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Enterprising Insights: Episode 13 – Field Service Applications

Enterprising Insights: Episode 13 – Field Service Applications

In this episode of Enterprising Insights, The Futurum Group’s Enterprise Applications Research Director Keith Kirkpatrick will provide a preview of his Market Insight Report around field service applications, the mobile and frontline-service based applications used to further drive efficiency and better CX through both B2B and B2C customer interactions. Kirkpatrick will then close out the show with the “Rant or Rave” segment, where he picks one item in the market, and champions or criticizes it.

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Transcript:

Keith Kirkpatrick: Hi, everybody. I’m Keith Kirkpatrick, Research Director with The Futurum Group, and I’d like to welcome you to Enterprising Insights. It’s our weekly podcast that explores the latest developments in the enterprise software market and the technologies that underpin these platforms, applications, and tools. Now, this week I want to take a few minutes to discuss the topic that I’m writing about my latest market insight report, which focuses on field service and mobile software. Then, as always, I’ll close out our show with the rant or rave segment, where I’ll pick one item in the market and either champion it or criticize it.

So let’s talk a little bit about field service software and why you might need that. Well, if you think about a traditional in-person service call, you would have a worker come to the house, basically look at a sheet, and say, “Okay. I need to do this particular job,” and hopefully they’re able to fix the problem, sign a wrap up form, and then be on their way. Well, today’s customers really won’t stand for that. They want the same experience that they have when they contact the contact center. They want to have that with the person who was on site, so what does that mean? Well, first of all, it means that if a company says a field service worker is going to be there at a certain time, they need to be there.

In order to do that, you need to coordinate that and you take into account everything from travel time, regular travel time, as well as real-time delays in terms of traffic, incorporating the length of the job, how many jobs you’re going to have in one day, and any kind of unforeseen or possible delays that might impact that schedule. Along with that, you also want to make sure that you’re able to integrate things like real-time inventory management, making sure that these workers actually have all the parts and supplies they need to do to complete jobs. Of course, the last thing you want to have is a situation where a worker goes on site, thinks they can accomplish a job, and then doesn’t have the part that they need. So customers just won’t stand for that, and that goes for both B2C as well as B2B customers.

And perhaps most importantly, what these field service tools are really enabling is their enabling workers to focus on customer relationships instead of focusing on either data entry or worrying about making calls back to the home office to get updates on things. What these tools are trying to do is make sure that all of this information is readily available in the worker’s hand within their device, so they can just look up information while interacting with the customer. Really, there are a couple of things that are important there. Certainly, you need to have an integrated system or an integrated platform to make sure that the information that is captured or contained within the company’s ERP system can be ported out to that mobile application on a real-time basis.

Now, some organizations will opt to use a single platform, where the ERP system and the mobile field software is from the same vendor, and that can be a real efficiency driver, because you know that that’s going to work. It isn’t really an integration, because it’s the same platform. Others may choose to use one piece of software for an ERP and then use a mobile field service application from another vendor. That can certainly work, but then you need to do some significant testing to make sure that all the integrations work as they should, that information is being updated in real time, because if it’s not, you can have a real problem, particularly when it comes to things like making sure that the schedules are being adhered to in terms of travel time, making sure that the customer is informed about every step of the job in the same way that the worker is.

Because, in the end, again, if you think about today’s customers, they’re used to being able to track things in real time. They’re always out there looking at their Amazon account to make sure that their delivery is arriving on time, and certainly, when it comes for a service call, they have those same expectations. Now, when we think about some of the key features that are required, obviously as I mentioned, you need to make sure that you have scheduling and dispatch integration to make sure that you can efficiently allocate technician time, avoid any kind of conflicts, and really make sure that you can guarantee punctual service delivery. That is so important in this day and age because customers, they’re tired of that whole four-hour window because people are busy. They just don’t want to be tied or tethered to their house because the service company can’t deliver a more granular experience.

