Field Services is dead. Long live (digital) field services

remote services, video-calling, field services

Traditional field service activities experienced an accelerated shift to digital delivery models during the Covid-19 lockdowns. As travel reopens slowly, will machinery companies keep the momentum for their digital transformation or revert to business as usual? Roy Chikballapur makes a case for machinery companies to keep the pace in deploying digital tools like remote video-calling to deliver improved asset performance to customers.

Covid-19 changed the industrial world overnight

It was a Monday morning in the end of March. I stepped out of our weekly meeting at MachIQ Software to answer a call from a customer of ours. I was asked how quickly we could build and deploy a video calling functionality on MachIQ Seva for their global field services team. I learnt that with international borders closed and all forms of travel being restricted, onsite service visits had become impossible. Some of the machinery companies we work with have thousands of service contracts with SLA’s to be complied with, and their customers were no longer keen on having externals visiting their industrial facilities.

The most responsive companies adapted quickly

As we raced to build Qontact, our video-calling capability, which we completed in under 3 weeks, we revisited many assumptions on why field services were executed in the traditional way in the first place. What we found was that in a majority of cases, customers were not only able to benefit from receiving remote support but also more than willing to do so. Most customers were also more comfortable and even eager to use self-support tools and knowledge bases than to wait for hours with automated voices on call-center systems. 

A temporary inconvenience or a catalyst for permanent change?

As the world emerges from lockdowns, and customers relax their site entry restrictions. Service providers are resuming onsite visits to diagnose and fix issues that could not be fixed remotely as well as perform urgent preventive maintenance on critical installations. Does this mean that we can all revert to business as before? In most situations, the traditional field services model isn’t  the most efficient means to deliver uptime to B2B customers anymore as we have discovered thanks to the lockdown. They are about to become even less effective in the future. I’d like to share why I believe that machinery companies must keep the foot on the digital transformation pedal and migrate away from traditional service contracts that “invoice for time” instead of the outcomes that the companies promise: Higher OEE at Lower Costs. Here’s my rationale:

  1. Increased travel costs: Travel in general and air travel in particular is about to become much more expensive in the Post-Covid19 era. The peripheral processing costs of service invoices are invisible but will become even more extensive – including having to manage travel costs, restaurant and hotel bills.
  2. Travel and quarantine risks: Visas are no guarantees that people will be allowed to move freely in countries. Quarantines may come up or be relaxed without enough advance warning. There is even proposals for- and against so-called “immunity passports” The systems and processes required for dynamically re/planning service visits will increase. This is especially true in regions that previously allowed visa-free travel and could be served by centralised service teams travelling to customers.
  3. Resource efficiency: Onsite visits are a terribly poor utilization of training, experience & knowhow of the engineers. Only 20-30% of the time billed for the engineer is actually utilised for the service intervention. Even when the travel is local, the majority of the billed time is actually spent in getting to the customer’s location and back. 
  4. Responsiveness and customer satisfaction: What’s more, travel is the cause of one of the most recurring customer complaints: Long waiting times.

In my next article I will explore the options available to machinery companies to transform their field service delivery model and increase the digital dimension in their service contracts.

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