Quick quiz: Your most experienced technician is about to retire. How do you replace someone with 30+ years of experience without sacrificing the service quality your business is known for?
Replacing technicians is not easy: It takes time to train new employees, and you don’t want your customer service to suffer in the interim. According to a poll conducted by The Service Council, 70% of organizations are concerned about their aging field service workforce.
As it turns out, this concern is justified. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the median age across all U.S. industries is 42.2 years, the median age of those in repair and maintenance professions is 47 years.
Harnessing technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and the internet of things can address the retirement problem from multiple angles: attract new workers, facilitate training, and allow retiring workers to stay on board longer with lighter duties.
Use the internet of things to get ahead of maintenance
The internet of things (IoT) refers to a network of devices or assets that collect and transmit data via the internet. A common example of an IoT-enabled device is the Nest thermostat, which gathers temperature data, learns your preferences, and makes the data available on your mobile device.
In business applications, IoT-generated data can include environmental cues, like temperature and humidity, asset performance, and status updates. Gathering all this data enables field service technicians to monitor systems performance and possible damage remotely and proactively.
IoT-enabled assets are becoming more common in field service. According to Gartner, 40% of field service work in asset-intensive industries will use asset data collected remotely.
There are many benefits for field service businesses. With frequent digital status updates, IoT enables predictive maintenance without needing to dispatch field technicians to diagnose a problem.
IoT devices can help identify issues before the system breaks down—saving you time in avoiding complex repairs. More importantly, the data IoT gathers and transmits facilitates the use of other technologies, including Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence.
How can IoT help?
Faster, more accurate diagnostics
Diagnosing system issues requires a lot of experience. With a retiring workforce, this experience becomes a scarce resource. IoT devices can collect a wide variety of data, which can be used in real time to enable automated, accurate diagnostics, allowing more inexperienced technicians to take on repairs.
Furthermore, Surveys have shown that 23% percent of all service calls require a follow up. More accurate diagnostics can help your business reduce the number of service calls you technicians have to make, freeing up time to respond to other important calls.
By the time a system breaks down, it’s already too late—your customer is already frustrated, and you haven’t even had time to procure any required replacement parts or assign a technician to the job. IoT can track asset performance to anticipate when it may need servicing to avoid larger scale issues. This will help keep your operation running smoothly, and keep complex, time-consuming repairs at bay.
Boost on the job training with Augmented Reality
Augmented reality (AR) technology, which blends virtual and physical spaces and information, is more ubiquitous than you might think. For example, Google Sky Map helps users identify constellations just by holding a phone toward the night sky. And Instagram filters? Those are also enabled by AR too.
In field service, the technology can be used with a mobile device, or specialized headset, to overlay information on an asset, thus providing the user with previously hidden information. Its applications to field service are many and can be expected to expand, as Goldman Sachs predicts the AR market will be valued at $80 billion by 2025.
AR is inexpensive and easy to incorporate, especially when mobile devices are used to visualize asset information. However, additional connections and hardware can be useful.
For example, AR technology combined with IoT connections will provide more asset-specific information on the spot. Technicians can run tests and observe changes in the device parameters and gain additional information it is connected to other components.
How can AR help?
Product visualizations and guidance
AR can be used to create interactive digital twins of your assets and systems. New technicians can use these visualizations for training purposes or for procedural guidance when completing a repair on-site. This function helps bring novice technicians up to speed more quickly and reduces the number of errors early on.
For technicians that are in the field for the first time, AR can also help locate infrastructure like pipes or wires that exists behind walls and under floors.
Your expert technicians can provide assistance remotely, allowing them to help newer employees while reducing the burden of field work. Eventually, this technology could even be used to assist customers in troubleshooting simple repairs themselves, eliminating the need for a technician to show up altogether.
Capture and share knowledge
Some AR platforms record and document technician actions as they work, creating a knowledge repository of best practices. Effectively storing your most experienced technicians’ knowledge means they will not be taking all their experience with them when they leave.
Artificial Intelligence for smarter planning and decision-making
Artificial Intelligence can help your business make the most of what resources it has by deriving insights from your data. Further, it can take IoT and AR to the next level, offering additional contextual information or gathering and analyzing the data they collect to make service predictions.
AI assistance is easy to acquire and implement as it is built into many field service management software solutions and doesn’t require additional hardware. The applications of AI are extensive—anywhere from planning service visits to responding to customers. In short, AI may be a low risk, high reward investment for your business.
How can AI help?
Diagnosis and implementing corrective action
With data collected from your assets, AI can analyze performance patterns and help diagnose issues and make recommendations for action. This is especially helpful for new technicians, who could use some technical guidance when responding to a service call.
AI can trigger workflows if it anticipates that asset repairs will be needed soon. There are two main benefits to predictive maintenance. First, you save time as processes, like procurement and part management, are taken care of automatically. Second, you potentially avoid time-consuming, complex repairs by taking action before it’s too late.
AI enabled assistant
AI can be used to ask the right questions, ensuring technicians have all the information, tools, and parts they need to avoid a return trip. Your technician can receive necessary information when they arrive on site: type and number of equipment, operating status, and maintenance history.