What else is important? Well, inventory monitoring and control. It’s extremely important to make sure that all of that information is updated in real time because you don’t want to have a situation where you have a stock app and you need to be onsite to deliver something to a client and it’s not available. The other thing, of course, is really being able to integrate all of the different CRM information that is important to delivering an excellent experience. So what is that? That’s making sure that all of the previous interactions leading up to that site visit is included into that mobile application. So when the technician or service person arrives on site, they have that frame of reference. They know that they might encounter a customer who’s very, very frustrated, because they’ve tried six times to get a situation resolved, and it hasn’t happened. So they can go in there, knowing what to expect, and then they can take the appropriate strategy to diffuse the situation.

Along with that, there’s also some of these software packages include the ability to incorporate other information that is there for the service technicians benefit. Things like being able to incorporate notes like, “Okay. You may have to go up three flights of stairs if you’re thinking about bringing in a replacement dishwasher,” or the client has a dog, and it’s a large dog. Or in some cases, being able to appropriately match things like a particular service technician with the skills that might be required for that job, because in the end, when you have situations like a very technical job, you want to make sure that you are matching skills to the problem and doing that in efficient way so you’re not sending out multiple people over and over again because when cost starts to really increase. Of course, it makes for a worse customer experience.

Then, of course, surrounding all of this is making sure that these applications can seamlessly report back any kind of analytics and information with respect to things like performance, service quality, areas for improvement, where there’s points of friction. All of that information needs to be captured and captured in a way where it is not something that is where a human needs to sit there and write everything down longhand. That’s kind of the old way of doing it. A lot of these new packages allow for the service professional to arrive on site, tick a few boxes, and of course, in a very natural way, based on the choices that they’re inputting, more relevant information will come up. Then, with the end goal being, of course, that when they do a final wrap up, most of the information has already been captured.

In some cases, a lot of the tools are starting to integrate things like generative AI to help do sort of a service wrap up, essentially taking all that information and generating a natural language summary, which can then be used to go into the customer record. It does a couple of things. One, it makes sure that all of the important information with the interaction has been captured and recorded, and it also ensures that if there is follow up, the next person involved has all that information and has that in a narrative format so they’re able to really understand the story of what actually has been going on.

Then, of course, another sort of group tools that are increasingly being incorporated in these packages are financial tools. What we’re talking about here is the ability to take payments in the field without having to take a physical credit card and run it through, incorporating different payment types, whether it’s Venmo or a Square, any one of those. The goal is to make it as seamless as possible for that customer to not only receive that service but then pay for it, so you don’t have to call up the home office and run a credit card, anything like that.

So beyond that, I think there’s really a few sort of key elements that need to be included in any kind of field service offering. Certainly, ease of use. It needs to be intuitive, user-friendly. You can’t have a huge learning curve, because ultimately, if you think about the labor market these days, it’s hard to find people to do a lot of these service jobs. The last thing you want to do is increase the amount of time it takes to ramp up their familiarity with the software. They already need to focus on doing the actual job.

The second thing, of course, is making sure that, if there is an issue, that it is easy for these service people to get responsive customer support to make sure, if they do have a problem, they can quickly resolve it in the field and they don’t need to sort of shut down what they’re doing forever, and essentially take the process to an analog way of doing things. Then, of course, again, it is not as much of an issue with platforms that are essentially fully integrated with a CRM or an ERP system and a mobile application, but if you are using software from different vendors, you need to make sure that all of these softwares is properly integrated, so it can pull information from different parts of the business or different systems and then pull that together at the mobile application. Then, of course, have that information flow back to those systems so there is and remains a single source of truth.

Now, I guess the other thing that I want to mention here is that, as we’re starting to see a greater number of vendors rolling out advanced versions of this field software, field service software, we’re seeing a greater incorporation of artificial intelligence. This is obviously being used to automate tasks that are routine or that happen over and over again that are repetitive. AI is being used to optimize scheduling and really improve decision making, particularly when it comes to things like making sure that you have the right person there to do the job based on the skills they have and they have the right tools, and they have the right information available to them.

