When you think about how to make the entire service process cost-effective, avoiding unnecessary communication is a big part of it.
From how much can be communicated in a conversation to how much can be communicated by automatically gathering information from assets to avoiding a conversation altogether. Conversations can’t always happen and aren’t always accurate. Often, if can you avoid the conversation, everyone (including the customer) will be much happier.
For example, a broken asset sending alarm calls and communicating directly with the technician is much more accurate than people trying to describe what’s wrong over the phone. Many times, these product users may not be “technical” so the level of information that can be gathered is limited.
One of the keys to understanding what’s happening with assets is what happens after you decide to send a technician. The technician may need spare parts and a more accurate understanding of the symptoms to increase the likelihood of arriving on-site with the right parts. If the problem isn’t described accurately, the technician often makes 2 visits. First to diagnose the problem, then to show up with the right parts. If you can avoid return visits, that’s another big change in the service industry.
Another aspect of avoiding return visits is receiving “feedback” from the assets that the work has been completed successfully. For example, if an asset is fixed at the edge of a utility network with a branch of 10 houses, the work completed on one house might have disconnected another house. With connected assets, you could get information that all 10 houses are operating which indicates to the technician that the work has been finished and no other problems have been created. This feedback from the connected asset lets the technician know it’s OK to leave the site.
While communicating directly with assets is important, most assets are still unconnected. For example, connected assets are an opportunity for medical device manufacturers. Imaging machines are sophisticated equipment connected to the internet. Typically, if something is wrong with the imaging machine, there’s not much information that people on-site can tell you. But what if those imaging machines could send a lot information about their own health back to the manufacturer?
Part of the service process is about how work is initiated. If assets aren’t connected, work is initiated by a plan in place (such as a preventative maintenance plan) or by a service request. If assets are connected, work is initiated in a different way. For example, our solution can interface with a system that’s already collecting and analyzing information about the assets, or our solution can conduct the analysis and make smart decisions based on that data.
With the potential to improve a lot of the things that are hard to fix with disconnected assets, connected assets will change the service industry. With connected assets, you can:
- Make your preventative maintenance plan more cost-effective. If the asset is disconnected, you can put a preventative maintenance plan in place that’s based on average use or meantime between failures. Then, you would analyze this information. It’s like taking your car to a mechanic every 6 months. But it’s much more accurate if this information is correlated with how you use your car and other metrics that identify the condition of your car more specifically. With connected assets, you can make the preventative maintenance plan more cost-effective and tailored to the specific asset.
- Control settings remotely. Once assets are connected, you can gain information about what’s happening to the asset remotely and control settings remotely. If something goes wrong, there are things that can be done before sending someone on-site. For example, if there’s a problem with a refrigeration unit’s temperature cycle, it could be that the refrigeration unit’s door has been left open. So, you don’t need to send a technician to close the door. You can notify an employee on-site that the door needs to be closed. Just because something’s wrong, doesn’t mean you need to send someone on-site immediately. You can triage the problem to find out what’s wrong. You could ask someone on-site to investigate the problem or remotely solve the problem by changing the settings for that asset. If the problem can’t be resolved easily, then you can make the decision to send someone to fix the problem.
- Predict failures. More than just a condition-based maintenance plan, by measuring different elements of performance, you can start to predict when the next failure is likely to happen. The ability to predict failures is a big change in the service industry. Previously, a refrigeration unit would break down, and you’re in emergency mode. In an emergency, it’s more difficult to communicate accurate information and make smart decisions.
Depending on the industry, connected assets can contribute to customer expectations and can affect how contracts are set. Previously, when customers bought a product and something went wrong, they paid someone to fix it. Then, customers started paying monthly for service instead of per transaction. You promise you’ll be there for your customers when something goes wrong, and customers are guaranteeing there’ll be work for your service organization.
With many products becoming commoditized, companies are trying to differentiate via service. But, the next step for customers is buying uptime instead of service. Customers aren’t buying products just for the sake of it, they’re buying the hours that the products are functioning and useful. Today, service contracts are reactive – after something is broken. Uptime is proactive – avoiding a situation where an asset breaks.
It seems logical that in the next evolution, customers want your service organization to be proactive in terms of preventing things from going wrong in the first place. Because with the amount of information that your service organization could have about assets, you'll be better positioned to offer uptime as the main metric in your contracts, rather than service level agreements which promise to fix the problem in X amount of time. In some industries, proactive service could be bundled with the product offering. So, customers would buy uptime, and not even worry about who’s servicing the product. In the transition from buying service to paying for uptime, connected assets will drive this change much more quickly.