A lot of mystery still surrounds the concept regarding the internet of things and IoT field service software. This is probably because its potential reach is so vast that it doesn’t easily lend itself to a neat, cohesive definition.
In simple terms, the IoT is a huge network of interconnected things that collect and exchange data. These things can be any device that has an on/off switch and is internet-enabled. Things like cellphones, headphones, wearable devices and household items like coffee makers, lamps and washing machines are just a small number of examples.
Industry predictions by Gartner forecast a little over 20 billion connected devices by the year 2020. Regardless of exactly how many there’ll be, the number will be staggering, with billions of relationships consisting of people-to-people, people-to-things and things-to-things.
But the IoT phenomenon didn’t arise in a vacuum. It was facilitated by the greater availability of broadband internet, the decreasing cost of connecting to the internet, the explosion of devices created with WiFi capabilities and overall smartphone penetration. All these factors combined to create the perfect environment for the present and future growth of the IoT.
How Does IoT Affect the Field Service Industry?
While not immediately obvious, the implications of living and working in this interconnected environment are many and, in some cases, life-changing. Service organizations are poised to benefit exponentially from the opportunities arising from this interconnected landscape. Field technicians can become connected to their equipment and headquarters in real time via their mobile devices, changing the way that technicians respond to service requests, as well as how diagnostics are performed.
All of this change paved the way for a truly proactive and cost-effective service experience, in contrast to the more reactive way of doing business. In fact, by working alongside IoT, the field service industry has established interoperability across devices, applications and platforms, transforming the very nature of the technician’s role and function in the field.
Field service management software relieved some of the greatest challenges that field service operations faced. FSM brought automation into the field, and as a result, drastically reduced the rate of human error, and increased customer satisfaction.
The dramatic level of benefit provided to those in the market subsequently spurned the development of additional FSM software and helped spark a kind of boom in the industry. FSM software became an essential tool to professionals working in the field, managers in their offices and even customers themselves.
Combined with the IoT, field service professionals stand to gain substantially from the integration of machine-to-machine communications with their toolkit. IoT field service will allow professionals to go beyond scheduling and dispatching technicians. It will equip all levels of the industry (and their tools) with rich communication and reporting abilities.
And what about when formerly connected devices become disconnected from the IoT space? Do they lose their rich communication abilities? Are all the benefits like reporting and lifecycle tracking just thrown out the window?
Not in the future, says the president of MachNation, Steve Hilton. We reached out to Hilton for his thoughts on Internet of Things field service, and he told us all about how edge computing is going to change the game. What is edge computing, though? If the device is augmented with edge computing capabilities, it autonomously corrects itself and continues to perform complex functions, even without network connectivity. It’s a prospect that has Hilton intrigued.
“IoT edge computing excites me. This is the idea that all sorts of processes, including machine learning, complex analytics and machine control, can happen when IoT devices aren’t connected to a network,” he said.
Hilton compares edge computing-enabled IoT to a self-driving car, which highlights the potential advancements in software and hardware autonomy — something we’ve already seen on our roads lately.
“So, imagine if the connectivity to an autonomous car stops working. The brain of the IoT edge device is so smart — it has so much computational power and built-in logic — that the car can continue to drive itself without hesitation or problems.”
Direct Benefits of Integrating IoT With Your Field Service Platform
The opportunities for field service with IoT enhancements are very broad, touching on many sub-segments of the market. But one of the most significant changes is in the nature of the relationship between the organization and the customer.
Customer satisfaction has remained a top priority for companies pursuing successful growth strategies, and the IoT provides a path to furthering these strategies. As the increasing intelligence of devices and hardware become more commonplace, the typical culprits — poor communication and lack of information — are becoming less and less of an issue when maintaining customer relationships.
As field service continues to evolve into a predictive service versus a reactive one, more and more customers are beginning to accept a predictive service as the new normal. Industry studies point out that a majority of customers (some studies indicate as many as 89%) are willing to pay a premium for this level of service.
Graduating from devices that indicate a need for service — for instance, only after a system failure — to devices that proactively schedule a maintenance call is perhaps one of the most visible and present advancements of IoT field service.
Another opportunity that’s offered by the close working relationship of the IoT and field service technology is in the critical area of cost savings.
In fact, cost savings are aligned quite closely to customer satisfaction, because many of the conditions that go into strengthening customer service also present opportunities for companies to reduce costs. For example, the predictive analytics enabled by IoT field service provides the means to diagnose and address issues before they occur, saving time and money in addition to making customers happier.
Hilton says that the primary benefits of incorporating Internet of Things field service in business are the potential cost savings and the ability to pull enterprise assets together into one, cohesive platform.
“Enterprises implement IoT solutions to either reduce their operational costs for their business (e.g., factory automation solutions),” he said, “or to create new connectivity-enabled products (e.g., connected welding equipment, connected home healthcare devices and others) for their customers.”
Connectivity offers numerous benefits — enabling an enterprise to monitor and track inventory, assets, fleets of field workers — but few cost-saving measures are as pronounced as asset lifecycle tracking, according to Hilton.
Asset life cycles are effectively how long an asset can be used until it is in need of repairs or replacements. By equipping assets with IoT capable sensors, field workers are able to see the condition of their tools, and back-office managers can prep replacements or repairs in advance. This works great in conjunction with inventory management software for tracking available stock and prepping orders.
By capitalizing on the ability to learn more about the service cycle based on machine learning models, organizations can optimize their practices and processes by gathering the information generated by sensors in the network. Through coordinating activities with the full intelligence of the IoT network, it’s possible to generate the optimum service cycle for a device that incorporates inspection, preventive maintenance and repair, if required. Furthermore, technicians can complete many device inspections by remotely logging on to the equipment’s portal.
IoT sensors can also sound the alarm when inventory parts need to be stocked, ensuring the availability of parts when they’re needed. This solves the problem of over- or under-stocking parts, given that inventory is a big expense for service departments.
The inherent cost savings derived from the changes of many of the activities that make up field services, as introduced by the IoT, are significant. The continuing opportunity for innovation across the field service landscape multiplies the possibilities for cost savings that will significantly impact the company’s bottom line.
Final Word on IoT Field Service Integration
Field service companies have a unique opportunity to dramatically shift their business model using the data generated by the IoT. They can essentially transform from reactive responders to proactive partners and advisors in the life cycle of connected equipment and devices, thereby endorsing the next standard in service.
Does your field service business utilize IoT? Tell us how below in the comments!
Contributing Thought Leaders
MachNation is a company specialized in testing IoT edge and cloud platforms in our hands-on test and benchmarking lab. We work with large industrial enterprises to help them select and architect best-in-class IoT platforms and solutions.