What the Internet of Things Means for Field Service
By Aleksandr Peterson
The so-called “internet of things” (IoT) is one of the biggest IT sensations in recent history — partly because of its futuristic mystique and partly because of its practical implications for business, which are further-reaching than some may have expected. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the global IoT is comprised of 25 billion devices and expected to reach 50 billion by 2020. The biggest question for most industries is about value-add.
What does my team, my organization, or my industry stand to gain from a vast network of connected devices that exchange information about performance and use? Gartner says the overall economic gains could add up to $1.9 trillion, with the highest growth seen in manufacturing, healthcare, and insurance, but a large part of the IoT conversation has settled around the field service industry, likely because it’s closely tied to physical asset maintenance (e.g. appliances, utility meters, vehicles, equipment), and these assets could theoretically be connected to other devices and management systems. But the phrase, “internet of things” is so all-encompassing that it’s hard to fathom how, precisely, field service will be affected, much less how it can use IoT for strategic advantage.
IoT will probably catch on for consumers, which means service providers can market “smart” systems for home automation — smart lighting, smart security, smart thermostats — and further bridge the gap between their product and service offerings. But even if it doesn’t, there are some concrete ways service companies can use IoT technology to improve their field operations. Many of these are being used by competitive companies in conjunction with the best field service management software. Here are four areas to consider:
- Preventative maintenance: The best way to minimize asset failure is to solve problems before they happen. Using embedded sensors and a remote monitoring system, your equipment, machinery, vehicles, etc. can discern and communicate early warning signs based on heat, pressure, flow, voltage, etc. You can then dispatch a technician to address the vulnerability before it causes larger issues. This can also lead to a lower cost of asset ownership, in cases where proprietary equipment is being leased to a client.
- Faster response times: Without automated monitoring, issue detection is left to human perception, which is slower to respond. For example, you only realize your A/C unit is out when your house or office turns into a sauna. If that A/C unit were connected to a computerized maintenance management system, it could have sent a low freon alert to the provider and been serviced preemptively.
- Better fleet management: If you’re a fleet-focused service company (e.g. utilities, telecommunications, public sector transportation service), you can use telematics embedded in vehicles or mobile devices to track driver location in real time and make better job assignment or rerouting decisions.
- Less unnecessary trips: If you can pinpoint problems remotely, you can decide what each job will require and which technician has the right skillset to do the work. This can be especially useful in situations where equipment is remotely stationed or difficult to access, like the lightbulb at the top of a 1,500-foot wireless tower. Some say the IoT is bound to become an integral part of the way people work and live in not-so-distant future; others shrug it off as a fad. But what primarily concerns the field service industry is not commercial viability of IoT technology, but its usefulness. In that sense, service companies stand to gain quite a lot: faster, smarter service, less mistakes, and less downtime.