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Is it time to rethink our entire approach to field service applications?

May 6 • Features, Software and Apps • 2814 Views • No Comments on Is it time to rethink our entire approach to field service applications?

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With the launch of a dedicated field service application, enterprise mobility platform firm Kony has stepped firmly into the busy arena of FSM software providers. However, they bring with them a new set of thinking that could change the way the entire industry approaches app development in the future.

Kris Oldland spoke exclusively with Jonathan Best, VP EMEA at Kony to understand why they believe they are changing the game for the better…

As we sit down to discuss the new launch of Kony’s dedicated field service application I am genuinely intrigued.

The launch seems to fly in the face of the logic that has underpinned the success of Kony in many senses. Kony has established an enviable reputation for being a slick and intuitive platform that facilitates the ease of developing mobile apps.

Facilitating bespoke app design is what these guys do and they do it brilliantly. So surely an off-the-shelf, vanilla field service app goes against their very ethos?

However, my mistake here was thinking that the app stopped at being just plain old vanilla. Sure the base layer may be the same for everybody, but to continue the metaphor the ability to tailor this app is as open and as varied as the contents of a tin of hundreds and thousands.

“Principally what we have is a platform for the development of apps within enterprises. And that’s where most of our customers are investing,” explains Best

“When we see the same app requested in multiple places rather than us doing custom built apps for every single client, it makes sense for us to provide at least a foundation that they can start from”

“But when we see the same app requested in multiple places rather than us doing custom built apps for every single client, it makes sense for us to provide at least a foundation that they can start from,” he adds.

And here in lies the rub.

Kony’s approach is very much centred on client empowerment and in the understanding that whilst there are core requirements across differing companies in differing verticals, ultimately no two businesses are identical, and therefore no two businesses will require an identical field service app.

“Probably the big difference between our apps and the more traditional field service app is that we are trying to provide a base level of functionality, that somebody can take out of the box and use if they don’t have a process or they just want to build something very quickly; but much more, what we are trying to provide is a base level functionality that people can build on top of and develop,” Best states.

“We are not trying to build a 100% solution but instead build a 60 to 80% solution that can then be tailored to meet your business process.”

“We are not trying to build a 100% solution but instead build a 60 to 80% solution that can then be tailored to meet your business process.”

This approach is something that Best and his colleagues don’t see in the FSM market currently and is an approach that could ultimately prove to be a genuinely disruptive influence within the sector.

“Our approach of course opposes what quite a lot of what the traditional apps have had, which is ‘this is a field service solution this is how it works.’ You can tweak around the edges a bit but really you must follow the processes as it is laid out in the core application.”

“And most of those field service applications that have been developed for mobile historically have come from some kind of core system provider be that a ClickSoftware or a SAP or an IBM, whoever, where it is a mobile part of wider solution.”

“What we are trying to say, as a mobile company, is lets look at the mobile process and then try and figure out all the ways that you connect that to whatever your back-end systems might be.”

“So what we are doing for customers is helping them to develop the mobile use case and connect that to their back-end systems. What we saw with field service is that lots of people wanted a field service capability – they either had one that they weren’t very happy with or they didn’t have one and they wanted to create one, and what they wanted was the capability to tie that into whatever their back-end systems were.”

“Such flexibility to tailor a mobile application to truly fall in line with your own specific workflows is of course both an innovative and exciting approach. But it also sounds like an option that could require some heavy development and a bunch of spare programmers to undertake such work isn’t a resource every company has to hand.”

“So they do not necessarily have to take SAP’s field service solution for example just because they use SAP’s systems on the back-end,”

Such flexibility to tailor a mobile application to truly fall in line with your own specific workflows is of course both an innovative and exciting approach. But it also sounds like an option that could require some heavy development and a bunch of spare programmers to undertake such work isn’t a resource every company has to hand.

So what exactly is the process of evolving the Kony app beyond the 60% out-of-the-box offering into a well tailored app designed for a specific company’s needs?

“It can be undertaken by the customer if the customer wants to do it,” replies Best.

“Or it can be Kony if the customer wants us to do it – we have a 600 person strong professional services organisation that we can bring to bear on these projects, but probably most commonly it is partners – the traditional model of us being the software provider, the customer being the driver of the demand and the expert in what the processes are; and a system integrator sits in between and takes the Kony technology and builds the app together with the client.”

Fundamentally what the Kony platform provides is an ability to plug into your existing systems and then provide a dedicated tool for mobile interaction with the data stored in those systems based around the needs of any given individual within the enterprise.

“As we enter more fully into an age where information and data is key, the free flow of data facilitated by deep level integrations is of course highly advantageous for the field engineer”

And as we enter more fully into an age where information and data is key, the free flow of data facilitated by deep level integrations is of course highly advantageous for the field engineer, enabling them to arrive on site fully prepped for the job they are about to do. However, such movement of data is of course a two way street and the amount of valuable data that is available to a field engineer could also be highly useful if fed into the right place, whether it be sales, R&D or even third party partners.

“There is a lot of good stuff in those back end systems that you want to be able to provide out to salespeople, that you want to be able to provide to service engineers and you probably want to be able to provide it to business partners as well,” Best begins.

“A lot of our customers have got a core field service organisation of their own but then they use a third party to fill in the gaps around peaks in demand etc. and they probably want to provide different amounts of information about assets and customers to a third party than you would do to your core sales force.”

“What Kony traditionally provides is the platform that allows you to say ‘we want this information to be available to this person on this device for this purpose.”

However, perhaps Kony’s greatest strength in coming to the field service sector is that they arrive less encumbered by the rules and formulae of any previous iterations of their product, meaning they can take a fresh pair of eyes, that are customer focussed, when it comes to what should or shouldn’t be included within a field service application.

