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The iPad as a field service device? Someone’s got their head in the cloud

December 3, 2010 1 comment

Last week saw what was claimed to be the first announcement of a cloud computing field service application to run on an iPad – the massively hyped tablet computer from Apple.

In fact the announcement represents a convergence of hype as cloud computing has almost as many advocates as there are software companies. Cloud is a generic term for computing applications and data that are accessed over the internet and which aimed to change the rules of the IT game. The iPad was to be its trusty foot soldier and missionary.

I am not a great fan of Apple but then neither am I a fan of PC brands either – to me they are just tools to do a job. But could the popularity of the iPad help the cloud get a better foothold in business spaces like field service? The question really revolves around whether the iPad is a suitable field service device. ServiceMax is a partner of salesforce.com, the cumulonimbus of the concept, and it reckons the iPad is a natural choice “with its touch screen capabilities, portability and easy app installation”.

Other observers are less convinced: “Considering the price point, fragility, and limited ability to upgrade hardware to conform to new software demands, the iPad would not be sufficient to serve as a primary device for field applications,” said one expert. Another was more direct: “An iPad wouldn’t stand a chance in most field service scenarios.”

Of course there are different degrees of field service device stress. Some environments are like working in an office where the biggest risk is have coffee dropped in it. In others the device will need to deal with the rough and tumble suffered by all the other kit in the back of an engineer’s van travelling from site to site while other environments are significantly more hostile – oil rigs, transmission antennas or frankly anything outdoors in the current climate. The iPad may be made to be portable but it is not truly ruggedised.

So, if the iPad is a horses for courses device, what of the cloud in general – does it have a future in field service? One of its appealing qualities is that it liberates an organisation of many of the difficulties and restrictions of running its own IT infrastructure; effectively allowing the corporate department to be bypassed by not having to seek their approval or dip into CapEx.

This can appear very attractive. There is a long running grumble about the service department being at the rump end of any corporate IT investment or innovation. Other attractions are the lower operational costs because the software and servers are run by the expert provider (although you’ll still need your iPad or other terminals), the solution should be easily scalable (up or down) and the applications and data will be available over any internet connection.

A word of warning though – look closely to see if any solution you assess does what it says on the tin. Computing companies love to jump on any passing bandwagon and if there’s any hint of an internet or remote application in the company’s system and suddenly the marketing department declare “it’s cloud”.  As a sage opined: “The cloud can look very attractive in the sky but when it comes down to earth it’s just fog.”

Blog first appeared on ServiceManagement365.com

Why customer service engineers benefit from the human touch

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment

I have had two conflicting conversations recently about the installation of new mobility technology in field service applications.  On the one hand a vendor of tracking solutions said the age of the difficult engineer refusing to accept this sort of ‘spy in the cab’ technology was over.  On the other a service manager said things may be better than they once were but management certainly does not have carte blanche when it comes to putting technology in the hands of engineers. 

Obviously these two people have differing perspectives and I am sure many readers will have had their own interesting experiences here when driving change.  It does seem to be one of the ironies of life that is the human’s ability to adapt to its environment that has made it one of the planet’s most successful species but we can all still get uppity when we are given a new tool at work. 

So one of the big challenges on any new mobility programme (by which I mean communicating with field engineers or their vehicles either directly or indirectly) is to get the engineers on board. Issuing orders or diktats isn’t effective – you might get it installed but you won’t get it working to the best of its capability.  “Engineers have that passive aggressive thing which means equipment has a strange habit of malfunctioning if they don’t like it,” said my friend.

So how do you get them to not only accept but also embrace this change? Appeal to their self interest was the conclusion of my straw poll.  Here are some favoured ways I’ve heard.

  1. Tell them it’s for their own safety particularly when working alone.  This won’t necessarily win their hearts but for their minds it is difficult to argue against
  2. Sell them the more interesting, personal benefits such as how much easier it will make their working day by reducing paperwork, better diagnostic tools, access to colleagues to discuss tricky problems.  Perhaps it might even give them access to the internet while they are travelling or an app which can tell them the location of the nearest donut shop
  3. Get them flashy kit they’ll like to show off to their mates down the pub – engineers are gadget lovers so appeal to that one-upmanship
  4. Bribe them – give them cash at the installation and a reward once it starts producing savings
  5. Appoint a peer group leader – someone who has the team’s respect, will champion the cause and lessen the them and us attitude 
  6. Run a competition for the best engineers and the winners get the new system – make it a badge of honour and having it aspirational
  7. Engage with them on the kit or system you are buying.  Let them test it and feel they have had a hand in the purchase and that it’s not foisted on them

In summary, although it may be hard to believe for some managers, engineers are only human and so may have a better nature to appeal to.   If you have ever done that successfully some other way please share it with others at the Service Management LinkedIn Group

This article first appeared on Service Management 365.

