Enabling the mobile worker, optimizing performance

Aug. 22, 2016
IoT not only improves the efficiency of their business, it ensures their machines are available for a patient’s treatment. What is more exciting than saving a life?
Scott Berg, 
chief operating officer of ServiceMax, chats with us about the experience gap with technicians, the greatest needs of mobile workers and the industries poised to take most advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things.

Smart Industry: In the modern world, why do fewer operations and maintenance technicians have the depth of experience to act autonomously?

Scott: There are two challenges for today’s technicians. The first is that the nature of the work is changing. Machines are becoming increasing digital and less mechanical. In addition to learning a broad range of product lines, technicians must also be skilled in software, internet connectivity and a new set of environmental factors that impact the machines they service. Technology has matured to the point where it has democratized access to in-depth information about the installed base, parts and equipment troubleshooting, thanks to proliferation of the cloud, mobile-device-based process management and the Internet of Things (IoT).

These factors are coming together to enable the field-technician workforce to easily access that information and service equipment faster, but technicians also need to have or acquire the digital skills to take full advantage of the technological advances.

At the same time, it’s no secret that the field-technician workforce is aging—experienced techs are getting closer to retirement. So while the industry is indeed looking to smart technology and connectivity to fill skills and tribal-knowledge gaps, it’s also yielding a workforce with an evolving skillset. Some of our customers are applying full-blown data science to their field-service operations, so it’s definitely changing the skillsets that are in demand among large industrial manufacturers.

Smart Industry: What examples of IoT-enabled platforms most excite you?

Scott: GE’s Predix and the integration of IoT into medical devices are the gold standards. GE Predix is in operation today in the energy, transportation and aviation industries. They are leveraging their experience in making and operating magnificent machines and extending it to propel other industries’ journeys to an industrial internet. The medical-device industry is the other early adopter and contemporary benefactor of IoT platforms. Elekta’s Intellimax IoT platform nearly eliminates unplanned downtime for their cancer-treatment machines. In their case, IoT not only improves the efficiency of their business, but it also ensures their machines are available for a patient’s life-saving cancer treatment. What is more exciting than saving a life?

Smart Industry: What industries/fields do you see most benefiting from mobile worker enablement?

Scott: It’s hard to think of an industry with field-service organizations that wouldn’t benefit from mobile enablement, just given the industry norm of frequently being out in remote places. But I would say I see the biggest upticks in productivity, effectiveness and safety lie within the heavy manufacturing, energy, transportation and medical-device spaces. Because these industries are so heavily distributed—with large, immovable machines dispersed across territories—mobility enables techs to be more efficient in communicating with contacts, conducting business from the field, and freeing them up to finish more jobs at a faster clip. The access to data is also a big one, helping techs on the move reach specific information at any point. For these workers that don’t use a desk as a home base, mobile-device access to conduct business will change their work drastically.

Someone once described the day-to-day challenge of being a field technician to me. The technician wakes up to an anxious situation every day, where they know they need to go out and face unknown problems, alone, and hope that they have the knowledge to resolve the issue. The customer is counting on them. Today’s mobile solutions can alleviate that anxiety and empower technicians by taking away the unknown and not leaving the technician alone. The mobile solution provides detailed service and failure history, access to machine data through IoT, and can even provide real-time, digital collaboration with other experts. The technician now arrives informed, aware and supported by experts.

Smart Industry: What are the greatest challenges for those trying to optimize their mobile workers?

Scott: The transfer of tribal knowledge from technicians with decades of experience to new technicians with a steep learning curve is likely the most challenging aspect. No matter how much technology you infuse into a field-service organization, experience still counts more than anything. To navigate this reality, companies will need to optimize new-hire programs and streamline training to make up for the time it would take for more-experienced technicians to personally transfer sustainable knowledge to their more junior co-workers. The value that mobile technology delivers is providing a mechanism for new technicians to access asset data and maintenance history in order to build knowledge and understanding and apply it at scale. But as I said, that won’t matter so much if the experiential knowledge doesn’t transfer through the ranks, too.

Smart Industry: What are some examples of enhanced mobility with ServiceMax?

Scott: At a high level, what we give mobile field engineers is information at their fingertips that previously existed in back-office, paper-and-pencil records and files. Our platform enables a reality where, for example, an engineer gets a notification on his or her mobile device that a machine is in need of service. It doesn’t necessarily mean the machine is malfunctioning, but rather a series of parameters dictate that the engineer has a certain time frame before it does fail. That’s the proactive service model, enabled by our Connected Field Service solution made in conjunction with PTC. This is yielding great increases in revenues, efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Our mobile-ready platform empowers field workers to successfully complete complex work orders, present service reports for customer signature, and provide dynamic pricing of labor, parts and products in the field. It provides a refined interface, consistent access and service workflows such as scheduling, operations, maintenance information, service history, and real-time communication, regardless of internet connectivity.

Before their relationship with ServiceMax, equipment-and-supplies company McKinley Elevator was grappling with little visibility into their service needs, preventing the right parts from being ordered and their techs from finishing jobs efficiently. After implementing ServiceMax Mobile for iPad, however, McKinley was able to dispatch technicians in real time and empower them with critical customer data, parts inventory, and ordering capabilities, no matter where they are in the field.

We also recently introduced Service Performance Metrics, a measurement framework for using field-service data to achieve business goals. Every company measures success differently and our metrics framework gives companies the flexibility to customize how they attain goals.