July 08, 2021

Predictive and Preventative Maintenance: A New Paradigm for Field Service

  • Field Service Insights

Say goodbye to field service as we know it.  

Expectations around when, why, and how we send technicians into the field are changing fast, propelled by a combination of technological advancement and economic opportunity. This is a time of transition, but it won’t be long before the field service industry operates according to a new set of imperatives. Take this opportunity to learn about the changes in progress – and get in front of them while there is still time.  

A Brief History of Field Service 

For most of history, field service was reactive. Someone would only contact a technician to come repair their furnace or fix their industrial equipment after something went wrong. Technicians were viewed as “repair people” for the most part and only called upon when it was necessary.  

The problem with reactive maintenance is that waiting until something breaks means it takes longer and costs more to fix it. The old adage “an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure exists for a reason. It is always better to address a problem when it is small and manageable rather than wait for it to get worse.  

Planned field service was meant to be the solution. Equipment makers would publish service schedules detailing when and why equipment should undergo maintenance, part replacement, or tune ups. The best-known example is your car, which should get an oil change every 3 months or 3,000 miles. Planning field service based on the manufacturer’s recommendations can prevent expensive breakdowns, extend the life of equipment, and maximize the lifetime value. But here is the problem – people are not always great at planning.  

Why Does Equipment Still Fail?

Despite having abundant information for planning field service, people still miss important deadlines, milestones, and thresholds all the time. And this leads to preventable breakdowns. In the manufacturing industry alone, unplanned downtime (due in large part to unexpected equipment issues) costs an estimated $50 billion annually. Reactive maintenance remains prevalent, even though we theoretically have the means to prevent it.  

The operative word there is theoretically. Planned maintenance should work, but it often falls by the wayside because it is hard to worry about or spend money on problems that are not apparent yet. Out of sight, out of mind. Even though we have the means to prevent problems and compelling reasons to want to, we often neglect to, whether scheduling a dentist appointment, oil change, or field service.  

Planned maintenance has not worked as promised because the equipment owner has the responsibility. They are the ones tracking the service schedule, monitoring for initial red flags, and calling in technicians as necessary. For homeowners and business owners alike, it is difficult to prioritize “service tracking” when there is so much else to do. And without a professional understanding of equipment, it can be hard to know what the best approach to long-term preventative maintenance looks like because manufacturers do not always make it obvious.  

Since we have never really moved beyond reactive field service, one can only conclude the industry is long overdue for change. It has arrived – and it is cause for excitement.  

Explaining Predictive and Preventative Maintenance

Predictive and preventative maintenance are the future of field service. Together, they represent a new paradigm for servicing anything and everything.  

Preventative maintenance has the same goal as planned maintenance – avoiding breakdowns using proactive interventions – only with more effective methods. The field service provider takes the lead on service tracking and appointment scheduling rather than leaving it entirely up to equipment owners. For instance, field service providers who service industrial equipment would track when a particular piece of equipment was due for service, then reach out proactively about what it needs and why. The process could even be automated to make scheduling service both easy and unavoidable (with exceptions, of course).  

Preventative maintenance can also go a step further than planned maintenance. Rather than relying on a service schedule, technicians can, in some instances, monitor the equipment remotely for the early signs of impending problems. Internet-connected sensors and other emerging technologies create a direct, real-time link between technicians and equipment with endless possibilities for spotting warning signs and preventing problems.  

Just as impactful but with a slightly different focus, predictive maintenance is about understanding what is wrong with equipment to expedite the repair process. Previously, technicians had to complete lengthy and complex diagnostics before starting any actual work, which often meant leaving to get parts, equipment, extra help, or specialized expertise. Predictive maintenance strives to give technicians the diagnostic information they need as early and effortlessly as possible.  

