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The big industry debate: Field Service & The Cloud

Mar 23 • Features, Future of FIeld Service • 3134 Views • No Comments on The big industry debate: Field Service & The Cloud

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Having undertaken a research project to assess the current appetite for the Cloud as a platform for field service management systems, Field Service News in partnership with ClickSoftware brought together a panel of senior field service executives to discuss the findings at the iconic Gherkin building in the heart of London’s business district…

There is also a more detailed briefing report available for download if you want to know more – Access the full Briefing report by clicking here

It was a typical British winters day: cold wet and grey. However when a selection of the field service industry’s senior executives came together to discuss the findings of a recent research report published by Field Service News in partnership with ClickSoftware the debate and discussion was lively, engaging and illuminating.

Held in the iconic 30 St Mary’s Axe, affectionately known by locals as the Gherkin, the backdrop to our conversations was the ever impressive London skyline, inspiring even with the cold, persistent rain beating down outside.

And perhaps what better place to discuss the Cloud than amongst the clouds?

The obvious starting point for the conversation was to identify who within the group was currently utilising a Cloud-based field service management solution and what had driven them to opt for the Cloud.

Keith Mackie, Director of UCC Coffee UK & Ireland was the first to offer us his thoughts.

“I’ve been with UCC Coffee for three years and when I arrived they had a solution that was partly Cloud-based but I changed it mainly because of the utility of the system itself.”

The Internet of Things is a big driver. What customers of ours want more and more is live data, how do we feed that data back to them?

“The decision for me was based around the ability to get data out of the system. For me that is one of the keys to any system.”

“The Internet of Things is a big driver. What our customers want more and more is live data. How do we feed that data back to them?”

It was clear that this challenge around accessing and delivering data wasn’t unique to Mackie and UCC Coffee. The conversation quickly turned to the importance of being able to get data from the field and feed it directly into both a field service management system as well as the wider ecosystem of ERPs and CRMs etc.

Mark Jones, Head of Technical Services, Roland DG, commented: “I think in terms of having the engineer turn up equipped with the right tools and parts and in terms of being able to maintain a high first time fix rate, then it’s extremely important. That would certainly be one of the benefits we would be seeking”

In terms of having the engineer turn up equipped with the right tools and parts and in terms of being able to maintain a high first time fix rate, then it’s extremely important.

“We’re not quite there yet, but in the next generation or generation after that of our product there will be that intelligence to take that information. That will also enable us to examine life-cycles of machinery.”

“Typically you see the bath tub curve: when your products launch you tend to get teething problems and you ramp up on calls and then as things mature and settle down you get a really good period where machines are reliable and ticking along smoothly. Then as you come to the end of the product life-cycle you start to see things ramp up again.”

“To be able to have that intelligent data, to measure that, would also provide a great tool for sales and marketing.”

The data highway

Jones’ point again reiterated the importance of data within the modern field service operation so the question was put to the group “Is it fair to make the assertion that the adoption of the Cloud, whether it be in FSM solutions or any others such as CRM and so on is hugely driven by the ease of access to data that it provides?”

John Cullen, VP Global Marketing Brand & Services, for mining and aggregates giant Metso, led the group in agreement that this is indeed the case.

If you can get information on the state of your equipment, then you can optimise your operations, you can know what services to deliver to your customers.

“As everyone has been saying: if you can get information on the state of your equipment, then you can optimise your operations, you can know what services to deliver to your customers.”

“One challenge I see as a concern is that, yes there is lots of data, but I think you can actually drown under the data. You can have access to anything but in the end what is it you want it for? What is the business process that you actually want to be applying this to? If you don’t have that view, I think you can take the wrong path. In the marketing side of my work. I see a similar thing: through analytics we can have lots of information but we can get blinded by,  even paralysed by, the information.”

“The same thing can be true here; you have to have a view of what you want to use data for, then you select the right pieces of data. You start doing it in a structured way otherwise you end up with a system that doesn’t fulfil your needs.”

The question of how configurable is your system is for that very reason. I don’t want to be told what data I’m going to get, I want to choose what data I’m going to get.

