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And the survey says… a review of our research from 2015

Feb 9 • Features, Management, Research • 2310 Views • No Comments on And the survey says… a review of our research from 2015

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Research sits at the heart of Field Service News and every quarter we publish an exclusive research report identifying the latest trends to be emerging within our industry. Here we look at some of the key findings of our research reports from across the last year…

Mobility tools in field service

Working in partnership with Advanced Field Service we explored what types of mobility tools are being used by field service companies.

What types of hardware are most commonly being selected for our field engineers? What software is being used out in the field?

How are companies selecting the right solution for their engineers?

What type of feedback are those engineers giving? And what actual benefits are being delivered through digital mobility solutions?

In total 122 field service professionals responded to our survey which ran across February and March with respondents from companies with mobile workforces ranging from less than ten field engineers through to over 801 engineers and with an even number of representatives across the spectrum with no obvious spikes, the research offered insight into trends across field service as a whole.

Types of devices being used in the field

It is perhaps no surprise by now that most companies are using some form of digital device.

We have been going through a digital revolution across the last decade and no industry has felt the impact of this change as keenly as field service.

Indeed out in the wider world of industry the emergence of Enterprise Mobility as a definable, and eminently sizeable industry that will ultimately dwarf the size of the field technology sector considerably, has now firmly taken root.

Research indicates that the majority of companies are using a mix of differing digital devices, with 46% stating this is the case.

However, the field service industry, which has more complex needs than its younger cousin of Enterprise Mobility, is also a far more mature market in general.

In fact our research indicates that the majority of companies are using a mix of differing digital devices, with 46% stating this is the case.

This would make sense as many field service organisations are now in their second, third or even fourth generation of digital device being rolled out to their field engineers.

However, when it comes to those companies that have rolled out just one device to their mobile workforce the results revealed some further insight into the trends now appearing amongst field service companies.

One of the biggest trends that is backed up by the evidence of this research, is the dramatic rise to prominence of smartphones as a genuine mobile productivity tool being utilised in the workplace.

It is of course not a surprising result given the widespread adoption of smartphones in both the consumer and business worlds but our research does confirm that smart-phones are the most popular device being used by field service companies when only they opt to provide one device to their engineers.

Of course every action has a reaction, and the rapid growth of smartphones as a tool for field service engineers has resulted in an equally rapid decline in the use of PDAs. In fact now just 5% of companies are using these devices – the smallest percentage of any device being used within the field.

One myth however that the research helps debunk is that Tablet computing his having a similar impact on the laptop sector as smartphones are having on PDAs.

Whilst it seemed at one point that the trend for tablet computing would see the laptop being edged out of both the consumer and rugged markets it appears the rumours of the death of the laptop have been greatly exaggerated.

In fact our research outlines that in terms of the devices being used on there own, both tablets and laptops have an equal share of the market at 14%.

However, we should also consider the fact that of those companies who provide more than one device to their engineers, a large proportion of companies are likely to offer a laptop as one of those devices, largely due to the fact that having a built in keyboard makes any significant manual input much easier.

So whilst it is likely that ultimately the traditional laptop will become replaced by the convertible or even the detachable laptop, the keyboard remains an important part of the field engineers mobile technology kit.

The last few days of pen and paper

What the research presents clearly is that the masses in field service have moved towards the new digital dawn. There are of course in any industry sector, laggards that remain behind the trend.

However, when it comes to the application of mobile technology amongst field engineers this group (i.e. those using no digital medium) now stands at just a nominal 3%.

Of those companies still using pen and paper 100% stated they are considering moving to a digital mobile platform within the next twelve months.

Not only the is the group now just a very small minority, but our research also indicates that this group is potentially set to disappear completely within the next twelve months.

Of those companies still using pen and paper 100% stated they are considering moving to a digital mobile platform within the next twelve months.

The reasons for this are of course clear, as are the benefits of moving to any digital medium, including increasing productivity and streamlining a field engineers work-flow.

The fact is that those companies still relying on pen and paper are in danger of falling significantly behind their competition.

In fact of those companies still using pen and paper 100% of the respondents admitted that they felt they were at a disadvantage, with 50% stating that they felt that disadvantage was significantly impacting their ability to remain competitive.

