2015 technology trends create opportunity for field service organizations

2015 is off to a fast start as burgeoning technology trends create products and services ripe for field service use.

By Josh Kasombo April 14, 2015

Technology continues to advance in ways that permeate how businesses operate, while bringing plenty of questions about the future role of technology in our personal and professional lives. Those of us in the service industry have the unique opportunity to get ahead of the game and discover incorporations for these new technologies in field service operations. Tomorrow’s technology means today’s great opportunity.

So how does the start of the year translate to a head start for your service business? Let’s take a look:

1. Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT)

More data means more data points, which leads to more insight and opportunity for positive change. This is the rally call of Big Data in 2015, and for good reason. It’s obvious that Big Data has the ability to revolutionize a business, and the vast amounts of data field service companies have access to make the industry an excellent fit for the application.

Now, we have the ability to manipulate that data in ways that make it manageable, understandable, and most importantly, build a pathway to success when used strategically. Especially when applying lessons from Big Data to the field, an organization can understand which of the thousands of information nuggets are key performance indicators (KPIs) that say the most about how you are performing now and how you can be more efficient and successful in the future.

But without question the ‘Internet of Things’ is the hottest topic in technology today. With the promise of connecting all our devices, appliances, machines, vehicles, or anything else with a current, the technology has been at the forefront of many industries innovations. For field service, it’s this seamless connection to all parts of the service cycle that would carry significant benefits. Especially considering companies such as IBM and Microsoft are putting IoT specific initiatives into motion.

2. 3D printing

Service managers know parts or spare equipment are vital to daily workflow and success. Low or missing parts can stall service visits for hours, days, or even weeks. If your business has faced such vendor or part service management issues in the past, 3-D printing is a technology that you’ve been keeping a close eye on.

This year, new advancements to the printing process make it an even more viable solution for parts management. Traditionally, when 3-D printers make an object they do it additively, building layer by layer from the bottom up. Now companies like Carbon3D and Stratasys are changing the game. Carbon3D’s CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) gets rid of the layering process, instead growing parts out of a pool of resin. This creates uni-body parts that are free of structural discrepancies. CLIP would allow businesses to produce commercial quality parts on demand, creating a clear path to 3D manufacturing.

Stratasys has been hard at work developing what they call “4D printing”. Their Connex multi-material 3D printing technology allows engineers to essentially program different material properties into structures that use water to activate the self-assembly process. In other words, the printed materials are able to fold and bend into predetermined shapes after being printed.

According to Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends of 2015, “3D printing will reach a tipping point over the next three years as the market for relatively low-cost 3D printing devices continues to grow rapidly and industrial use expands significantly.” 3D and 4D printing for service and repair would eliminate the need for technicians to return to the office to retrieve a forgotten part or tool. Anything you have the schematic for, you can make on the spot.

3. Automotive technology

This year, the importance of automotive technology hasn’t been understated as car manufacturers have gone to great lengths to showcase new navigation, safety, and diagnostic advances. From self-parking to self-driving, the focus has been on autonomous vehicle systems that can utilize big data and next generation fuel systems.

Nvidia has been a major player in vehicle innovation, lending its new Tegra K1 VCM chip to vehicle consoles enabling new ways to collect vehicle data, send console firmware, analyze driving and traffic conditions, and outputting health diagnostics. GM and BMW have also made efforts to show off their intelligent car models, incorporating features like advanced telematics and industry leading accident avoidance, respectively.

However the biggest news of 2015 has been for fuel cell powered vehicles, with manufacturers such as Toyota and Hyundai planning launches for consumers. Unlike electric vehicles which need to be charged from an external source, fuel cells generate electricity directly, using fuels such as hydrogen or natural gas. In practice, fuel cells and batteries are combined, with the fuel cell generating electricity and the batteries storing this energy until demanded by the motors that drive the vehicle.

Harnessing the processing power of workstation grade chips in vehicles creates automobiles capable of internal health detection, blind spot monitoring, collision avoidance, lane departure warnings, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, and more. Add to that vehicles with new efficient fuel systems and you’re looking at big things for the future of fleet management and maintenance, which equates to both savings and profits.

4. Smartwatches

Mobile is becoming a necessity rather than a luxury as more companies realize the benefits of improved productivity and access up-to-date information by using mobile in the field. But while traditional mobile devices like smartphones and tablets may seem obvious at this point, there’s been a recent surge in non-traditional mobile devices for field service that are starting to see some enterprise play.

According to a recent prediction from research firm, Gartner, “50% of all app interactions will come from wearable devices by 2017 partly because of the way wearables work.” Unequivocally though, the wearable of 2015 looks to be the smartwatch, and although numerous companies have flooded the market with the wrist computer, all eyes seem to be on Apple’s upcoming offering, the Apple Watch.

Tapping into the extensive iOS ecosystem, the Apple Watch will keep you connected to all your productivity apps to make your interactions as fast, simple, and easy as possible. Coming equipped with NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate monitor, and barometer the watch will be able to serve as a companion for a multitude of service tasks.

Smartwatches like the Apple Watch can offer a great means for field technicians to receive alerts and messages without having to interrupt their workflow. An even better use for a service technician could be if they use the camera on their watch in combination with the screen of his phone to view otherwise inaccessible areas. Apps for these wearable devices will allow field techs access to important information completely hands free and right before their eyes.

The future of field service technology is here for the taking

As a field service organization you are already working with incredible technology and equipment in your daily operations, but it’s important to keep an eye out as technology continues to progress. Staying vigilant with these technologies will help your organization and operations stay ahead. Incorporating these early 2015 technology trends into your service organization will keep you both cutting edge and ahead of the competition.

-Josh Kasombo is content marketing specialist for MSI Data. This article originally appeared here. Edited by Anisa Samarxhiu, digital project manager, Control Engineering, asamarxhiu@cfemedia.com

Original content can be found at www.msidata.com.