Today’s field service operations are a far cry from the days of old when operatives received a schedule at the start of the day and followed it rigidly. There was no opportunity to be able to change the timetable to react to new circumstances.

That was before the advent of mobile phones. Nowadays, most operatives carry at least one mobile device, in line with the phenomenal increase in smartphone users globally.

  • There are 2.6 billion smartphone users globally. By 2020, there will be 6.1 billion*
  • 85% of adults aged 18-49 use multiple devices at the same time***

Transformative Industry 4.0 Technologies

Industry 4.0 technologies have revolutionized the way we do business, transforming business operations. They have also transformed the way field services are delivered.

Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices were one of the major technologies to bring enormous changes to the sector, allowing operatives to access email, schedules, client and inventory data on the go. Of course, we now take this kind of accessibility for granted.

But what comes next? A new phase of transformative technology is on the horizon, and it includes concepts that will not be familiar to everybody but which represent exciting potential for field service operations. This blog takes a closer look at what we think the future of field services holds and introduces new and innovative technologies you need to prepare for to avoid being left in the past.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Soon predictive maintenance powered by the IoT will be commonplace across industries. Using wi-fi enabled sensors, predictive maintenance helps determine the usage and condition of equipment and calculates when maintenance should be performed.

The time and cost savings this approach generates when compared with routine maintenance and servicing are vast because tasks are only performed when needed. These are just a few of the benefits:

  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Higher asset availability
  • Improved customer satisfaction

As a business, the change from a usage-based business model can help you to generate new service revenues. By analysing large volumes of data generated by asset sensors, you become alerted to issues ahead of a machine breaking down. If you combine this sensor data with the business information stored in your CRM and ERP systems, you can make the move from a reactive to a predictive maintenance service.

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR has not just changed the face of home entertainment – it is now making its mark on sports, shopping, and the classroom impacting on nearly all social activities.

In the world of field services, it can be difficult to try to get to grips with machinery in the field. Trying to understand equipment that is new to you is not only time-consuming, it can also be dangerous. With VR technology, you can recreate any training scenario in the classroom, and it can be reproduced easily for all new employees.

Rather than transporting people out to physical locations, it is more time and cost effective to get them together in a classroom to undertake training exercises. Of course, your trainees don’t all need to be in the same place – it is now possible to put on a VR headset and step into a learning environment wherever in the world you happen to be.

Wearable Technology

When you think of wearables, you tend to think of fitness tracking devices. Although these are still the number one wearable in this country, the industry as a whole is growing in terms of the types of wearables now available and the number currently in use.

  • The wearable technology market in Europe grew in 2016 with sales of 13 million units+
  • Great Britain is the largest market in Europe+
  • Smart watches represent 32% of the market +

In the arena of field services, smartwatches are now being used for simple job updates, while GPS tracking helps to keep scheduling time-efficient and up to date. Meanwhile, technology like the Microsoft HoloLens can be worn to help guide new employees through more difficult tasks, whilst more experienced technicians can use it to consult on jobs.

Machine Learning

Rather than being specifically programmed, computer programs using machine learning grow and acquire insights by studying predictive and statistical analytics. The field services industry has already taken advantage of the predictive analytics available within ERP and is now looking to machine learning to enhance this functionality even further.

While predictive learning is already being widely used in field services, machine learning takes this to a new level. Companies are now discovering the huge financial savings that can be made when devices and machines are able to monitor and repair themselves without the need for constant field visits.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is set to make a big impact on field service software with its ability to optimize each aspect of field service delivery – without previous programming. Common uses of AI in field services include smarter scheduling of operatives and route optimization to reduce travel times.

AI is also being used to map business goals. If you set it an objective such as streamlining operations or generating revenue growth, AI will process data and run simulations to calculate the right path to reach your desired outcome. This kind of technology is fast, enabling smarter, more efficient operatives and soon it is likely to take over from contact centres by logging incoming calls, scheduling call outs and keeping both customers and employees updated and satisfied.

3D Printing

A technology that has yet to be exploited to its full potential but one that could become highly significant for field services in the future is 3D printing. The manufacturing industry currently uses 3D printing to create prototypes using plastic ink; objects are created by adding layers together. Recent developments also mean parts can be printed using more sophisticated materials including metal.

This could have a major impact on field services, promising a future where certain parts can be quickly and affordably produced on site. At present, companies must either hold stock or order parts in and then transport them to the right place at the right time. This uses up resources and takes time. Being able to print parts as necessary speeds up field operations considerably.

Drones

Finally, love them or hate them, drones have a part to play in being able to diagnose issues from a distance.

Drones with cameras attached are able to take photos and record video footage that may otherwise be either impossible or too expensive to obtain. These images can then be reviewed by experts on site or shared digitally in real-time, allowing problems to be solved faster and more effectively.

In Summary

Cloud and mobile technology have proved to be revolutionary for many sectors by connecting people and data and allowing anywhere, anytime access.

Now we are beginning to see the effect that a new wave of technologies is having on industry and in particular on how field services are delivered. An upshot of many of these new trends is that there will be even more data generated and captured. Data that can then be harnessed and put to good business use.

We’ve already seen what companies can do with the information stored in their CRM and ERP systems and this takes the concept a step further. The future of field services is likely to change rapidly in the coming years as it takes another giant leap forward.

 

Sources:

*TechCrunch, 2015

https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)

**Google, 2015

https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)

**Google, 2016

https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)

+GfK quantitative online survey amongst 4,900+ internet users aged 15+in 16 countries who currently track their health or fitness; multiple answers allowed, 2016

http://www.gfk.com/insights/infographic/tech-trends-2017-wearables/