Cloud as a FSM platform

Our next project, which was undertaken in collaboration with ClickSoftware explored trends amongst field service companies involving use of the Cloud for Field Service Management Systems .

The research was conducted online across July and August this year. The respondents were a mix of Operations, IT and Business Leaders working within organisations that had a field service operation.

Again company sizes ranged from SMBs with under 10 field workers to the enterprise level companies with over 800 field workers. In total 150 respondents answered the survey with respondents coming from a number of different verticals including Manufacturing, Engineering, IT solutions, construction, fire and security, healthcare and more.

As with our 2014 survey on this topic after the question ‘Is your current field service solution on premise or in the Cloud?’ The survey split into two in order to give us insight from those currently using the Cloud and those that are still on premise.

This enabled us to better ascertain the benefits being seen by those using the Cloud alongside the reservations of those who are not.

Mid-sized movement

The headline statistic to come out of the research was that indeed there has been a slight shift towards more companies using the Cloud than before.

In fact there has been a swing of 3% in favour of those using the cloud with 26% of companies now having their field service management solution in the Cloud versus 74% who are using on-premise.

26% of companies now have their field service management solution in the Cloud versus 74% who are using on-premise.

Whilst a small movement, given the timeframe this increase could indeed help support the argument that the Cloud is slowly becoming more prevalent and that the move to Cloud is very much tied to companies moving from their legacy systems to more modern next-gen equivalents.

However, a logical continuation of that thinking is that we would find those companies with larger field worker numbers more likely to remain on premise than those smaller companies for the simple reason that they are more likely to have invested in the expensive infrastructure to run an on premise solution and would therefore potentially be more tied to their existing system – making a switch to a new solution harder work.

Yet when we drill down into the data and separate the companies out into three groups – those with less than 50 engineers, those with between 50 and 500 engineers and those with more than 500 engineers we find that in fact this doesn’t hold true.

Actually whilst the trends amongst the largest companies very closely mirror the respondents as a whole (25% Cloud vs. 75% On premise) it is amongst the smaller and mid sized companies that we see the biggest variance.

Interestingly smaller companies, who are generally viewed as being the most likely to be attracted to the Cloud due to the more affordable Software as a Service subscription model that most Cloud vendors offer, were the group that were most reluctant to have their field service operations on the Cloud – with just 17% doing so.

Meanwhile the mid tier companies (i.e. those with between 50 and 500 engineers) were the group that had the most Cloud based systems with 37% of these companies using the Cloud.

When we look at the same demographic in our previous research this is an increase of 21% of companies, so whilst on premise still remains the way the majority of run their field service management systems, a shift to the Cloud, amongst this demographic at least, is clear.

Still the question remains why are we seeing more acceptance towards the Cloud within these mid sized companies than amongst their smaller counterparts? (If we accept the earlier premise that those larger companies may take longer to adapt due to greater change management challenges.)

One possible answer could be found in the make up of the decision-making units of those smaller companies. Of those companies with less than 50 engineers that are not using the Cloud, only 15% of companies had input from their IT director or equivalent whilst of those mid sized companies that have adopted the Cloud 71% involved their IT Director or equivalent in the selection of a field service solution.

Could it be that amongst smaller companies it is a case that without the input of a technology specialist, some of the headline fears around the usage of Cloud persist.

The question remains why are we seeing more acceptance towards the Cloud within these mid sized companies than amongst their smaller counterparts?

Whereas amongst those larger companies, who have a more developed IT department adding their insight, perhaps there is more understanding of both the true benefits and dangers of the Cloud?

One question within the survey that could certainly give us further insight into this assertion was ‘Which of the following sums up your perception of the Cloud in business’ which had the following four options:

  • I believe it is the future of enterprise computing
  • I see its benefits but still have some concerns
  • I wouldn’t trust placing sensitive data in the Cloud but would use for general applications
  •  I think we should keep everything on premise, there is too much risk in the Cloud.

Given the fact that there was a fairly even balance between the two groups of company sizes, the varying responses certainly indicated a more cautious outlook towards the Cloud from the smaller companies than their mid sized counterparts.

Within the group of companies with between 50 and 500 field service engineers 58% felt that Cloud was” the future of enterprise computing”, with a further 32% stating that they “saw benefits of the Cloud whilst having some concerns.”

