Field Service Talent Shortage Part 4: The Role that Technology Can Play
Over the past three weeks, we’ve shared our research and insight on dealing with the aging workforce challenge. In part 1 of the series, we framed the challenge of the aging workforce in field service. In part 2, we focused on the opportunity available in supporting a multi-generational workforce. And in part 3 we highlighted the major steps being taken to solve this talent crisis. Now onto the final piece.
It’s easy to say that technology can solve all the problems of an aging workforce in field service. It’s also easy to link every emerging technology with the solution. For the purpose of today’s discussion, it’s appropriate to focus on four technology types that will play a major role in helping service organizations face this talent crisis.
I’ll group the solutions into two primary categories:
These solutions are designed to increase the efficiency of the field service workforce. This means increasing the volume of tasks that can be completed without a corresponding increase in workforce levels. These solutions tie into knowledge expansion as well, but their primary purpose is to improve efficiency.
While most organizations indicate that their field service technicians carry a mobile device, we are still in the early stages of mobile empowerment in field service. What I mean by this is that there are significant opportunities for mobile-led efficiency gains that are yet to be tapped at most field service organizations. Most mobile investments have focused on automating administrative tasks typically completed on a paper form. The completion of these tasks is still inefficient and time consuming, it’s just transferred from paper to a mobile device. The benefit in paper replacement is in reduced paperwork and related management, decreased errors, and faster time to billing. These aren’t benefits enjoyed at the point-of-service, and this is why technicians still find paperwork and administrative tasks to be the least favorite part of their day.
As organizations get more mature in using mobile tools to remove the obstacles from their technicians’ workdays, we will see a greater boost in productivity and workforce utilization. The removal of obstacles isn’t only tied to information access. It’s also tied to information entry. This is where virtual assistants, voice-driven applications, and natural language processing can drive further enhancements.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) has its challenges and its naysayers. Yet, we are moving to a world where most equipment will have sensors that can transmit usage and performance information to someone who is willing to work with that information. Many service organizations in our community are already leveraging connectivity-enabled data streams to increase the efficiency of their service businesses. This comes in several flavors:
- Elimination of primary dispatches through remote resolves or remote support
- Elimination of secondary dispatches through improved diagnosis procedures and information access
- Elimination of unplanned dispatches through predictive alerts that lead to remote resolves or the pooling of predictive work with other scheduled reactive work
In our recent work on IoT, most organizations are making headway on cases 1 and 2, and are beginning to compile the data and tools to become more predictive in their service delivery.
These solutions focus on accessing, organizing, and extending tribal know how and expertise to a wider service workforce. With the aid of these tools, not everyone in the field needs to be a subject matter expert, as they are able to easily tap into the knowledge of an existing expert or community of experts.
The use of term knowledge management is inappropriate if considered in its traditional form that references the existence of a knowledge base that contains technical information, service procedures, product documentation, and other structured data. These systems are still extremely relevant and valuable in extending service expertise. That said, a comprehensive approach to knowledge management considers the availability of a traditional knowledge base with the addition of:
- On-demand training content management (in multiple formats)
- Learning management
- Enterprise collaboration
This approach accounts for technicians looking to learn by:
- Connecting with content
- Connecting with a community
This also requires considering the context in which a technician might be interested in learning. Training content could be extremely valuable prior to a service call, whereas product-focused knowledge could be necessary at the point-of-service.
In our recent research on augmented reality in service, more than 6 out of 10 companies are evaluating the technology for use in a field service or customer support environment. In most instances, companies are stepping into AR to increase the efficiency of their field service operations. With the aid of telepresence (or virtual presence), a field technician can get live support from an expert located centrally. A third of organizations in our research venture that more than 50% of incomplete field service tasks could be resolved with the aid of an AR-like solution.
The telepresence use case is just one opportunity for AR in service and support. In field service, AR has extensive implications in training delivery and dynamic content creation. It can also be used to drive remote support, where customers are able to work with technical support to appropriately resolve service issues without a field service dispatch. And ultimately, it could lead to a better issue diagnosis in order the ensure effective field service dispatch.
Those are the four major technology areas that I would like to highlight in terms of their impact on the aging workforce challenge in field service. There are many others, namely artificial intelligence, robotics, and autonomous vehicles. These tools will have a role to play in the workforce management designs of future service organizations. On some of the work that will be replaced by machines and artificial intelligence, it’s worth tracking the work done by McKinsey and Tableau Public. An area that would be ranked fifth on my current list, given its near-term implications, is third-party workforce or contractor management. As organizations identify service tasks or customers that aren’t integral to the development of core business, the use of these workforce management portals and services will continue to remain strong.
I’ll be compiling the research and opinions from the last months’ worth of blogging into a document about the aging workforce crisis. This document is expected next week. You can email me directly at email@example.com or look for most of my research and work at www.servicecouncil.com. If interested, do take a few moments to participate in our Augmented Reality research project and we’ll share the results with you.