Businesses that offer services have been—and continue to be—the lifeblood of our economy, but the global pandemic is bound to change the way service is delivered in the field. What happens to valuable customer touchpoints if people must keep distance from each other? How will changing customer expectations and preferences push service organizations to innovate?

Technology has a key role to play in addressing these questions. I believe these seven service management software capabilities will help organizations succeed in a more intelligent, zero-touch, post-COVID world.

As the restrictions holding back business growth subside (albeit some businesses have grown significantly during this period), we see a sudden flurry of service requests, from repairs to installations to consultations and everything in between—and service providers must be ready to seize these opportunities.

Customers now want more remote and technology-enabled service. This means that to be successful, your service business needs to be a digitally enabled one, and your service contracts need to be based on a desired outcome or at minimum moving from product to recurring service revenue.

Solutions from IFS can power business growth around the world, and enable a swift recovery in the face of social, environmental, and economic challenges as we move out of the pandemic lockdown and embrace the new norm Here are seven key capabilities service providers will need today to prepare for the unique opportunities that recovery will offer.

1. Remote assistance and zero-touch service

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Photo courtesy of IFS

In the past five years we have seen a steady rise in businesses across industries moving towards zero-touch service: fast casual restaurants putting mobile orders on shelves, retailers creating online pickup lockers, self-checkout kiosks and IoT-enabled fixes for devices like routers and cable boxes.

At the same time in the service sector, we have seen augmented reality (AR) become increasingly commoditized and utilized for service functions across a variety of disciplines—as a means to train up employees, quickly arrive at customer-driven solutions, and reach customers in a zero-touch world. The case of Munters deploying remote assistance tools in less than two weeks is a great example of how a zero-touch strategy kept businesses thriving at a time when their contemporaries were melting down.

While zero-touch service will likely be achieved through dozens of technologies—sometimes working in tandem, other times tied to the specific needs of an industry—what is certain is that zero-touch capabilities will be a given component of software purchases in six months, making this the most urgent and profitable investment right now.

2. AR and robots

Repair is a key part of zero-touch service. Imagine a scenario where a customer initiates a remote repair call, and the technician identifies a part that needs to be replaced based on a combination of IoT data and visual inspection. Rather than dispatch a technician, the organization could dispatch the part itself, then provide step-by-step replacement or repair instructions via the AR array.

Zero-touch parts allocation will take time to map out, but theoretically, the infrastructure is already there to make this a reality. The process could be done live with a person aided by step-by-step instructions—pre-recorded and validated using the AR screen—and, in the future, even through robots. This might seem far-fetched, but many industrial manufacturers are already deploying fleets of robots to assist with simple repairs. They will be handling heavy parts, running routine security checks, and providing a photo log that’s attached to the customer account.

3. Sophisticated parts management 

As manufacturing activity, shipping, and the supply chain have been disrupted by the pandemic, many industries find that replacement parts, components, and subcomponents required for service provision may be in short supply. In the immediate term this means service organizations need excellent visibility into what parts they have in stock—not only in warehouses but on service vehicles, at drop sites, and at customer sites. Today this means service providers should look to enterprise solutions that provide this type of visibility to uphold its standards for customer experience, ensuring that an outcome is achieved, a preventative or predictive maintenance visit is effective, or a first-time fix is achieved. Going forward, as zero-touch service becomes more widespread, parts management will need to keep up with evolving systems.

The most important part is a thorough, consistent, and comprehensive parts management and reverse logistics system. Once service providers know inventory on every truck, at every warehouse, where each piece is in the depot repair process, and where and how remittance, reissue, or scrapping occurs—they will be prepared for today’s challenges.

4. An integrated approach

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Photo courtesy of IFS

AR and automation will no doubt play a large role in the evolution of the service industry, but solely focusing on these technologies before establishing a fertile ground for innovation can harm companies in the long run. When considering the service system that will provide a platform to these integrations, many fixate on the mix of current capabilities that make up the product rather than how a company’s service systems integrate into its broader enterprise systems.

Service management software must balance customer and operations in a way that customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems do not. For this to work properly, organizations need a flexible platform. With the ability to connect more than 15,000 APIs, IFS wrangles every area of a business into a single source of truth. This offers unrivaled visibility and control across organizations.

5. Planning optimization

When things go wrong, time is of the essence. Service providers need to be able to dynamically shift planning based on changing criteria, readjust headcount, and account for unexpected restrictions in minutes, not hours. But true optimization requires a lot more than routing, which means it is important that artificial intelligence be involved in identifying the most effective ways of meeting demand and optimizing customer experience. This goes back to my previous point—when systems are centrally integrated, the optimization engines can take customer demand, workers, parts, locations, expertise, and any regional, account, or company-level priorities into consideration.

When planning capabilities are catered to teams it means they adapt in real-time to service level agreement requirements with certainty, but adapt just as easily to business-level restrictions—like travel restrictions—allowing service providers to recalculate and manage workforces to make smart decisions. A lot goes into this, but getting it right pays dividends every day.

6. Intelligent forecasting 

Within planning and scheduling, forecasting plays a prominent role as highlighted by the current crisis, but should be part of any company’s routine. An intelligent “what if?” forecasting tool can help service providers test how the business could cope with a wide range of scenarios that may occur in uncertain times, helping them answer tough questions like how a large reduction in workforce or an increase in demand will impact performance. It’s essential to matching demand with supply, new business model launches, or moving to an outcomes-based approach.

Providing informed projections of various scenarios will benefit the company’s optimization systems by enabling fiscal and operational readiness and a more proactive approach to resource and capacity planning.

7. Service software in the cloud

As the repercussions of the pandemic continue to be felt, it is more important than ever that organizations standardize on enterprise software and field service management solutions that are easily accessed from outside their four walls. A number of IFS field service customers have moved away from in-office work entirely, accessing their software through a virtual private network or connecting directly to a cloud instance of the software. We believe this rise in remote work, combined with the primacy of service in ensuring business success, will cause the existing trend to migrate from on-premise to cloud software to accelerate.

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Marne Martin, president of IFS Service Management Business Unit. Photo courtesy of IFS

As both president of IFS Service Management and CEO of WorkWave, Marne Martin works to continue to elevate the strategic importance of service management to the success of the overall IFS business. Martin works strategically to ensure the entire portfolio of IFS’s service management solutions provide customers with the business value they expect from a global industry leader in field service management (FSM). Martin is the winner of a number of awards, including 2016 CEO Gamechanger of the Year (FSM) from ACQ 5 Global Awards and 2015 Field Service CEO of the Year from Executive Awards. When not working, Marne enjoys competing in dressage and supporting girls and women pursuing STEM careers.