Interestingly not a single respondent from this group stated “we should be keeping everything on premise, there is too much risk in the Cloud.”

When we compare this to the responses of those companies with less than 50 engineers we see the confidence in the Cloud significantly reduce with only 38% stating they “believe the Cloud is the future of enterprise computing” whilst 20% “wouldn’t trust placing sensitive data in the Cloud but would use it for general applications” and “5% stating they think “we should be keeping everything on premise, there is too much risk in the Cloud.”

IoT and Field Service

Another key technology within our industry is of course IoT and this was at the heart of a research project undertaken with ServiceMax and PTC.

The research was conducted across a period of 6 weeks during August and September this year.

Again well over 100 field service professionals contributed to the research with respondents from both the operational side of business (field service directors/managers etc) as well as senior IT representatives (CIO/CTO etc.) participating alongside business leaders (MD,CEO etc.)

Once more we also had a variety of company sizes ranging from those with less than 10 field workers through to those with over 800 field workers, with a fairly even split across these groups so there was fair representation of opinions from companies of differing sizes.

Also whilst there was a slight UK bias in respondents, there were also respondents from India, Ireland, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Germany and the USA so there was a mix of nationalities amongst the respondents as well.

The largest group of respondents by a long way (44%) stated they “operate a proactive strategy where possible but are still mostly reactive.”

Before we began looking at the appetite for IoT amongst our respondents we first wanted to see if companies were actually well placed to benefit from adopting an IoT strategy.

To do this we needed to assess where the companies in our group were in terms of their approach to technology in general as well as how they approached their own service delivery.

Of course with the introduction of any new technology there will always be laggards and there will always be bleeding edge adopters and if there was a bias amongst our respondent group either way this should be taken into account when exploring other responses and trends identified within the research.

Therefore the first question we asked our respondents was “How regularly does your company invest in new technology initiatives to improve field service operations and performance” and we gave our respondents the choices of every year, every two years, every three years, every five years or other. It would seem our group was on average representing a slightly forward looking set of companies with 35% stating they would invest in new technology an annual basis.

Meanwhile 13% stated they did so every two years, 17% every three years and 16% five years.

A number of respondents also commented that their company’s investment in technology was slightly less strategic and on more of an ad-hoc basis although members of this group also stated ‘recently the investment in new technology is being increased’

Predictive or reactive?

The next question we asked in this initial section was whether our respondents were working for a company that is either adopting a pro-active or reactive model in terms of their field service planning.

Almost a third of companies (31%) state that their “service is half proactive and half reactive” whilst only a small fraction of companies (4%) were operating on a wholly reactive strategy.

Again this will be a good indicator of how ready field service companies are to adopt IoT as one of the significant factors in why IoT is predicted to be such have such a major impact, particularly in field service, is that it can be the key for companies moving away from the traditional break-fix delivery of service to a more efficient preventative maintenance approach to delivering field service.

Indeed it seems that the majority of field service companies do see the benefits of moving towards delivering service in a proactive rather than reactive manner, in theory at least.

Whilst the same amount of companies (6%) stated they were either “Fully pro-active with a mix of predictive and preventive maintenance, enabled by remote monitoring and M2M diagnostics” or “We are mostly pro-active using both predictive and preventive maintenance strategies but still have a small percentage of reactive calls.”

The largest group of respondents by a long way (44%) stated they “operate a proactive strategy where possible but are still mostly reactive.”

Meanwhile almost a third of companies (31%) state that their “service is half proactive and half reactive” whilst only a small fraction of companies (4%) were operating on a wholly reactive “Almost a third of companies (31%) state that their “service is half proactive and half reactive” whilst only a small fraction of companies (4%) were operating on a wholly reactive strategy. This would suggest that the perceived wisdom that field service companies should be moving away from the traditional break-fix reactive approach to a more proactive approach, which is better for service providers and their customers alike, is being adopted by the industry at large.

It also indicates that whilst this attitude is widespread, achieving a move away from break-fix models is harder to achieve than simply updating policies.

In fact responses to this question would certainly strengthen the case for Internet of Things being rapidly accepted and adopted amongst field service companies who can see the benefits of proactive maintenance but are unable to deliver it.

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