Sister show to Field Service USA, Field Service Fall brings three days of industry education to the East Coast of the USA. Field Service News Editor-in-Chief Kris Oldland flew over to see what the latest hot buttons for the US service industry were…
Held in Buckhead, the upmarket business region of Atlanta Field Service Fall lived up to it’s billing as one of the key US events in the field service calendar by bringing together some 200 plus senior members of the field service industry across the three day event.
As always with industry events focussing on field service operations the delegates came from a range of disparate industries including healthcare, manufacturing, telecommunications and more, yet despite coming from seemingly different universes, the same pain points were discussed, the same opportunities for improvement of service delivery discovered and the same challenges of implementing such opportunities and overcoming these pain points were at the heart of the conversations.
Kristina Hill, IFS Marketing Manager Enterprise Service Manager commented “As always the WBR field service events bring a great crowd of multiple different verticals together to brainstorm and share thought leadership and discuss pain points”
“It brings all sorts of companies together” Hill added “but as different as they are and as different as they run process wise, they are also very similar in their pain points and the issues they face. It’s great to see people working on new initiatives and adopting new technology”
This sentiment was echoed by John Callen Support Solutions Manager, NCR who was attending for his seventh time at a WBR Field Service Event.
“Every time I come here I get take aways from each presenter or each conversation I have, that makes me just that little bit better in my role”
Indeed there was a real sense of community across the three days in Atlanta. Something that event producers WBR are keen to maintain and build upon.
Jonathan Massoud, Divisional Director & Market Analyst, of conference organiser WBR commented “The feedback that we got was that it is good to bring the community together and here is where they can get help to develop standards that they typically can’t get elsewhere, that they can’t get through benchmarking or through competitors so they can come together here, meet and increase their own community.”
It was this opportunity to discuss challenges amongst his peers that attracted Arnold Benavidez, Field service engineering Manager, Metso Recycling to attend for the first time also.
“One of the reasons I came to this event was to get different perspectives on how other field service organisations are managing their field service activities for their businesses. “ Benavidez commented, “What processes, technologies and strategies are they implementing that have been proven and been successful in the organisations.”
“Quite often I think we try to manage the chaos in our service organisations and we tend to have tunnel vision in just managing our way through that chaos.
The conference agenda itself was well balanced with a strong blend of forward looking presentations, case studies detailing how some of the more progressive companies within the industry have made improvements to their own service operations and general insight and opinion from a number of senior figures within the service industry.
One of the topics that dominated a lot of the presentations as well as conversations in the break out sessions was that of IoT.
As Massoud explained “One of the things we are hearing about now is the digitization of service in terms of the Internet of Things – what does that mean? Last year we talked about that and people were unsure of how to move forward, now it seems that each of the verticals now have things in place that are addressing that and we are seeing things move forward.”
“For example some organisations are putting in mobile boxes when the product goes out so they can pull data off it and that is just one example of how IoT is effecting the development of their products and their service and that’s come out this week.“
I think a lot of the themes that I’ve heard this time around is around the Internet of Things, the way things are pushing forward it makes you think how I can implement this to solve problems of my own?”
“You’ve got to worry about the cost but you’ve also got to worry about the cost of fixing the problem,” he added
However, the talk wasn’t all about tech. The continuing drive towards improving customer experience was another frequently heard topic of conversation.
“The real focus still, which is nice to hear, is in delighting the customers” Hill commented “As customer demand grows and increases and the technology that is out there from a customer perspective makes that demand higher, I think that field service organisations are realising that they have to keep up and then they have to deliver in a way that is going to put the customer first. “
“That’s still a big trend and one of the things that was a big conversation topic is that the customer has to come first and then let the processes be driven by that.” She added.
Expanding further on the topic Massoud added “Customer experience has been top of the line for the last couple of years now in the research we are doing.
What we are seeing now is how companies using technology to improve the customer experience.”
“The shift towards having the field tech be more of a consultant in the field, soft skills developing, really jumped out again.
And in fact the absolute star turn of the three days was provided by Augmented Reality solution Help Lightning.
