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Innovation in Field Service Technology

What’s next for field service?

Ten years ago, the technology you used at work was probably superior to that which you might have at home. Now, smartphones and apps have flipped that relationship. Most of us, especially digital natives, feel like our work tools are from the dark ages in comparison to the phones, tablets, and wearables we are used to at home.

Mobile devices have also shifted consumer expectations. In a digital world, customers assume that, within seconds of buying a product or service, they will be able to track their order, see when it’s been despatched and control when it is due to arrive.  It’s no longer acceptable to tell customers “someone will arrive between 8am and 6pm so please make sure you’ll be there to let them in”. 

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Much of this change has been driven by digital ‘disruptors’. Companies like Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon have fuelled this shift in expectation, in part through their ability to leverage cloud technologies. Five years ago there was still a debate about whether cloud would become a viable option, due to concerns about reliability and data security; this argument is now settled, firmly in favour of the cloud. Even the most risk conscious sectors such as banking and finance are seeing cloud based disruptors enter their market. The FinTech sector is thriving with players such as Monzo and Starling challenging conventional banking models. 

It’s increasingly hard for established field service companies to keep up with technological changes and disruptive business models. But let’s not forget that many of these organisations were themselves at the forefront of the digital revolution: field service companies gave engineers mobile devices, receiving real-time data, live from the field, long before Steve Jobs put the internet into everyone’s hands. 

In my role as CTO at Cognito iQ, I’m fortunate to work with innovative field service companies as they adopt the technologies that will transform our industry. As well as providing exceptional user experience through their cloud based apps, the companies that are succeeding know how to use the data they collect to close the feedback loop, and drive further improvements to their business.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has led to an explosion of data as more and more devices become connected.  Once you are in a position to harvest data from your machinery directly into the cloud, and then apply machine learning and AI capabilities to that data, you can start to gain actionable insights into the fundamentals of your business, and then leverage those insights back into improvements in the field in real time.

We are also seeing forward-thinking companies moving past the mobile app towards more advanced user interface solutions.  Developments in voice technology such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant mean an engineer can talk into their device instead of having to stop and type.  Augmented reality devices such as Glass can survey the area and alert the engineer to health and safety risks, or overlay system schematics and trouble-shooting information. 

Combining new types of user interfaces, voice, gesture and AI with real-time IoT data and intelligent learning algorithms running in the cloud can unlock tremendous efficiencies for field service organisations and help them deliver the next level of service to their customers. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with our customers on these kinds of projects today and I’m excited to see what new innovations come to market in the coming years.

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