In theory field service would seem to be an industry that could benefit greatly from the cloud. The ability to give remote access to systems for mobile workers is obviously advantageous to an industry that by its very definition has a high percentage of its workforce on the move.
But has the field service industry leapt into the cloud feet first, or is there still some reluctance until the technology proves itself robust enough to be trusted with service management systems?
Across the last few months Field Service News in partnership with Tesseract have undertaken a research project, which aims to take a measure of the appetite for Cloud based software and the Software as a Service distribution model within the field service industry.
On Premise versus Cloud in field service today:
The first major insight from the research is that despite Cloud and SaaS becoming more widely understood as a concept, as far as the headline numbers are concerned currently those companies that have placed there field service management systems in the Cloud remain in the minority. In fact currently 77% of companies are still using an On-Premise solution with just 23% having actually moved their field service software to a Cloud based platform.
At first glance this may seem somewhat of a surprise. We have been hearing things about the Cloud, good and bad, for quite a while now. Salesforce.Com the Grandaddy of the Cloud who pretty much single handily made a mockery of computing giants such as Oracle and SAP’s dismissive stance towards SaaS as a passing fad, are now a ripe old 15 years old. The cloud’s been around for long enough to take route by now hasn’t it? One argument could be that actually fifteen years isn’t that long, especially when we take into consideration that it took a few extra years for the first browser based service management solution to appear (Tesseract’s Service Centre 4.2 in 2001) and also as all service management software previously had been purchased on a pricey CAPEX model then the life cycles of these systems were understandably relatively long.
The shift to a new, emerging technology will likely be weighted towards a slower start in such an environment. Actually we can find further evidence of this when we look at exactly how long those companies who are currently using an On-Premise system have been using that system for. The vast majority (60%) have been using their current system fro at least three years so this would certainly seem to correlate with this theory. In fact just 18% of On Premise solutions are recent implementations (within one year). A slightly larger amount 22% of systems are between a year and three years old.
However, it is when we look at the next question we asked of those respondents using an On Premise system “Are you likely to consider a SaaS/Cloud solution when you next update your service management system” that we start to see some genuine evidence that the shift to the Cloud is starting to speed up. Of those companies currently using an On-Premise solution just over half 53% have stated that they are considering a move to a Cloud based solution in the future. With 47% stating that they will not consider the Cloud for their next iteration of field service management solution.
If this figure remains true and there is a conversion from those ‘considering’ the Cloud to those adopting the Cloud then within a period of perhaps three to five years, by when most companies will have moved onto next generation platforms, it is highly likely that we will see an almost 180º switch in the ratio of On Premise to Cloud systems being in place with SaaS becoming the dominant model for software distribution within the field service industry. Whilst the shift may be slow initially, it would seem that when it does happen it could be quite dramatic.
The benefits of Cloud in field service
So what exactly are the benefits of Cloud based service management software to merit such a dramatic shift? We asked those respondents that were already on a Cloud based system what were the reasons they chose to choose Cloud over an On-Premise solution, asking them to indicate if any of the following reasons were important to them. The benefits we listed were: more affordable pricing model, scalable solution, disaster recovery, easy remote access, speed of going live, less reliant on IT department.
The results were interesting in that perhaps they did not conform to what are often seen to be the key USPs of Cloud based solutions. Of these options easy remote access was the most popular reason cited with 61% of respondents indicating this was an important factor to them. The second most popular benefit was the fact that Cloud solutions are scalable with 54% of those surveyed ticking this option. Often the most heralded benefit of the SaaS distribution model is that it makes expensive solutions more affordable.
However, this was only the joint fourth most popular option tied with another benefit that we regularly see being championed i.e. the speed of going live. With just over a quarter of respondents (28%) indicating that these were important factors to them. When we look just at companies with the smallest category of mobile workforce (under 50 field engineers) we do see an increase to 35% of companies that cite affordability as an important reason for choosing SaaS, yet again it remains only the fourth most popular choice. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that whilst the fact that a SaaS model does of course offer a more affordable payment model, it appears that it is the other benefits that enable improved efficiency in the mobile workforce that mostly attracted these early adopters.
But what about the actual benefits that are being seen by those using a SaaS service management system? Beyond the hyperbole and marketing speak what are the benefits that genuine field service companies are experiencing in the real world?
So as to not to colour the results in anyway around this critical question we opted to leave the response to the question ‘What has been the biggest benefit to your company since moving to the cloud” as a open text response. This has given us a truer understanding of what the key benefits to Cloud based field service software were.
The most prominent benefit that stood out was the general performance of the systems themselves alongside the ease of updates. A quarter of all responses (25%) were grouped around the fact that by having a system that was easy to upgrade respondents found they were essentially getting a regularly improved and refined piece of software so performance levels remained above those that they had experienced previously. The other most significant benefit was in fact the cost which also was listed by 25% of the respondents. So whilst cost may not have been as high as anticipated as a reason to initially opt for a SaaS model, it would appear that once the decision had been made, the more manageable payment methods of SaaS did indeed shine out as a key benefit of the model. This would be particularly relevant for those companies whose service division operates its on P&L of course.
