Future of Field Service Management
Here are few things you’ll want to consider as you put together a “future-ready” field service management strategy.
Here are few things you’ll want to consider as you put together a “future-ready” field service management strategy.
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Navigating the crowded, ever-evolving FSM landscape is already a daunting process. Even for veteran IT pros and C-suite decision-makers.
But, bigger tech transformations are already underway. Generative AI is exploding – and evolving at a breakneck pace. The IoT is finally taking off. Innovations in field mobility and mixed reality are changing the CX game and redefining long-standing service models.
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No matter how all this makes you feel, you’ll need to confront this new digital reality ASAP if you want to future-proof your FSM strategy and stay in the game for the long haul.
In this chapter, we’ll look at some of the key shifts hitting the FSM space in (near) future.
While it’s harder than ever to “predict” what’s next for field service management, today’s hottest FSM trends might give us a few clues.
With that in mind, here are few things you’ll want to consider as you put together a “future-ready” field service management strategy.
We’ve talked about AI’s place in the FSM stack on many occasions. It’s a critical enabler for optimizing schedules, service routes, and delivery models.
Already, it’s fueling efficiency, innovation, and service outcomes at every level. It’s also powering more “transformative” FSM capabilities. Think — predictive forecasting, what-if analyses, orchestrating various process flows and journeys.
With generative AI, users work collaboratively with intelligent bots embedded in the flow of daily work.
This past August, Microsoft launched Copilot for Dynamics 365 Field Service in preview.
The GPT-powered AI assistant streamlines scheduling and dispatch offering data-driven recommendations in real-time. It uses variables like tech availability, traffic patterns, weather conditions, and individual skills.
Copilot also helps users accelerate service delivery by drafting responses to customers, summarizing key details, and generating recommended next steps within the body of an email draft.
Field techs will also enjoy the new AI capabilities. Copilot offers guided support for the D365 Field Service mobile app, D365 Guides, and D365 Remote Assist.
Users gain access to step-by-step instructions, images, and videos that help techs move through tasks with ease.
Even though it’s easy for anyone to start using gen AI tools like Copilot, you’ll need to consider how that tech fits into the broader vision. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time moving beyond a few early “quick wins.”
For example, US Steel is building a generative AI solution to streamline fleet management. This investment aims to reduce asset downtime and speed up turnarounds on critical repairs.
But, the company is also using it as an opportunity to help techs focus on “more satisfying work.”
Pre-trained ML models and AI-powered document automation help techs work smarter and faster. Instead, they can spend their time solving bigger challenges. Say, optimizing last-mile logistics or reducing carbon emissions.
Get a strategic view of Field Service. We set out to shed some light on the near-term future by conducting a comprehensive survey of over two hundred leaders in field service operations around the U.S. to see whether there was consensus on how field service teams should position themselves for success in the years ahead. Read the results and an analysis by our field service experts.
Velosio’s Bill McGibony says, “FS automation is all about driving efficiency. Traditionally, that meant automating manual, paper-based, or time-consuming processes.”
Without automation, Bill says, providers start bumping up against the upper limits of how many customers they can serve and bill per day. With the right automation solutions and strategies, it’s the exact opposite. Even just automating a handful of routine tasks makes a difference. Technicians can focus their efforts on complex, high-value activities – not admin work. That’s huge.”
Providers are optimizing things like scheduling, dispatching, and inventory management. They’re automating data collection and analysis. And, they’re using advanced models to prepare for future challenges. They might create automated flows for gathering, organizing, and interpreting data.
These benefits hardly qualify as “futuristic” at this point. But, there are a couple emerging trends worth keeping an eye on:
Low-Code. Low-code is already driving a ton of progress on the automation front.
But, with more advanced AI tools hitting the market by the day, low-code platforms are fast becoming the “superstars” of the FSM stack. These tools allow orgs to make use of their data before it “expires.” They can also incorporate new insights on the fly, and move fast when customers or conditions change.