Mackie then went on to add further to this point commenting: “There is the question of how configurable is your system is for that very reason. I don’t want to be told what data I’m going to get, I want to choose what data I’m going to get.”

“I might want to analyse it differently today than I do tomorrow depending on what I’m looking for. Am I looking for first time fix, parts usage, mean time between failure? All of those stats are important and you have to be able to configure them very easily.”

Again the consensus of the group was that this was very much a key desire for most companies. As Cullen stated: “Businesses evolve, they’re not static.”

Flexibility

This brought us again to another often celebrated benefit of Cloud computing:  the fact that the Cloud is scalable and Cloud based solutions can grow or shrink with a business accordingly.

Paul Hingley, CMR Business Manager, Siemens, took the mantle stating that by 2020 all their products will have the functionality to send diagnostic data. “Where we are going as an organisation is making our service department more proactive and the Cloud we are developing is completely open” he explained.

The more that you open up the technology, and the diagnostics for the technology, then the more the data becomes relevant and has value.

“The more that you open up the technology, and the diagnostics for the technology, then the more the data becomes relevant and has value. The other problem we have is that some of the large Big Data companies are selling data but there is nothing behind it and that is the worry, because it gives Cloud a bad name.”

Security in the Cloud

Of course no conversation around the Cloud can be held without mentioning the ever present elephant in the room, security. With Hingley raising the topic of a giving Cloud a bad name the conversation was steered to perhaps the one question that has dogged the Cloud since its inception – is it secure?

One of the interesting findings of the research was the amount of people who admitted that breaches in consumer Cloud products such as Apple’s iCloud impacted their perception of the security of enterprise level Cloud solutions.

But what was the feeling of those in the room when it came to the security of the Cloud?

“If you were to ask us what would be at the top of our list of our priorities I would certainly say security.” stated Caroline Winwood, Customer Services Director at Dyson. “We take it very seriously at Dyson across everything from our intellectual property through to our customer information.”

“In my role, I inherited a system which is server based. One of the reasons was that our back office ran this way so integration was deemed easier but security was also very high on the list.”

The success of any software implementation lies in alignment between Operations and IT, both teams need to take on the shared responsibility for delivering a scalable platform that meets operational and reporting needs

“The success of any software implementation lies in alignment between Operations and IT.  Both teams need to take on the shared responsibility for delivering a scalable platform that meets operational and reporting needs while ensuring that the fundamentals of security and on-going support are also taken care of,” Winwood added.

Indeed, Winwood’s point seems to be hugely pertinent in today’s landscape as the challenge for many companies is marrying this balance of the need for security often led by the IT department, especially for a company such as Dyson whose products sit at the top of their field in terms of the technology they deliver and the needs of the business in being able to deliver the levels of service also expected of a market leader.

However, Cullen’s Metso are one organisation that have embraced the Cloud across the business putting their trust within their Cloud provider to ensure their business data remains as secure as it would if they had remained with an on-premise solution. As a company we are actually embracing Cloud technology. Our complete storage and office environment has gone online with Microsoft, so we are trusting of Cloud security.”

” Where we actually see an issue is with our customers and their machinery and the concerns that they have and those come on two levels. First is the commercial level: if you have a lot of data about their operations then you know exactly how they are doing in the market. You know if they are struggling or if they are doing well and a lot of companies feel uncomfortable about that.”

“Then the second area is when you are talking about the ability to get into the machinery and change settings. It has the ability to not only ruin a company commercially – for example, you could make their energy consumption go up – but also you could actually kill people as well by mis-settings. So the integrity and safety of their sites is an issue.”

Given the concerns being raised around security the question was put to Tim Faulkner, VP EMEA of ClickSoftware, of how he define the difference between the enterprise Cloud security against the Cloud in the consumer realm when speaking to his clients and prospective clients.

“Well there have been a number of interesting different points raised,” began Faulkner. “From a security perspective, if a company like Amazon Web Services has a breach it’s going to get into the news for sure because it’s a big company, it’s a clear target, so it’s newsworthy.”

