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May 29, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

COVID-19 is Turning Manufacturing on its Head. Is Service the Key to Success?

May 29, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

COVID-19 is Turning Manufacturing on its Head. Is Service the Key to Success?

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By Tom Paquin

I recently had the pleasure of reading Anna-Katrina Shedletsky’s Forbes column on the impacts of COVID-19 on the manufacturing industry. It postulates (as the title makes clear) that manufacturers will experience 5 years of innovation over the course of the next year and a half. I’m not necessarily in a position to make any assertions about the 18-month to 5-year mathematical conversion, but there’s no avoiding the fact that necessity is driving an avalanche of new technologies into manufacturing, for better or for worse.

Do I have concerns? Absolutely. Chief among them are the perils of reckless tech adoption, a topic worth much more elaboration than my article from earlier this year delves into. Nevertheless, these changes are happening now, exacerbated by a gradual return to work and the establishment of a new normal at that work, and businesses will be forced to reckon with, justify, and build upon those changes to enrich their business in ways that make knee-jerk software investments seem worthwhile.

In her article, Shedletsky earmarked two specific and interconnected areas of exponential growth for manufacturers today, specifically cloud data adoption and automation, and though she is primarily focused on straight manufacturing, it is impossible not to consider these through the lens of service as well. To that end, she says in the article,

“Adoption of cloud data unlocks technologies like AI, which can be used to surface unanticipated defects during development and catch quality shifts in production without stepping foot in the factory.”

We’re not shy about the importance of cloud around here, but let’s unpack this a bit for its importance within the specific context of manufacturing. As we know, manufacturers are moving towards servitization—building business plans around service delivery rather than straight product delivery, given its much better margins and customer retention capabilities. Companies moving to, or already with service in place, are shifting service delivery from break-fix plans to more outcomes-oriented service delivery as well.

This is where cloud-oriented datasystems like the one in the article could really shine. Shedletsky rightly identifies cloud oversight as being able to help identify and mitigate production irregularities and output lags. For service-oriented companies, access to that data would offer a metric to be used for outcomes-based service. Without cloud oversight into your assets, you’re limited to promising outcomes such as time from ticket to invoice, first-time fix rate, and other repair-oriented KPIs. With greater asset oversight, you can expand those outcomes into predictive maintenance, output, and performance. This is a capability unique to manufacturing’s complex assets, and it’s a huge opportunity for forward-minded companies.

We often talk here about how you can’t engage in new service software effectively unless you have the underlying infrastructure, which has traditionally been disruptive for businesses to take on in advance. Within the context of COVID-19, the disruption from external sources are propelling huge amounts of change that can, and should be leveraged for service purposes in order to expand their usefulness. It’s a damaging crisis, undoubtedly, but it’s also a unique opportunity to use these new changes to restructure businesses, diversify revenue, and deliver more value to customers.

None of us want to the in the position we currently find ourselves in. But from that position, we are rewarded with new options and avenues for success.

May 27, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

The AI-Powered Enterprise

May 27, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

The AI-Powered Enterprise

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Seth Earley, CEO & Founder at Earley Information Science and Author of The AI-Powered Enterprise, discusses with Sarah why he feels that AI has failed to deliver on its promise for most businesses and gives insight on what those businesses need to do to better harness its power.

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May 25, 2020 | 5 Mins Read

4 Predictions of How Service Will Be Meaningfully Changed by COVID-19

May 25, 2020 | 5 Mins Read

4 Predictions of How Service Will Be Meaningfully Changed by COVID-19

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Our lives, personal and professional, have been forever changed over the course of the last couple of months as we’ve grappled with COVID-19. As I’ve spoken with service leaders about what this crisis has meant for them and for their organizations, what I’ve taken away from those conversations is that while this situation is most certainly devastating and unfortunate, there are aspects of how service organizations are being forced to react that will result in some really positive, long-term changes in service. These changes will bring us into a new normal in which service can surface stronger and more resilient than ever. Here are four areas of change taking place that will only expand and progress as we recover from this crisis.

