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Are we about to witness the rise of the Service ERP?

Aug 3 • Features, Future of FIeld Service • 1725 Views • No Comments on Are we about to witness the rise of the Service ERP?

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There has been considerable Mergers and Acquisitions activity amongst field service management solution providers across the last eighteen months. At the same time we have seen a rapid rise in the adoption of servitization based business models, which has driven a move away from traditional break-fix SLA based maintenance contracts to contracts based around guarantees of uptime and availability.

Does this provide both the opportunity and the need for the development of new breed of field based platforms – the Service ERP? Kris Oldland, FSN Editor-in-Chief, reports…

For as long as there has been Field Service Management (FSM) Solutions there has always been a conversation around how well a solution integrates with other key business systems in the B2B world it has largely been about connecting through an ERP system, in B2C the same conversation was centred around bolting on a field service solution onto a CRM.

Indeed for many years use of a dedicated FSM system could be avoided entirely either by some clever and hugely laborious recoding of the functionality of an existing tool such as SAP or Oracle for example, or alternatively some equally ingenious means of reworking existing processes and relabelling existing form fields to find a semi-workable solution.

With the advent of Cloud computing and the democratising impact of the emergence of the SaaS revenue model we have seen a far greater and more widespread adoption of FSM systems from companies of all sizes

Something a bit W Heath-Robinson that could involved going from ‘a’ to ‘j’ via ‘e’ all just to get to ‘b’, but something that kind of did the job.

However, with the advent of Cloud computing and the democratising impact of the emergence of the SaaS revenue model we have seen a far greater and more widespread adoption of FSM systems from companies of all sizes in all sectors.

In turn, this increased use of FSM systems has driven further product development and feature enhancements in what is a relatively small but Undoubtedly fiercely competitive sector.

Meanwhile, we have also seen service, and in particular field service rise in importance amongst the executive boards in all areas as the world begins to adapt to the twenty first century and it’s service centric, on-demand driven business models. Uber and Amazon are thrown around constantly as examples of best practice (even though the former have yet to break even apparently) in today’s data driven world, and are very much tools of their time.

Closer to home within FSM systems, indeed the gig-economy is one of a number of new twenty first century additions to the field service equation – as are challenges of an ageing workforce, dealing with a customer base more empowered and more vocal (via the joy of social media) than ever before, plus the emergence of game changing technology such as IoT and Augmented Reality.

With the investment in solutions at an all time high, we are seeing an emerging race to become the dominate platform for the increasingly lucrative and important field service sector begin to heat up with a series of FSM providers including IFS, ServicePower, ServiceMax, ClickSoftware and Telogis all being acquired – and the story in the large part is very much the same from each of them – the investment is intended to help them get to their technology (and sales and marketing) ready to take a podium finish.

This of course is driving development in terms of technology, further and faster than ever before.

Have we finally reached a point where we can see the solutions that are essentially today’s FSM systems ready to step out of the shadows of their business software cousins CRM and ERP and stand shoulder to shoulder with them as an equally valid business system?

Indeed, functionality within FSM systems has now become widespread and diverse that the standard terminology is shifting to a full ‘end-to-end’ platforms. Solutions that not only include field service management elements such as scheduling and job reporting but also incorporate wider spectrums such as parts and inventory management, asset management and reverse logistics Have we finally reached a point where we can see the solutions that are essentially today’s FSM systems ready to step out of the shadows of their business software cousins CRM and ERP and stand shoulder to shoulder with them as an equally valid business system?

With all the investment in the FSM sector are we reaching a point where FSM systems will no longer be just a humble add on for ERP but a mission critical service and business delivery platform within it’s own right. You use your ERP for product-based activities you FSM system for all service and aftermarket related activities with a CRM, and financial package sitting across the perhaps? Of course, the likes of Gartner and other such important acronym makers would argue (and they’d have a point to be fair) that such a system would be probably a bit more than FSM so we would need a new bunch of letters to put together.

My humble suggestion would be Service ERP (sERP) but this may cause confusion with those pesky marketeer types and their Search Engine Results Pages (hence why I went with a small s at the front), but quite frankly other than needing something to refer to in this article, I’ll let the real industry makers work that one out.

The important thing is the concept – which I genuinely think is the logical conclusion of all this talk around FSM platforms.

We are at a level now with integration and cloud technology, where things just talk to each other naturally, or at least they are supposed to and that is definitely the path we’re heading down.

We are at a level now with integration and cloud technology, where things just talk to each other naturally, or at least they are supposed to and that is definitely the path we’re heading down.

With this in mind, I believe the route we are heading down will lead us to a point where companies will look at their mix of business systems and say OK my ERP is SAP (for example) and that handles my production and manufacturing side of a business.

