Recently I (Rohit Agarwal, producer of Field Service Summit) had a fantastic opportunity to moderate a round-table discussion along with Kris Oldland, Editor of Field Service News about the Challenges that Service Leaders Face today and the future technologies in Field Service and Spare Parts at the Spare Parts Summit in Coventry, UK. The service leaders faced challenges in obsolesce management, spare parts management, data collection, utilisation and analysis along with field workforce training and planning.

The fast technological advancements with reduced time to market have made it tough for Field Service Leaders to manage obsolescence. Predicting and preparing for the future is one of the biggest challenges pointed out with leaders struggling to cope. However, IoT and connected machines have made predictive maintenance easier and helped the service organisations to move into the proactive space than the reactive space.

Even with predictive maintenance and proactive servicing, service leaders point out that there will always be break-fix due to user mismanagement, negligence or insufficient training. Although IoT allows companies to note some cases of misuse and offer training proactively preventing damage to the machines and need for servicing prematurely. The aim is to have enough data to be able to send a technician with the right spare parts so as to prevent multiple technician visits making it expensive and time-consuming for the manufacturer and reduces uptime for the customer.

Another problem pointed out by the Service Leaders was the tracking of spare parts and more specifically ‘Having the rights parts at the right place’ is also an issue being tackled currently by the service leaders. Some leaders are concerned about the tracking of spare parts as they become ‘lost’ with technicians, in spare part boxes or inventories. Technologies like RFID readers, GPS tags could play a big role in actively tracking the spare parts to make sure the parts can be delivered to the right place when required.

The manufacturing, service and aftermarket space today is in a fantastic rush for data and today is commonly referred to as the new gold or oil. Kris Oldland had an interesting take on how this gold can be dug out but will still be useless unless refined and put it in the right form. One challenge with data is also getting data from the right source. Similar to ores to extract gold, if the content of the ore is bad, the gold will be very expensive to extract and the return on investment will be low or negative. Data has a similar proposition today.

It is interesting to note that none of the service leaders pointed out ‘Customer Experience’ as a main challenge or problem for the industry today. With gradual solutions to the problems pointed out, the customer experience by default becomes richer. Improve obsolence management and predictive maintenance can allow customers to have the peace of mind and not worry about machine downtime. With sensors tracking data and smart algorithms predicting failure, machines can be failure-proofed by carrying out maintenance activities during the off-peak hours. Also, with automated service scheduling, the pain of logging service requests and reporting failure will be eliminated allowing the users to focus on more productive tasks. Centralisation of data within the service organisation will allow the back-end to communicate effectively with the field service technicians providing information and solutions instantly through experts in different parts of the world.

Hence, to sum it up Customer Experience in itself is not a task, requirement or challenge but is an accumulation of all the other process working smoothly in tandem to create the desired performances, outcomes and capabilities.