Ed Brennan | 11.14.17
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With customer service expectations higher than ever, enterprises delivering field service are faced with a new challenge. They must deliver rapid, on-demand service at a lower cost in a market that’s becoming more crowded. To keep up with the pace of evolving customer expectations and to stand out in the market, many are turning to the cloud and its elastic computing power to optimize every aspect of service while containing costs.

The reasons why are pretty clear. The cloud promises unmatched flexibility, reliability, agility, and scalability for hosting data and services. It’s meant to be more cost-effective by eliminating the high capital expenses of building infrastructure, and allowing users to pay only for the storage and bandwidth they actually use. And because the cloud service provider maintains all the infrastructure, enterprises don’t have to put in the work or the associated IT staffing costs.

So with all the cloud has to offer, why are some organizations still using on-premise solutions for field service management? The cloud is a complex world, full of promises both kept and broken. The benefits it offers are only achievable when one understands how the cloud works.

In this post we’ll dive deeper into the complexities of the cloud infrastructure and why the switch hasn’t been easy. But first, let’s define the cloud.

What is the cloud?

Simply put, the cloud is a network of servers that allows you to store and access data over the Internet. It’s also a way of consuming IT services and infrastructures in a pay-as-you-go model.  Some examples include Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure.

There are three main types of clouds: Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). In this post we’ll focus on SaaS, a software distribution model in which a third-party provider hosts applications and makes them available to customers over the Internet. With SaaS, enterprises can take advantage of field service management services while only paying for consumption, and without having to spend months building their own data centers. 

What does the cloud mean for FSM?

One of the biggest benefits for field service management is the cloud’s elastic computing power. This means computing resources can be scaled up and down easily, providing more flexibility when and wherever required. This allows businesses to optimize every aspect of service – from scheduling and routing to resource and capacity planning – and yield massive savings while increasing customer satisfaction.

Infinite scalability also means field service companies can expand and contract their offering as customers grow. With a reduced infrastructure investment, they can offer lower price models to keep their customers happy. They can also expand globally at the touch of a button without the burden of spending months building their own hardware and data centers.

Finally, the cloud seamlessly updates with richer features to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change. This allows field service organizations to innovate at a faster pace and gain a competitive edge.

However, to reap the benefits the cloud has to offer, it’s crucial to understand the architecture of the cloud and how it works.

What you should know about the cloud

The infrastructure is virtual

Part of the cloud’s appeal is the mobility aspect – the ability to access data and services anywhere and anytime. But the cloud’s virtual infrastructure is built to be temporary. Cloud applications must be built with the assumption the underlying infrastructure will fail.

If you’re accessing data over the Internet, there’s always the risk of an outage, so downtime is inevitable. How well the cloud works depends on the availability of infrastructure at any given time.

Fortunately, data and services can be hosted and replicated in multiple locations to reduce the chances of failure. Since the cloud’s infrastructure cost is low, SaaS applications can build redundancy into every layer of the application to deliver higher availability and greater performance.

Regulations get in the way

As discussed, one of the biggest benefits of the cloud is that it eliminates capital costs and instead runs on operating costs. Unfortunately, this means heavily regulated industries such as utilities and telecommunications can’t always take advantage of the pay structure.

Take utilities as an example. Since purchases of software that is installed on premises (i.e. local infrastructure) are capital expenses, they can charge the cost back to their customers. SaaS on the other hand is an operating expense, and utilities are incentivized to keep these costs down because they can’t be paid for with rate increases. So although utilities are beginning to embrace the cloud, the decision is not theirs alone—or financially viable—to make.

Other considerations holding enterprises back

Reluctance to move mission-critical applications

Mission-critical applications are the applications that enterprises need to operate. So when it comes to transferring this data, there’s no room for error. Being said, these are typically the last applications that enterprises have been willing to move.

But as the advantages of the cloud continue to strengthen, eventually the only way to consume applications will be through a cloud deployment model. This is forcing even enterprises that are slow to move to look into migrating these critical applications to the cloud. Luckily, technology has been making strides in ensuring a seamless migration to the cloud.

Limited operational control over data

While the cloud takes the stress off in-house maintenance and operation of the system, it still means someone else is looking after your data. The cloud provider does everything, including performing updates, maintenance, and managing security.

Relying on a third party to handle sensitive data feels uncomfortable to some. But in reality the cloud provider has better means to deliver security for an enterprise. Instead of just one or two IT employees securing the data center, they have large teams solely dedicated to security and keeping up with the latest threats.

And if you’re worried about these people getting hold of your company’s data, you don’t have to be. The cloud provider teams generally don’t have access to applications at the tenant level, so they’re unable to access data.

IT job security

If the cloud providers do everything from building and maintenance, you’re probably wondering what’s left for the in-house IT team. Surely you don’t want to let go of your entire IT team, and they definitely don’t want to lose their jobs.

But though the cloud reduces investment on IT employees to manage the system, there’s still a need for their skills and an in-house team. But there will be a role shift and new skills to learn. Rather than focusing on hands-on technical work, the IT team will focus more on service management and mediate between business units and the cloud service providers.

Change management considerations

Just as the IT team will have to adapt and learn new skills, so will the rest of the company. Notably there will be a need for employees to understand security best practices, as well as the new financial model that comes with the cloud, since this will affect budgeting.

First, according to Intel Security’s survey, 49% of businesses are delaying cloud deployment due to a cybersecurity skills gap. Though the cloud provider implements security measures, it’s crucial that the entire company, fueled by IT, is vigilant about security practices. There’s still a need for secure authentication methods, knowledge about privacy and data requirements, and of course strong and secure passwords.

Likewise, while you’re likely saving costs using the cloud, the pay structure is different. Instead of spending a large amount up front and then paying a regular annual fee, you’ll instead be paying a smaller up front cost and then pay for usage. It will be harder to forecast spending because the pricing depends on factors such as how much it’s being used, how many subscribers there are, and which modules are turned on.

There’s no denying the cloud is the future of field service management. A mobile workforce needs on-the-go access to relevant information and management software at all times. And they require the availability and uptime the cloud has to offer. But not everyone’s there yet. Before anyone can completely reap the benefits of the cloud there needs to be a better understanding of the complex infrastructure, changes in regulation, and a willingness to adapt.

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