For most companies it’s unaffordable to put in the same level of security that they should expect from a Cloud service vendor.

“But companies like Amazon or Azure, that’s their livelihood. They are investing a lot into the policies, the protocols and the procedures for maintaining security into the sites and the resilience of the systems. They can afford to invest so much more than a normal enterprise can in security measures and most of the breaches actually tend to be within a company’s own data centre.”

“I think media has an impact on our perception but in this case the security of the Cloud versus the security of a normal company, versus the measures of a normal company and what they can afford to put in place, I don’t think the perception is really aligned with the reality that we have.”

“For most companies it’s unaffordable to put in the same level of security that they should expect from a Cloud service vendor.”

One company that perhaps do fall into the bracket of being large enough to be able to build their own levels of security that could match that of a Cloud vendor however is Belgian telecoms giant Proximus. “I think it is also about losing control, or at least the perception of losing control,” commented Marc Cornelis, WFM Lead, Proximus.

“In our company, hosting ClickSoftware and other applications in the Cloud, it’s like giving up all the data, all your core business data, into the Cloud, where you don’t have the perception of control.”

“We have more than one data centre, and we are managing our own data centres and also for other customers. Our point is: why should we host our own data in a Cloud solution without having control of where the data is in the world?”

“We just don’t see why we should run an application like ClickSoftware, which is one of the core applications for Proximus, in a Cloud solution.”

Enabling process change

Of course one of the often cited reasons for slow adoption for the Cloud in certain areas including field service is the existence of legacy systems and the mindsets that often come embedded in such long-standing processes.

As Cornelis explained “It’s about change, it’s changing the environment; we have always been used to having everything hosted in the Proximus environment. We need to change, see how it works and then build up the confidence and build up the controls.”

Indeed, the Cloud has sometimes been referred to as a great leveller within enterprise as those companies unencumbered by such legacy infrastructure are able to embrace the technology and its benefits perhaps more easily than their larger more established competitors.

I could not imagine the cost of hosting all of our data on-site for a hundred thousand service calls. I think it is almost generational, people are so used to their information being hosted somewhere else.

“It’s something of a timing issue and also a generational issue as well, if I’m being honest,” commented Mackie.

“I could not imagine the cost of hosting all of our data on-site for a hundred thousand service calls. I think it is almost generational, people are so used to their information being hosted somewhere else.”

“If I was starting the business I work in now I wouldn’t even consider having an in-house solution, whereas for a multi-national that sense of control is more important but I think as things move on it’s a timing issue. I think as people become more comfortable with remote data access and using data that they don’t actually control then I almost think this problem will dissipate. I think we may be pushing at an open door.

In fact, there is evidence of such a swing in attitudes changing within the market already as Alistair Martin, Director of Product and Services, Unisys explained. “In fact we are seeing the opposite of what a lot of the conversation here is. We typically supply to some of the largest banks in the world through to the police force so very, very secure systems. But we are actually seeing that customers, because of demographics, because of a lack of skills, are becoming more open to look at Cloud solutions.”

“Applications as a Service is an area we are doing a lot of work in now, with customers coming to us now to actually run their applications somewhere out there. It’s a big change.”

The Cloud is gaining momentum as a valid platform for field service management solutions and wider enterprise applications.

As the rain continued to drench the London skyline, the consensus amongst our panel of leading field service experts was indeed very much in-line with the headline findings of our research.

The Cloud is gaining momentum as a valid platform for field service management solutions and wider enterprise applications. However, for those largest companies, legacy systems remain one challenge, whilst a need to overcome old ways of thinking around security and control are another.

What was interesting was that amongst our panel, every member understood the potential benefits of the Cloud, and that easy access to data was perhaps the biggest driver of all. But the lingering fears around security continue to cast a shadow for the Cloud for many and as such the journey to Cloud based computing still does seem to require an internal leap of faith, which is something each company can only achieve in their own time.

Want to know more? There is also a more detailed briefing report available for download if you want to know more – Access the full Briefing report by clicking here

By downloading the full briefing report you agree to the terms and conditions here

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