Konica Minolta's Journey to Remote as Default

For many organisations, the rapid adoption of remote service delivery into their service portfolio was driven out of necessity. However, remote service delivery is far more than a quick fix to resolve the new challenges of limited and zero-touch service delivery…


Indeed, here at Field Service News, we have been discussing the potential for tools like Augmented Reality and IoT, which are at the core of effective remote service delivery since as early as 2014. Similarly, several companies were already well down the path toward introducing remote service delivery long before the pandemic hit.


One such company was Konica Minolta, which was not only working towards introducing remote service as part of its portfolio but was actively adopting a remote-first approach that completely revolutionised its approach to service and maintenance.


The pandemic hit some of Konica Minolta’s core industries hard – the print/managed documents sector, which had largely moved to a pay-per-print model, was virtually turned off overnight as lockdowns meant office and schoolwork, two core sectors for that industry, were shifted to home-based working.


At the same time, other sectors where Konica Minolta have a presence, such as the medical and security sectors, saw huge spikes in demand for their services, but also the service requirements in those sectors became instantly more complex. Fortunately, Konica Minolta’s forward-looking approach to service delivery meant that they could adapt to the pandemic’s unprecedented shifting sands better than many of their peers.

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"It was critical that we looked at everything, including the products and the pace of our development..." 

So, as the dust settles on the pandemic, and we find ourselves emerging on the other side, stepping into a new normal for service operations, it is companies like Konica Minolta that we must pay attention to. We should listen to companies like this when they discuss the lessons they learned, treading a path that much of the industry is now destined to follow. 


For this reason, we recently invited Ged Cranny, Laszlo Szilas-Neff and Zdenek Vrbka from Konica Minolta to a recent discussion on the Field Service News Digital Symposium so that they could share their insight into their journey to remote service as a default.


“It starts at the factory,” explains Ged Cranny, Senior Consultant BEI, Konica Minolta and a current member of the #FSN20 group of industry leaders and pioneers as we began to dive into the strategy they adopted.


“Any company can turn around and say we have a remote by default policy, and we will put that in place. However, that idea has often arisen because someone’s budget is being cut, and you have to do more with less. Of course, everybody wants to do more with less, every Managing Director in the world will ask for that, but you’ve also got to think about the long-term future.


“Ultimately, with any significant operational change, you will always get an initial 10 or 15% boost, but if strategies are not planned accordingly, that will soon disappear, and you’ll end up back to normal,” Cranny adds.


“Therefore, it was critical that we looked at everything, including the products and the pace of our development. Generally, when a new product comes out, it shows a 30% improvement in terms of service requirements than the model it is replacing. We have roughly a three-to-five-year churn on our products, so we know if we start our policy from the factory, we have about three to five years to cement it in.


“Then you have to build other elements around the strategy, and you need to plan your change management around it. You have to have goals set around how these products will impact your business and service operation.


“With the improvement in serviceability across each product cycle, we knew that demand for service would be reduced in certain areas. So we looked at how else we could utilise our technically skilled workforce more effectively,” he explains.


“We’ve got training schools across Europe. Our improvements in product reliability created the time for our people to be retrained for new services we could develop that leveraged digital services such as the Cloud, IoT, and augmented reality.


“It is vital to understand how decisions and strategies need to encompass a holistic view of the whole business. Strategies have to be consistent from the factory to senior management and then across into each department.


“Remember, the understanding of what service are trying to achieve and trying to create must be understood across the business, so a customer feels confident with what you are doing,” he concludes. 

"The most important part of driving successful adoption of remote service technologies is to firmly establish the vision of the process..."

What Cranny outlines is of course, perfect change management tactics. Indeed, a broad understanding of the overall direction of a business is as vital to secure the buy-in from the service engineering team as it is for the senior management.


The importance of understanding this process as a business-wide change management project is echoed by his colleague Laszlo Szilas-Neff, Head of Service in Cluster East Europe & Hungary, Konica Minolta Business Services, who outlines how when they rolled out their remote service strategy, it was very much a case of winning over the field service teams hearts and minds.


“I think the most important part of driving successful adoption of remote service technologies is to firmly establish the vision of the process,” Szilas-Neff explains.


“What is it that we want to do? Why do we want to establish remote as default? How do we achieve this, and what benefits will doing so bring? Once we have identified that strong vision of what we are setting out to achieve, we can break things down into more manageable aspects to understand.


“For us, the critical understanding that we had to establish was going to be what were the cases where we needed to put an engineer physically onsite with the customer. We realised there were only three cases where this was necessary,” he explains.


“Firstly, when the customer wants us to be onsite and is prepared to pay for us. Secondly, when we have to replace some hardware in the devices in the system. This, of course, needs physical intervention because the parts need to be replaced, and this cannot be undertaken by the end-user.


“Then the third case is when we have to make the device or system enabled to be available for remote services later.”

“Once we had established this vision and broken down our understanding, we established three pillars for remote as a default to be built upon,” Szilas Neff continues.


