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Stepping out of the cocoon?

Jan 18 • Features, Software and Apps • 1032 Views • No Comments on Stepping out of the cocoon?

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After a decade of building a solid reputation as a management consultancy specialising in mobile workforce management, Leadent recently announced a new string to their bow – Leadent Service Cloud. It’s a bold step to move from consultant to solution vendor, so Kris Oldland caught up with Alastair Clifford-Jones, CEO of Leadent to find out more about both the new solution and why they felt it was right for them to bring their own offering to the table…

Having built a successful business as a specialist mobile workforce consultancy delivering successful Field Service Management (FSM) solutions based on technologies such as ClickSoftware, Leadent is a name reasonably well known within the field service sector – particularly within their home shores of the UK. Indeed, CEO Alastair Clifford Jones is a man that should be familiar to Field Service News readers as an occasional FSN columnist and member of our inaugural #FSN20 list of key industry influencers back in 2015.

However, as many readers may have noticed across the last few months a new Leadent brand, Leadent Service Cloud has appeared alongside the original Leadent offering – it appears that Clifford-Jones and his team have decided to take all they know when it comes to implementing other vendor’s solutions and launched a solution of their own.

Well, that’s half-right. Leadent Service Cloud is in fact essentially Oracle Field Service Cloud with additional other solutions tailored to specific vertical needs included which Leadent have identified dependent on their expertise specific vertical markets.

The key USP however, is that Leadent Service Cloud also draws on the experience Leadent have in implementation and so they are able to work to incredibly short implementation times of just a few weeks – not bad for a cutting edge solution that incorporates other vertical specific requirements you may have.

“The idea is that Leadent will be able to advise what other products would also benefit a field service organisation that can be plugged into the Oracle suite via the Cloud,” Clifford-Jones explains.

We already had many clients talking to us through the consultancy side of the business, where we are quite heavily involved in software evaluation and various other things,”

“The reason we will ‘bolt on’ other products into the solution is that we will then take what we see as best-in-class for different size of businesses, or different industries etc – and we can then start to adopt a portfolio approach to field service clouds.”

It’s quite a dramatic addition to their existing business so I was curious to understand if this was something that had been planned for some time – was it the classic case of an overnight success story that took ten years to put together, or was it more a case of everything just falling into place at the right time?

“Basically we already had many clients talking to us through the consultancy side of the business, where we are quite heavily involved in software evaluation and various other things,” Clifford-Jones begins.

“We’ve always done the large scale implementations – and with Oracle Field Service we had begun doing all their training – we do all the training for the Global Partners. From that we felt there was a really good opportunity for us to combine our understanding of the industry and our understanding of processes, plus we really understand product implementation – you put those together and you can start to do really rapid implementations.”

In addition to this evident skill-set that Clifford-Jones identified within his own team, there was also the market pull of the Cloud. As we saw in our own recent research into Cloud based FSM solutions, not only is adoption of the Cloud  increasing at a greater speed than ever before, but also amongst those companies still using an on-premise system the majority are considering a Cloud based solution when they next overhaul their existing solution. This is something Clifford-Jones has identified within the market also.

Because everything is implemented via templates we can get people set up and running within four to six weeks and the implementation costs are all rolled into the monthly fee so there is no upfront CAPEX fee

“I think there is a huge demand from the technology perspective with people wanting to put things in the Cloud,” he comments “But also from a cash-flow perspective, people are looking much more at a SaaS model. What we are offering is the ability to deliver enterprise grade field service management software at a relatively cheap price.”

“Because everything is implemented via templates we can get people set up and running within four to six weeks and the implementation costs are all rolled into the monthly fee so there is no upfront CAPEX fee,” he continues “it just seemed a logical progression with us bolting on the consulting part of the business with the technology part of our business – especially with the backdrop of changing customer requirements and changing customer demands.”

However, whilst some demands are changing as the power of Cloud computing starts to gain resonance amongst field service organisations, other demands remain the same, even across disparate verticals – and it is here where the experience embedded within Leadent Solutions comes to the fore.

“As we work with more and more companies from different industries what we’ve found is that in reality field service really is a straight horizontal process that is undertaken the same in almost all industries.” Clifford-Jones explains.

“The big challenge companies have had in the past is that so many implementations were about reimplementing existing processes with new technology and that’s kind of failed.”

“So if you can go in and say these are the best practices and processes you should be using – and redesign the organisation to fit those processes that allows for truly rapid implementations. In terms of industry specifics there are then certain tools that various industries will then want to use, such as GIS, and these can be simply bolted on, as required”

And perhaps here lies the rub – as an organisation known as a consultancy rather than a software vendor, Leadent are more used to putting such questions to their clients, and similarly their clients and prospects may be more open to such a conversation also – it would be a much tougher sell from a software house to convince a company to change their workflow. The more cynical amongst us thinking that they are perhaps just trying to get us to adapt to their software because either it is hard to customise or lacking in functionality.

When you’ve got processes that have been designed and they’ve worked and they’re proven already in your specific industry why reinvent them?

Yet, when we hear the same advice from an impartial and authoritative consultancy then are we more likely to understand the logic of updating workflows and processes so they are in-line with the modern systems that are being used? Quite possibly – and the benefits of this approach are something Clifford Jones is fully aware of.

“When you’ve got processes that have been designed and they’ve worked and they’re proven already in your specific industry why reinvent them?” He asks

“You’ve already done that work and the thinking has already happened. It’s the heritage of consultancy, and dare I say it, our own rock solid understanding of how businesses work and their processes. This allows us to leverage the technology pretty easily as we approach projects always thinking about the business challenges and how we address these challenges – rather than going in to talk just about technology.”

