When software giant Microsoft announced a raft of highly service orientated features in the latest roll out of Microsoft Dynamics it was clear they were aiming to help their customers, help their customers. But how does that translate into Field service, the dedicated FSM solution acquired by Microsoft last year? Kris Oldland spoke to Carsten Groth to find out more…
Often when a major player in the software world acquires a smaller, niche business one of two things happen.
Either the smaller company gets swallowed up never to be heard of again, or they continue with their brand but as priorities and focusses change they slowly lose a grip on what it is that made them a success in the first place.
Either way there are usually a few fairly easily found voices of discontent somewhere.
But when Microsoft acquired FieldOne (now rebranded to Field Service) in the summer of last year the move went particularly smoothly and it seems to have continued in that vein ever since.
Carsten Groth, A Technology Solution Professional within Microsoft explained that much of the seamless transition could be put down to the way in which Microsoft work with partner developers and ISVs, which is driven by a technology platform that fosters collaboration and integration across the network.
“Basically it is because under the hood of Microsoft Dynamics CRM we have something called the XRM framework which allows partners as well as ISVs to build on top of it,” he explains.
“Think of it like a Lego brick system, so Dynamics CRM is that Lego brick system, then you decide if you build a police station or a fire station.”
“The FieldOne solution came from a global ISV standpoint and what they did was build that ISV solution based on the XRM framework so they reused certain functionalities and entities coming from Dynamic’s CRM because they saw that inside field service there was a definite niche for certain types of data,”he adds.
“They [the FieldOne team] already knew about field service, what are the needs, what are the pain points in it and then they built on top of that XRM framework a field service solution.” “So when FieldOne was acquired by Microsoft there were no pain points as it was a hundred per cent solution fitting inside that XRM story.”
“Basically the only adjustment was the transition from having FieldOne as accompany to having Microsoft as a bigger company.”
So how is the product evolving from FieldOne to Field Service with such heavyweight backing?
“We think of field service as a broad area,” begins Groth, “we do have small specialisations like the medical industry or automotive, but I think perhaps 69% to 75% of challenges are maybe equal.”
“Processes are ever changing and what we as a concept are trying to bring out ‘is here is a change management ability inside your organisation…”
“For example, feedback from one of your field service technicians saying ‘every day I’m starting my business day it is a lot of effort for me to give you a status feedback – can we simplify it? Is there a way to do that?’ This is exactly what we are able to do inside Field Service. We come up with systems with an easy, simple UI experience that allow companies to form a better connection between mobility devices and all those interactions with the back office.”
“We are trying to change the way field service companies engage both internally and with their customers, by introducing what we call Connected Field Service, which you can now do in the Cloud, with a concept that is a horizontal solution which will still totally align to your vertical business. We then have vertical instruments such as healthcare for instance, to provide a nice smooth kick-off within that system.”
Given Microsoft’s position as a top tier Cloud services provider, and Groth’s reference to Field Service’s own Cloud functionality, this seems like a perfect time to address the ever-present elephant in the room. Namely Cloud security.
“One of the biggest benefits that Microsoft has is that we can do both the Cloud experience as well as the on-premise experience,” replies Groth.
“So if there is any reason that we cannot go with you to those Cloud services, we can still fall back to the on-premise models.”
“We do have customers struggling with firewalls, policies, or they might even have more specific laws inside certain countries, so what we are trying to do is find spots where we can introduce Cloud services and then make their lives easier…”
“Sometimes the worries are simply because they read news stories about the unsafe Cloud and different types of compliance issues inside the Cloud. But that is changing, it’s changing a lot.”
So does Groth see a growing momentum, in terms of companies wanting to move their field service offerings to the Cloud?
“Definitely, people are struggling with making their work easier and the Cloud and Cloud Services can definitely do that.”
“But it’s new technology and new methodology that we have to learn. It’s like if your not well trained in Outlook, you may well end up having an inbox with 2000 or more unread emails – should it be like that? Definitely not!”
“Why is it like that? It’s because you’ve not been trained in the Outlook experience. And it’s pretty much the same with the Cloud – you must be trained to use Cloud Services and what they are.”
“It’s new technology and new methodology that we have to learn. It’s like if your not well trained in Outlook, you may well end up having an inbox with 2000 or more unread emails…”
“It’s actually even more complicated because we also have the management conversation as well, bringing in processes and organisational structure elements as well” comments Groth.
“So we have the management coming in and saying this is the way we set out our internal processes are you able to actually adjust the software, or are we able to adjust the software, to continue to allow us to do these processes in this way?”
When Microsoft rolled out the latest feature set of Dynamics in the 2016 release their was a lot of focus on knowledge sharing, to empower contact centre agents by putting the right information they need in front of them as quickly and effortlessly as possible.
With knowledge sharing being a critical tool for field service companies facing a potential crisis, with the prospect of an ageing workforce set to leave on mass in the not too distant future, it would be interesting to see if this level of functionality could now be ingrained into the Field Service product suite as well.
Fortunately, it seems this is very much all part of the plan at Microsoft.
As Groth outlines “Imagine you’re a field technician, trained on a specific device, scheduled to perform maintenance on a customer site. You open up the log board and maintenance files and figure out it’s not revision A that you have been trained on but revision B that is required.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have the capabilities of accessing a knowledge base on the fly to see what are the differences between revision A and revision B? Maybe there are not that many changes in the revision so the field service technician could still provide the maintenance to that customer on site once he sees the difference between A and B?”
“We enabled this by offering, inside Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016, capabilities for these knowledge banks. We even go a little bit further where we are enabling the field service technicians as well as others to comment whether that specific article was useful or not.”
So it seems again the strength of the wider Microsoft platform, is adding weight to the feature set of Field Service.
Of course, other field service solutions, as Groth (who previously worked for German based scheduling and optimisation solution providers FLS) will attest, are easily able to plug into the XRM framework too, or even add further functionality to Field Service, adding ‘one more Lego block to the tower’ as Groth describes it.
“There is also a tangible shift towards field service solutions being part of a wider ecosystem with the likes of Oracle and Salesforce following in the footsteps of ERP provider IFS…”
There are of course arguments both for and against the case for integrated solutions versus stand-alone, and that is consideration each individual company must take.
However, with the acquisition and integration of Field One into their platform Microsoft are now a very, very solid option once more for field service.