COVID-19 Accelerates Digital Transformation

Many leading service organizations have been on a digital transformation journey for some time – those companies have been well-positioned to quickly build upon their efforts to react to these new and challenging circumstances. Munters is a wonderful example of this – the company has been pragmatically deploying technology to enable its journey to servitization and was able to adeptly speed its plans to adopt IFS Remote Assistance for business continuity.

Other service businesses have been dragging their feet a bit when it comes to embracing the potential that digital holds. Those laggards are now turning to digital transformation in an effort to survive the global pandemic and, in doing so, are breaking down barriers that have long been in place. Whether these laggards had been avoiding digital transformation intentionally because they were happy “doing things the way we’ve always done,” or had fallen victim to the best of intentions that continued to be deprioritized among other urgent tasks, the force by which COVID-19 is spawning these companies toward digital adoption is making them realize the power and value that they’ve been missing – and helping them to see the potential in leveraging today’s technologies not only to weather this storm, but to set the stage for a strong recovery and immense future potential.

As recovery begins, we’ll see digital adoption surge as a result of these experiences. Companies that have already been on this path are gaining valuable experiences to refine their use and build upon their successes, and those that have been slower to embrace these tools are learning now the power they hold. Employees who had resisted change are welcoming tools with open arms that allow them to continue working, and in doing so are learning that technology is a powerful enabler. These lessons and experiences will result in service organizations collectively being ready to embrace digital in a way they never have as we recover from this crisis.

Service Organizations (Finally) Embrace Agile

Fear is a powerful tool, and in this situation, the fear of failing at business continuity is forcing service organizations to embrace agile. The ability to think, react, and pivot quickly is what is saving a lot of companies in today’s circumstances. For many service organizations, these characteristics aren’t necessarily ones that come naturally – many companies, particularly those with a long history, are fairly slow to react and adopt change.

The need to be nimble in order to successfully navigate today’s challenges is showing service organizations, by practice, that doing so isn’t a bad thing. It’s forcing leaders and companies alike outside of their comfort zones and, while the circumstances are unfortunate, the result is that they will come back from this with a new perspective and a wealth of experiences that will equip them to operate in a more agile manner – bringing them up to speed with customer expectations and consumer industries far faster than had this situation never occurred.

Remote Work Becomes the New Norm

With isolation orders in place across the globe with exceptions only for essential workers, many service businesses have had to quickly adapt to allowing and enabling employees to work from home. This is pervasive across many functions, from office staff to customer support to field technicians. This adjustment is causing companies to deploy technologies that allow constant, effective, and collaborative communication – from conferencing tools to more sophisticated technologies like merged reality. The Samaritans – a registered charity aimed at providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland – is using IFS Customer Engagement to allow a percentage of its volunteer network that is unable to come into location due to COVID-19 to operate from home.

The quick pivot to remote work is bringing to light a number of factors for organizations – how productive a remote workforce can be (not to mention less expensive), how trusting you can be of a good staff to do their jobs even when you aren’t face-to-face, and how empowered employees become when given this sort of trust. Between the learnings taking place and the technologies being deployed, the idea of returning all the workers that have become remote to in-office work is highly unlikely.  The reality is, while some workers will most certainly return to their pre-crisis normal, much of the remote work that has begun out of necessity due to COVID-19 will continue and expand as we recover.

Safety Will Be a Key Differentiator

As recovery ramps up and service organizations that haven’t been doing in-person visits get back to it, we’ll see safety become a key differentiator for service organizations. Pre-COVID-19, a customer asking, “what is your safety protocol?” probably wasn’t incredibly common – but it will be as we move forward. Not only do experts say the Coronavirus itself will take quite some time to go away, or for a vaccine to be developed – but the emotional impact it has had on individuals will persist even longer.

An employee isn’t going to want to return to work if he or she doesn’t feel safe and well protected. Moreover, customers won’t want a field technician coming into their home or business if they aren’t fully confident in how the service organization is protecting their safety. This of course begins with proper PPE and disinfecting processes, but it should be considered far beyond that. Much of what puts people at ease is communication, so thinking about how you’ll communicate with customers regularly about what your safety practices are, who will be arriving on site and what protocol they’ll follow, and how you’re handing issues that inevitably arise will be of critical importance.

