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Mark Homer is Vice President, Global Customer Transformation for field service management specialist, ServiceMax.

Mark Homer

I saw an article recently about Tesco’s recent decision to ditch the crescent-shaped croissant. My first thought was, why? Surely a croissant not shaped like a crescent ceases to be a croissant? Turns out that’s what consumers want.(Straight croissants make it easier to spread the jam apparently). Products should always try and meet the needs of the consumer and Tesco’s customers have spoken.

Across industries products are changing to an even great extent than just supermarket pastries. Automation is driving change. The Internet of Things is reshaping products and services to the extent that manufacturers are now looking at how to bake service into the design of products, as service mechanisms are increasingly seen as the common denominator of accurate product development and maintenance.

This is something which global energy management and automation business Schneider Electric is already working towards. At a recent conference Schneider Electric senior vice president Manish Gupta spoke about the company’s installed base as being key and the need to “track how customers are using our products,” he said. Why? “We want to improve products and improve the experience,” he added.

What we are talking about here of course is servitisation. Although not a new concept – it’s been talked about in a theoretical manner for a few years now – we are starting to see the emergence of a change in manufacturing. This change is not a choice either. It is essential for the survival of manufacturing in an increasingly lean world. Faced with competition and diminishing returns on products, making products more robust or more specific to the requirements of consumers becomes increasingly important and service is at the core of this shift.

IoT is playing a massive role here. Before IoT, R&D teams relied on interpretation and anecdotal input from field service engineers to get a full understanding of how products were faring out in the field. Service reports were arbitrary. In many instances, there was ‘No Fault Found’ which, according to Cranfield University accounts for around 20-30 per cent of cases. Post-IoT and the picture is becoming increasingly different.

Thanks to IoT and intelligent field service automation, we are now able to collect data automatically from machines and devices to determine their condition, their performance, and their potential for error or malfunction. Using data analysis, we can build predictive models to foresee problems and identify troublesome parts, equipping field service techs with the right tools and materials to ensure minimum product downtime and maximum customer satisfaction.

Most companies get it. Seven out of 10 business leaders claim that customer experience is now critical to their success, according to Forrester. It’s not surprising, but with IoT, the ability to streamline the information flow while also increasing accuracy is a game changer. Service is evolving. But with this evolution, service has to change too in order to utilise the technology and increase efficiencies.

So is this a threat to field service workers? Far from it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US, there will be 800,000 additional service workers in the US by 2022. If that’s an indicator of how automation will impact the industry, then it’s pretty clear that field service can do more than just survive – it is integral to the changing landscape.

It’s a view supported by the McKinsey Global Institute, which in a report last year claimed that “IoT is starting to have a real impact by changing how goods are made and distributed, how products are serviced and refined.”

And this will lead to further change. Consumer habits and tastes, even ideas can be fed back through a mix of automation and field service recommendation, ultimately redefining the relationship between business and customers. Less risk and more products that people want – a bit like the straight croissant.

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