And then my sERP/FSM system – which includes scheduling, a mobile piece (including Augmented Reality), customer management (including CSAT and other customer engagement pieces), parts management, reverse logistics, asset management (including IoT connectivity) and anything and everything else required for running the service and aftermarket side of the business – is in place to run that part of our operations.

Essentially, for a company that only offers third party service, the sERP platform could be all they need as long as it included a light CRM embedded in there as well.

From a field service management perspective there has always been a feeling that FSM has always been the bridesmaid and would never be the bride, that we would always be the slightly poorer relations feeding off the table crumbs of our close, yet infinitely more important cousins in the ERP and CRM world.

But given the rising growth in importance of service in the global business ecosystem, given the amount of Tier A companies shifting their business models, at least in part, to a servitized business model where delivery of uptime replaces traditional break-fix SLAs and sloppy service will result in direct loss of revenue – it is of little surprise that those companies offering the tools to ensure that service is delivered as efficiently and productively as possible have become a major focus for investment of late.

As mentioned above FSM is rapidly gaining in recognition as an important tool within the business software ecosystem, the question is just where will that rise to prominence end – so is the prospect of FSM ultimately being the opposite side of the coin to ERP likely?

Is it just a short-term bubble as the world realigns itself to a more service orientated future and the major ERP players re-interpret their platforms to add more attention and focus to service related activities

Or is it just a short-term bubble as the world realigns itself to a more service orientated future and the major ERP players re-interpret their platforms to add more attention and focus to service related activities and how to optimise those into their own mix?

I recently discussed this conversation at length with Marne Martin, CEO of ServicePower, one of the key organisations within the FSM sector that have recently attracted significant Private Equity investment.

It is interesting to note that as with the private equity investment in both ClickSoftware and IFS, the intention does not appear to either asset strip the technology and look for a quick buck or prime the business for a bigger sale in the near future – which is so often the case of such investments. In fact, in all three cases it seems that the goal is to plough further resources into R&D and marketing to help each respective company flourish. In the case of ServicePower it is very much a case of a boost in resources to help meet what Martin sees as their own longer term vision a lot quicker than they could have done so organically.

Indeed, Martin’s comments on the matter are almost an exact echo of what Paul Massey Managing Director, IFS and Dave Yarnold, CEO, ServiceMax told me when I spoke to them both about the recent investments within their own businesses.

Yes, the cynic in me might see the similar sound bites as nothing more than holding up a business-as-normal-here flag to allay any customer fears and perhaps even more importantly those of prospective customers. Yet, I don’t think that is the case. At the last IFS world conference, Massey (and indeed CEO Alastair Sorbie) made a big point about Field Service being one of the top three priorities for the business in the wake of investment from EQT, given they are an ERP provider with a lot of other areas of focus within their business, this in itself was a significant endorsement of the vibrancy of the sector.

Similarly, when speaking with Yarnold about why GE Digital was the right home for ServiceMax, the conversation was very much focussed around how having access to both the technology of the Predix platform but also importantly the brand power of GE to open doors at the C-Suite level of enterprise, was a significant factor.

Close to a Billion $USD will certainly be part of the reason GE Digital were able to bring the market leader of an increasingly important technology market into their fold, but one also suspects that the opportunity for Yarnold to further expand his vision and ambition for the system he and two others launched in California just over a decade ago was another fundamental element to why GE Digital was the right destination.

Indeed he even commented at the “I didn’t just want to see us end up as part of another CRM/ERP system”.

So did Martin agree with my assertions that FSM would become equally as powerful and important as CRM and ERP in the future?

“I believe so, but with a few caveats” she replied

“If you think about what a CRM does, in it’s most basic, a lot of CRMs are structured around loading in your customer data, their buying patterns, and their contacts – so if you have sales people that churn then you have all that data still. At it’s most simplistic that is what a CRM covers at the basic level. That is pretty straight forward. And if they want all of the other functionalities of a more robust CRM provider then they can pay for it from one of the million and one CRM providers.”

“It’s the same as when you think of a typical ERP – a lot of that is built around finance and accounting packages there’s a million good finance and accounting packages out there and we’re not trying to become a finance – what we are interested in is the use cases around a mobile worker.”

“Give the mobile worker the tools to do everything they need to do in their business. So that they can access what they need to know about the customer, about the asset, where parts are, what they need to do on the  service contracts and so on.”

One of the big shifts that we have seen in recent years is the power of data to transform the way we operationalise our business

“The potential for a lot of this to be completed within a standalone FSM platform – that incorporates the spare parts management, warranty management, service sales CRM alongside the more traditional aspects of FSM such as scheduling and parts management etc is certainly there.”

Of course, one of the big shifts that we have seen in recent years is the power of data to transform the way we operationalise our business as Business Intelligence platforms powered by the Cloud, IoT and Big Data give field service organisations greater visibility into both their customers and their own operations more than ever before.