Developed in part by neurosurgeon Bart Guthrie, Help Lightning uses augmented reality to deliver remote guidance. The impact for field service of augmented reality is massive, potentially slashing a phenomenal amount of outgoing costs by allowing experienced engineers to guide local onsite engineers on how to make a fix themselves, instead of having to get the experienced engineer onsite.
A simple, yet highly effective app, with slick delivery and seemingly robust connectivity (the product is capable of working across 3G networks despite being video based) Help Lightning was certainly the star of the show garnering a lot interest.
And with an engaging presentation by Guthrie supported by a constantly busy booth in the demonstration zone of the event, Help Lightning certainly won a number of fans across the three days including Marty Jost, Director of Technical Services, Hach who commented “The biggest thing for me was seeing the Help Lightning application. It’s simple enough that I want to go back and demo it for my people.”
Benavidez was also a fan of the augmented reality app stating “I was really impressed with some of the technology, specifically with Help Lightning, we’re coming currently on a second year of a down market in our industry due to the price of steel and a lot of people are looking at services to bring in revenue to make up for the difference, but selling services is difficult, as our customers tend to want to take care of those type of things on their own, so I think after seeing this technology from Help Lightning this may provide the opportunity to assist our customers who don’t want to pay the premium price of having a highly skilled technician on site but perhaps would be interested in having our technician guide their electrical or mechanical contractors on site to help facilitate some minor repairs.”
Indeed if the general consensus of the attendees of Field Service Fall are a good yardstick to go by then the team at Help Lightning, and Augmented Reality vendors in general could well become the hot ticket in Field Service in the very near future as the technology promises very obvious benefits for customers and field service providers alike.
“I think our customers could really go for that kind of opportunity because we are helping them be more self-sufficient and ultimately that is what they want to do.” Benavidez explained “I felt really confident when I saw that opportunity. I think it is definitely something I’m going to try.” He added.
However whilst IoT, Big Data and Augmented Reality are truly exciting topics quite rightly discussed frequently both in the trade press and at industry events such as this, it is also important not to overlook the fundamental technology such as scheduling and parts management tools that can help us get the right engineer to the right job at the right time, and getting them there with the right tools to do the job first time.
What always fascinates me personally about field service as a topic for conversation is that often whilst we have a natural tendency to focus on how we can harness the latest technology to streamline and improve the productivity of our operations, yet there still remain fundamental basics that we must implement if we are to meet the expectations our customers demand.
It was interesting to see that the problem of parts and inventory management was a pain point that continued to surface during the breakout sessions across the three days.
Whilst many of the conversations would have been driven by a series of roundtables hosted by Aberdeen’s Aly Pinder, the fact that this was an area that resonated with many was a clear indicator of the importance of getting the basics right.
As Deb Geiger, VP Global Marketing Astea commented;
“I think there is always an underlying commonality in terms of everybody is trying to optimise be more efficient and reducing those costs but also not at the risk of sacrificing, customer satisfaction. “
“People talk about speed and quick resolution, but you can show up quickly and not fix it first time. So its always weighing the different factors and ensuring that the piece of equipment is getting fixed first time and that the customer is satisfied. I think everybody is looking to continually optimise, look at their processes – how can they improve how do they optimise their workforce, some are having to do more work with less resources how do they make that happen without overtaxing the technicians.”
Of course what events such as Field Service Fall do is provide an opportunity not only for discovery, and peer networking but also for benchmarking how your organisation is performing in terms of delivering service.
“Every one of us is in the same circus we just have different clowns working for us. My problems are the same things as the guy that has the printing press, as the guy that has the medical devices.”
“Operational wise and personal wise this is a great opportunity to benchmark progress. I’ve seen a lot of the same folks year after year. It’s good to see old friends. Here I’ve got friends that I talk to every year, what did you guys do with this, what did you guys do with that? We talk about problems and situations. And it genuinely helps us see where we are in terms of our own development”
This is something that Massoud is equally aware of and very much proud to be part of adding “It’s an opportunity that is unique for this space and you can’t go at it alone.”
‘A lot of guys tell us that when they first come here I’m coming back – it’s good to be part of this community”
In that case I guess I’ll see you all next year then.