Top 7 Field Service Trends Redefining the Industry

Explore the biggest trends shaping field service management, from connected IoT devices to remote support via AR.

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    Technology is transforming field service management in big ways. It’s shattering long-established norms and dismantling service models that, for better or worse, have been with us for decades.

    We’ve already seen similar transformations play out in other industries. It’s just that, the field services sector, as a single entity, is at least a decade late to the digital game.

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    That means, we already know that tech can increase efficiencies, cut costs, enable proactive service models, and, most of all, improve customer experiences.

    Still, when you’re looking at an industry that, historically, has operated on its own terms and timelines, it’s hard to convince business leaders that going the extra mile — either in terms of effort or investment — is worth it.

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    After all, most providers are probably still competing with companies that haven’t made much progress on the DX front themselves.

    Explore the latest field services trends that are shaping the sector today. Velosio’s Field Service team will also weigh in with predictions and insights gleaned from their own expertise and interactions with actual clients.

    1. Connected Field Service Goes Fully Mainstream

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    Connected Field Service is a proactive, predictive service model that uses IoT, inventory, scheduling, and customer account data to drive better outcomes.

    This “smart” approach to maintenance runs in direct contrast with traditional, reactive service models, which often result in unnecessary downtime, extra expenses, safety risks, and reputational damage, among other serious problems.

    While the technology has been around for a while, the IoT is just now gaining traction among field service companies. Data from one recent report found that 81% of industry leaders expect their teams will be using smart, connected solutions within the next five to ten years.

    A lot of this has to do with the fact that tech is becoming better, cheaper, and easier to use. But — much of this rise in adoption also links back to today’s pressure cooker market conditions. The modern field provider just can’t compete without staggering amounts of IoT data.

    The idea is, IoT devices and sensors can be embedded into equipment and assets, allowing field providers to continuously monitor their performance, capture insights, and detect & respond to problems before they happen.

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    2. Remote, Hybrid Support Trends in Field Service

    Remote support isn’t new.

    What is new, however, is that field service organizations are finally starting to view remote/hybrid solutions like AR and VR through a more strategic lens.

    “With COVID, there was this whole explosion around remote assistance. Now, companies are working with fewer people and limited resources. So, the need to reduce travel time and service costs will drive this demand up. IoT and HoloLens are great examples that can change the game on the ground,” says Dynamics 365 CE Practice Director Jason Wietharn.

    Senior Consultant Casey Hendriks adds, “already, we’re seeing more field providers embrace remote assist technologies. This allows techs to help more customers in less time and avoid the hassle — and the overhead costs — of commuting. ”

    Consulting Manager Bill McGibony agrees, noting that mixed reality solutions may help solve some of the bigger, existential problems facing the field service industry. Think — talent shortages, training, and an aging workforce.

    Bill says, “‘Greener’ techs can lean on tools like Remote Assist or Guides to access resources and connect with senior techs to fill gaps in their knowledge and deliver customer outcomes — without putting the company at risk.”

    Rogers Electric & Machine, an industrial equipment service provider was having problems accommodating last-minute emergency requests. The company is based in New Brunswick but serves customers all over the east coast of Canada.

    In some instances, machines would break down, and because there was no one with the right skills available, Rogers would have to fly someone out to fix the problem. That meant, the company was losing up to $12,000 in travel expenses for each emergency call. Meanwhile, their customers were often looking at six-figure losses per every hour of downtime.

    Today, the company uses a mixed reality support solution to help less-experienced techs tackle emergency calls. Field techs wear HoloLens headsets and can call senior technicians in the office when they run into trouble.

    Senior techs then use Windows devices to answer calls and see what workers are seeing and can share resources like diagrams and CAD drawings, which appear as holograms in their “physical” workspace.

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    On average, taking emergency services remote has saved Rogers $7,000 per call, and saved its customers between three and 17 hours of very costly downtime.

