Digitalization, agility and collaboration: essential tools for the “new normality” on the field service 2021

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It is no longer a question of who gets on the train of digital and cultural transformation or not. The “COVID Era” brought this need suddenly, confronting companies with a scenario where the only way to survive is to maximize their ability to respond, in an agile and efficient way, to market demands. Especially in field operations.

There is no doubt. We are living in an era of transformation that far exceeds any forecast made just a few months ago. A process that is as dizzying as it is paradoxical, because while all the experts speak of a “new normality”, the incessant succession of technological and cultural changes that we are experiencing today is increasingly moving away from what we could consider “normal”.

In other words, how can we define the current scenario as “normal” or “definitive”, if what is “normal” or “known” today, tomorrow may be “abnormally different”?

The answer is undoubtedly complex and, at the same time, challenging. Especially for large organizations that took longer than necessary to modify their cultural pillars, and still cannot fully adapt to an environment that demands real and significant changes.

On the other side of the coin, there are the companies that did properly anticipate this volatile scenario. Those, thanks to the momentum provided by the digital transformation, are better prepared to face a dynamic and contingent environment.

EXCEEDED FORECASTS

Experts and analysts had already warned about the need to implement, as soon as possible, an adequate transformation strategy in companies and organizations. “Only those who have the courage to transform will be successful”, they said then. However, no one really gauged the dramatic degree of depth that this transformation would reach in reality.

As a result, that “medium-term” forecast gave way to a present where the entire world was literally “thrown” into the pool of digitization and remote connectivity, following the hit of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, a year ago, the international consulting firm Gartner announced that, in 2021, the digital transformation would demand from large traditional companies, on average, twice the time and cost of investment due to their slowness to adapt to these changes.

“Large organizations will struggle with digital innovation, due to the challenges of technology modernization and the costs of simplifying operational interdependence. Smaller, more agile organizations, by contrast, will have the opportunity to be the first to capitalize business successes, as larger organizations will have mediocre immediate payoffs, “said Gartner experts.

The harsh advent of the “COVID-19 Era”, however, completely changed this forecast, due to the abrupt need for all companies, large and small, to significantly accelerate their respective digital transformation schedules. A process that, beyond eventual repairs, costs or resistance, became essential to face the requirements of a market that, literally, evolved overnight from the physical to the digital, without intermediate stops.

DIGITALIZATION AS A FACILITATE TOOL

This need to interact almost entirely online, due to quarantines and travel restrictions, forced companies to forcibly adopt the new technological path. A phenomenon that, according to McKinsey & Company, is reflected in the fact that more digital technology was adopted during the last eight months than in the last five years.

However, beyond the health emergency, digitization is a logical and well-thought-out roadmap to face successfully the present and future, as it allows companies to use sustainable and scalable technologies to specify more efficiently their respective processes.

This is especially visible in field activities, where low code applications and agile analysis models, among other solutions, mark clear transformative differences compared to competitors that have not yet taken these steps.

Large companies like KONE and Phillips, for example, discovered these advantages. Both of them applied digital analytics systems to collect large amounts of data in the field. This helped their leaders gain insights that significantly optimized business decision making. Reliable proof that digitization allows, even in breach-plagued contingency scenarios, to transform threats into opportunities that maximize efficiency and minimize risk.

These advantages provided by the digital tools, of agile and accurate application, also allowed many organizations, hit by the financial effects of the health crisis, to move successfully from a model of long-term service contracts, into another of occasional services, which was better compliant with their specific requirements. In all these cases, the digital enablement of key policies, such as agility and collaboration, also became a success factor.

DIFFERENTIATING AGILITY

It is very evident then, that disruptive technology optimizes all of a company’s activities, including, by the way, its field service operations. This ranges from the work of the main office staff, who answers and makes calls for service, to the work of those who manage inventory, provide services, interact with customers and regulatory agencies, and plan actions in the event of hypothetical contingencies.

The sum of these automations helps organizations reduce their response time to market demands, both in strategic planning and in daily operations. Advantages that, finally, translate into better adaptability to the new changing environment.

Something that is even more important in the competitive field services sector, where agility and minimizing customer downtime are high priority tasks.

Nevertheless, excess profits should not confused us. As Gartner points out, it is not about driving messy technological change, or implementing it without a logical roadmap. Success lies in applying a digital and agile methodology relevant to each field service process, as well as all associated business touchpoints.

This is because only properly interconnected and agile digital tools provide the ability to identify patterns, accelerate decision-making through real-time data, and respond quickly to customer requirements.

In other words, it is necessary to structure a precise informative and feedback collaboration between the front-line teams and the rest of the organization, as well as with all other interested and involved parties (including clients and end consumers, when it is necessary).

COLLABORATION AS A NEED

This leads us to reaffirm the need to practice and reinforce constant collaboration between all the actors involved in the transformation process. For, as business futurist Gerd Leonhard once put it, “Collaboration is an absolute necessity in the new world of upcoming standards, and it will in turn shape new business models.”

This implies, as Leonhard emphasizes, “considering emerging customer demands and needs, and being agile to respond to them.” All as part of an essential equation for success.

Another business futurist, Dr. Angus Hervey, went even further in suggesting that companies will need to build these new collaboration mechanisms themselves. “This implies -in his words- the participation of technicians in the field. As well as the development of simple solutions (such as low code applications), which allow those who know the work and its processes best (the“ citizen developers ”) to create easily the mechanisms that will work best in the field, and in all workflows that go from one point of contact to another”.

The characteristics of these digital tools will be critical. They should allow us to share data and information between all the parties, activating automatic notifications, without having to meet someone in person. A development that, however, should not be too complex, since sharing data between technicians, and increasing communication through interactions in real time and without physical contact, is already a reality in practically all areas of the industry and the economy.

Thus, if companies want to remain competitive in present rapidly changing environment, their field service operations must be able to anticipate, adapt, and respond quickly to market needs. A valid and indispensable priority, both for those who want to update their current tools, as well as for those looking to implement new solutions that address current circumstances and future challenges.

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Francisco Gonzalez
Francisco Gonzalez

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