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How Stronger Digital Connections Enable Field Services Organizations to Manage the Covid-19 Crisis – and Prep for the Future

Anil Pai
Global Head, Digital Field Service Management, Enterprise Application Services

Despite all the disruptions in the Covid-19 crisis – the deserted city streets, the canceled air travel, the shuttered businesses – enterprises know their field service functions cannot stop. This especially applies to companies servicing mission-critical assets such as medical devices and laboratory equipment. Hospitals and other medical facilities in disease hotspots around the globe are working 24-7. They rely not only on every piece of equipment engaged in the battle against coronavirus but also on every person and support system that keeps them up and running. 

Organizations in these and many other sectors including utilities, HVAC and building management systems must keep providing efficient field services during the pandemic. And because of restrictions on people’s movement, social distancing and other public-health mandates, leaders have to be ever more careful about the use of their resources.

By implementing systems that provide online connections among technicians, assets, customers, and the broader ecosystem of providers, field service organizations can effectively manage the current crisis. They can also strengthen their organizations and the services they provide in the longer term.

Let’s look at each part of the field services picture and how using technology effectively can bolster them.

Connected Technicians: Tools for Improved Collaboration and Remote Service

The best field service technicians are strongly dedicated to their customers. But during the crisis, service organization leaders must remind technicians to practice self-care before they focus on the customer. 

With that condition met, the Covid-19 crisis is a good time for field organizations to open up different modes of service delivery to reduce redundant travel and social interaction among technicians, customers and the public at large. This is where technician collaboration systems enter the picture. They should enable any technician to respond to any kind of service call. They thus become an essential means to manage heavy call loads from a crisis likes a pandemic. 

Tools that serve customers from a distance – such as remote assistance calls and technologies that enable technicians to collaborate from afar – enable companies to serve customers without making a site visit. Using augmented reality and virtual reality technologies, experienced technicians in one part of the world can assist relatively inexperienced technicians in other parts of the world in real time. Messaging and visual collaboration tools can help technicians complete their assigned service tasks and pre-empt future service issues, thereby reducing the total number of site visits.

Connected Assets: IoT Technology Lets Companies Remotely Monitor Critical Systems 

Equipment breakdowns in a crisis could be disastrous. For example, a key piece of equipment that suddenly shut down in a hospital’s intensive care unit could harm the health and safety of frontline medical staff and patients.  

Technologies like digital sensors embedded in equipment and connected via the Internet (the Internet of Things, or IoT) enable field service organizations to head off such equipment failures. They can remotely monitor the performance of equipment in the field at all times, and ensure fixes are in place before catastrophic failures happen. 

Take, for instance, hospitals that need negative pressure rooms to treat patients infected by Covid-19. IoT connections in their HVAC systems make the proactive monitoring and fail-safe operation of these rooms possible. 

When an organization must dispatch field service technicians, those who are plugged into connected systems are only sent out if they have the right parts and knowledge. Reliance on this triage information can also reduce the time technicians have to spend onsite to resolve service issues. 

Connected Customer: Resources to Empower 

In a crisis like Covid-19, it’s not enough to have the routine operations in place at customer contact centers. This leads to overworked people, frayed nerves and too many service professionals without the latest accurate information.   

Instead, organizations need to design ways to make information and updates available to customers around the clock, and through multiple channels. Field service leaders should assess the ability of their firm’s customers to resolve certain issues without a site visit – i.e., whether they can access product and service knowledge, conduct real-time remote collaboration with service professionals, and direct parts shipments to make repairs. 

It also helps to have customer employees who are trained to deal with their vendors’ equipment issues. While many customers have expert users on staff, their suppliers’ field service organizations can help by identifying these experts and formalizing a relationship with them. Field service teams can reinforce this relationship by providing formal training and establishing a base of in-house expert users within the customer’s workforce. Such in-house experts become customers’ first line of defense for situations that need immediate attention. 

Connected Ecosystem: Enable Customer-to-Customer Ties to Share Regional Resources 

Success and containment in crises like Covid-19 depend not on just how one organization responds, but on how multiple organizations work together to meet the challenge. 

The need for collective action requires field service organizations to have processes and systems that enable collaboration across the customer base. By easily sharing ideas, the expertise of knowledgeable people, and critical equipment parts in a region, the entire region can access local resources until external reinforcements arrive. For example, if a medical device company can help customers access each other’s collective stock of critical supplies or staff expertise, all of them would benefit. 

Stronger Together

Customers of every field service organization can vary greatly in how well they are digitally connected to their suppliers’ service departments. There are tools available to assess an organization’s capabilities – for example, how connected their technicians and assets are, and how to increase their effectiveness. And advances in digital technologies enable stronger, consistent connections even to organizations that are less mature in their ties to field service.

Pandemics like Covid-19 are a once-in-a-century occurrence. Many organizations are not 100% ready to deal with such crises. However, many companies are now learning that their field service organizations are essential to keeping their customers’ operations going. Companies with a digital edge in field service have become invaluable right now to customers, and with continual improvements will make themselves even more indispensable. 

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