I hear people ask often, “when do you think we’ll get back to normal?” I’ve even said it myself. But in reality, I don’t think we will return to normal – I think we’ll find a new normal. And service organizations most certainly will. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, though, it’s that with the experiences of navigating this crisis, I really believe service organizations will emerge stronger than ever

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May 22, 2020 | 5 Mins Read

Understanding AI With the Help of Video Games

May 22, 2020 | 5 Mins Read

Understanding AI With the Help of Video Games

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By Tom Paquin

I’ve been pleased and proud of the content that The Future of Field Service has delivered over the course of the last few months to help support businesses as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Through shaky economic times, fear, and uncertainty, I hope that we have been able to provide some guidance and some optimism for how we, as a service community, can emerge from this crisis with a new focus on transformative service delivery.

Having said all that, there are obviously two sides to the crisis. One is tackling these challenges head-on in writing, advisement, and adjustments to the way we do business and live our daily lives. The other is filling the wealth of time that we have not sitting in traffic, not going out to eat, and not puttering around Target for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.

For me, that extra time has been filled in three ways:

  1. Working earlier/later/weirder hours than usual
  2. Remodeling a bathroom
  3. Playing video games

The third of these things (I play quite a bit of Sid Meier’s Civilization 6, in case you’re curious about just how big of a nerd I am) reminded me of an article that I wrote a few years ago while at Aberdeen about the relationship of AI in video games and the world of service. In the opening of that article I said:

Back in 2002, developer Monolith Productions was showing off a technical demo of the AI systems in its upcoming game, No One Lives Forever: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way. The Artificial Intelligence in this game was a pretty substantial leap forward compared to its contemporaries. Rather than simply stand around until the player character walked by, in this game, non-player characters would behave, seemingly, like real people. They’d step outside for a cigarette, engage in idle chatter, go to a nearby soda machine for a drink, and even use the bathroom (characters inside would use toilets, characters outside would find the nearest bush).

Monolith’s head of AI, Jeff Orkin, demonstrated how characters would make dynamic adjustments to environmental changes. He identified a character heading towards the bathroom, and before they arrived, Orkin dropped a grenade in the toilet and blew it up. The guard stepped into the bathroom, saw there was no toilet, and walked back out into the hallway. Then, he dutifully walked up to a nearby potted plant and relieved himself there.

This somewhat embarrassing example illustrated the concept of emergent gameplay, taking three elements—AI goals, the external environment, and player input—and using them to determine a set of actions. The behavior of the character in that instance was built off of a system known as goal-oriented action planning, or GOAP. GOAP replaced more linear automation systems in the early 2000s in video games.

The amazing thing about goal-oriented action planning is that even though it’s a concept borne out of the controlled world of video games, it has a direct connection to service system as well.

The basic concept of GOAP is taking traditional automation inputs and making them more efficient. Traditional process automation strings together a set of goals in a sequence. For example, imagine that your service technician is an AI (This is just an example…I’m not advocating for the use of robo-technicians). Using traditional automation, their sequence of daily actions looks like:

So each behavior (the circles) need to emanate directly along a specific path in order to be completed. There is no direct line between “Service Appointment” and “Break”. You need to pass through “Drive” in order to get there, meaning that a technician would need to drive to their break. “Type Notes” only connects to “Service Appointment”, so it needs that behavior to have been completed in order to be initiated.

See the issue with this?

The biggest problem that programmers run into with traditional automation when it comes to video games is that introducing a new behavior to an AI (Remote assistance, for instance) creates dozens of broken logic chains unless you go back and remap all the paths above, and even so, the pathways are so finnicky that they often break themselves. What happens, for instance, if your technician has two appointments at the same site? What if your technician needs to reallocate parts? What if they decide to eat a sandwich in their truck? What if they call a customer who has to reschedule? What if a technician doesn’t have time to type notes before their next appointment? The sequence is too rigid.

