What is Field Service?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term field service has its origins in 16th-century military jargon. Though this century’s technicians might be armed for problem-solving with a set of tactics and maneuvers, field services now refer to so much more. We can actually separate field services into four distinct categories.
What are the different types of field services?
This is a clear cut. If a machine is broken or not functioning properly, a service technician makes a field visit to solve the problem.
Maintenance is the preventive part of Field Service. In order to prevent equipment from failing (and thereby avoiding repair service), certain activities are performed in order to maintain proper operation, such as replacing worn parts and performing inspections. Regular inspections of machinery and devices help minimize breakdowns and operational downtime. There are three types of maintenance field service:
- Preventive: Routinely scheduled maintenance appointments can help prevent serious breakdowns. Field service providers schedule these preventive maintenance visits based on statistics for specific machines and parts. Using accumulated data, they can estimate the best time for replacements to avoid serious operational problems.
- Predictive: Field service providers schedule predictive maintenance visits on the basis of data provided by machine sensors (or digital twins). If a sensor detects certain signals, like elevated temperatures, it communicates a potential problem back to the service provider. This gives service technicians the opportunity to address the problem before it occurs. It also makes it possible to wait until absolutely necessary to switch out parts. This is not the case with preventive maintenance.
- Corrective: If a machine or device is not working to capacity, it is time for corrective maintenance. In this case, the field service technician will assess the issue and perform the necessary adjustments to fix it (or optimize performance).
Installation and commissioning
If you’ve bought anything more complicated than a washing machine, you’ll need a service technician to install it. After installation, the service technician will run a series of tests to make sure your machine is fully operational. That is the commissioning process.
A field service visit isn’t always a hands-on appointment with your machine or device. It can also involve a critical analysis of your business and customer demands. Insight gleaned from these service visits can help you plan projects and implement your tools to maximize their benefits.
Though there is a common set of field services, different industries offer different and more specific field services. The manufacturing, energy & utilities, medical equipment all have unique demands associated with the tools and products they provide their customers. Nevertheless, there are certain trends occurring in field services that are affecting all business sectors.
Emerging Market Trends
By 2022, the field service market will have grown exponentially. It will account for over 3.5 billion euros. What’s more, the largest chunk of this growth will come from scheduling and dispatch. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the most significant transformation in the field service sector has been the emergence of digital solutions. In particular, field service has become more mobile.
But what does that mean? More and more service providers are turning to mobile devices. In fact, over 75% of field service providers with 50 or more users will be using mobile apps by 2020. And these apps will go beyond scheduling, invoicing, signing, and tracking. They will be smart. They will inform service technicians if replacement parts are available. They will integrate device manuals, training videos, and accumulated knowledge.
And in order to accomplish all these things, field service providers are turning more and more to field service management software. FSM solutions powered by artificial intelligence are the only way to effectively and efficiently collect and sort through the massive amounts of data collected from customers, machines, and the service providers themselves.
Challenges and KPIs in the Field Service Sector
One of the biggest challenges and saviors of field service today is digitalization. On the one hand, it is making field services more effective, manageable, and fast. On the other hand, field service providers lagging behind in digitalization risk becoming obsolete. Here’s why:
Mobility and connectivity have reshaped customer expectations. Customers demand real-time solutions for their real-time issues. Companies not able to meet these demands - either because of skilled labor shortages, logistics, etc. - fall quickly by the wayside. Field service providers who want to keep up, need tools capable of providing immediate response time, and first-time-fixes.
Predictive and preventive maintenance
Machines equipped with sensors are delivering real-time status updates. And with signals like elevated temperatures and slowed production, field service providers can predict breakdowns before they occur. This makes it possible to avoid costly downtimes and production standstills. This also provides an opportunity to offer “production as a service”, or uptime, instead of traditional equipment sales. This appeals to customers as it defines the cost based on production without capital expense. However, without the proper field service software and skilled service technicians, it is impossible to respond to these warnings.
