Using smart technology to become more efficient and productive

In order to keep a product support program running as efficiently as possible, manufacturers need to stay on top of technology trends and search for the best solutions to keep them competitive.

By Joanna Rotter, MSI Data March 31, 2016

A big part of running a successful business in any equipment manufacturing industry is managing quality service programs. Manufacturers are taking advantage of growing opportunities in product support to stay ahead of the competition and provide customers the level of product support they expect.

In order to keep a product support program running as efficiently as possible, manufacturers need to stay on top of technology trends and search for the best solutions to keep them competitive. Cloud computing, for example, is one trend manufacturers can’t afford to ignore if they want the connectivity and flexibility of a best-of-breed service management system.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions from equipment manufacturers about how the latest technology advancements can improve their service process.

1. Why are manufacturers considering new applications in their product support/service operation?

Field service software plays an increasingly important role for manufacturers and their customers, particularly for those whose products, equipment or machinery are mission critical. Because field service is a main touchpoint between equipment service providers and the customer, it’s critically important to be able to efficiently take calls, schedule technicians, and see work and customer history, product and personnel data. Manufacturers are turning to field service management in the cloud to give them access to this functionality and integrate their work in the field with the rest of the system.

Whether it’s medical, construction, or any other type of capital equipment, repairs that require downtime come at a high cost for customers and manufacturers. The importance of preventing unscheduled downtime through preventive maintenance and efficient service visits cannot be overstated.

To meet the growing demand for quality service, leading manufacturers are innovating with servitization—incorporating service as a central component of their product offering. Instead of focusing solely on selling a product, manufacturers are developing a service sales strategy to match the increasing needs of customers. With service and the overall customer experience in mind, it’s common for manufacturers to deliver and expand field services through a dealer network. In these cases, cloud-based software can help manufacturers and their dealers collaborate to deliver a consistent, high quality customer experience that delivers mutual benefit.

2. How important is using cloud-based applications for field service management?

In the last five years or so, manufacturing has seen a huge burst in the use of cloud solutions to manage operations. "The cloud is emerging as a core platform for manufacturing innovation, enabling everything from rapid adoption of new plant equipment to real-time customer and supplier collaboration. Survey respondents list cloud software among the most important technologies in strengthening their competitive edge in the next five years," a recent Plex study on cloud computing in manufacturing reported.

For service organizations performing work in the field, the cloud’s importance has increased dramatically as a connective element for each of the rapidly-advancing technologies that surround a field service operation. Today, a field service management system needs to be able to communicate automatically with a variety of external technologies such as apps on mobile devices in the hands of technicians, vehicles for GPS location and third party business systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems for important integrations. Cloud-based systems simplify and streamline these efforts.

3. How does software in the cloud help manufacturers integrate systems to find an all-in-one solution?

Cloud-to-cloud integrations are simpler since it’s easier to scale to a company’s business needs, add more users, integrate more systems, and offer more software updates.

Using a cloud platform, manufacturers can connect and adjust pieces of the systems they use, which allows them to invest in best-of-breed solutions to manage each piece of their organization. The flexibility of cloud, allows service manufacturers to connect to each system through a single device. Seventy-four percent of respondents to the Plex study experienced better process integration with cloud solutions.

4. What are the main benefits manufacturers experience from using cloud-based service apps?

Cloud-based software offers manufacturers the flexibility they need to tackle growing service demands and earn additional revenue. These are some of the main advantages of cloud that give manufacturers the tools they need without extra cost:

  1. Affordability: Cloud investments not only have little to no up-front costs during installation since the servers aren’t installed on-site, cloud, or software as a service (SaaS), business models offer pay-as-you-go plans, which makes cash flow management and planning much easier.
  2. No in-house IT costs: Once cloud software is set up and installed, companies don’t have to support cloud-based systems in house, which frees information technology (IT) teams to focus on other projects.
  3. Faster deployment and easier integration: Deployments in the cloud can be done in days or weeks so business can start reaping results sooner. Cloud-to-cloud integrations are also simpler since it’s easier to scale to the user’s business needs, add more users, integrate more systems, and offer more software updates.
  4. Immediate updates: It can be difficult, inconvenient, or costly to update software on-premises, so many businesses choose to run on an outdated system rather than go through the hassle of upgrading. Cloud solutions continually push new advancements so the user has the latest, most advanced versions of the software.
  5. Stronger security: Cloud servers are protected by failover capabilities, so if one server goes down, there is automatic failover between hardware platforms and disaster recovery services to bring up the server set in a separate data center so there’s no risk of losing any data or experiencing system downtime.

With best-of-breed apps deployed in the cloud, service teams can begin taking advantage of other new technologies to grow their business, including telematics.

5. How can manufacturers benefit from incorporating connected smart technologies in their service process?

The companies that are best at implementing and using service apps know that major gains in productivity and machinery life are available through "connected" field service systems. These smart, connected systems take a variety of forms:

  1. The first and most important connection manufacturers are tackling is a centralized field service system that’s always connected to the field.
  2. The second main need manufacturers have is a tight integration between their primary system of record—typically, their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system—and field service for seamless transition of customer, parts/inventory and invoicing data.
  3. The third, and, the most exciting connection manufacturers see is that of a field service system to usage, performance and maintenance information generated by their own machines through telematics. Customers and manufacturers both prefer preventive maintenance "before failure" to unscheduled downtime due to unexpected failure. As machines become smarter, manufacturers plan to utilize that information to become more proactive, helping customers avoid downtime.

Many large manufacturers are taking big steps to improve product support across their dealer network. With the right service technology connecting their business, dealers can use big data to anticipate problems, schedule preventive and predictive maintenance, and help customers manage their equipment fleets more efficiently.

6. How are top manufacturers using smart technology to run their service programs?

Manufacturers across a wide spectrum of industries are implementing transformative field service technologies. "Service organizations are increasingly using innovative technologies to glean actionable insights, anticipate customer needs, and provide everything from more efficient call routing to faster case history access," according to a 2015 state of service report by Salesforce Research.

While it is not uncommon for manufacturers to have back office legacy systems in place that track core aspects of field service, such as customers, inventory and assets, far less common are those manufacturers that have fully modernized their service operation, from mobile and scheduling to back office and the Internet of Things (IoT). "High performers are 3.6x more likely than underperformers to use smart technologies like predictive analytics in their service organization."

Manufacturers working to make dream service system a reality

We are still in the early stages of field service technology adoption (only about 25% of companies have adopted an IoT solution to help them manage service). We see this as an area of huge growth for manufacturing industries. Just like mobile was an ignitor 4 to 5 years ago, the IoT will drive the next round of growth.

Thanks to maturation and affordability of key technologies like mobile apps, devices, sensors and cloud, manufacturers we speak with are very excited that they can make their service vision a reality.

Joanna Rotter is content marketing manager at MSI Data. MSI Data is a CFE Media content partner. See the original article here. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control

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