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IoT in field services beneficial, but not a priority

IT decision makers and field service decision makers recognize the benefits IoT can bring the field services industry, but only 12% ranked it as a priority investment area, that according to a new study released by Pleasanton, Calif.-based field service management company ServiceMax.

Eighty percent of the 200 respondents from across the U.S. and Europe said connected technology can increase productivity, and nearly three quarters cited analytics as a key result.

“If you’re a repair technician looking to service a complex piece of equipment, you need a lot of background information, a lot of rich information, real-time information, to be able to effectively service it,” Athani Krishnaspad, co-founder and chief strategy officer of ServiceMax, said. IoT analytics can be crucial in these circumstances.

Along with getting data to the people who need it, Krishnaspad said IoT and a “connected field service vision” can help providers move from reactive to predictive maintenance.

“Traditionally, most field services providers take a reactive approach, they have zero visibility,” Krishnaspad said. “I liken it to driving by the rearview mirror; your windshield is blocked so you can’t anticipate what is coming ahead of you, you can only make judgment based on what has happened. Now, IoT and connected machines and data clear your windshield so you are able to see.”

“With a proactive approach,” he continued, “You start to anticipate when machines are going to fail and can put plans to get them serviced before they do.”

Survey respondents agreed on this benefit, and also cited customer satisfaction, increased revenue and greater efficiency as IoT remunerations. On top of that, 62% of respondents believe IoT can decrease organizational costs by 5% or more over the next year.

Only 4% said they believed there was nothing to gain from IoT.

What’s holding the field services industry back?

Eighty-eight percent of those surveyed found challenges in IoT, namely that it cannot replace human sense and instinct, that the technology is not mature enough, and that organizations do not have the skills to implement it.

Krishnaspad believes IoT will complement — not replace — the human element.

“Whenever technology advances, there is a general feel that it will replace human beings,” Krishnaspad said. “But in the case of adoption of IoT and what it could do to transform field services, I’m not seeing that concern as much.”

Before IoT, Krishnaspad said, a customer would report an issue and the technician would need to go to the scene to evaluate the problem and then fix it. With IoT, a technician knows what needs fixing and saves time evaluating and finding the parts to fix the issue; he is ready to fix the issue upon arrival.

And in this excess capacity, Krishnaspad said, are a number of possibilities.

“Our customer Coca-Cola Enterprise — these are the bottling providers in Europe for Coca Cola products — they took the excess capacity they achieved and are turning it around and using it to grow the service business,” Krishnaspad said, explaining that service technicians were being trained to work on other machines beyond fountain machines to copy machines, fryers and so forth.

Current and future IoT use in field services

The future of IoT in field services may not be as dim as the survey reports.

In fact, 39% of those polled said they are already using connected devices, and another 49% are planning to use IoT in the future.

Other technologies, including augmented reality, virtual reality and intelligent machines (for example, drones), have current low use rates (10%, 12% and 15% respectively), but brighter futures with 51% expecting to deploy augmented reality, 44% virtual reality and 49% intelligent machines.

“We are looking at a lot of interesting technologies come up, whether it’s augmented reality or whether its big data predictive analytics or whether it’s things like autonomous vehicles in the case of drones or robotics,” Krishnaspad said. “There is a very interesting use case that we can find for those technologies within the service space.”

Krishnaspad also noted the business models being created.

“It’s what we call ‘outcome oriented service’ or ‘servitization,'” Krishnaspad said. This model is helping organizations sell an outcome directly to its customer rather than just equipment.

“Once you start seeing the data, you can be more confident as the service provider or equipment manufacturer,” Krishnaspad said. “You can go to the customer and say, ‘I will make sure this machine is up and running 99% of the time,’ or you can even say ‘I can not only keep these machines or equipment up and running, but I can actually make sure that you use it optimally whether its energy efficiency or optimal output’ — all due to the data you receive not only from that customer’s machines, but across your customer base.”

The research, completed by market research company Vanson Bourne for ServiceMax, surveyed 100 IT decision makers and 100 field service decision makers from a range of public and private sector organizations in the U.S., UK, Germany and France.