That is why, in contrast, goal-oriented action planning looks like this:

Same behaviors, no path. Instead, the AI evaluates the current conditions, and makes an evaluation to initiate any of its available behaviors based on that condition. This naturally leads to improved efficiency, often beyond what programmers had intended, which explains how a security guard ends up relieving themselves in a plant in the example I wrote about above.

I imagine you might be a bit skeptical, especially since the theoretical utilization of goal-oriented logic is what led HAL to murder everyone in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is where simulation comes in. These AI systems, by design, run a scenario thousands of times, each time “evolving” their approach to produce a more efficient outcomes.

How do you make sure those “evolutions” don’t turn murderous? Or make sure your technicians have time to eat? You set rules. Let’s take this example away from an individual tech and talk about an actual, practical use of AI: Planning and Scheduling. To optimize scheduling (as I spoke about just last week), you give locations of specific objectives, define the criteria that needs to be met to accomplish those objectives (parts needed, safety precautions, required breaks, hours of operation, travel time, available staff, etc) and you allow the systems to find the most efficient way to complete all of their goals within the context of the rules. Further, you can rank goals, and you can update in real-time.

This is how the best PSO systems function, with AI under the hood doing the work for you. Most can do that for your day. The best are able to provide multi-time horizon planning that takes into account an extremely wide variety of factors and can map well in advance.

Under most normal circumstances, developing this system will not be the job of the deliverer of service, but it’s nevertheless a useful concept to understand, especially when evaluating a PSO solution, not to mention thinking about asset management, or any other number of systems that will take advantage of AI. By understanding its capabilities, you can plan your criteria, inputs, and goals appropriately to take full advantage of what this amazing technology has to offer. And maybe it’ll make you waste a few less coins the next time you boot up Pac-Man.

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May 20, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

ABB Discusses the Idea of Refactoring Field Service

May 20, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

ABB Discusses the Idea of Refactoring Field Service

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Kevin Starr, Program Manager Advanced Services - Oil, Gas, and Chemical Division at ABB talks with Sarah about the concept of “refactoring” field service – discussing ways organizations need to evolve to keep pace with change, particularly as we recover from COVID-19.

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May 18, 2020 | 5 Mins Read

3 Tactics That Have Enabled Park Place Technologies to Thrive Amidst COVID-19 Chaos

May 18, 2020 | 5 Mins Read

3 Tactics That Have Enabled Park Place Technologies to Thrive Amidst COVID-19 Chaos

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Park Place Technologies (PPT) has provided third party management of IT data center equipment since 1991, currently operating in 58,000 data centers in more than 150 countries. The company strives to simplify the management of complex hybrid environments to maximize uptime, improve operational speed and accelerate business transformation for its customers.

As companies pivot to remote work as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, their reliance on technology infrastructure is even greater. So too, though, are the challenges for PPT in providing its services. PPT has stepped up to the challenge and has relied on three key tactics to not only weather the COVID-19 storm, but to grow its business during the pandemic.

Nicola Buckley, Executive Vice President of Global Service Delivery at PPT, is responsible for the field engineering and remote technical support teams, and the research and development organization. She says of the challenges presented by the onset of the Coronavirus, “Our primary business is hardware maintenance. We fix machines when they break by delivering hardware and by sending field resources to data centers to resolve issues. So obviously, the restrictions and the lockdowns presented a huge physical challenge from that perspective. Our culture is built on people: team members and customers. So, our priority as COVID-19 was revealing its impact was first and foremost the safety of those people, followed by the ability to continue to serve in essential ways.”

A Proactive Business Continuity Plan Pays Off

Buckley attributes the success of how PPT has navigated this crisis to three critical components. The first  is the fact that PPT had a strong business continuity plan in place before the crisis began, which enabled the company to be proactive and nimble in its response to evolving circumstances. “We were prepared for this,” Buckley says. “We have a business continuity plan in place that was developed a couple of years ago and did include the concept of a pandemic. I would say, personally, I'm shocked that we're exercising the business continuity plan for a pandemic, but it was there, and we were ready.”