For example, there’s a new AI Builder tool that integrates with Power Apps and Power Automate. You can add pre-made AI models to custom apps and flows, or build your own from scratch. Built-in templates are designed to support common scenarios. Think– predicting actions or analyzing customer sentiment.
But, you can train them on your own data and tweak them to meet your unique set of needs. For more specific use cases, you can design AI models with Azure AI and the Power Platform, then add them to your components library for repeat use.
There’s also the Process Mining tool, which uses AI to analyze processes, then surfaces improvement opportunities based on predefined goals.
Copilot features are also beginning to trickle into Power Automate. So, now end-users can build automations by describing the flow they’d like to create. For example, you might use the GPT capabilities to create workflows for the mobile field app.
Or, you can use Copilot with the Process Mining tool to scale your automation strategy.
Drones & Robotics. Automation technologies like robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning are fast becoming more prominent members of the FSM stack.
Robots have the potential to reduce time spent performing repetitive, on-site tasks by between 25% and 90%, and reduce time spent on hazardous tasks by more than 70%. They can also inspect commercial and residential buildings or check safety conditions for public infrastructure like pipelines, tunnels, roads, and bridges.
Some field service orgs are even using unmanned drones to track conditions from above and perform inspections. Technicians can fly drones up to the asset to capture visual data on its condition. This helps them perform inspections faster – and avoid unsafe situations.
While automation itself isn’t exactly new, innovations in AI, robotics, and the low-code development space are changing the game. And – upping the ante for providers and their digital strategies.
Asset data has become mission-critical for “all things FSM.” Everything — predictive maintenance, remote diagnostics, scheduling, etc. doesn’t happen without reliable, real-time insights into assets performance.
For us, there’s no doubt that IoT adoption and integration will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
At the same time, tech is changing the game. Sensor-enabled assets are generating massive amounts of data. Advances in AI, ML, AR, and automation are unlocking the value hidden inside massive IoT data streams.
This means, providers will not only gain access to more data, they’ll be able to leverage it across a wider range of use cases.
According to SAP researchers, field orgs are finally seeing an influx of data from their IoT-enabled assets and devices. So now, they’re investing in data science and analytics talent, as well as self-service tools that can help existing staff make sense of it all.
Kevin Bowers, Field Services Research Director at the Technology & Services Industry Association says more providers are leveraging insights to boost service revenues.
Product revenues, on the whole, are on the decline. So, now, orgs are finally looking at service as a source of value, rather than an expense or customer courtesy.
A recent MS ebook also made note of these shifting dynamics.
The equipment-as-a-service market is on track to hit the $131B mark by 2025 – up 35% from 2019. For manufacturers, digital revenues for 2023 are expected to be more than twice what they were in 2020.
On the maintenance side, tapping new revenue streams means providers will need to level up existing strategies.
In a different ebook, Microsoft lays out a phased approach for embracing connected field service.
It’s no longer about moving from reactive to proactive service. The new “pinnacle” orgs should be striving for is something called, “cognitive service.”
Cognitive models use historical data, preventative maintenance policies, and IoT sensors to ensure assets are always operating at their peak. Then, it takes things several steps further. This advanced approach helps optimize production, workforce management, sales, service, and more.
It’s not just predicting an outage and proactively intervening. It’s using asset data to improve all aspects of your business.
Orgs will need to think outside the box when it comes to using asset data.
Developing new business models and incorporating new tools into current processes.
For example, you can outfit drones with IoT sensors that send data in real-time. Users can design automated flows that route drone data to the right technician and flag issues as they emerge.
IoT integration with workforce management software provides constant insight into how assets and techs are performing. That way, managers can help individual workers take specific actions to improve customer outcomes. The list goes on.
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Like most of the entries on our list, mixed reality is definitely not new. But – adoption is sure to ramp up soon for a few key reasons:
Greater data availability. Mixed reality gives field orgs an opportunity to leverage data (from customers, connected assets, etc.) toward a specific outcome. Bill says that “AR is critical in enabling techs to resolve issues during the first visit. It also helps field orgs deal with staffing shortages. It also allows them to hire techs with less experience than they’d otherwise need to go out in the field on their own. Instead, AR tools like Remote Assist connects new hires with senior technicians who can support them from afar.”