At large we are seeing a seismic shift in how field service is measured, both in terms of operational and success metrics.

“That’s very true.” Martin agreed when I put this point to her.

“The field service industry really is in a state of evolution. It’s on the verge of transforming itself into both a customer centric focus looking to bring the power of customer relationship management into the field, while also incorporating technology around machine learning, Internet of Things, and more actionable insights from data.”

“That’s also what is attracting so much acquisition activity. To get to the next level, any business with field based resources must invest in technology and business process consulting to move forward. Mobile workforce management is key to any organisation performing activities away from a plant or office.”

“We are still seeing companies at differing levels of business or use case complexity, some still moving from paper or less sophisticated platforms and others ready to move beyond their current technology to the next level technology in order to incorporate actionable insights and efficiencies from emerging technologies like wearables and IoT, the power of big data, and machine learning are also now realities. Whereas in the past they were nebulous concepts, their ability to be incorporated into mobile workforce software is reality today.”

Perhaps at the heart of the current spate of rapid development within our sector is the fact that all of these emerging technologies can be combined to solve traditional challenges. Whilst they can bring value to service operations by themselves it is when harnessed together alongside existing technologies that we are seeing true leaps forward.

There is a whiff of chicken and egg in the question as to whether business models are driving a need for improved technology or vice versa

“Each [technology] can be used in conjunction with products like ours to improve productivity, and reduce schedule costs, improving the overall operational metrics, and of course the power of cloud computing is what enables all this to be provided with greater flexibility and value to the customer,” adds Martin.

But as we mentioned earlier there is a whiff of chicken and egg in the question as to whether business models are driving a need for improved technology or vice versa. Martin also recognises this fact.

“It is key to recognise that the shift isn’t only about technology adoption, the industry is moving quickly towards a more consumer-centric model where the customer experience is the overriding measure of success,” she explains.

“KPIs like schedule adherence and mean time to schedule continue to be indicative of customer satisfaction, however, up-time, customer value, and propensity to purchase additional services are emerging as more dominant, and are increasingly where focus and resources are applied, to improve profitability.”

“Customer relationship management is about more than getting your sales people to sell to your accounts. It has to be about how you delight the customer after the purchase of the equipment or service contract so that they stay with you, and come back for more.”

“We have also seen so much investment into call centre technology, but in reality, customers don’t want to talk to a call centre if they don’t have to. So technologies which improve the experience, like self-service customer portals which offer the ability to book real time appointments, monitor status, and interact with scheduled mobile workers before and during the visit, integrated knowledge management, machine learning, and actionable insights are what drive additional or longer term revenue, driving profitability. Customer satisfaction and profitability are the new reality for field service organisations.”

So the billion dollar question for Martin and her peers in the industry is has FSM become about more than just field service now? So where does she see the industry moving now?

Indeed, where are ServicePower heading now?

“As I said, to get to the next level, any business with resources that travel beyond a given plant or office must invest in technology to move towards improved profitability and efficiency. An integrated platform is also necessary in order to not run a business in silos, but actually with the greatest intelligence related to maximising the overall performance,” she replied.

As Adam Smith said, it is about labour, capital – and now technology. Staff, parts (if applicable), and technology all need to work together for a common goal. This is also why mobile workforce technology should be on top of mind for the C-suite. CRM and ERP technology isn’t enough to have a great performing organisation if you have workers in the field”

“Mobile workforce management technology therefore isn’t only for organisations which offer field service, traditionally thought of as repair or maintenance. Any mobile worker’s productivity can be improved, the customer experience can be improved, while those traditional metrics like cost and mean time to schedule can be improved at the same time.”

“What I see often is that not only does technology have a role to play, but also equally critically, companies must be looking at business and field processes, and how to use the data within an organisation to agree actionable insights.”

The opportunity for our market is exponential – Marne Martin, ServicePower

“By that definition, the addressable market for mobile workforce technology expands exponentially, including any organisation with feet on the street. Consider the Salesforce ecosystem. Salesforce users range from traditional wrench turners, to home healthcare, sale forces offered by big box home retailers, pharmaceutical reps, to financial planners, government, and housing and facilities. The list of businesses which rely on people delivering ‘services’ in the field is enormous and expanding.”

“Mobile workforce management can be used in every one of those verticals to improve the service delivery process, improve operational metrics and delight the customer, which in turn drives additional revenue. It also when applied with the customer facing technologies as well, can bring the power of the CRM to the customer you want to retain and make another investment in your equipment or services after the point of sale. Only mobile workforce management takes your brand and your people to your current customers in a way that CRM and ERP does not.”

In conclusion she adds the final statement “The opportunity for our market is exponential.”

And I wholeheartedly concur with her on this.

We may see a few new acronyms pop up in the next few years but the future of FSM, in whatever new guise it may take, looks to be in a good place.

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