Simply having a business continuity plan documented, however, likely wouldn’t have assisted PPT to the degree it has – what made all the difference is how the plan was communicated and practiced throughout the company. “The plan was well socialized across the organization, including training and exercising the actions in testing mode. It wasn't a strange process for anyone to follow because it was so well circulated and well socialized,” Buckley explains. “We observed the situation unfolding in early February, created an internal task force by the middle of February, and we were pretty much all working remotely by March 16th. For an organization that openly very much emphasizes working in the office, to pivot to 100% employees working remotely within a couple of weeks was proof of the strength of our business continuity plan.”

At the heart of the plan is clear, consistent communication. “We have executive leadership calls every morning. We have team meetings with all of our team members every single day. We are constantly checking in on the teams on the road, making sure they have the right levels of protective equipment, making sure that they have the right sense of safety and support from the leadership team,” Buckley says.

The Value of a Digital-First Approach

The second factor to which Buckley credits PPT’s ability to adapt to these new challenging circumstances is a strong technological foundation. “We’d standardized on Alliance as our global platform, which replaced an outdated homegrown solution. As PPT grew and scaled, we needed an industry-leading platform for service delivery. Alliance allows us to communicate with our customers, our field service engineers as well as our remote technical support teams cohesively and tied in with our back office,” Buckley says. “This enables our team to scale, optimize, and to be very efficient in workflow.”

“Alliance also served as the platform for us to launch our E-services program, which is focused on supporting our scale and growth by ensuring our customers globally have the same accessibility and agility to interact with our services organization,” adds Buckley. “We transact roughly 11,000 service events a month, and Alliance helps us manage that volume while presenting a seamless service experience to our customers.” Two of the E-services PPT has built on the Alliance platform have proven especially valuable as working conditions and customer preferences have evolved. The first is its customer mobile app, PPTechMobile, which provides access to Central Park, its customer portal. The second is ParkView™, a remote monitoring solution that provides proactive hardware fault detection and automatically initiates service tickets without human intervention. Since the pandemic began, PPT has seen a 30-percent increase in ticket volume through ParkView.

“In light of this pandemic, digital capability is more important now than ever. It’s been instrumental in our ability to make sure that our customers can safely work remotely, but at the same time know that their data centers, for example, are running healthy and they can support their end users, and their customers, and their essential services,” Buckley says.

Quick Pivots to Meet Evolving Customer Needs Spur Growth

The third and final key ingredient in PPT’s recipe for navigating this crisis is making quick pivots to meet customers’ evolving needs. “We’ve led with flexibility,” Buckley says. “We’ve worked with our customers to be able to deliver within their requirements. We quickly realized that capital spend will ultimately be restricted and IT budgets are going to be squeezed. This demanded our flexibility in terms of how our customers need to engage with us in this time.”

To address these evolving needs, PPT has emphasized how its E-services can help companies as remote work becomes the norm. The company has also introduced new contract terms with even greater flexibility than before, to make customers feel at ease in uncertain times. “We've introduced new terms where customers can have very short-term contracts based on budget or based on their inability to make a broader strategic decision,” Buckley says“Our willingness to be flexible increases the trust we have from our customers. We know they are restricted in capital spend and strategic decisions, but they also can’t afford outages or risk – it’s our job to simplify this challenge for them and help them be less overwhelmed.”

Giving customers choice in services, including remote monitoring, along with prioritizing the customer perspective and challenge when determining how best to be flexible and simplify complexity has put PPT in a strong position despite the challenging circumstances. Even under the pressure of the pandemic, the company has grown.

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May 15, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Your Service Schedule is Going to get Busy. Planning Optimization Will Help

May 15, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Your Service Schedule is Going to get Busy. Planning Optimization Will Help

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By Tom Paquin

As commerce slowly begins to open up, serviceable assets, many of which have been sitting dormant for two months or longer, will again enter an active state, and certainly there will be an influx of field service needs to accompany them. To navigate a sudden surge in business, organizations will need to think on their feet, make smart personnel decisions, and plan, schedule, and route with finesse. Doing that alone is fine, but doing that will the help of a planning and scheduling optimization engine will make your job exponentially more effective.