“The first of these three pillars was organisational. We needed to understand the organisational structure – who would be undertaking the remote service delivery? What was the motivation for that team? How would we be tracking the performance of this team and so on?


“The second pillar is the tools used for remote service delivery. For us, we developed our tool internally, AIRe Link, but we still had to establish how we could measure the usage. It is not just enough to have the tools available; they have to be used, so we made our second pillar not only the technology but also how and when it was to be used.


“The final pillar is then for this endeavour not just to be limited to the service department. You need to develop of a remote service as a default mindset for the whole organisation – which includes marketing, sales, senior management – basically, as Ged explained it has to be a mindset that runs from the factory throughout the entire business,” Szilas-Neff adds. 

"We are helping our customers understand, what are the hurdles and obstacles? What are the best practices?"

It is clear as we get underneath the Konica Minolta story around their shift to remote as a default that this has been a process that is more than just the development of a new approach to service delivery; it is a business-wide strategy, and as Szilas-Neff expands on Cranny’s perspective the scale of the change management project they have undertaken becomes even more apparent.


However, when it comes to the end-users implementing these changes, the service engineers and technicians undergoing retraining as they move from a field-based role to a remote support one, another essential facet must sit alongside communication.

Technology must be effortless, and it must be effortless to install; it must be effortless to use. In Konica Minolta’s case, they chose to develop their solution AIRe Link as the tool they would build their remote service offering around – but why take this more complex route instead of turning to one of the many Augmented Reality tools already available on the market?
“From the very beginning, within our business innovation centre we were developing the solution for external customer of Konica Minolta,” explains Zdenek Vrbka, Programme Manager, Assisted and Connected Reality, Business Innovation Centre, Konica Minolta.

“However, when working on the project, we realised that we had this huge internal customer in Konica Minolta Services and Support. So we started to collaborate with them because we are all one Konica Minolta, and that gave us the opportunity to have very open and honest discussions.


“We held brutally honest feedback sessions and had access to an incredible pool of testers comprised of some of the leading experts for service and support in the world within our own company.


“So while the aim was to always develop AIRe Link for external market, the fact is that it has been developed and refined in partnership with a large and highly respected service organisation. The fact that we are utilising the tool ourselves as we make this bold shift to a remote-as-a-default service approach is a huge seal of approval for my team and proof that the tools we have developed are of the highest quality professional standard,” Vrbka adds.


“By working alongside both Konica Minolta Service and Support, as well as other external customers, we have been able to bring to the market a solution that can enable companies to adopt a professional tool for delivering professional remote service, which was designed by professional service experts,” he concludes.


For those companies seeking to emulate Konica Minolta’s journey, which ultimately is a path our industry seems to be moving towards en masse, it is perhaps this final aspect that makes AIRe Link such a compelling offering.


The technology has been heavily road-tested and offers excellent functionality. Yet, the deep knowledge and experience on hand from the Konica Minolta service operations teams perhaps provide the greatest value to AIRe Link’s other customers.


“Half of our work today at AIRe Link is now working with our external customers and advising them how people like Laszlo and Ged have managed adoption within their teams,” explains Vrbka.


“We are helping our customers understand, what are the hurdles and obstacles? What are the best practices? A big part of our role at AIR eLink is to extract these types of knowledge and experience and pass this across to our customers to help them with fast and efficient deployment of remote support.”


Our industry has been through radical and seismic change across the last decade, and the pandemic has further accelerated this evolution. As field service organisations continue to navigate the ongoing adoption of remote service delivery, the technology we choose to empower us on that journey mustn’t let us down. As Vrbka suggests, Konica Minolta’s own internal adoption of AIRe Link is a massive vote of confidence in the robustness and effectiveness of the tool.


Yet, as with any journey, the path is always easier when we have a guide to show us the way. Someone who has travelled the road before, someone who understands the road ahead.


To quote from Human Engineering by Harry Myers and Mason M. Roberts, “Learning by the mistakes of others is a far simpler and less expensive process than making them all yourself.” This quote from 1932 is just as relevant today, some 90 years later.


With this in mind, the combination of proven tools aligned with the ability to draw on the significant amount of experience and insight on offer from a service organisation operating on a global basis who have been at the vanguard of remote service adoption for a very long time that makes the AIRe Link solution a very interesting proposition for field service organisations heading down the path to professional remote service delivery. 

Want to know more? 


You can access the full interview with Cranny, Szilas-Neff and Vrbka with an FSN FREE or FSN PRO subscription if you want to find out more.


If you are already a subscriber and logged in, you can access the interview on the button at the top of this page beneath a short trailer for the discussion. If you have yet to subscribe, this button will instead prompt you to visit our subscription page, where you can choose from our FSN FREE, FSN PRO monthly or FSN PRO annual subscriptions tiers. 


Additionally, if you would like to arrange a demonstration and discovery call with the AIR eLink team, there is also a link in the further reading links at the bottom of the page that will take you directly to a calendar where you can select a time and date convenient to you.