Future of field service: are you ready?
In 2016, big data and analytics, ERP and software as a service were top investment areas for digital transformation in Australia, but only half of Australia/NZ businesses had a strategy in place, according to the IFS Digital Transformation Survey. So has this changed over the last few years? IFS President of Service Management Marne Martin shared her insights on the changing landscape of field service and how organisations need to digitise to drive efficiency and remain competitive.
How do you view the state of digital transformation among service organisations?
While we see service organisations at various stages of the digital transformation journey, I would say there is an overall recognition across the industry of the need for a digital transformation strategy and initiative. If you really think about it, there isn’t a choice — customers are demanding service organisations level up and provide new experiences. As organisations work to evolve to the world of servitisation, digital transformation is a necessary element to be able to deliver on those mounting expectations.
Despite the recognition for digital transformation, many companies are struggling to put an effective strategy in place that enables true progress and results. There are exceptions to this, of course, and we see certain best-in-class companies really embracing servitisation and leveraging today’s digital tools in a cohesive, intentional way — but it certainly isn’t the norm yet.
What are the challenges companies face in achieving digital transformation success?
I see three primary challenges. The first is that companies that have made some level of technology investment that hasn’t gone well get paralysed in determining what comes next. I’ve heard IDC refer to this as “digital deadlock”. Those companies get hung up on what went wrong and fail to realise that they can’t allow that sunk cost to hold them back from the actions they need to move forward. So, we must move past what has been — good, bad or indifferent — to embrace what this servitisation-led future holds.
Second, companies lack cohesiveness in their objectives. You see almost ‘mini digital transformation journeys’ occurring in silos, and this is the opposite of the true essence of digital transformation. For real progress to take place, a company has to look at the strategy and effort collectively. This means alignment among leadership, a pragmatic approach to technology selection and deployment, as well as ample attention on the fact that these efforts are really part of a broader business transformation rather than just the introduction of new tools.
Finally, we commonly see companies ignore the cultural implications that digital transformation has on their workforce. To derive real value from digital transformation investments, acceptance and adoption of those tools are critical. This means seeking the feedback of your employees, investing time and energy into communication and change management, and ensuring you select tools that will actually benefit them so that you build a positive digital reputation. If you think about how much the field technician’s role has changed with the introduction of so many digital options, it only makes sense to be thoughtful about how you introduce technology that will boost employee engagement, performance and satisfaction.
What advice do you have for organisations that still have a fair amount of digital transformation work to do?
As well as ensuring you explore and address those top three challenges, I would offer three more points for consideration:
- Recognise the impact of not acting now. Service is more competitive than ever before — servitisation is not going away; it’s the new way of providing service. You have to adapt to stay relevant — hesitation is hindering your company’s ability to thrive in the future and resistance is futile.
- Your efforts should be led by customer expectations. Don’t make the mistake of defining a strategy based on where you think the future is headed or what you think your customers want. Do the work to get a solid, firsthand understanding of what those wants and needs look like. Use this insight to guide both your digital and broader business transformation efforts so that you can be sure your time and money invested will yield the impact you want.
- Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. The progress of the service industry is exciting, but it requires a constant state of innovation. Gone are the days that a service organisation was ‘cutting edge’ because they made a technology investment every five years. So, don’t set a finish line for yourself, because you’ll never reach it. Instead, put systems in place that nourish that sense of continual innovation — embrace the fact that you’ll always be refining this digital transformation strategy and evaluating new tools that can add more value.
What are the must-have technologies for a service organisation’s digital transformation?
Digital transformation should be viewed by the broader lens of a company-wide effort, and therefore this would include thinking through how every system and function will work together. From a strictly service perspective, you have to start with a strong foundation — a service management system. This acts as the hub for other technologies such as customer engagement, IoT, business intelligence, advanced AI and AR.
Keep in mind that digital transformation is hierarchical, so you need to determine your organisation’s starting point depending on the level of sophistication you’re beginning at and what you want to achieve, and then build your strategy from there. You need that strong foundation upon which to layer — you can’t run before you walk. One of the mistakes we see companies make is to get enamored by the more cutting-edge, ‘cool-shiny’ technologies and rushing to implement those tools without first ensuring that a cohesive strategy and the essential foundational elements are in place.
What your must-have technology is depends on what your present-day looks like. If you lack that strong foundation, you must start there. Once your service management system is functioning well, you can work to add all the functionality you need to achieve the business transformation outcomes you’re working towards. For instance, in moving to an outcomes-based service model, you will need to be layering on IoT so that you can move away from break-fix service and begin to offer new, predictive services. With IoT in place, you may want to look at incorporating advanced AI and ML to achieve even greater levels of autonomy in that new predictive model. You should think about how tools like AR and knowledge management can help to alleviate the pressures of organisations that are losing experienced technicians and bringing on new talent. These tools can be powerful in not only getting incoming talent up to speed quickly and efficiently, but also in equipping your technicians with the information they need to do their jobs well, which has a positive impact on employee satisfaction. The opportunities for digital transformation are limitless, but you must start at your own beginning — focus on achieving wins with each level of progression so that you are layering onto a strong foundation rather than a house of cards.
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