Field Service and Technology Forecast: 5 Things to Expect in 2021

As CTO for Next Technik, I am responsible for communicating our technology preferences for operations and product development. This involves assessing technology trends which will potentially impact the field service sector and creating a clear technology strategy for stakeholders, including partners and customers.

I have shared some of my thought below, enjoy.

QR Codes, more than just a marketing gimmick.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed us all in many subtle ways. The most profound is that we now freely provide personal contact information to hospitality venues, including date and duration of stay, for the purpose of contact tracing.

While it could be argued that we have been doing this for years on social media apps, never have we voluntarily as a population provided establishments with personal contact details as a mandatory precursor to dining with the express purpose of government accessing and using personal data without permission.

Progressive establishments have implemented QR codes on tables which when scanned launch an ordering and payment app. Personal experience of this has been great. Recently at a local craft brewery we all ordered via the QR menu app, no bill splitting, no jostling at the bar for drinks. It was great.

Why it matters:

  • Quick response (QR) codes launch apps that do not require users to pre-load a native app.
  • When a technology enters mainstream it becomes rapidly adopted, even demanded.
  • Previously relegated to marketing, it is now a utility to be incorporated into your workflow.

I expect companies to request QR codes be incorporated into work order workflow and asset maintenance parts dispatch. Making QR codes part of a workflow will increase accuracy and transparency, while improving employee and customer engagement.

Remote working technology has changed customer expectations.

What once was a nice-to-have tool has become a mission critical utility as millions of information workers vacated the office to work from home. Stories of Zoom parties or Microsoft Teams dinners became the norm.

Teams easily come together for all hands meetings which in past were difficult to organize. Now a normalized form of interaction, customers expect online video meetings, as well. It is just how we do things now.

For a long time, service had been trending to chat bots, email replies, SMS updates, and maybe a phone call to clarify or confirm. Is this going to be enough in 2021 when everybody uses online video meeting tools every day?

Why it matters:

  • If we put the customer experience first, we adapt our service to their preferred method of communication.
  • Everyone now uses online video meeting tools as an opportunity to create positive customer engagements by entering their workspace rather than trying to keep them out of our own.
  • Human interaction creates human relationships; differentiate by personalizing your service.

I expect to receive requests to integrate online meeting solutions with our field service applications. Capturing the interaction for audit and service history is valuable information for the field service organization.

 

Gaming in the Cloud will break through, and this technology will be applied to field service automation.

This is my bold prediction for 2021.

Streaming games technology has been in development for more than 15 years, with Google receiving lots of flack when launching Stadia in 2019. Stadia created latency issues with input controllers, negatively impacting the  player’s ability to be competitive.

Improvement in connectivity and pervasive 5G (more on this latter) has reduced input latency dramatically. Also, as in all markets in which the user base hits a critical mass and the opportunity becomes financially viable, more companies will enter the market. This spreads the research and development load and leads to faster improvements.

COVID-19 has also been responsible for boosting eSports into the stratosphere, with many professional athletes joining eSports teams to compete while in lockdown.

What has cloud gaming got to do with the field service industry? Like many advancements, the technology can be reapplied to take advantage of the underlying benefits.

Why it matters:

  • Reduced latency will improve internet-based control systems that require precision timing and control.
  • Machinery and equipment manufacturers are building cloud hosted emulators (like games) for maintenance and repair training, marketing, and sales.
  • Monitoring and maintaining assets in the field using internet-based control systems is a competitive opportunity for field service organizations, akin to the explosion of managed services providers out of the IT support business in the late 90s.

This point is more about creating awareness, since Internet and cloud technology stacks are continuously replaced and improved with very little awareness by the consumer. Understanding this means we need to look outside our industry to find opportunities to differentiate.

Location Data becomes a shared commodity.

Many years ago, I worked in food traceability. Understanding where, when, and how a batch of produce was transported from farm to plate could save lives in the event of a contamination. If a listeria outbreak occurred, effective food tracing was the difference between recalling a single batch or an entire week of shipments.

