends that are sure to dominate 2018.
1. Field service and the internet of things
The internet: it’s not just for computers anymore!
Unless you have a principled anti-technology stance, you’ve probably heard of the internet of things, or IoT. The IoT consists of anything with the ability to connect to the internet, and that includes many assets serviced by field technicians, from HVAC systems, to engines, to milling machines.
Technology research firm Gartner goes so far as to suggest that service companies should consider adapting their processes to the IoT (research is available to Gartner clients). The IoT will continue to bring such radical changes to field service that everything from service-licensing agreements to employee training should be adapted.
For instance, Gartner recommends that reactive, fix-it-when-it-breaks contracts should be changed in situations where IoT assets are key. Instead, field service companies should design contracts that take advantage of IoT sensors’ abilities to predict when machines will break down. These predictive maintenance contracts should be subscription-based, and clarify how assets will be used.
2. Mobility and mobile apps
It may seem redundant to talk about “mobility” in an industry where workers are always on the move. But the nature of field technician mobility is changing.
Previously, a field technician’s mobility was a simple necessity: they had to go where something was to fix it.
Field service management software, however, makes technician mobility part of a bigger, better integrated experience for the customer.
For example, some field service management software provides technicians with the ability to pull up a customer’s service licensing agreement, as well as that customer’s history. Rather than having to visit (or call) the main office, technicians get all the information they need on-site, improving the quality of their service.
Screenshots of MSI’s ServicePro software in desktop and app form
Beyond that, the sort of information available in a field service software app gives a mobile technician the ability to access information and communicate in a way that was once limited to the main office. An app with SMS messaging, for instance, makes it easy for a tech in one part of town to ask questions of another. Being in the field doesn’t have to keep a younger technician from asking an older one for advice about an asset or customer.
3. Augmented reality and virtual reality
While augmented reality and virtual reality may not become standard issue anytime soon, they’re still of interest to many service providers. With good reason, too: Gartner predicts that augmented reality will be ready for mainstream adoption in five to ten years (research available to Gartner clients).
There’s excitement surrounding both AR and VR because of the impact they could have on service businesses. For instance, augmented reality could make it easier to get readings from meters, as Steve Luong notes at Field Technologies Online. Instead of manually logging all the readings, a device with augmented reality could simply take a picture of those meters, and enter the information for you.
A great example of augmented reality’s usefulness came at Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience 2017. The technology giant showed how, by pointing a smartphone at a slot machine, a field service technician could get easy repair instructions superimposed over the image of the machine.
The green image shows a technician he should open the door; from ZD Net
This holds huge potential for the service industry. Inexperienced technicians could get training, even if a more experienced employee isn’t available.
Alternately, there’s the possibility that some simple repairs could be done by a customer with a device, as in this video from augmented reality field service company HelpLightning:
An example of HelpLightning in action
Like augmented reality, virtual reality has tremendous potential to help with field service training. As Alec Berry of ClickSoftware points out, virtual reality could lower the costs of training, as virtual training doesn’t require physical materials on which to train, or replace, should a trainee make a mistake. Auto parts maker Robert Bosch already showed virtual reality’s potential for training when they used the popular Oculus Rift tool to train thousands of service technicians.
Relax, I’m not talking about automating what field service technicians do. I’m talking about the automation of scheduling , dispatching, and other time-consuming processes. Handling billing and scheduling for even a small number of technicians can become complicated, and automating these processes allows staff to focus mental energy on other issues.
Automating processes has already helped property management company Dominium to increase their revenue. Using software to automate their charge back process turned a messy, multi-step rigmarole (inspection, work order, write letter to tenant, give letter to tenant) into a simple series of clicks on an app. With the changes they’ve already made, Dominium predicts an extra net million per year.
Another field service company, the Flying Locksmiths, improved their business by automating billing and dispatching with field service management company Field Aware. The Flying Locksmiths had an employee whose entire job was to enter invoices and work orders into their accounting software. Field Aware automated that, freeing up that employee to work on other tasks.
5. Generational change
We may not have yet reached the point where a majority of Baby Boomers have retired, but chunks of them are leaving the workforce each year. In the case of your company, this could mean losing a lot of know-how and tribal knowledge.
Thankfully, field service management software can help with that.
Two features common to a lot of field service management software programs are service history tracking and work order management. Both features can help you retain your employees’ knowledge, even after they’ve retired.
The knowledge can stay when you’ve got the right software
Service history tracking, for instance, gives technicians a place to jot down information about certain assets. It tracks how many times you’ve fixed a piece of machinery, and what sort of service you performed. In past years, that sort of knowledge was restricted to paper records, or the brain of a veteran employee.
What field service management trends are you ready for?
Are there any field service management trends I missed here? Are there any you think could be game-changers in 2018? If so, let me know in the comments below!