The Internet Of Things And Wearables Are Changing Field Service Automation As We Know it


Expedition 29/30 crew training with astronaut Dan Burbank working with Robonaut (overview, skills, taskboard). Photo Date: June 17, 2011. Location: Building 32A, Room 2009. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

(Image source: NASA)

In the world of enterprise applications, field service automation (FSA) applications are driving much of the innovation in the industry from a mobility, Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud perspective. FSA is a set of applications and functionality that focuses on coordinating, scheduling and assigning field service and support for enterprise assets such as HVAC, refrigeration, lighting, electrical and other physical assets. The end goal is to improve workforce productivity, customer satisfaction and collaboration between field service technicians and facilities managers. Companies that have demonstrated leadership in this space include ClickSoftware Technologies, IFS AB, Oracle Inc. (TOA Technologies) and ServiceMax Inc. We have observed several trends in the industry that are worth noting.

Interoperability across devices, applications, and platforms is changing everything

Field service contractors and technicians need more integrated devices and connectivity among service providers and dispatchers. This workforce increasingly needs to make real-time decisions remotely regardless of device, network or application. Enabling field service technicians with the right information to do their jobs efficiently empowers them to make the right decisions, collaborate with colleagues, and reduce truck rolls by completing the job on-time the first time.

Both born-in-the-cloud vendors and those providers that have ported their applications to the cloud have a significant advantage over those that require on-premises or locked-in solutions, especially when it comes to a multi-domain and multi-dimensional supply chain.

Speaking of changing everything, the internet of everything is changing everything too

Connected devices, meters, sensors and other equipment are changing how field technicians work. Real-time information captured from endpoint assets has changed how we manage the field service workforce. Connected endpoints create not just a security challenge but a Big Data and analytics challenge. The amount of useless information collected from an endpoint asset can be daunting and difficult for organizations to ingest. Companies that heavily rely on contractors must ensure they have the mechanisms in place to guarantee data integrity and share a customized view of machine data based on the technician’s specific relationship with the endpoint device.

The Internet of Everything (or Things) is blurring the lines between MRO (maintenance, repair and operations), EAM (enterprise asset management), ERP (enterprise resource planning) and FSA applications. The influx of multi-dimensional data (analyzing information from multiple endpoints) collected from meters/sensors are either raising the intelligence of facilities and field service technicians, or we are creating a new generation of Luddites. I believe there will be a hybrid of both: applications that enable the art of maintenance (or technicians) while including the automation of machine learning methods such as Bayesian probability or Gaussian distribution to remotely perform preventative maintenance thereby improving efficiency and efficacy through the use of technology. See my article citing Jevons Paradox.

I am impressed with the way that Oniqua Intelligent MRO has recognized the IoT reality and positioned themselves for the long-haul, especially in oil and gas. Other players like ServiceMax with their IoT partner PTC Inc., and Oracle’s TOA have done a good job of aligning vertically to solve challenges that require specific domain expertise. Integration with EAM, ERP and FSA applications will only enhance their service offerings. Of note, it is this analyst’s opinion that IFS AB could be an interesting partner for Oniqua.

Wearables are here to stay

While we are still in the early adoption phase, IFS AB has made a considerable investment in IoT and wearables through IFS Labs. IFS’s main proof-points are how wearables can be used in the context of their business applications. Alerts, updates and processes are still a challenge if field service technicians cannot relate to contextually-relevant information from wearable endpoints. Wearables, especially connected watches, have promise to raise the technician’s overall efficiency and communications with dispatch or the customer.

There is no doubt that wearables in FMS are becoming more and more pervasive, but there are still several considerations that must to be addressed, especially with security, form factor and ensuring data sharing is based on the field technician’s relationship to the endpoint asset. Companies that focus on providing contextually-relevant solutions with a usable user interface will be the ones that win. I anticipate that in the next 3 years, 75% of field service organizations will be equipping their technicians with wearable devices such as watches, glasses or other technologies. This means the applications to support this growth need to step up, catch up and make it happen.