    3. More Field Orgs Go All-In on Servitization & Other “Tech-Centric” Delivery Models

    Servitization is a hot topic right now, but this model dates back at least to the 1980s.

    How it works is, customers pay a fixed fee to the provider for every unit of service they consume. Meanwhile, the provider takes care of all the operating costs — and shoulders the burden of managing whatever resources they need to deliver service. Basically, it’s the same business model most SaaS companies and cloud providers’ use.

    According to the State of Field Service report, companies are increasingly looking at service as a revenue engine, as opposed to a cost center. It’s a way to enhance the customer experience — and thus generate more predictable cash flow.

    For many field orgs, servitization also represents an opportunity to diversify revenue streams. In some cases, manufacturers and distributors are embracing this model to extend the customer lifecycle. So, the relationship continues long after the initial conversion.

    Beyond servitization, field service orgs are also exploring other opportunities to bring in more revenue.

    4. Customer Self-Service is the Norm

    Customer self-service is another “trend” that, at least on the surface, seems far too stale for any “tech-centric” roundup. But, again, recent innovations have made things like customer portals and supportive chatbots more interesting than they were even just a year ago.

    Right now, we’re seeing dynamics between customers and companies continue to evolve. Per usual… Er, sort of.

    See, customers have long expected e-commerce brands, airlines, SaaS providers, hotels, car dealerships, and literally any organization that’s not either linked to the government, a public utility, or an old school field org.

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    What’s changed is, customers now expect more from their field providers. They expect to have control over their account, access to booking and troubleshooting resources, and the ability to submit a request and track its status. They also want real-time ETAs and an estimated duration for each service – those eight-hour windows of old won’t cut it.

    Now, field service providers are finally ramping up investments in customer self-service options like booking, knowledge base resources, and intelligent chatbots. Customers can troubleshoot issues, schedule service, or find answers to their questions without hopping on the phone during “business hours.”

    Principal Consultant Dave Sigler says companies might focus on “building automations that alert customers about service requests with resource assignment updates and ETAs.”

    D365 Field Service users can configure the in-app customer portal to enable self-scheduling, ticket management, and real-time technician tracking.

    Danish energy company, Watts uses its connected IoT capabilities to help customers help themselves. Or, in this case, fight climate change. The company used several Azure solutions to build a smart app that enabled consumers to track energy consumption in real-time. This, in turn, allowed customers to take really specific actions to lower their monthly bill – or reduce personal emissions.

    Another option is building generative bots via Power Virtual Assistants (generative capabilities are currently in preview). You don’t need to worry about training the algorithm, but you do need to think about what data sources and content you “feed” your bots.

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    5. Generative AI Enters the Fold in Field Service Trends

    Since OpenAI’s ChatGPT was introduced to the masses last November, generative AI has dominated headlines, sparked a global conversation, and forced us all to confront what this new class of powerful robots means for humanity going forward.

    It’s only a matter of time before AI chatbots start transforming the FSM stack.

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    According to McKinsey experts, generative AI can “automate, augment, and accelerate” work (like, just in general). In a recent report, analysts opted to focus on the ways this technology can support human workers, as opposed to replacing them.

    Use cases include using AI tools for fraud detection, using a chatbot to answer questions, providing guided tutorials for, say, troubleshooting an issue or assembling a piece of equipment, generating lines of code, or correcting grammatical errors in a piece of content.

    In field service management, generative AI can be applied to a variety of use cases, including:

    • Capturing, Analyzing, & Operationalizing Data. AI tools can be used to gather historical data from internal and external data sources. They can also surface valuable insights, unexpected patterns, and opportunities for improvement.
    • Troubleshooting Issues. Generative AI can help support agents diagnose problems while chatting with customers. For example, bots might serve up a dynamic checklist that walks them through a series of steps, and delivers possible solutions based on customer input.
    • Generative AI can also be used to guide field techs through routine service calls or inspections — both in person and online.
    • Job Prioritization. Generative AI and ML can prioritize jobs based on business objectives, technician skills, customer preferences, and other key factors.
    • The list goes on.

