How the cloud is shaking up the field services industry

Joining the cloud revolution is an important first step for field services
Joining the cloud revolution is an important first step for field services

Name a multi-billion dollar market that's getting a long overdue cloud makeover: field service management. This $15 billion (around £10 billion, AU$19 billion) industry has only just begun to dip its toe into the huge pool of possibilities thanks to software-as-a-service, the tablet and smartphone revolution, and senior management's recognition that service is indeed strategic. Add to this the commercial insight into addressable revenue generating opportunities and the resulting top line growth, and you've got a new cloud darling.

Service businesses represent around 70% of the world's economy, yet to date, only about a third of the world's large service businesses currently use field service management solutions. It's a market poised for growth, and it's applicable to all vertical service industries and businesses of any size.

Static industry

Over the past forty years, service hasn't really changed that much. There's a lot of paper, a lot of disjointed manual processes, and no meaningful connection between the field service technician and the context of a customer's business challenges. You can't actually track data on paper, particularly in an economy that depends upon the swift, accurate transmission of information.

Field service is an industry that was comparatively slow to join the information economy and typically does not move at the same pace as the rest of the business. Until now, the efficiency, productivity and disruption of the cloud had passed the field service industry by.

But that's all changing. Empowering service technicians with cloud-based, real-time tools in the field means they can do work orders, request parts, schedule and be scheduled, look up manuals, take payments, renew maintenance agreements, use social channels to communicate problems swiftly and effectively, and upsell and cross sell products and solutions where appropriate.

All of this is done on a smartphone or a tablet. All the data is real-time and technicians have the ability to work offline, saving time consuming administration at the end of a job. And customer relationship management systems pick up the information and ensure that the customer receives future communications, advice, updates and education. And of course, all of that data is delivering valuable new insights about your businesses and customers.

Sleeping giant

There are more than twenty million field technicians globally. Most of them are not working this way – yet. But CEOs are increasingly waking up to the sleeping giant that is their service department. On average, service margins are nearly 11% higher than equipment margins, and in a recovering economy with delayed capital equipment purchases, that counts for a lot. Better yet, with the right tools in place, service centres can transform from being a cost overhead to a profit centre, delivering leads, taking orders and providing customer intelligence.

Field service isn't exactly known for being a sexy or even innovative industry, but there are some major developments on the horizon that could soon change its image. The 'industrial internet' is just one example. There are currently around 25 billion devices connected to the internet. By 2020, this figure is expected to rise to 50 billion as the internet of things rapidly expands. As a planet, our civilisation now depends on machines working. It's already commonplace for manufacturers to track machine performance of high-end equipment with technicians determining whether a problem can be resolved remotely, reducing the costs of unnecessary service visits.

However, in the future, machine-to-machine learning will mean that equipment will communicate with technicians about specific faulty parts, with the machine essentially telling the service department when it is 'sick'. Likewise, in another ten years, it may be commonplace for field techs to have 3D printers in their vans to simply print the parts they require. Gamification techniques may also be used to reward service techs for making an SLA, cross selling, or supporting another engineer with a phone fix.

Granted, this is not how conventional field service operates today, but I think these sorts of advances are just a matter of time. Joining the cloud revolution is just the first step, and as a result, we will see incredible changes in both the short-term and longer-term. Cloud and mobility adoption are creating a new breed of field service management solutions that are radically redefining what 'business as usual' means for the field service industry.

  • Dave Hart is Vice President of Customer Transformation for field service management specialist ServiceMax