It seems to me that this is true today for people tracing. Being able to trace our movements, who we came into proximity with, where we encountered them and when, is the foundation of an effective contact tracing program. It could be the difference between shutting an entire warehouse for deep cleaning or asking a single employee to quarantine.

Being able to collect location data that can be trusted might become the basis of providing a safe and convenient customer and employee experience.

It works both ways. Curb side pickup experiences can be improved by real-time tracking of customers.  Alternatively, the customer’s ability to track the location of your service team can enable better management of separation to limit exposure risk.

Why it matters:

  • Even with vaccinations in progress, it is estimated that it will take a minimum of 12 months to complete vaccinations for the entire population.
  • Service organizations that pro-actively share location data will create trust and improve customer experiences.
  • Utilizing accurate location data can reduce the impact of an outbreak for your team and the customer.

I am expecting requests for mandatory location data logging. Ideally, we will be able to include an ability for the users to disable tracking when on scheduled personal time.

5G Networks become pervasive. Fifth Generation mobile network (not to be confused with 5Ghz WiFi) is fast – very fast.

When I chat to non-technical customers, I am frequently asked what the big deal is with 5G. For many, 4G seems to be fast enough, since it is not like we are streaming movies while at work.

My response is, “Be careful you are not the next Blockbuster.”

The fact that Blockbuster passed up the opportunity to purchase Netflix is a well told story. What many people do not consider is that Blockbuster was founded in 1985, just two years after the birth of the Internet.

The whole business model was built on the premise that circulating movies on a physical medium (first video cassettes and then DVDs) was faster than sending them digitally via the dial-up Internet of the time. They were right.

What they did not consider at the time was how fast Internet bandwidth was growing. According to Nielsen’s Law of Internet Bandwidth, user bandwidth grows by 50% per year.

Let me ask you this, what would your customers choose to do:

  • Download and watch a movie at home in their pajamas, or…
  • …get dressed, deal with traffic while driving to a store, find out that they want is not available, get another movie, return home, and then worry about a late fee?

The download option is, of course,  the vastly superior customer experience.

Astonishingly, 16% of Blockbuster revenue was derived by late fees. Think about that for a moment. They relied on their customers having a bad experience to make a bucket load of money, sigh…….

What is the point?

If Blockbuster recognized that their business was content delivery, they would have noted that a more efficient content delivery method was available, and that their business was at risk if they did not adapt. We all know what happened.

In this age of digital transformation in field service, more bandwidth means more opportunities. 4G was approximately 10 times faster than 3G. 5G, on the other hand, can theoretically be over 100 times faster than 4G without the congestion issues.

Why it matters:

  • Improved customer experience through implementation of video capture and service reports.
  • Availability of asset and location IoT monitoring and control solutions across a mobile network.
  • Reduction in device costs, as hardware demands are lower for streamed content and services.

I think high fidelity images and video streaming will become a high priority for field service management once 5G is embraced.

In Conclusion

This list was heavily influenced by our development schedule at Next Technik (top of mind so to speak) and does not touch on some big themes in field service technology today, such as machine learning, edge computing, and augmented and virtual reality.

My intent is to generate ideas to improve your field service business in 2021.

You will have noted that customer experience is a major theme of the post. We have a deep commitment to customer engagement and positive customer experiences at Next Technik. It is part of every conversation, service, and product decision we make.

Thank you for your attention.  If you found some value, please connect with me on LinkedIn to catch future posts and feel free to ask for advice on how NextService can help your field service business with digital transformation.

Daniel Perry

Next Technik (CTO), Field Mobility Native SuiteApp for Oracle NetSuite.

Klugo (Chair), Oracle NetSuite Solution Provider dedicated to enabling ERP for Field Service.

 

About Daniel Perry

A start-up generalist with extensive experience in product development, marketing, sales, service delivery, business operations, commercials and finance. After successfully co-founding several start-ups in the cloud ERP sector, I now regularly provide advisory services to early-stage start-ups or entrepreneurs still in ideation.

If you are interested in learning more about how Next Service, a Next Technik product build on and for NetSuite, can help keep your field services organization on the leading edge of technology innovations, contact us today.