Service in the Clouds: A new paradigm for Aftermarket Service- Part 1
A decade ago I wrote an article titled “Can Field Service Survive?” At that time, I made the prognosis that the business of High-Tech Field Service was alive and well, and would continue for some time. This prediction was made in light of industry trends (e.g., remote support) that were bringing the viability of Field Service into question. My belief that Field Service would remain viable was based on several observations namely 1) a marketplace characterized by a very complex installed base of networked technology, 2) increased customers requirements and willingness to pay for onsite service on a timely basis 3) requirement for a vast array of resources (e.g., parts, labor, data) needed to support customer requirements, 4) availability of commercially available off the shelf technology (e.g., Field Service Automation, Dynamic Scheduling, Mobility, Service Parts Optimization) to manage service on an efficient basis.
Basically, my article was written in the days before cloud computing.
Sure, we had the internet with all its hope and promise; a few innovative companies were even turning to hosted internet solutions to operate enterprise systems. However, all the heavy computing and network connectivity was performed on the customer’s premise. The idea of outsourced Applications (Software), Platforms, Infrastructure made available through internet “as a service” technology (e.g., SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS) was just a glimmer in the eyes of many futurists. I doubt that most Service Executives or Service Strategy consultants fathomed the extent that cloud computing would have on Aftermarket Service & Support.
Now that a full decade has passed, I have revisited my assumptions. To tell you the truth, I am not so sure that I can say the same about the future of field service as I once did. To quote Will Rogers…”The future isn’t what it used to be”. While many of the observations I made back in 2000 still exist today, the biggest difference is the installed base of technology has changed significantly. Instead of a large installed base of powerful machines cobbled together through a patchwork of Local Area and Wide Area Networks, everything from software applications, to operating platforms, to computing processing and storage can be provided remotely through the internet. Furthermore, operating platforms are open instead of proprietary which means more interoperability between devices and users. End-users can plug into the cloud from anywhere using any device (e.g., mobile phone, Netbook, Notebook, Set-Top Box, Game Console, etc.). The devices themselves are becoming smaller and smarter, and can sense the condition of the environment in which they operate. More importantly, virtualization and miniaturization has resulted in devices which contain standard components that are more affordable to purchase and easier to repair. And because they are more affordable, they are easier to replace resulting in a greater need to recycle and/or dispose of obsolete technology.
Indeed, we now live on a planet that is smarter, greener, more intelligent, and more dynamic than ever before. This paradigm shift is not specific to just computers. Everything that once relied on big iron and/or electrical or electromechanical processing on premise can now be performed at a centralized, remote location.
It applies to electricity, healthcare, telecommunications, transportation systems, building controls, you name it. Take Healthcare for example, telemedicine creates an environment where nurse practitioners can use intelligent instrumentation to perform a brain scan from a rural healthcare facility, the image is then processed by an MRI machine in another country, and read by a doctor in yet another country.
This new paradigm brings into question what type of service and support needs be performed, when, by whom, and for how much.
Are Service Level Agreements still relevant in this new world? Do we need a large field service workforce? How do we account for assets and manage customer relationships? We will explore this and attempt to bring some high level answers in our next blog post.