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Prepare for the Unexpected: Seven Ways to Build Resilience in Service Management in Uncertain Times

Businesses that offer services have been – and continue to be – the lifeblood of our economy, but the global pandemic is bound to change the way service is delivered in the field argues Marne Martin, President of IFS Service Management. What happens to valuable customer touchpoints if people must keep distance from each other?

Marne Martin, President, IFS Service Management Business Unit
Marne Martin, President, IFS Service Management Business Unit

How will changing customer expectations and preferences push service organizations to innovate? Technology has a key role to play in addressing these questions. Here, Marne discusses seven service management software capabilities that will help organizations succeed with servitization in a more intelligent, zero-touch, post-COVID world.

As the restrictions holding back business growth subside (albeit there are some businesses that have grown significantly during this COVID period), we see a sudden flurry of service requests, from repairs to installations to consultations and everything in between—and service providers must be ready to seize these opportunities. Customers now want more remote and technology-enabled service. This means that to be successful, your service business needs to be a digitally enabled one, and your service contracts need to be based on a desired outcome or at minimum moving from product to recurring service revenue.

Solutions like IFS geared towards enabling successful servitization will power business growth around the world and enable a swift recovery in the face of social, environmental, and economic challenges as we move out of the pandemic lockdown and embrace the new norm. Don’t take it from us—the 2020 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Field Service Management has just positioned us highest in our ability to execute. This means that we’re not just ready with the tools, but also the vision and the execution chops, to help lead you through these challenges.

That said, here are seven key capabilities service providers will need today to prepare for the unique opportunities that recovery will offer.

1. Remote assistance and zero-touch service

In the past five years we have seen a steady rise in businesses across a variety of industries moving towards zero-touch service: fast casual restaurants putting mobile orders on shelves, retailers creating online pickup lockers, self-checkout kiosks and IoT-enabled fixes for devices like routers and cable boxes. At the same time in the service sector, we have seen augmented reality (AR) become increasingly commoditized and utilized for service functions across a variety of disciplines—as a means to train up employees, quickly arrive at customer-driven solutions and reach customers in a zero-touch world. The case of Munters deploying remote assistance tools in less than two weeks is a great example of how a zero-touch strategy kept businesses thriving at a time when their contemporaries were melting down.

While zero-touch service will likely be achieved through dozens of technologies – sometimes working in tandem, other times tied to the specific needs of an industry – what is certain is that zero-touch capabilities will be a given component of software purchases in six months, making this the most urgent and profitable investment right now.

2. The future of repair: AR and robots lend a helping hand

Repair is a key part of zero-touch service. Imagine a scenario where a customer initiates a remote repair call, and the technician identifies a part that needs to be replaced based on a combination of IoT data and visual inspection. Rather than dispatch a technician, the organization could dispatch the part itself, then provide step-by-step replacement or repair instructions via the AR array.

Zero-touch parts allocation will take time to map out, but theoretically, the infrastructure is already there to make this a reality. The process could be done live with a person aided by step-by-step instructions – pre-recorded and validated using the AR screen – and in the future, even through robots. This might seem far-fetched today, but many industrial manufacturers are already deploying fleets of robots to assist with simple repairs. They will be handling heavy parts, running routine security checks and providing a photo log which is attached to the customer account.

3. Sophisticated parts management

As manufacturing activity, shipping and the supply chain have been disrupted by the pandemic, many industries find that replacement parts, components and subcomponents required for service provision may be in short supply. In the immediate term, this means service organizations need excellent visibility into what parts they have in stock—not only in warehouses, but on service vehicles, at drop sites and at customer sites. Today, this means service providers should look to enterprise solutions that provide this type of visibility to uphold its standards for customer experience ensuring that an outcome is achieved, a preventative or predictive maintenance visit is effective, or a first-time fix is achieved.

Going forward, as zero-touch service becomes more widespread, parts management will need to keep up with evolving systems. The most important part is a thorough, consistent, and comprehensive parts management and reverse logistics system. Once service providers know inventory on every truck, at every warehouse, where each piece is in the depot repair process, and where and how remittance, reissue, or scrapping occurs—they will be well-suited for today’s challenges.

4. Service software: An integrated approach is required

AR and automation will no doubt play a large role in the evolution of the service industry, but solely focusing on these technologies before establishing a fertile ground for innovation can harm companies in the long run. When considering the service system which will provide a platform to these integrations, many fixate on the mix of current capabilities that make up the product rather than how a company’s service systems integrate into its broader enterprise systems.

Service management software must balance customer and operations in a way that customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems do not. For this to work properly, organizations need a flexible platform. With the ability to connect more than 15,000 APIs, IFS uniquely wrangles every area of a business into a single source of truth. This offers unrivaled visibility and control across organizations.

5. Planning optimization: The devil is in the detail – use the data you have

When things go wrong, time is of the essence. Service providers need to be able to dynamically shift planning based on changing criteria, readjust headcount and account for unexpected restrictions in minutes, not hours. But true optimization requires a lot more than routing, which means it is important artificial intelligence is involved in identifying the most effective ways of meeting demand and optimizing customer experience. This goes back to my previous point—when systems are centrally integrated, the optimization engines can take customer demand, workers, parts, locations, expertise and any regional, account or company-level priorities into consideration.

When planning capabilities are catered to teams, it means that they adapt in real-time to service level agreement requirements with certainty, but adapt just as easily to business-level restrictions – such as travel restrictions – enabling service providers to recalculate and manage workforces to make smart decisions. A lot goes into this, but getting it right pays dividends every day.

6. What-if Intelligent forecasting takes center stage

Within planning and scheduling, forecasting plays a prominent role as highlighted by the current crisis, but should be part of any company’s routine. An intelligent “what if?” forecasting tool can help service providers test how the business could cope with a wide range of scenarios that may occur in uncertain times, helping them answer tough questions such as how a large reduction in workforce, or an increase in demand will impact performance. It is essential to matching demand with supply, new business model launches, or moving to an outcomes-based approach.

Providing informed projections of various scenarios will in turn benefit the company’s optimization systems by enabling fiscal and operational readiness and a more proactive approach to resource and capacity planning.

7. Service software in the cloud: A must for the post-COVID world

As the repercussions of the pandemic continue to be felt, it is more important than ever that organizations standardize on enterprise software and field service management solutions that are easily accessed from outside their four walls. A number of IFS field service customers have moved away from in-office work entirely, accessing their software through a virtual private network or connecting directly to a cloud instance of the software. We believe this rise in remote work – combined with the primacy of service in ensuring business success – will cause the existing trend to migrate from on-premise to cloud software to accelerate.

Get ready for the recovery today

While a reduction in service calls was seen in some areas for a limited period, that means an increased demand when local restrictions are eventually lifted – which has already taken effect in some regions. Service providers need to be ready. This might necessitate employing a large amount of contingent labor to staff up quickly, or it could simply require making sure operations are prepared to navigate these challenges.

Now is the time for businesses to evaluate how sophisticated their planning capabilities, customer management, parts management and service delivery functions are, and ensure the systems, processes and people that make up their service workflow are managed completely, effectively and dynamically. With service management software that gives an unobstructed view of the entire service lifecycle, service providers can make strides towards zero-touch service operated from the cloud, and deliver service without compromise, even when critical issues disrupt service delivery.

For information about IFS, visit https://www.ifs.com/corp/.

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