It really is a time saver to have a technician is going out to do a job if they’re able to have step-by-step instructions automatically sent to the device, as opposed to making them search through a physical manual or something like that. That’s really, again, where we’re starting to hear about things like other technology making their way into these types of applications, things like augmented reality. We’re still a little early with that, but I do believe that is going to be coming, particularly through the use of cameras, where you might not have something where someone’s wearing, let’s say, a headset, but you might have something where you have some sort of augmented reality function, so you could hold up a camera, look at a piece of equipment, and then have some sort of augmented information there to help the technician either diagnose a problem or fix a problem.

Then, of course, most importantly, we got to talk about security. This is, as the technology becomes even more ubiquitous, all of these applications need to make sure that they’re adhering to the proper security protocols to really safeguard sensitive customer data and company data. Really, this goes beyond the actual technology, but it’s also about instituting the right and best practices for workers who use this technology. They should be trained on how to make sure that they safeguard their device. They shouldn’t just be leaving it out when they go out to the truck to get another piece of equipment.

They need to, I guess, be trained on using things like two-factor authentication for when they’re logging into their devices, and to make sure that they’re not sharing inappropriate information either with the customers or with other technicians. Because in the end, because you’re out in the field there, you don’t have that level of just sort of built in security that you might sitting behind the desk, so it’s very, very important to make sure that there are the appropriate technology controls, but also that there’s appropriate training to go along with it.

Now, there are a number of different applications out there that are offering some sort of field service or mobile applications. I can rattle off a number of them, just off the top of my head. We have Microsoft Dynamics 365 Field Service, Salesforce Field Service, ServiceNow Field Service Management. ServiceTitan is a specialized field service management software. That’s designed primarily for contractors who operate in the HVAC, plumbing and electrical industries. Let’s see here. Oracle Field Service. This is sort of an integrated offering that is really designed to automate and intelligently deliver a seamless experience for field service workers. It offers intelligent scheduling, route optimization, workforce management, and real-time tracking, and of course, it is fully integrated because it’s on the same platform as Oracle CRM and ERP systems.

So what else? We also have NetSuite Field Service Management. That’s a cloud-based solution that is designed to automate and streamline field service operations, and again, that is also integrated with NetSuite’s ERP and CRM modules. Let’s see. What else here? SAP field service management. That offers intelligence scheduling, resource optimization, all of those types of tools. I think there’s another one here I’m thinking of. Import field service management. That’s another cloud-based solution designed to really optimize field service operations. It handles scheduling, dispatching, asset tracking, contract management, and let’s see if there’s any others I’m thinking of. Sage Field Service. That’s part of Sage Business Cloud. Again, similar functionality here. Scheduling, dispatching, job tracking. Same thing with Zoho Field Service Management.

All of these different platforms and applications, they’re designed to do somewhat of the same thing here. They are designed to really try to remove a lot of the friction from field service operations by using automation, using artificial intelligence, incorporating various mobile design principles to the application to make it easy to not only input information but retrieve information, and the goal here is to really make sure that, as a service professional out in the field, they’re able to operate in a very efficient manner, basically in a way that would be very analogous to someone sitting behind a desk with the obvious challenge, of course, being out in the field. And really, if we think about it, why is this even important now as compared to a few years ago?

Well, one thing, if you think about just compare now with even 20 years ago, we have ubiquitous connectivity in most parts of the world. Now, obviously, there are certain pockets, where if you go out, we’re basically in very, very low population areas. You might not have that full-time connectivity, but for the most part, organizations offering service to residential customers and even some business customers, they’re going to have internet connectivity. As a result, when you have that sort of all the time pervasive connection, the expectations for immediate service are that much higher. Customers really believe that if they’re able to have that visibility into their Amazon purchasing, they need to have it when a contractor comes to their house or their place of business. They want that same level of visibility and granular visibility into everything. That is a key driver of a better customer experience, because customers want to feel like everything is being done to meet their needs.

