Cloud-Based Field Service Apps Cut Downtime
Panasonic knows how important it is for field services workers to have reliable, resilient hardware to support the work they do. In this interview, Manufacturing Engineering explores the cloud-based applications and IoT technologies for those devices that can ultimately drive better customer experiences.
Manufacturing Engineering: How important is the software element in handling field service operations for discrete manufacturers?
Mike Pandl: Field service software plays an increasingly important role for discrete manufacturers and their customers, particularly for those whose products, equipment or machinery are mission-critical. Because field service systems are the central mechanism by which customer service interactions takes place, including calls and other communications, schedules, work history, customer, product and personnel data, their importance can’t be overstated. Whether it’s medical, construction or any other type of capital equipment, repairs requiring downtime come at a high cost for customers and manufacturers. Further, leading manufacturers are innovating with servitization-incorporating service as a central component of their product offering – an approach which amplifies the importance of service performance and visibility.
Also common are scenarios where a manufacturer’s field services are delivered through a dealer network. In these cases, software can help manufacturers and their dealers collaborate to deliver a consistent, high-quality customer experience that brings mutual benefit.
ME: Your company recently released a new cloud-based application, Service Pro for NetSuite ERP. Describe this new MSI app. What does it offer manufacturing and distributors?
Pandl: Service Pro for NetSuite is a new ‘Built for NetSuite’ SuiteApp that offers manufacturers and distributors servicing equipment and machinery assets with a complete, integrated cloud suite for managing their field service work, including repair, preventive maintenance, installations and inspections. Manufacturers and distributors place a high importance on connectivity between their field service and ERP systems, and MSI has responded to this need by building integrations with industry-leading ERP providers, including NetSuite and Sage.
For distributors, the Service Pro for NetSuite partnership gives them a robust system before and after a product sale. NetSuite for Distributors helps them manage the sale, while Service Pro’s field service management integration handles the post-sale field service and support aspects, so distributors can benefit from long-term customer engagement throughout the life of their product.
ME: How critical is using cloud-based applications for field service management?
Pandl: For service organizations performing work in the field, the cloud’s importance has increased dramatically as a connective element for each of the rapidly-advancing technologies that surround a field service operation. Today, a field service management system needs to be able to communicate automatically with a variety of external technologies such as apps on mobile devices in the hands of technicians, vehicles for GPS location and third-party business systems such as ERP systems for important integrations. Cloud-based systems greatly simplify these efforts.
ME: What manufacturing companies are best at implementing such service apps, and how can this technology boost productivity and extend machinery life?
Pandl: The companies that are best at implementing and using service apps have strong teams with both a vision for improving the customer’s service experience, and the organizational commitment to lead internal service transformation initiatives.
These companies know that major gains in productivity and machinery life are available through ‘connected’ field service systems. The first and most important connection manufacturers are tackling is a centralized field service system that’s always connected to the field – continuously communicating with field technicians the information they need to complete their work, whether it’s repair, inspection, preventive maintenance or installation, on the first visit.
The second main need manufacturers have is a tight integration between their primary system of record – typically their ERP system – and field service for seamless transition of customer, parts/inventory and invoicing data.
And, the most exciting connection manufacturers see is that of a field service system to usage, performance and maintenance information generated by their own machines through telematics. Customers and manufacturers both prefer preventive maintenance ‘before failure’ to repair ‘after failure,’ and as machines become smarter, manufacturers plan to utilize that information to become more proactive, helping customers avoid downtime.
Many large manufacturers, like Caterpillar, are taking big steps to improve product support across their dealer network. With the right service technology connecting their business, dealers can use big data to anticipate problems, schedule preventive and predictive maintenance, and help customers manage their equipment fleets more efficiently.
ME: What manufacturing industries are implementing this class of field service software, and how widespread are these deployments to date?
Pandl: Manufacturers across a wide spectrum of industries are implementing transformative field service technologies with systems like Service Pro from MSI. While it is not uncommon for manufacturers to have back-office legacy systems in place that track core aspects of field service, such as customers, inventory and assets, far less common are those manufacturers that have fully modernized their service operation, from mobile and scheduling to back office and loT [Internet of Things].
We are still in the early stages of field service adoption (only about 25 percent of companies have adopted an loT solution to help them manage service). We see this as an area of huge growth for manufacturing industries. Just like mobile was an ignitor four to five years ago, loT will drive the next round of growth. Thanks to maturation and affordability of key technologies like mobile apps, devices, sensors and cloud, manufacturers we speak with are very excited that they can make their service vision a reality.
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