Powered by IoT
Connected devices are propelling the next phase of field services forward. It is essential for field service technicians to be connected to customers, devices, and headquarters. Only by embracing IoT and transitioning to mobile field services is it possible to give field service technicians access to all the data they need to do the best job possible the first time around.
As mentioned, customers now have a very clear idea of the types of services they need. And because of innovations ushered in by digitalization, they expect an immediate response. Not being able to provide quick and effective fixes can seriously harm a business’ relationship with its existing customers. But it also diminishes the likelihood that customers will refer their business and services.
The Benefits of Reaching Your KPIs with Field Service Management Software
Some jobs are simply better done by machines than our analog brains. Don’t be discouraged! These challenges are surmountable. And the benefits are substantial. Here’s what you stand to gain by striving to meet your KPIs.
Scheduling and data management
FSM software powered by artificial intelligence is capable of assessing any number of variables in a split second. With information like customer location, machine history, service technician availability, inventory and more, they can determine the best possible appointment in a split second. That is something that could take minutes if not hours to do manually. And by using IoT technology to connect everyone’s devices, service technicians and customers can even determine the scheduling themselves. With the help of AI of course!
Keep track of it all
How much time will a job take? Including travel time? Did an available appointment open up due to a cancellation? Was the invoice sent? Where is that work order form? How can we streamline these processes? The answers to all these questions are in the data. So the solution will involve amassing, organizing, and analyzing the data. Again, FSM software is the answer. It makes it possible to consolidate data across numerous devices from uncountable sources, and then provide the answer to these and any number of field service questions.
Know your customers
Field service technicians have a number of clients to see on any given day. However, they can make each field service visit a personal one by knowing as much about the customers as possible. With data like customer addresses, history, devices, and more available on their mobile devices, they can arrive on-site with complete background information. This eliminates the annoying need to search for crucial information or repeatedly ask customers to explain their issues. Everything the service technicians need is available via a mobile app right at their fingertips!
Integration with ERP and CRM
Integrating ERP and CRM software is the best way to have a complete overview of all internal processes and external tasks. Your ERP solution can help you automate any number of back-office processes, from invoicing to inventory to purchasing to hiring. When this information is linked to your CRM, or front-office, data, you can improve your real-time response rate. It also makes it possible to analyze all of your business processes and determine where improvements and adjustments might be necessary.
A big part of successful field services is having the available parts on hand. FSM software makes it possible to keep a running list of available parts that is updated in real-time. This ensures that field service technicians can arrive on-site with the necessary replacement parts. It also makes it easier to reorder parts that are low on stock so that they are always available when needed
Post Digitalization Trends
Implementing a field service management tool opens up a whole new world of opportunities. The following digitalization trends rely on the kind of data accessibility and connectivity that mobile field services and field service software can provide.
The real-time demands created by digitalization create a need for more skilled labor. Crowd services are the solution. By creating a crowd - a pool of skilled and certified service technicians consisting of the company’s own employees, partners, subcontractors, and freelancers - service providers can be sure they always have the right person for the job. This prevents bottlenecks and makes it possible to perform predictive and preventive maintenance.
We’ve mentioned the benefits of artificial intelligence when it comes to scheduling, and sorting through data. But artificial intelligence is also making it possible to account for any number of conditions that could affect field service: weather, traffic, skill sets are all considered and evaluated when determining the best service technician for the job. And AI is also making self-service possible. It is being used to design messaging services and chatbots that help customers solve issues that are easily solvable without the assistance of a field service technician.
There are even practical implementations of augmented reality in the field services sector. AR makes it possible to see inside a machine before disassembling it. This helps isolate the issue from the get-go and allows for a more target-oriented approach. AR also makes it possible for less experienced technicians to successfully complete a job. By turning to AR tools on mobile devices or even AR goggles, novice service technicians can also turn to specialists for assistance. By providing a virtual image of the machine to off-site experts, they can give real-time advice on the best repair solutions.