The time to adopt these systems was two months ago, but many software providers are stepping up to offer fast-track solutions that can be implemented in days, and provide the necessary functionality to supercharge your planning needs.

When preparing to adopt any new system, it’s of course key to ensure that your business is appropriately prepared. What are the key considerations facing businesses when it comes to planning and scheduling optimization?

As with any technology, the tool itself needs to be complimented by the right internal systems. There are a great many that will need to be considered, and that is a conversation to have with your team, and with the vendors that you’re considering, but here are three key points to keep in mind as you’re preparing to adopt a new optimization system:

  1. Make sure your data house is in order.
  2. Find the right technology partner.
  3. Identify and benchmark the outcomes for success.

We’ll start with number one, which is key to managing your planning system effectively. An AI-powered system is only as capable as the inputs being fed into it. While a best-in-class system will come with a wide variety of inputs out of the box, even more if attached to a full suite of field service management (FSM) tools, the system’s effectiveness is further enhanced through a strong system of APIs that are derived from different triggers in your business.

Depending on your scale and industry, this could include parts and dealer management, asset performance management, or resource management across your business. Your planning and scheduling system, like any growing intellect, gets smarter the more intellectual material it’s able to consume. Furthermore, good data is key. Bad data begets bad data in a negative feedback loop that can undermine the whole system.

Much of this can be assuaged with point number two: finding the right technology partner. And while the software is key, and should have the right triggers and management systems inherent, implementation, especially in terms of a planning and scheduling system, are just—if not more—important. With dozens of business rules to consume, finding a partner who will support connecting the dots, both out-of-the-box and down the road, often is the difference between success and failure.

To that end (and with guidance from your technology partner) point number three stresses the importance of regular audits. Truthfully, KPI criteria can often be preprogrammed with implicit bias in order to lean into specific metrics. Uncovering the potential bias in reporting or metering those metrics takes time, and often an independent eye. Any technology purchase reflects an ongoing process, which is why it’s so important to create smart, repeatable criteria for evaluation.

For forward-thinking organizations, planning and scheduling optimization in many ways represents the backbone of successful service delivery. Getting planning and scheduling optimization right means that the onus of operations management is no longer a time sink, allowing businesses to free up back office resources and concentrate more of their time and effort on delivering exceptional service, instead of the means to deliver that service. With this in mind, planning and scheduling optimization not only helps align your operational resources, but your business development ones as well, and rightly puts the focus on your efforts where they belong: on your customer.

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May 13, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

Aberdeen’s Outlook on IoT

May 13, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

Aberdeen’s Outlook on IoT

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May 11, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Valuable Lessons in Virtual Leadership

May 11, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Valuable Lessons in Virtual Leadership

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

You’ve spent years, maybe decades, working to develop and hone your leadership skills. You educate yourself in order to continually improve, you find effective ways to keep yourself motivated in order to impactfully lead, and you seek leadership tactics to fit the breadth of your employees’ needs. You fall into a rhythm and gain confidence in your leadership style and skill.

Then, one day, everything changes. Not only do working conditions almost instantly transform, but so too do everyone’s lives. The leadership methods you’ve refined are brought into question as everyone is sent into isolation and asked to shift to remote work. You have to quickly adapt and find ways to clearly communicate, stay connected, and continue to show strong leadership – from a distance.

Reihaneh Irani-Famili, VP Business Readiness at National Grid, has worked diligently to adjust to this new call of leadership and has learned some valuable lessons with the first two months under her belt. At National Grid, Irani-Famili is responsible for developing and planning transformation strategies to improve organizational effectiveness across the U.S. business, building out new capabilities and optimizing existing systems and processes. She’s worked to build and develop teams of experts and is now tasked with continuing to lead those teams remotely.

Irani-Famili says her first two months of leading from home have taught her some valuable lessons. Here she shares her top five:

Lesson #1: Continue to Be Proactive. “Create space in your teams’ days to look ahead, think and plan. It is very easy to become reactive in uncertain times, but scenario planning is what is most needed,” she says. This echoes the insight we shared in this recent Future of Field Service article about some of the characteristics shared by companies managing the COVID-19 crisis well – one of which is maintaining a parallel view on how to survive the eye of the storm while not losing sight of the need to look ahead and plan for recovery. This will ramp back up, in some areas sooner than others, and it’s important to ensure you’re reserving time amidst the uncertainty to strategize, forecast, and plan for what’s to come.

