By Charles Hughes
We like to think technology can solve any problem and improve any bottom line. But have the newest TVs ever made us smarter than good, old books? Why is it that after almost 50 years of aerospace technological advancement, it is still incredibly hard to fly a human to the moon? Technology alone is rarely the entire solution.
Technology needs to match the problem and fit the human using it. Nowhere is this truer than in a field service organization. The field service technician is the most important and most complex piece of a field services support model. Therefore, as the center of the services ecosystem, technology needs to be built around them. No system or application can replace human decision making, intimate customer knowledge, and an intuitive ability to satisfy customers’ needs. Done right, with proper training, technology can be a force multiplier. But it starts with people doing their job well. Military leaders use the term “force multiplier” to describe the effect of adding a capability to a team that exponentially improves the likelihood of success of the mission. Sometimes technologies demonstrate how a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. When army infantry units are given mechanized vehicles, their maneuverability and speed are greatly improved, allowing the unit to cover more ground more quickly. Now add an armored company to the mix and you have increased firepower allowing the unit to defend or attack more aggressively. An army of 100 can challenge an army of 1,000 less well-equipped soldiers.
How To Use Technology As a Force Multiplier
Technology can be a force multiplier for your field services organization, but only if your team understands that tools do not substitute for service, they merely enable it. Moreover, technologies require training and acquired skills. Like a military unit, you must develop a well-trained team of professionals that are dedicated to the mission of delivering outstanding field services support to their customers. Develop that underlying culture of service first, and then start overlaying technology to increase the service power of the team. Field services organizations that look for a silver bullet to solve their service capability problems quickly find themselves automating poorly-designed processes, masking a training issue or resource constraint, delivering poor service more quickly and at an unnecessarily greater cost. You can provide a poorly-trained field technician a mobile device and it may make them more effective than not having one, but you won’t see the same jump that you would if you gave that same device to a well-trained and capable field engineer. Training and skills yield the return on investment, not the mobile device. Giving a scheduling engine to a poorly trained field technician will only get them to the next appointment, not prevent appointments that would have been unnecessary had the problem been fixed on the previous meeting. Having integrated inventory management and ordering empowers poorly-trained field technicians to order unneeded parts more efficiently. You will quickly find that investing in the training and development of your people provides a greater return on your technology investment. Once you understand the capabilities of your team, you are better positioned to deploy technology to create new service offerings, increase service levels, and generate more capacity. Develop an integrated roadmap that starts with a foundation supporting the long-range vision. For example, if your field technicians are not mobile, consider a mobility system to get them started. Determine if your mobility strategy (short or long term) should include schedule optimization, workflow management, inventory management, and data analytics. Should you purchase an off-the-shelf solution or develop one internally? Should you roll out a major release or used a phased approach? Seek to understand how your people will utilize and adjust to the technology. Don’t assume all team members will welcome technology with open arms. Capable team members may feel they don’t need the technology while less capable team members may fear the technology will expose their weaknesses. You may discover there is significant training or a culture shift that needs to occur within the team to prepare them for technology. The particular needs of each field service team may differ but consider your service offerings in conjunction with your technology choices. Now you are ready to develop a cohesive technology strategy and see a higher return on investment. Don’t forget the impact on your customers when developing your technology strategy. Technology tools that make life easier for your field technicians should not make it more difficult for your customer. Anything you deploy that makes it easier for the customer to request and receive service or stay updated on the status of their service request should be well received. If your solution causes the customer to change how he does business or requires incremental effort on their part, then be prepared for unhappy customers. Technology may seem the panacea to what ails your organization, and it can be an effective force multiplier, but don’t let it become a band aid for a systemic issue in your organization. Take steps to ensure your people are capable of effectively utilizing technology to improve their service delivery capabilities. This people-focused technology strategy will give you the edge on your competition and maximize your return on investment.