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What is next generation field service management and how can it help your utility?

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Alan King's picture
CEO & Founder Dusk Mobile

Alan specialises in the design, build and running of utility centric workforce management software and has extensive experience delivering across asset intensive industries, including energy....

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  • Jun 8, 2022
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What is next generation field service management software?

We define it as the ability to work with these technologies that have become mainstream in business since circa 2018 onwards.

Field Service Management (FSM) software has been well known for around 20 years now. In the early days the solutions were a combination of thick client or very basic web interfaces, with most of the heavy lifting performed in the system of record, such as an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool, and then packaged up in the FSM product. Some products had mobile software and others facilitated printed documents for the field.

This evolved over the years and products become more powerful as computer processing power increased, with many staying as thick clients. Remote access was handled through third party software.

A move to the web based field service management really started in earnest in the early 2010’s with some vendors making the leap and others not making it. This timed nicely with the introduction of the smart phone. Suddenly staff expected to do more with smartphones and this decade defined what could be done on a smartphone. The capability of the smartphone meant more information could be captured, online/offline could be handled and the processing power of these devices was far greater than had been seen before.

As smartphones became, smarter, and functionality increased, this naturally fed from consumer applications into the business world. The onus is now on the field service management vendors to deliver capability to use this functionality. Introducing next generation field service management.

 

But what is this functionality?

API’s – Hybrid Integration

We have more access to data than ever before. Historical data to see what was done, why something was done and data to build models from. However, accessing that data via a field service management platform is the key to success here. FSM platforms that have been designed “API first” facilitate a more straight forward connection to these data sources, reducing IT involvement and high costs. A report from Vanson Bourne in 2021 on API’s, integrations and microservices indicated that:

  • 55% of responders saw improved productivity/time saving,
  • 49% saw greater visibility across the organization
  • 40% saw costs reduced long term
  • 86% agree that without the use of API’s, organisations would be working in silos

 

Internet of Things (IoT)

An industry that has exploded on the consumer market during the last 5 years. Smart speakers, TV’s and home automation are almost defacto in some parts of the world. In the business world, this industry has grown significantly and forecast to more than double between 2021 and 2026. These include devices that monitor flow, weather stations, noise, can turn and off remotely plus more. Full article on growth forecasts here.

 

Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR)

Those who have come across this industry, likely know it from gaming or the Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR in 2014 or perhaps even Pokémon Go when it was launched in 2016.

As with any technology, it finds its way into the workplace eventually and early days, it can be a solution looking for a problem. Eventually though, it finds a niche and in some cases becomes mainstream. Business examples of these technologies include remote service and training, onsite support, safety training and remote assistance.

 

Workflow Automation

This capability has prevailed more in the business area than the consumer, perhaps because the word “work” sits in the name! Similar to business rules that have been around for many years, these offer a more personalized method. A good example is someone in an office who wants to digitize a process, such as sending a report out to their team or their customer. Using Workflow Automation, they can create this flow themselves and even put criteria against it that must be met.

 

Drag ‘n’ Drop or “No-code”

This concept was around in the thick client days and is still relatively new for web browser based tools. It enables business users and those with limited technology to build forms for apps, design workflows, dispatch jobs and much more. Using a simple drag ‘n’ drop concept in a web browser.

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

More businesses are wanting to utilize this and, in some cases, needing to. AI can be summarized as smart machines and the simulation of human thinking and behavior. ML is more the subset of AI for computers to utilize data and learn from it without being programmed. The use cases are varied and fascinating. Examples include identifying patterns for predicting when something might happen such as asset failure, based on historical data. Additional information can be fed in to further refine results over time.

 

Optimisation

This has been around for many years, pre next generation field service management. However, it was based on largely static rules such as skills, shifts, equipment, location etc. This worked well and still does. The next generation is a continuous learning model with intra-day optimisation as field jobs need to be refined for different reasons and in some cases autonomously running.

 

Summary

Next generation field service management needs to both be able to access these technologies and have them in their own technology stack. This delivers benefits including increased productivity, ease of use, reduction in costs and increased customer service. In some cases the savings are significant especially where travel, labour and penalties are concerned.

 

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Thank Alan for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 8, 2022

What are some of the pain points to getting utilities to embrace these new technologies like they should? Are they unaware sometimes, does it come from a cost perspective? 

Alan King's picture
Alan King on Jun 14, 2022

Great questions @Matt. The pain points we've seen vary and not all easily solved.

The integration between old and new. How do they practically take these new technologies and move beyond a pilot to realise benefits across the organisation. Data, integration, compliance and then leveraging the benefits of multiple new technologies together. The foundational technology is dated in many cases.

Cost is certainly a topic of conversation and showing clear ROI is the only way some pilots get up, especially ones like IoT and AR.

Awareness, yes. We see organisations who have trialled some of these technologies in their infancy. One example that springs to mind is a customer who was inspecting zone sub stations. Going back 5 years, they trialled some technology that used a 360 degree camera to capture the facility. They showed this back to their senior management but the best use case was to store the video file (enormous!), so someone in the office knew what the facility looked like.

However, revisiting that technology they now have use cases around remote training, annotations to show items from other diagrams, safety related information, tool tip bubbles and more. Now they are looking at mobile enabling it. All of this from a "cool" 360 video they took several years ago, as they weren't aware and previously it was sold by technologists!

Thanks for the question!

 

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jun 17, 2022

Alan - As always great post.  It's funny you should post this as I was just discussing IoT with a partner and if this was a tiring topic in the industry or not.  Then I read your post about projected growth in the IoT area.  I used this to spearhead a topic of discussion in the community  - I would love your thoughts on this as well.

Here is the question - IoT - Is the Internet of Things a tired topic in the industry?

 

A couple of days ago, a partner of Energy Central and I were talking about if IoT was a tired topic in the industry.  Then today, I saw a post by one of our members Alan King on "What is next generation field service management software?In the post, he mentions  IoT technologies and the forecasted growth projected in the coming years between 2021 and 2026.  

I am wondering if IoT is still something utilities are highly focused on, should they be focusing on IoT technologies, and if so, where is that focus mostly happening? 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Follow this link to chime in

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