“A lot of people say to us there are gaps in the field service solutions that are available on the market.”

“If you look at a lot of the typical field service solutions that are on the market, it’s difficult to extend them to have an additional capability or to add something new into the mix.”

“Again, if you look at a lot of the typical field service solutions that are on the market, it’s difficult to extend them to have an additional capability or to add something new into the mix. For example if you look at IoT,” Best ventures.

“As people are putting more and more sensors in the capital equipment that is getting serviced, they want to be able to integrate it much more with the field service engineer and the system they are using but it’s very difficult in a lot of the traditional field service solutions that weren’t built with IoT in mind.”

“We are saying lets provide the core capability that allows you to do scheduling, that allows you to push jobs out to the field, allows you to do all the things that any field service person needs you to do. But lets do that on our platform which enables you to tie back into a much broader set of back-end systems than is probably the case in the offering that you are using today, and lets do that in a way that opens up the capability to integrate new things like IoT.”

Of course one of the most exciting factors of the field service industry right now is that it is in a state of almost constant beta, with new technologies being integrated and adopted every year.

With such a dynamic technology base at play future proofing any investment as much as possible is crucial. Which is another benefit of Kony’s approach to FSM app development.

“One of the most exciting factors of the field service industry right now is that it is in a state of almost constant beta, with new technologies being integrated and adopted every year”

“One of the reasons people are increasingly investing in Kony is because we provide that future proofing at both ends,” Best claims when the subject is brought up.

“Our capability to integrate into back-end systems is recognised as the best in the industry and our ability to support differing device types and OS that are getting produced is unparalleled.”

Another factor to be considered within the development of any enterprise app, whether it be for field service, or other areas, of the business is the User Interface. This is something Best is acutely aware of and believes the move to a platform based approach, will see user experience in business to enterprise apps improve vastly as costs of development become greatly reduced.

“One of the things that is happening in the current generation of apps is that people are paying much more attention to what can be done with the interface”

“A large driver for this is that now with Cordova and HTML5, and tools like Kony provide, we can produce native output at a much lower cost by using technology to create it and so there’s ‘this write once, run everywhere’ approach to building apps which has taken a lot of the cost out what previously used to be associated with glossy native development.”

Of course there is another benefit of the ‘write once, run everywhere’ approach as well. There is a growing demand amongst field service providers to be able to provide their own clients with applications that show information on their assets such as maintenance history, mean time to repair, current uptime availability and so on.

Such apps are powerful sales and marketing tools, and as such, a slick user experience here is an absolute must.

However, Best points out that whilst the idea is sound, outside of a platform such as Kony’s actually implementing such apps could be a significant resource strain. “Of course that sounds like a very logical business process to have,” he comments.

“But if you think of what it means logistically, you are going to push that out to the end customer where you can’t control what their devices are. Maybe they want to access it on an iPhone or an Android device; or, in the future who knows what else.”

“That means our customer, using our platform has to provide that app in whatever format their customer wants to consume it in, so they need that capability to provide apps for various OS or device agnostic apps and that’s one of the key capabilities that Kony provides.”

“It is the potential of the Kony platform to enable field service companies to simply and intelligently expand the role of the service engineer that could be the potential game changer”

Whilst both the ability to provide customers access to service information as well as being able to tailor an app to meet your exact workflows both sound exciting, it is the potential of the Kony platform to enable field service companies to simply and intelligently expand the role of the service engineer that could be the potential game changer.

And as our conversation progressed Best was able to reveal a number of ways that this was already happening with their existing clients.

“The field service engineer is on the customer site and the customer says something about wanting assistance with a new project – that’s great sales data that you want that field service engineer to capture and pass to the right guy in the organisation to follow up with,” Best says outlining one such scenario.

“That functionality typically isn’t built into a field service engineer’s general workflow but of course its very easy to build that into an app. For example, if you have got a notes field and some sort of capability that says press a button here if you think the sales guy should give them a call and follow up.”

“Another example is a utility firm we are working with. They have a customer feedback form which they ask the customer to fill in to show how prompt were they, did they fix the issue, did they leave things neat and tidy after they left etc.”

“That’s a logical business process but when we dug in and looked at it we found that it was actually only about 1 in 12 customers who filled in the form. Then at the end of the month the engineer was supposed to have collected all this stuff up and mail it back to the head office.“

“So he had this massive pile of paper in the back of his van which he’s then got to pick up and put into an envelope and mail to HQ: and then there is somebody who’s job it is to go through each one.”

“It was a horrendous process and of course that guy is already there, with the customer, with a tablet doing his field service work – how much simpler to give that tablet to the customer at the end of the job with a brief survey?”

“Indeed the biggest change Kony’s arrival in the field service space may bring is in how we approach our service engineers’ workflows in an increasingly mature digital age”

“In this case just 6 questions, each with a slider ranging from very happy to very dissatisfied at either end , and they don’t have to fill anything in because that is already captured from the job data. It takes them literally less than a minute.”

“The response rate went from 1 in 12 to 1 in 2. It gets immediately processed at HQ, there is no rekeying and then there is the cost saving – no paper, no postage, no wasted man hours…”

“So all of these business benefits came about but it’s not something anybody had ever thought of as a field service process. Yet it’s a completely logical add on for a field service capability.”

“It’s also something that no FSM system today provides but it’s the kind of thing that we can add on very simply because its just an extension to the app.”

I often comment that technology at its finest just makes things work better, and given the flexibility and ability to adapt and evolve applications on the fly, it seems the Kony platform could well go some way to helping companies achieve that.

Indeed the biggest change Kony’s arrival in the field service space may bring is in how we approach our service engineers’ workflows in an increasingly mature digital age.

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