New technology - whether it is IoT, AI, augmented reality, or blockchain - takes a while to reach mass adoption. During that process, some tech companies might lose sight of the end-user benefits. But ultimately, technology should drive improvements to the service provided to customers.

That’s why simPRO has pushed forward with IoT technology in field service management, as it can already address some of the current challenges faced by the industry.

Richard Pratley, Managing Director of simPRO UK, has also spoken broadly about the field service industry, trends and technology predictions in his conversation with Field Service News Deputy Editor - Mark Glover.

Below are the insights presented in a Q&A format and edited for clarity.

You can also listen to the full Field Service Podcast episode here:

What are the current challenges in the field service industry?

Skilled labour shortage and how that’s impacting the industry. From our perspective, the big thing we do with our software is we try to get more billable hours or getting more out of your existing workforce. With the labour shortage, we need to get better with what we’ve got.

There are some underlying trends, such as a lack of investment in apprenticeships in both the UK and New Zealand, where simPRO has a presence. This is manifested in the disparity between field engineers who are retiring and new young engineers coming to the industry.

Are people open to technology adoption?

field service engineer

Very much so. It’s never been a better time for a business to adopt some operational software platform for job management. Five or six years ago, for your small-medium enterprise and even for large businesses, it was a hugely costly or even a cost prohibitive exercise. Now, the barrier entry is low, there is minimal investment and a quick return on investment.

Besides outlining obvious benefits to the bottom line, how would you convince those who are used to paper-based processes?

There are a lot of considerations and a lot of it stems back from where that business is in its life cycle. The owners of a lot of very well, large established service business, whether it’s in plumbing, electrical, or facility management, are looking at some point to retire and have some sort of exit strategy.

The challenge there is without systemisation, it’s in somebody’s head. Somebody could walk out with all the intellectual property. One way to counter that is to get a platform in where you can collaborate, share information across the business and drive productivity.

What place does IoT have in field service management?

We’re beginning to understand the potential and practicality of IoT in field service management. Back then, it was overwhelming to think that every single device would be connected to the Internet. But now we’re working through IoT use cases and certainly in field service management, where we’ve got a number of proofs of concept running already.

Can you share a bit more about the Luton Airport IoT case study?

We’ve worked for Swissport who has a number of premium lounges through the airport. And the building owner has a facility management company looking after those lounges and that’s Thermacell in this case.

There are some unique challenges: the lounges are located in a highly secure area and there’s quite high compliance cost and time to go in and service those assets. This is where IoT comes in.

IoT field service

We’ve been able to connect some very inexpensive sensors to critical plant and equipment and monitor them in real time with set parameters. For example, if the vibration is increasing in the chiller, we get early notifications, we know exactly where the asset is located. This information is directly linked in simPRO job management system, which will create a job for a technician to go inspect that asset.

The project has been running since June 2018 and it’s been very effective for Swissport and Thermacell, who are looking to roll out to more lounges.

Where do you see the field service industry in five years’ time?

  1. There is IoT and the customer service ecosystem and we’ve only just been scratching the surface. I think it’ll be a core competence that field service businesses need to have. They’ll be able to offer more comprehensive services (e.g. proactive and preventive maintenance) to customers at an affordable price.

  2. There is some cool stuff happening with augmented reality. From a business that has a heavy asset maintenance capability in the software, it’s an interesting space for simPRO. For example, the ability to grab your device and look through the camera lens at an asset to see more information about that asset.

  3. We are going to lean on AI to help us make sense of streams of data. I expect AI to have an overarching role in data processing and real-time actions we need to make as businesses.

Originally recorded by Field Service News, the leading trade journal for the service sector that offers a complimentary subscription to field service professionals. For more information head to their website.