    No matter how providers feel about these increasingly powerful chatbots, generative AI is here,

    and will likely be as embedded (if not more) into our digital lives as search engines and smartphone apps are today.

    6. Hyper-Automation is Now a Core Competency

    Customer Experience and AIBy now, most service providers are likely using AI automation in some capacity. Think – automating simple tasks like data entry, billing, or approvals.

    Honestly, that’s great. Simple automations are one of the first big steppingstones toward bigger, better transformations.

    But, field service companies must move beyond basic efficiency gains and commit to building a holistic, goal-oriented automation strategy – aka “hyperautomation.”

    So, the term “hyperautomation” was coined by Gartner to describe a strategy that goes further the typical “ad-hoc” approach to automation. It combines AI, ML, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and other advanced technologies that work together to streamline and automate processes wherever possible.

    Unlike “regular” automation, which replaces manual tasks with automated workflows, hyperautomation uses embedded intelligence to scale and improve automation efforts over time, eventually, without human intervention.

    Senior Consultant Casey Hendriks, “thanks to emerging tech like automation and IoT, technicians won’t be drowning in manual tasks for long.”

    But, Casey says, “techs will also need to embrace new ways of working. For example, SCADA technicians now receiving fault codes in real-time will already know what the problem is before arriving on-site.”

    As of November 2021, the global hyperautomation market was projected to hit $46.4B by 2031 – at an annual rate close to 22%. Those numbers have a lot to do with the rise of AI, ML, and big data – plus the many crushing pressures that come with the territory.

    It’s also worth noting that these projections came out a full year before Chat-GPT-3 burst on the scene. Now, generative AI is popping up everywhere.

    On the Microsoft side, it’s embedded into Power Apps and Power Virtual Assistants, among many other solutions. And – companies like Salesforce, SAP, and IBM are breaking into this space, too. In other words, automation is changing how work is done as we speak

    7. Predictive Analytics & Simulations Are Now FSM Essentials

    The State of Field Service report we mentioned above found that predictive analytics and modeling capabilities are quickly emerging as must-have FSM essentials. Over 40% of survey respondents say they already have plans to implement predictive modeling, and another 16% say it’s on their wishlists.

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    Analysts point out that predictive modeling can be used to make intelligent decisions about how to monetize “as a service” offerings or determine the best way to bill customers – say, flat-fee monthly subscription vs. a consumption-based model.

    But, according to McKinsey, as of January 2022, only a fraction of the data businesses (all kinds, not just field service orgs) was actually ingested, processed, and analyzed in real-time. So, companies end up falling back on familiar, analog processes or using new tools in old, inefficient ways.

    A lot of this points back to the limits of legacy tech. Experts say outdated architecture can’t keep up with the computational demands of running the sophisticated, real-time analyses that create a competitive advantage.

    For example, maintenance teams need real-time insights into how physical assets are performing, so that they can detect and respond to issues in real-time.

    Business leaders can also use predictive analytics tools to determine the potential impact of, say, adding new outcomes-based services to their existing catalog. But – they need access to accurate, complete data to reliably make decisions that produce a specific outcome.

    Velosio worked with Phillips Corporation to modernize existing service operations by replacing their legacy on-prem Dynamics platform with a new solution built on D365 Field Service, Marketing, and Sales.

    The upgrade enabled the Phillips team to improve process efficiency and better manage their field resources. But – more than that, the integrated system paved the way for data-driven innovation and growth.

    Final Thoughts

    Already, the rise of AI — along with the IoT, automation, and the flood of real-time data — has raised the bar for what it takes to “win” in the digital age. Everyone is feeling the pressure, to be sure.

    But — the field service sector has long been a bit behind the curve when it comes to digital.

    Meaning, companies just now embarking on their first “digitization journey,” may feel like they don’t have time to work toward “transformation” at their own pace. Forget about figuring out how to work with generative chatbots or roll out a hyperautomation strategy that works.

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