Kris Oldland, Editor-in-Chief, Field Service News talks to Scott Berg, CEO at ServiceMax about why IoT has so far failed to hit the heights it really is capable of and what we more should be expecting from connected assets in the near future…
When I sit down with Berg, he has just given a highly well-received presentation at Field Service USA, perhaps the biggest event in the global field service calendar. He managed to hit the two big topics that dominated conversation over the four days of the conference, namely preventative maintenance and IoT.
However, whilst many of his peers have spent the time still talking about why these are essential topics for field service companies today, Berg is already looking towards tomorrow.
“There is a big move towards predictive service, which a lot of us have talked about wanting to do. I think IoT has arrived on the scene and that might be what finally enables it. One of the things I’ve seen as we’ve come deeper into GE and seen what some of the other assets are around us from a technology standpoint is that the asset performance management concept is really unique,” he opens.
“As a field service guy I didn’t even know that this stuff was out there- I didn’t know that it was possible. That, of course, makes sense as it was used in process manufacturing, chemicals, oil and gas so it just wouldn’t occur to bring that over to field service, but this linking of the predictive analytics fed by IoT allows us to create a closed-loop process.”
“Frankly, now that I know these APM guys better within the GE company, it was one of the first epiphanies we had last year where we said you send that work to me, I’ll send you this back, arm the technician with the predictives that say ‘here’s why your here today.’”
“Another theme is also that this whole IoT thing is making me scratch my head a little bit and I’ve been talking to more and more people lately about this.,” Berg admits.
For me as a technology salesperson by trade it really gets good when someone can see real obvious value articulated, experience it and it becomes a bit of a no-brainer, I don’t think IoT has reached tha
It is a question I have raised myself in these pages. So what does Berg think is holding everyone back from seeing the true potential of IoT?
“I think it’s a combination of things,” he replies, considering the question. “Firstly, people are still drowning in data – and I do think that is still a problem. We see it even in GE businesses, there is so much more data by our own creation that it just gets harder and harder, and so now you’ve got things like Edge computing as opposed to sensors feeding data to Clouds, which is way to slow and far away, so that’s one thing that is changing rapidly.”
“And yes, there are people who have got the benefit but so far I see it as just a one and done benefit. We’ve had good examples of our customers, where they’ve identified a failure pattern, in one case a company were able to identify that they were fixing something too early, they could’ve gotten two more weeks out of it, so that leads to a modification of a service protocol or procedure, but it is still a one-off benefit.”
“It’s big don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t do anything for you next year and it didn’t uncover the next problem. In fact, it may be even pushing a problem further downstream and so then another one surfaces.”
“That’s what is so exciting about the whole conversation around AI and Machine Learning – in that it offers continuous learning. The ability to model risk and put that into a plan – maybe that is the final way to bring IoT to its full potential in terms of service management and to create a pretty cool closed-loop process really.”
“I don’t mean to push IoT to a back seat, don’t get me wrong, there are so many side benefits that are game changing but it is a bit like you’ve planted something and then your like when is it going to come out of the ground, when am I going to see a flower and then to continue that analogy when that fruit first comes out, you don’t want to pick it and then that’s if you want it to be a constant crop.”
It is interesting to hear Berg’s view that there is so much more to come how we implement IoT in a field service context. Particularly given ServiceMax’s role as an earlier pioneer within the space. When he speaks on the topic he invokes a clear belief in the scientific method – i.e. that each hypothesis is subject to continuous testing and re-evaluation.
“We were early partners and integrators with things like PTC and the ThingWorx products, launched connected field service and we’ve had some customers who have seen some real benefit – but why didn’t it sustain, why didn’t it evolve, why didn’t it grow – why wasn’t it everywhere?” He asks.
“I think it is because people were just a bit stalled looking for that extra piece of the puzzle,’ he continues answering his own questions.
One of the reasons we didn’t call Connected Field Service our IoT API is because the notion of connecting field service was not only getting the device to give up its data but also in the mobile device then arming the technician with why are you here
“What was the reading that led to this? But let’s take that further, let’s get an understanding of what the is device doing right now so they know what it was doing yesterday when they were summoned, but also me what it’s doing now, how has that changed.”
“I think that’s that notion of equipment centricity. The cool thing about GE is that it is the world’s largest field service company and it is also at it’s core a completely asset-centric group of engineers, the machine is everything they worship the machines – there are pictures of machines all over our office.”
When I last spoke to Berg, ServiceMax had only recently become part of the GE family, but even then he spoke of an early affinity between the companies and of a kindred spirit at each companies core. Fast forward some 18 months and it is clear that the relationship is proving to be even more symbiotic with benefits flowing both ways.
“I was in a meeting recently where one of the innovations another team was pushing in APM was maximising the performance and predicting the health of a set of assets. By that I mean not just one isolated machine but for example think of a wind-farm, maybe there are a thousand of assets within that fleet. We were trying to establish how we can comprehend the collective health of those assets and how they work together.”
This is just another example of how Berg, ServiceMax and now the wider team within GE are not satisfied with pushing the envelope today but are dedicated to understanding how they can continue to stay at the vanguard of innovation for many, many years to come.
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