For example, when a technician has the complete service history and warranty records for a piece of equipment, they can see what has gone wrong and been repaired before, then factor that information into their diagnosis. And when the technician has access to an asset’s conditional baselines and technology, they can quickly identify where those baselines have been breached and to what extent, making it easy to plan the right repair.  

With predictive and preventative maintenance, outages, downtime, and disruption become a thing of the past. They are transforming how people think about the equipment upon which they rely. They are transforming the field service industry as well.  

Why Providers Should Be Onboard

The concepts outlined above might sound alarming to a field service provider. If predictive and preventative maintenance mean that breakdowns happen rarely and repairs happen quickly, they have the potential to drastically reduce revenues.  

That is a real concern because lengthy repairs are often valuable jobs. But these new forms of maintenance do not eliminate repair revenues – they shift them elsewhere.  

Field service takes on extra importance in an era of predictive and preventative maintenance. Technicians will need to visit a site regularly to work on equipment, and they will have a bigger role in always keeping that equipment operating safely and efficiently. Field service providers can raise their prices now that they are providing more value, and they can invoice customers more often for preventative services. They could even pioneer a service subscription program that generates consistent, predictable revenue compared to the fluctuating totals that came in when reactive maintenance was the norm. 

In addition to increasing revenue, predictive and preventative maintenance help field service providers lower costs thanks to new operational efficiencies. With better insight into what an asset needs before arrival, providers can plan who and what to send on site to ensure the service appointment goes seamlessly. Eliminating common sources of waste and redundancy makes each appointment more economical.  

The biggest reason to be onboard, however, is that superior maintenance turns the field service provider into a field service partner. Partners that keep equipment up and running consistently will enjoy the loyalty that comes from happy customers and have a compelling way to attract new ones. Conversely, partners that can offer predictive and preventative maintenance will remain relevant once these options are the norm, not the outlier.  

As expectations around maintenance and field service change, there will be extra advantages for the early adopters along with unpredictable struggles for those who wait too long to change.  

Revolutionizing Maintenance with Field Service Management Software

The case for predictive and preventative maintenance is clear. Now, it is up to field service providers to work these capabilities into their existing offerings.  Predictive and preventative maintenance can be a logistical nightmare with outdated systems, especially if they rely on paper forms, manual entries, and multiple programs.  

Field service management software delivers the insight and control necessary to make predictive and preventative maintenance possible. But not just any software will do. An effective solution should offer these features:  

  • Comprehensive data tracking – Prediction and prevention both require abundant amounts of data to reach the right conclusions. When it comes to data, the more, the better. Therefore, software should be able to collect, track, and analyze data from as many sources as possible.
  • Mobility – Software accessible through a smartphone, tablet, or laptop lets technicians access service histories, warranty records, conditional baselines, or repair manuals in the field. Whatever they need to complete the job efficiently and effectively is easily accessible. Technicians can also enter information, such as the type of preventative maintenance they performed, directly into the software through their mobile device so  every important detail gets recorded and integrated. [Text Wrapping Break] 
  • ERP integration – When the field service management software integrates with the accounting or business management software, predictive and preventative maintenance have a greater economic impact. Providers can clearly see how their activities in the field affect the bottom line, positively or negatively, and use those insights to redesign pricing structures and service-level agreements.
  • Complete visibility – Delivering a higher-caliber of maintenance does not come easily. Providers will need to refine and streamline much of what they do, from technician scheduling to parts inventory management, to ensure they stay ahead of any problem. Software that does everything on one platform provides a top-down perspective on field service and deep visibility into how the pieces are moving. Maintenance improves because the company providing it does too.  

Next Service: Pioneering the Future of Field Service

Next Service is an innovative field service management software built to run inside the NetSuite ecosystem. With modules to handle every aspect of service delivery and customer engagement, along with extensive customization options, Next Service equips any provider to begin offering predictive and preventative maintenance – and so much more. Optimizing everything is easier than you think. Contact us to see the future in action.  

July 08, 2021
  • Field Service Insights
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