Pressure to “do more with less.” Supply chain disruptions and volatile fuel and raw materials pricing are expected to stay with us for a while. These conditions are likely to continue to delay capital projects, and put more pressure on providers to keep assets up, running, and performing at their peak.
In response, field service orgs are investing more in OpEx strategies to stay in the black while they ride out the latest storm.
FSM Senior Consultant, Casey Hendriks explains, “mixed reality allows techs to work remotely. By keeping some jobs in-house, providers reduce overhead expenses like fuel costs or vehicle wear-and-tear. It also allows them to take on more work. Since techs aren’t traveling as much, they can serve more customers within a shorter timeframe.”
Long-term skills shortages. The field service industry is likely to become burdened by the knowledge loss of a retiring workforce as soon as 2027. SAP experts say FSM technologies like AR/VR, promise to serve as a“talent bridge” of sorts.
A 2022 McKinsey survey revealed that service orgs face increasing pressure to match B2C expectations. That means, field service companies must make delivering exceptional experiences a top priority.
A few things to keep in mind as you start designing future-ready service experiences:
Prioritize Customer-Centricity. At its core, field service is powered by human connections. Techs take business to the customer, providing an emotional connection that you can’t get from AI/automation (at least for now).
As such, the customer should always be at the center of all field ops, communications, products, and services.
McKinsey analysts advise orgs to redesign operating models to around new expectations. In today’s remote-first world, that might mean embracing subscription-based service models. Or, developing an equipment rental program that reduces the total cost of ownership for customers.
Whatever you decide, you’ll want to make sure that choice is informed by real customer feedback and reliable data.
Invest in Tools that Enhance CX. This includes things like self-service options, proactive communication, and personalized service. That way, customers can schedule appointments, track technician locations, or even work with an intelligent chatbot to troubleshoot equipment issues options.
AI is a big part of this. But, with generative AI poised to take over more of the customer journey, providers will need to reexamine existing service strategies.
MS keeps dropping new customer-centric Copilot features (in preview). And – already, there’s huge potential for agent productivity, personalization, and all-around efficiency.
But, ultimately, you’ll want to look for areas where gen AI actually adds new value. Maybe that’s making chatbots more “conversational.” Or, teaching employees to use Copilot to clean up their inbox or take notes during meetings. Just make sure there’s a proven need.
Focus on Employee Enablement. According to Field Service News, enhancing the employee experience is critical for improving operational efficiency. For example, field mobility tools that provide access to real-time information and enable remote collaboration and knowledge sharing translate into better customer outcomes.
Bill says he also advises our clients to “implement an FSM solution that’s cloud-based, secure, and scalable. It needs to integrate with sales and customer service processes and your ERP system – so you’re working from one, unified hub.”
Invest in Training and Upskilling. Provide training and upskilling opportunities for field technicians to familiarize them with new technologies and equip them with the necessary skills to operate in a digital environment. It’s not just adding Copilot to D365 CE, it’s making sure employees can use that tool to help customers reach their goals.
Ultimately, all these things must come together to deliver a top-tier experience. Look at VITAS Healthcare. They used the Power Platform to improve the patient experience across multiple dimensions, including:
The reason this project was so successful likely came down to the holistic approach used to drive improvements. It wasn’t only about building a customer-facing app.
The VITAS team also invested in employee enablement and backend orchestration. As a result, they were able to improve business continuity, efficiency, and care coordination.
By embracing tech like generative AI, mixed reality, the IoT, and advanced automation, field orgs can set the stage for lasting success. But only if their strategy, infrastructure, and culture is strong enough to support this new generation of digital solutions.
Velosio’s field service experts might not be able to predict the future. But – they can help you prepare for future challenges and disruptions – whether disaster strikes tomorrow or something big changes five, ten years down the line.