Of course, along with that, personalization has become a massive, massive factor in terms of ensuring repeat business and customer and reducing customer churn. If that level of personalization that you get when you go on the web and you get bombarded with offers on the web, if that can be extended in a thoughtful and measured way when a human comes to your door to deliver service, that can make a big difference in the overall experience. When they’re able to come up and say, “Okay, I’m here. I’m taking a look at your boiler, and it looks like you need a new water pump,” or something like that, being able to easily deliver that upsell or that cross-sell in such a way where it’s backed up by information saying, “Well, the last time it was replaced was 10 years ago, and I see here that because you bought a whatever widget from us six months ago, we can offer you a discount because of that.”

All of these little things that may not seem much like much. When they come together, that can really add up to delivering a better, more personalized experience for customers. So ultimately, when in the next couple of weeks we’re going to be releasing this market insight report, which we’ll go into more detail into each of the players that I mentioned into their solutions and what they’re offering, and I would encourage you to download that report when it’s available on the FuturumGroup.com website, but I think I really just scratched the surface. I would love to hear from anyone if anyone has any thoughts on the software and where it’s going in the future.

Now, of course, I’ve come to the rant or rave section of the show, and today I actually have a combination of a rant and a rave. This is a little more personal than we normally get here, but I did want to highlight it. This week, at The Futurum Group, a couple of my colleagues have decided to leave The Futurum Group, Mark Beccue, who was Research Director for AI, and Sherril Hanson, who was a senior analyst at covering CX. They both decided to leave The Futurum Group. With that, I’m going to rant, because I wish they were still here. They were both assets to the company, and I think it’s a shame that they’re leaving; however, I will rave by saying that this is a real opportunity to establish that, even though those folks are gone and we wish them well, it gives me an opportunity to kind of unify my coverage area as well.

I am going to be focusing even more on the incorporation of AI into enterprise applications. Within that, I’m also expanding my coverage to cover CX, which is customer experience of course, and EX or employee experience. These are two subcategories within the enterprise application space. So what that means is I’m going to be able to take a look at the space from an even broader lens, and then drill down where appropriate, and I hope that will help a couple of things. One is help me further understand the full strategy of a lot of the vendors that I cover, how they’re trying to bring these products to market, and how they’re trying to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

And secondly, I think it will be very helpful in helping to understand how they are really trying to connect with their customers from a full product continuum perspective, because if you look at something like employee experience, yes, it’s a self-discipline in of itself, but it goes a long way to helping to enable a better customer experience. When we look at it from a complete or holistic perspective, all of these sub applications, seeing how they work together, how they integrate together, that can be really useful in understanding what an application vendor strategy is overall, in terms of making sure that as many points of friction within the organization are reduced or made to be much more seamless.

That is what is, ultimately, I believe, which is where the market is going, and what, of course, is enabling all that? Well, I’ll give you one guess. Artificial intelligence, particularly generative AI. With all of this, I think it gives me an opportunity to kind of follow different areas or different leads in a much more deep way, and hopefully that will help me, talking to you, further understand and further communicate the messages from our clients and from the market, as well as delve into even deeper lines of questioning to make sure that these vendors are, in fact, delivering what they say they are.

With that, I’m going to wrap up this week’s episode, and of course, I want to thank everyone for joining me here on Enterprising Insights. So I’ll be back again next week with another episode, focused on the happenings within the enterprise application market. So thanks to everyone for tuning in, and be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast on your preferred platform. Thank you, and we’ll see you next time.

Author Information

Keith has over 25 years of experience in research, marketing, and consulting-based fields.

He has authored in-depth reports and market forecast studies covering artificial intelligence, biometrics, data analytics, robotics, high performance computing, and quantum computing, with a specific focus on the use of these technologies within large enterprise organizations and SMBs. He has also established strong working relationships with the international technology vendor community and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events.

In his career as a financial and technology journalist he has written for national and trade publications, including BusinessWeek, CNBC.com, Investment Dealers’ Digest, The Red Herring, The Communications of the ACM, and Mobile Computing & Communications, among others.

He is a member of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP).

Keith holds dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Magazine Journalism and Sociology from Syracuse University.

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