Many manufacturers have realized the huge revenue potential their dealers have in selling more service and maintenance contracts. Because service is the main customer-facing department in the operation and a big source of revenue, it’s becoming a huge part of a heavy equipment dealer’s business.
Some manufacturers are even offering incentives or initiating programs to entice dealers to invest in their service performance. For example, Caterpillar’s Across the Table Initiative is forcing dealers to look at how they can improve the way they sell and conduct service for existing equipment in the field.
With this expanding emphasis on field service, we’re bound to see new technologies creep into the space to help dealers provide predictive service, analyze their machines in the field, and better connect with their customers.
Smart technologies are advancing so fast, it can be hard to keep up. Many of those advancing technologies are already gracing the field service stage. Here are the trends we see taking off and impacting how heavy equipment dealers conduct service starting now and growing in the future.
7 Technology Trends Equipment Service Providers Need to Watch Out for
1. The Internet of Things (IoT) will automate service and monitor equipment remotely
Equipment today is being built with sensors that monitor the equipment’s performance and alert dealers when something’s about to go wrong. As more equipment becomes enabled with built-in sensors, service companies can automate service and preventive maintenance based on IoT data and alerts. The IoT promises to automate equipment maintenance by triggering a work order and scheduling and dispatching a technician without any human interaction.
“In a service-centric environment…the IoT takes the benefits of M2M communication and fully realizes the potential for automated service,” said Rod Sutton in his Construction Equipment Magazine article, “A Service Scenario.”
Service departments will enjoy simpler maintenance management with faster, more accurate service visits, less equipment downtime, and longer equipment lifespans to meet today’s growing customer demands.
2. Big Data & predictive analytics help dealers make sense of influx of information
In addition to automating service visits, the IoT also collects tons of equipment performance data so dealers stay connected to their equipment and customers. A 2015 survey conducted by Construction Equipment revealed only half of distributors offer monitoring services, and only 8 percent of dealers schedules and performs preventive maintenance and/or field calls using that data: “Distributors must close the gap between the demand for product-support services driven by telematics data, and the ability to provide those services.”
But, how will dealers go about closing that gap? How will they interpret the influx of data they’re receiving from the IoT sensors built in equipment?
The answer lies in big data and predictive analytics to make sense of the information. With a software analytics system to interpret your incoming data for you, you’ll be more efficient in the field. You can see which parts aren’t working and what designs or models tend to have more issues.
All this goes back to the customer experience and your ability to prevent downtime. If you can enable yourself to be smarter about equipment with the right analytics software and know which parts will break when, you’ll be that much further ahead of the competition, better able to meet customer demand, and make equipment service a more valuable resource in your organization.
3. Wearables & augmented reality could reinvent field service as we know it
While often seen as consumer-focused, we predict wearable technology and augmented reality will become key in how service technicians solve problems in the field.
Using voice commands, smartwatches can access records, diagrams and messages hands-free. Virtual reality wearables like Google Glass could connect with the sensors in equipment, diagnose the problem, and explain how to fix it.
In fact, wearables are one new technology ingredient that will reinvent field service as we know it, predicted Chris Curran in his recent PwC article: “Wearable technology can close the gap between information and action, arming field service workers with the ability to work seamlessly, consistently, and safely. In short, wearables are tailor-made for field service workers.”
4. Drones could reduce worker exposure to dangerous job conditions
According to Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends report, after the recent changes to regulation, consumer drone usage in the U.S. is at 35% and will continue to rise. This year, GE announced a strategic investment in drones, which is big indicator that drones will play a serious role in how businesses conduct field service in the not-too-distant future.
For equipment dealers, using drones in the field could mean replacing workers in dangerous situations like repairing an electrical wire or working in an area exposed to radiation. Rather than send someone to inspect a piece of equipment, techs could command a camera or sensor-equipped drone to do the work instead.
5. Mobile field service apps streamline the entire service operation
While equipping field service workers with mobile apps isn’t necessarily a new trend, it’s going to stick around for a while. In fact, over 80% of companies have implemented mobility platforms in the field, according to a TSIA Field Services Benchmark Survey.
Mobile apps in the field make technicians more efficient and equip them with the customer, parts, equipment, and repair information they need to do the job right the first time.
This year and in the future, expect to see significant improvements in dispatch and scheduling, data capture, service history detail and knowledge management, and reducing the learning curve for new hires with the help of mobile devices and apps in the field.
6. Cloud fuels software integrations
Cloud deployment eases integrations, which allows dealers to use multiple “best-of-breed” software solutions rather than settling for one system that’s just ok at everything. For heavy equipment dealers, this could mean integrating your dealer management, ERP, CRM, field service management, and any other enterprise system you need all through the cloud.
Over the last several years, the cost to develop applications has shrunk to a fraction of what it used to be, a trend we expect to continue. That means the cost to invest in best-of-breed enterprise applications has also shrunk. With the maturation of cloud, the software sector has exploded with functional or feature-based, best of breed solutions, which allow you to meet the specific service needs of your industry.
7. Connected vehicles and fleet management get drivers where they need to go faster and safer
You’ve heard of the future of self-driving cars. Well, connected autos is the first step we’ll see in that direction. This could include live traffic rerouting depending on construction, weather, or accidents to get technicians to a job quicker.
Leading vehicle manufacturers are adding Wi-Fi and 4G capabilities to their car. GM’s OnStar with 4G LTE, for example, embeds a reliable mobile hub in most GM vehicles, with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. “These hotspots turn the customer’s vehicle into a mobile office, said GM Communication Manager, Robert Wheeler. Since it’s built into the framework of the vehicle, our Wi-Fi hotspot will offer superior signal quality and bandwidth to that of a brought-in hotspot. This allows fleet and commercial customers the ability to connect up to seven mobile devices to high-speed wireless Internet.”
Fleet management and vehicle intelligence is another trend we see that will inform dealers of the vehicle health, utilization, location, driver behavior, and other data from their fleets.
Who knows, by 2020, our cars may be driving themselves. We predict that we’ll at least have deep insight into fleet performance and ability to connect drivers and vehicles to the equipment and service locations they need to get to.
Conclusion: Take Advantage of this Year’s New Technology Opportunities to Support Growing Customer Demands
As connected technologies continue to provide more data than manufacturers and dealers know what to do with, you'll need the tools to organize that data and take advantage of your opportunity in service. As the equipment that dealers sell only becomes more complex, establishing regular preventative maintenance programs and providing strong equipment service will become critical to stay ahead.