Speed was also a regularly used term word amongst the responses. In the main the reference was to the speed and ease of set up however the speed of information flow between field engineers and head office was also raised as a key benefit. Speed alongside the term ‘ease of use’ was both common terms that appeared in 13% of all responses. Other benefits that are worthy of mention are increased mobility, scalability and flexibility including being able to put multiple countries onto the same operating system easily and the easy accumulation of data via remote access in one source.
However, certainly the greatest acid test of how successful the Cloud has been in terms of delivering field service software to those that have taken this path is whether or not they would recommend a similar move to others. In this instance it would certainly appear that the implementation of Cloud for those field service companies that have made the move has been an overwhelming success with 90% of companies that are currently using a Cloud based field service management solutions stating they would recommend doing so. Such a majority is certainly a powerful statement to the positive impact of the Cloud for those field service companies that have been early adopters and embraced the technology.
Yet some many remain unconvinced
So it is evident that those who are working with a Cloud based solution seem to be satisfied having made the change and it also seems that many of those still using an On-Premise solution are actively considering a move to the cloud when the opportunity to upgrade there service management software next arises. Yet there is still a sizeable amount of companies (circa 30%) that are not considering the Cloud at all.
Why exactly is this and what fears do they have? We asked those respondents that indicated they would not be considering a Cloud based solution to identify the key reasons they did not feel comfortable with the cloud. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly the leading reason cited was Security. Front-page news stories about the lack of security in the Cloud continue to cast doubt it seems as 47% of companies that are not considering the Cloud still cite security as a key fear. Concerns around connectivity and issues integrating issues with existing legacy systems were also both common objectives with 34% and 37% of companies respectively indicating that these issues gave them cause for concern around a move towards the Cloud. What is interesting is when we compare these issues with those that are currently operating a Cloud based service management solution these fears do not necessarily match up to the reality. In fact when looking at the issues that those who are using the Cloud have actually encountered we actually see the reverse of the above.
The most common issue with the Cloud has proven to be connectivity issues, which 60% of companies using a Cloud based system have experienced problems with. The second most common issue is then integration with existing systems, which 40% of companies have faced. Security in fact ranks the lowest of the issues cited by companies using a Cloud system with only a quarter of companies having had any issues in this area whatsoever. Looking further at those companies that are not considering a Cloud solution, it is interesting to note that whilst the large majority (72%) have not implemented Cloud systems in any area of their business, a still sizeable 29% of companies did have at least one element of their business requirements based in the Cloud.
This initially seems odd as with a clear benefit of Cloud being ‘easy remote access’ it would seem a perfect bedfellow for the field service systems and therefore one might assume, one of the first systems to be moved into the Cloud. However, when we look at the reason given for why respondents felt Service Management software in particular should still be held On Premise the majority of respondents (70%) identify integration with existing systems as the main reason why they believe they need to keep their systems out of the Cloud. Essentially as service management systems are so core to company’s operational efficiencies, for some it simply isn’t worth the risk of moving to a system that cannot be easily integrated into wider business systems.
For those more conservative companies that would prefer to see a technology fully established and road tested before committing to it, connectivity issues between the Cloud and existing systems to still remain so it could be prudent to hold back for the near future, until these issues are fully resolved. However, of course the longer a company waits to take advantage of the benefits of a new technology, the greater risk they are in terms of falling behind the rest of the market in terms of efficiency and translating this into better service standards.
Conclusion – SaaS will eventually become the norm in field service
Whilst at the current time Cloud computing has yet to take a firm hold amongst the majority of field service companies, with most companies still using an On-Premise system, it would certainly seem that there is a definite shift towards the Cloud and the SaaS model and that shift is starting to gain momentum. If those companies that are currently considering a move to SaaS do actually make the transition, then within the next few years we could see a complete reversal in the ratio of companies operating On Premise systems versus those operating on Cloud based solutions, with Cloud becoming the dominant platform.
The benefits of Cloud are numerous and well suited to field service, with the ease of remote access being the key factor for companies either considering moving to the Cloud or those that have made the move already. Wider benefits such as the more affordable pricing structure of SaaS, the speed of implementation and less reliance on IT departments also of course are attractive factors to field service companies also. The biggest issue that has slowed the adoption of the Cloud in field service to date is the perception that security is a major issue for Cloud systems.
However, in reality this has not proved to be the case for those field service companies that are actually operating in the Cloud. Yet these doubts still remain and perhaps it is a matter of the technology having to continue to prove itself secure over a longer period of time for these to abate fully. At the same time the biggest issues felt by those using the Cloud are possibly likely to be resolved by surrounding technologies in the near future. Connectivity, which is the largest problem facing companies with a Cloud system for example will ultimately ebb away as serious issue as mobile internet standards continue to increase.
Within the UK for example all of the major providers are required to meet 90% 3G coverage of the UK as part of their contracts with UK Government by this summer. Currently the only provider to have fallen short of this target is Vodafone who offer 3G coverage to 88.5% of the UK. Of course with 4G now being rolled out this situation will only continue to improve.
When we consider that there is a building appetite for the Cloud in Field Service Industry, the key fear around the Cloud (security) is proving in reality a far less common issue than the perception would have us believe and that the most common issue being faced by those currently using the Cloud is potentially going to diminish naturally as internet coverage becomes ever more widespread it would seem that the Cloud is set to become an established platform for field service technology, and even ultimately become the most commonplace method.
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