“When you start to think about it much more as consulting led rather than technology led (even though technology is a huge part of it) you can have much more sensible conversations. You can start to challenge people a lot more about why they ought to use standard processes rather than reinvent processes, all because you really understand what it is they are ultimately trying to achieve.”

“I also think, given the number of clients in field service we’ve worked with over the course of the last ten years that we absolutely understand the challenges and the types of processes that are needed.”

Such a confident approach is of course understandable, Leadent have indeed worked with and delivered for some great high profile clients in the last decade. However, the flip-side of that coin is that having made the move from consultancy to software vendor their legitimacy as a consultancy could be diminished.

“It’s a very different dynamic, but that is why we’ve done it through a separate organisation.”

Clifford-Jones replies when I put this point to him.

We don’t want to see consultancy as pre sales for technology.

“It’s run differently, the approach to clients is different to the consultancy approach and we will quite often rule ourselves out of the technology work if we are going into a consultancy appointment with a client. We don’t want to see consultancy as pre sales for technology.”

“Also, generally speaking the consultancy clients we are talking to have huge workforces and it’s not something that our version of Oracle Service Cloud would work for – we are looking at organisations that can have up to 250 field service engineers for Leadent Service Cloud.”

Of course, the Oracle Service Cloud can handle much bigger organisations (for example Virgin Media are one of their clients in the UK.) However, those kind of implementations are a lot more complex – you’re not going to get up and running with that in four weeks.” He adds.

Indeed, one of the many benefits of Cloud models is their scalability which in addition to the SaaS business model mentioned previously makes Cloud solutions perfect for small organisations.

With this in mind I was curious to see if there was a lower limit for Leadent Service Cloud also.

“I guess there is a lower limit because if you have a smaller number of engineers then you don’t need sophisticated technology to manage your workflow. So our view is that a lower limit would be around 25 to 30 engineers. The reality is that below that number, there are cheaper products that provide the functionality you need at that size,” admits Clifford-Jones honestly.

Indeed, this is the kind of answer that you would expect from a consultant, or even from a software vendor trying to adopt a consultative approach to their sales process – but this does lead us to an important question – how does Clifford Jones see his two separate businesses evolving? As a consultancy Leadent’s very strength, (i.e. being small and focussed enough to fully understand both their clients and the niche sector of field service in general), will also always be the biggest barrier for them in terms of rapid growth.

Various research sources including, Aberdeen, Service Council and Field Service News all identify that there is a sizeable chunk of the industry that are yet to adopt a FSM solution

Yet various research sources including, Aberdeen, Service Council and Field Service News all identify that there is a sizeable chunk of the industry that are yet to adopt a FSM solution, whilst at the same time many other field service organisations are now in the situation where they need to upgrade creaking old legacy systems.

In short there is a lot more potential for quick wins that can fuel growth for Leadent’s technology business than there is for their consultancy business. Does this mean that Clifford Jones thinks ultimately Leadent will be more focussed on that area of the business, with the consultancy becoming a side show?

“In terms of revenues I think the Leadent Service Cloud will take off more but in terms of importance I think the consultancy business will always remain incredibly important to us as that is the part that gives us the knowledge that will allow us to accelerate the growth in Leadent Service Cloud,” he begins.

“In terms of the business, our vision is absolutely to maintain the consultancy business. We are doing more than ever in terms of market development on that side. The consultancy side of the business is set to grow by about 50% this year, so we are on a pretty good trajectory to grow that part of the business as well.”

Of course the other side to this story is that whilst this seems a great deal for Leadent – it is also sees Oracle gain wider access to the market as well. Given the recent release of Salesforce’s Field Service Lightning and Microsoft’s acquisition of FieldOne, both of which were of course preceded by IFS’s acquisition of Metrix and 360 Scheduling a few years back – there is a very distinct feeling that the market for FSM solutions is once again potentially going to be dominated by a smaller number of larger players rather than a wider pool of smaller, independent best-of-breed solutions.

I was keen to see if Clifford-Jones agreed with this sentiment and what it meant for the field service organisations that rely upon such technology.

“One of the things about the smaller players is that they tended to do well in areas where they could be price sensitive,” replies Clifford-Jones.

When you’re buying Software as a Service, your not having to invest in a whole lot of hardware, you’re not having to invest in a whole lot of things that you would have had to have done in the past if your were to implement ClickSoftware for example. And that is going to cause a challenge for some of the smaller players

“I think one of the challenges that they will find is that implementation is becoming so much easier, you are able to implement products like Oracle Service Cloud in four weeks, and in the past that would have been one of the USPs of the smaller players perhaps.”

“It is also probably a similar case for Salesforce’s Field Service Lightning and, Microsoft Field Service as well – so I would see some of the smaller players currently coming under threat at the moment.”

“When you’re buying Software as a Service, your not having to invest in a whole lot of hardware, you’re not having to invest in a whole lot of things that you would have had to have done in the past if your were to implement ClickSoftware for example. And that is going to cause a challenge for some of the smaller players.”

Of course, one potential danger is that the FSM solution sector which has rapidly evolved in the last decade, could potentially be facing a period of stifled innovation as we get used to seeing just the same few faces around the table. However, Clifford-Jones believes that can be avoided if the big names pay attention to the partners within their ecosystem.

“I think that all depends on how they use their partner ecosystem,” he comments. “The big difference is that in the past a lot of these big guys have done technology for technology’s sake and they haven’t really understood what the business requirements were.”

“I do think this is one of the problems with larger organisations, especially when they are technology organisations – how do they get the real understanding of the business challenges?”

“I think what a lot of these big players need to do is think about their partner ecosystems and make sure that they take the input from that – because we understand where all the challenges are for field service businesses really easily -far more so than a software provider.”

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