One of the critical responses to the impact of the pandemic was the shift to remote support service. It was a tool in the service operations bag that for most companies at the beginning of 2020 was at best underused and at worst entirely underdeveloped. However, as we reach the midpoint of the year that has changed dramatically - but will remote-first become a foundational pillar in the new normal?
On reflection of the response to the global lockdowns, perhaps one thing that was both surprising but also showed the sheer adaptability of the world of industry at large was just how quickly we were able to shift to widespread remote working across many industries. Of course, the technology was already available, but the mass adoption of remote working was as swift as it was impressive, even in the face of issues of scale and increasing bandwidth.
As Tony Chapman, General Manager, Customer Services, Siemens commented, “I think we’re quite fortunate in Siemens that everybody was already on laptops and quite a lot of the teamwork from home and we are all geared up to be able to work from home.
“So we were able to pick that up early and got all the tools in place quickly. But again, Siemens is a very big organization so we had to put a bit of a team together to increase bandwidth and you’re bringing new tools and that remote collaboration mindset.”
"The service industry needs to be looking at how we repurpose in our technicians..."
- Ged Cranny, Konica Minolta
However, of course, when it comes to field service delivery, almost universally the preference for service providers and customers was largely weighted towards on-site service delivery. Yet, in late Q1 2020 this shift changed dramatically. At the height of the lockdowns, remote first wasn't just a preference, in many instances it became the only realistic option.
In the wake of this, and with the persistent threat of continuing localised lockdowns as regions fear a 'second-wave' there is much thinking around whether the shift to a remote first approach to service delivery should become a default and also subsequently what that means to the role of the service engineer.
As Ged Cranny, Konica Minolta, explained “The service industry needs to be looking at how we repurpose in our technicians. Our industry had some issues before Covid 19 that we already needed to tackle. We have ageing workforces and we are not attracting people to field service.
“So at Konica Minolta, the impact of the pandemic has meant we have had to accelerate our second line support (shift left). It’s another question that has been magnified by all this - change the culture and use the tools already in place to accelerate the adoption of our first line and the second line support tools to reduce the need for site visits utilising the field service technicians as virtual desks to solve issues without leaving home for the safety of customers and employees .
"One of the most significant issues a lot of the companies that I have spoken to are facing currently is making sure that they’re able to get onto the customers’ sites..."
- Daniel Brabec, ServiceMax
"It has reached the point where we’re now need to think about 'support to remote by default' from factory and PDI across installation and customer contracts. The drive has to be for uptime delivery without field intervention and we must move from field based support with down time delays for travel and capacity issues to remote monitoring and support as default and field support as a back stop not the lead tool in our armoury."
This is something that was echoed by Daniel Brabec, Director, Digital Transformation, ServiceMax, during the Think Tank session.
“One of the most significant issues a lot of the companies that I have spoken to are facing currently is making sure that they’re able to get onto the customers’ sites.
“They have to consider now if they can somehow get into the site between the hours of midnight and 5 am to come in and work on a piece of equipment when maybe no one’s there.
“So many of them are now using a lot more of the triage and remote diagnostics and services and echoing what Ged has said, repurposing staff to create extra call centre capacity and then making sure that people are there to avoid that dispatch avoid having to send out a technician except for in absolute emergencies.”
“In the essence, I think we were in a particular journey of development in using more digital technology, adapting our service business models and value propositions around them and that has just been massively accelerated at this moment," added Jan van Veen, Founder, moreMomentum
“I think it’s always good to keep in mind in the essence that there are three different types of value propositions - do it for me, and do it with me, or I want to do with myself..."
- Jan van Veen, MoreMomentum.
“Maybe we will see a continued increase in these digital-first approaches, maybe less as things begin to revert to a degree towards what they were before - in the end, time will tell when things start getting more normal. If that is we go back to ‘normal," he added.
One of the key questions here is where the value propositions of the new normal may lie. As Cranny commented there is a genuine drive towards the very valid argument of uptime being the greater true value to an organisation and this may be where the future lies. However, there are also numerous other benefits for the service provider and customer alike that are delivered by the site visit that are perhaps harder to replace via digital means.
“I think it’s always good to keep in mind in the essence that there are three different types of value propositions - do it for me, and do it with me, or I want to do with myself," Van Veen commented. "That outlook may emerge from our customers may change in the short term, the midterm and maybe even forever.
“On the other hand, these are typical kind of waves. So whenever something of this significance happens, we tend to see certain market sectors moving more towards a ‘do it myself,’ mentality. In contrast, others may go the other way and want to completely outsource a particular aspect of the operation to make sure it remains optimised.
“But in the end, there’s will still be hands-on machine required for maintenance and issue resolution. But the question is now does the client wants to do it themselves? Do they want to have a local service provider do the work with your support? Or are they still going to depend on you to resolve the issue physically?”
All members of the Field Service Think Tanks are speaking from their own personal opinions which are not necessarily reflective of the organisations they work for.
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