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January 15, 2016updated 31 Aug 2016 10:04am

IoT Meets White Van Man

Opinion: Mark Homer, VP Global Customer Transformation for ServiceMax, looks at how the IoT is impacting life to become the 'new normal'.

By Vinod

"By the next century more than half the world will be vegetarian," says Kevin Ashton, ‘father’ of the internet of things. His point, while stirring the innards of a many carnivores, is that the world is changing rapidly and we have to adapt. Regardless of what you think is normal now, tomorrow will be very different. There will be a new normal.

Ashton was driving home the point to also illustrate the impact of automated technology on business and society. The internet of things is quite clearly ‘the next big thing’ and in the world of field service, said Ashton, there is synergy: "Field service is now the first industry to benefit from the disruption of IoT and software as a service will shift to ‘service as software’, re-shaping the industry."

So is he right? Can IoT change this $18 billion industry for the better? Can we finally put to bed the unfair image of field service technicians as the stereotypical ‘white van man drivers’ weaving in and out of traffic, and costing their businesses money as an expensive but necessary overhead rather than a revenue generator? Can we actually see technology helping service professionals add value to their company’s bottom line through reduced maintenance costs, more accurate service provision and upsell opportunities?

According to a recent report from VisionGain, there are significant service revenue opportunities from machine to machine (M2M) technologies. Of course we know that. Our own recent research found that over two thirds (67%) of companies are at the very least ‘actively planning an IoT strategy’, with 15% of companies actually ‘having an IoT based system in place’ and 14% currently in ‘the process of implementing an IoT strategy or solution.’

Clearly the message is getting through, but what does it really mean?

There are currently around 25 billion devices connected to the internet. By 2020, this figure is expected to rise to 50 billion. The ability to connect previously disparate devices through sensors and cloud-based communications has meant that for the first time ever service professionals have a technology that can actually rip up the rule book. It can elevate service to a point at which it becomes a revenue stream by automatically identifying potential problems for customers but also creating opportunities for upselling.

This will equate to a shift in perception at boardroom level. It makes the service professional an integral part of any organisation. Skilled technicians will soon be empowered with live data feeds proactively meeting customer needs, on the front line. Imagine building a comprehensive picture of a customer’s service requirements remotely, identifying potential weak spots and knowing instantly which components or parts need either replacing or upgrading – and ordering there and then.

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And why stop there? Integrating GPS so that engineers can instantly locate equipment in a large customer building or using technologies such as augmented reality to train new engineers or help with complicated or specialist repairs can only enhance the field service tech’s armoury. Integrated with advanced field service management tools, these technologies have the potential to transform. We are there already.

The reality is that the technology to mobilise technicians already exists. Devices are powerful and cloud-based field service management software has advanced beyond belief. But it is the added intelligence derived from data analysis that will make the difference. In conjunction with field service management platforms, service techs can now access cloud-based, real time tools in the field for work-orders and scheduling, as well as instantly ordering parts and taking payments.

Connected devices and the resulting data stream will only enhance this ability to work efficiently. It will make service companies more informed and more empowered to minimise machine downtime and maximise customer satisfaction as a result. And it will also change the perception of "white van man" in the process.

Welcome to the new normal.

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