Lesson #2: Actively Manage Interdependencies. “Step in and actively engage in managing interdependencies between programs and projects,” says Irani-Famili. “Lack of informal connections makes dependency management more challenging and more critical.” With teams becoming remote, your ability to keep them connected and collaborative is more important than ever. You may need to take more tactical steps to foster this connection than you did when teams were working alongside one another and more likely to make connections by happenstance.

Lesson #3: Prioritize Visibility into Outcomes and Values. “Visibly celebrate outcomes and re-enforce values. There is a higher risk for teams to disconnect from the goals and become more siloed in a virtual setting,” explains Irani-Famili. I’d also point out that in this time, there’s a level of uncertainty and fear among some employees that can cause greater disconnect. So it’s your role as a virtual leader to ensure that you are putting effective methods in place to share progress on goals, celebrate wins, and openly communicate about matters of importance in order to avoid disconnect and minimize siloes.

Lesson #4: Remember the Importance of Informal Communication. “Create (not just encourage) forums to replace informal hallway communication,” says Irani-Famili. “This can be, for example, open calls, group text, whatever works for your team.” As leaders, you can unintentionally become hyper-focused on productivity – especially in times of added business pressure – to the point that you might not remember the important roll more informal communications play in a team. To Irani-Famili’s point, you need to not only remember the need for informal communications, but you need to create it. Since COVID-19 came into play, our team has begun virtual team happy hours every other week – just to serve as way to stay connected on a more personal level and continue to foster the camaraderie we have. I’ve also spoken with service leaders that have been making FaceTime calls to their technicians, to stay connected and check in on a more personal level. This is a point of virtual leadership that I think needs to be more emphasized.

Lesson #5: Scrap One-Hour Meetings. “Adopt 45-minute meetings,” urges Irani-Famili. “Doing so will help create mental space, allows for spark of ideas, encourages physical movement and reduces eye strain.” Yes, PLEASE! This is an excellent idea, enough said.

As Irani-Famili says, “leadership matters now more than ever.” I wholeheartedly agree, and I salute her and all of you working to adapt quickly and successfully to leading your teams through these challenging circumstances. What lessons have you learned that you’d add to Irani-Famili’s list? Email me, I’d love to hear them!

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May 8, 2020 | 5 Mins Read

Consumer Behavior has Changed. How Will You Adapt?

May 8, 2020 | 5 Mins Read

Consumer Behavior has Changed. How Will You Adapt?

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By Tom Paquin

I am very fortunate to have one living grandparent: My maternal grandfather. A musician, former public school teacher, and town historian, Grampy is a true renaissance man. Even as he tiptoes towards triple digits (though he’d be quick to say he’s not THAT close) he’s taking on new projects.

His recent fixation, at least over the course of the last decade or so, has been the digitalization of every old, brittle piece of paper in his massive collection of news clippings, maps, and genealogical documentation. I am generally tasked with developing new workflows (step one: press “scan”, step two: press “ok”, etc.) or handling troubleshooting. When I visit him, he brings out a yellow legal pad with “Computer Issues for Tommy” written across the top (yes he still calls me Tommy), and we work our way through the list.

Not being able to visit him over the course of the last few months has been difficult for all the obvious reasons you’d expect, but it’s also made troubleshooting the various issues that he’s been having especially more challenging. Any good technician knows that identifying what’s wrong with an asset involves isolating the issue, and that is much easier to do in person than over the phone.

