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Supercharge field service with an integrated IoT strategy

The field service profession is undergoing an unparalleled tech transformation as advances in IoT, application integration and mobility redefine what can be accomplished by a mobile workforce and millions of geographically dispersed assets. The one-two punch of low-cost sensors and open connectivity give companies a competitive edge in their ability to equip employees with the best processes to keep customers happy while creating new revenue channels and services. As tech trends including IoT, cloud computing and real-time mobile communications converge, consumers and field reps are gaining a new perception of what the future of customer service looks like: It needs to be seamless and predictive. To create the preventative customer service today’s buyers demand, organizations need to take smart steps to put an IoT-enabled integration strategy in place.

Field service reps bring it all together

Field technicians have always served as a critical hub for many businesses because they need to coordinate communications, technology and logistics with many different departments, partners and customers. Serving as a hub for different departments means field teams need to do a lot of heavy lifting to work with a multitude of traditional, siloed business systems. There is an enormous amount of manual follow-up required to get account and customer data, place orders and manage inventory, enable field repairs and execute billing, which leads to long resolution times, a major no-no for customer service.

With the rise of millions of connected devices, many of these manual processes can be totally automated, freeing up field technicians to radically streamline their work. As every vehicle, worker and piece of machinery in the field is sensor-enabled, we will see a massive shift from manufacturing-centric businesses to a service-based economy. Companies like GE no longer sell aircraft engines. Instead it will sell “guaranteed time in the air,” including identifying and fixing any issue or mechanical problems before they ever happen.

But IoT-enabled devices alone won’t unlock the power of connectivity. It’s imperative that the various systems are linked across a cloud-based integration platform to ensure that field service workers, devices and assets have access to information wherever they are — whether they’re on-site with a customer or at the local field office. They need the ability to make updates, place orders and process transactions on the go, in real time. Only then can the full benefits of IoT be funneled back to businesses and their customers.

Although an integrated field service experience is within reach for every business, many leaders are unsure which paths to take to make it a reality and, as a result, their integration efforts fall short. Findings from a recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for field service management reflect this shortfall, stating that through 2020, 80% of organizations with more than 75 field technicians will miss more than 20% of planned efficiency gains due to incomplete integration or deployment.

The key is to leverage modern integration platforms to expose data from legacy on-premises business systems, new cloud-based solutions and mobile endpoints, and to make it available for field technicians from any device or location. This strategy frees companies from the burden of manual processes and provides quick access to data across a wide range of systems, from inventory and pricing to orders and asset management. With this approach, all businesses should be able to sidestep the pitfalls of siloed systems and realize enormous efficiencies through connected field service.

Here are a few ways field service benefits by implementing smart, integrated devices:

  • Be more proactive. Simply being able to read the status of a sensor on an IoT-enabled device doesn’t add much value for field service reps. They need devices to be smarter and communicate issues before they happen. For instance, embedded sensors in connected devices and equipment enable the devices to send alerts when they need regular maintenance or when a pattern is identified that indicates they are about to fail. Smart sensors don’t simply improve the company’s ability to provide effective service; they can actually prevent equipment problems before they arise.
  • Fix common problems faster. Sensors provide massive amounts of data which can be analyzed in real time and in aggregate to learn from broader trends, which can help field technicians be more proactive in handling common problems. Moreover, connected devices have the ability to not only request service, but also provide details to explain why they need attention so field service teams can address root causes, not just the surface issues that come up. For instance, if batteries keep failing, data collected from the devices can uncover trends around weather or electricity supplies, for example, that could lead to a product upgrade rather than continually replacing non-functioning batteries.
  • Make better use of team time. Time is money, and digitizing field service gives time back to busy field services teams. Digital field service operations automatically accept service requests, dispatch technicians and track results without requiring manual data entry. Integrated systems also allow technicians to minimize drive time between sites by grouping nearby appointments together and ultimately reducing the length and number of different trips. These time savings can also extend beyond the field service teams to the other departments that support them, such as inventory management or accounting.

We’ve only just begun

Integration of IoT-enabled devices and data promises to transform the way field technicians work in the coming year. Field services can now move beyond making fixes after an issue arises to actually preempting problems and anticipating customer demands. Companies that take a holistic approach to connectivity by integrating the wide range of solutions that have been brought online in recent years will make those technologies much more powerful by linking them together. Field service teams have the opportunity to set the standard for seamless connectivity across departments to deliver a better customer experience at a lower cost.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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