Last week, while helping him figure out why he couldn’t burn a DVD, and struggling to parse his explanations of what he was seeing on his screen (“Well Tommy there is a large white box and several dots.”), it occurred to me that we could try screen sharing. After walking him through the directions, we were able to set him up with an interface that I could access, and I was able to remotely see what he was working on and quickly direct him to resolve the issue. We now have a very effective workflow. He will call me and unleash a steady stream of expletives about the computer, we will initiate a screen-share, and I will walk him through what to do (reserving the right to take control only if things get bad). Grampy is fully on-board, feels empowered, and is ready to do more with technology. He even volunteered to have a remote physical with his doctor using the same system.

If my grandfather is shifting his behavior, your customers are, too. I was recently reading a McKinsey study on this precise topic, and was intrigued to see their graphic looking at increased utilization of digital resources across the spectrum.

There’s obviously a lot to unpack here (and plenty to disregard) and this is looking at consumer trends very broadly, but these broader changes on the consumer-side do have implications—and opportunities—for service. Looking at these things through a service lens, we can start mapping some potentially unorthodox new business approaches that could save money and bring in new customers. Here are a few areas that immediately stand out based on this new data:

Remote Assistance
This is a topic that we’ve been eager to discuss with respect to the current situation, and have featured Munters both in writing and on the podcast regarding their quick implementation, but it’ll be important to continue thinking about this as time goes on as well. For many organizations, this would certainly have seemed to be a bridge too far in the past.

Now, though, customers are accustomed to some initial steps in order to manage and mitigate issues remotely, and that embedded change in customer sentiment means that even as travel and social restrictions are lifted, businesses have a new way to offer their customers solutions, and a new willingness on the part of their customers to accept service through that channel.

Remote Assistance can take many forms (some of which we will elaborate on below), and will often differ from asset to asset, not to mention company-to-company. To get remote assistance right, I’ll be necessary to develop a formal, structured, and well-communicated hierarchy, running from chat, to voice, to video, to augmented reality, to IoT, and so on. This requires businesses take a detailed look at their tech stack while simultaneously building out your business plans. Don’t build you plans around your technology, and don’t build you technology around your plans. Build them to compliment one another.

Asset Management
This one requires a bit more onus on the part of your customer when it comes to embedded assets, and greater redesign and investment when it comes to saleable assets, but building systems of connectivity to embedded assets, will allow yet another channel of visibility. This is not dissimilar from the uptick in connected exercise equipment referenced in the McKinsey data. In the same way that a Peloton instructor can ruin your whole day by increasing the tension of your bicycle from 1200 miles away, a remote technician could remotely manage the mechanical functions of embedded assets.

Beyond that is observing output, condition, and performance. By getting more data from assets, both at a glance as well as historically, not only does it make break-fix service (and preventative maintenance) easier to maintain; It offers the means to start building service contracts around outcomes, rather than contracts. We’ve spoken at length about the business benefits of the outcomes-based model, and to do so effectively managing asset performance is the key.

Applications
A decade ago, the uncreative digital question du jour was, “Do you have an app?” Now everybody has an app. Whether that app is downloaded, used, and relegated to the first five screens on a consumer’s device is another question entirely. Back in the halcyon days of December 2019, when we were all blessed with the blissful freedom to step foot inside the nearest TGI Fridays, I wrote about how remote assistance could be the doorway to application utilization.

This is truer today than it was then, if we draw some conclusions from the McKinsey data. Both remote doctor’s visits, as well as the prevalence of personal health applications indicate that consumers are willing to do more to self-manage their personal health. It’s a short bridge to take that concept and apply it as well to their serviceable assets.

Getting that element right requires that the app actually be useful, which is where most businesses seem to lose their way. The app should offer embedded services that can’t be accessed via the web. It can be the conduit of your remote assistance, or have prebuilt augmented reality overlays for routine repairs built in to allow for self-service. Or it can connect remotely to connected apps and allow for changes without having to pop the hood. If I can remotely adjust my thermostat with my phone then the ability to mitigate issues remotely can be built into virtually any asset that you can think of.

As always, these are but a few examples, but businesses have an obligation to evaluate and consider the changing customer sentiments. Business-as-usual isn’t going to look the same when this is all over and done with. As I’ve said before, in the wake of this crisis, you can either be an agent of change, or a victim of it. My grandfather, for one, has chosen to be an agent of change, and he’s doing great.

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