To continue be a player in service you must continue to invest

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

A blog from an analyst at research group Gartner last week questioned whether the $75billion it reckoned had been invested in customer relationship management (CRM) systems in the last 10 years had been well spent.   The failure of that investment to perform was evidenced by an only small rise in the level of customer service over the same period.

My first thought was: ‘that’s rich coming from Gartner which pretty much makes its business out of hyping up software and suppliers to flog its reports until that opportunity is dead and buried or the next  bandwagon passes by’.    But, putting that prejudice to one side, I think there is a potentially dangerous sub-message in this hypothesis that needs correcting. 

Delivering good service demands that managers constantly push the almost Sisyphean rock up the steepening hill of customer experience and expectation.     A performance that stays, at best, constant will eventually and increasingly underwhelm customers.  Meanwhile, your competitors will be raising the bar of performance and your customer’s expectations with it – beyond the level at which you were performing. 

So what you did to achieve, say, 90% customer satisfaction in 2000 is not going to cut the mustard in 2010.   In fact you could now be performing at what you consider to be, say, 20% better but ‘only’ achieving 93% satisfaction.  But the truth is that is a great result that needs applauding not attacking a) because you are still in the game and b) you have out-performed customer expectations.

That $75bn of investment was made by organisations in order to carry on playing – and then to try and edge their noses in front.  That is not wasted cost, that is an investment required to be a player.  Yes, I am sure a lot of that money could have been spent more efficaciously but let’s kill the notion that investing to improve your service delivery is fruitless and wasted.  On the contrary it is paying dividends and vital.

Article first appeared on Service Management 365.

Reeling in the years – how refreshing field service is

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Passing through the doors and entering Service Management Europe two weeks ago for the 21st consecutive year I was struck by how different it was.

The major conference has gone (the event was called SMECON when I first went to it as Service Management magazine’s editor in Wembley in 1989) but more importantly I reckon none of the current exhibiting companies were the same as those at my first event.

Now, you could look at that as a negative thing but I take the view that it is to the credit of the field service industry that it has such a track record of innovation and change. In 1989 SME was dominated by service management systems – clunky green screen software; fourth party companies – specialist parts suppliers and repairers particularly of disk drives; tool kits and cases, while pagers were the mobile communications medium of choice. Service was about mending things and doing it as cheaply as possible.

Now the buzz is about optimisation with tools like tracking, scheduling and workforce management, with mobility tools like wireless data and internet, and handheld computers so powerful they could fly the space shuttle and with sophisticated logistics solutions running delivery, collection and repair networks more complex than the D-Day landings on a daily basis.

So what’s changed to drive the industry like this? Two conceptual things – making a profit and providing customer service. The “revolutionary” idea that service can in itself make money has provided a massive shift in thinking, work practices, investment and so on. But also the understanding that providing a better service could generate better customer retention, enhance brand values, better customer recommendation and, of course, more equipment sales has put the service department up the business agenda if not always in the board room – yet.

Still, that’s not bad for an industry that 21 years ago was regarded as a “necessary evil”. Here’s to the next 21 years.

As an additional thought, having been at the relatively young eCommerce Expo this week,  I wondered how many other B2B high tech trade shows there are that have survived 24 years.  Certainly none that I go to so another reason for SME to celebrate and feel proud of itself.

Learning the lessons of blogging

October 14, 2009 1 comment

It has been a long time since the last post and this has been for a number of reasons.

The positive one is that I’ve been experimenting  with Twitter and saying what I want to say in 140 characters.  For someone with a long experience of headline and caption writing this is still fun and challenging.

On a less positive note my mind has been taken up with other things the main one of which has been losing my job (more on that in later blogs no doubt).  Now this is where I need to be careful because my previous post 180+ days ago got me into some trouble with my employers and I don’t want to create any further difficulties for me (or them for that matter) by going into details.  This put me off returning to the blog for some time.   But with the passing of time I can see it was an interesting lesson in my own (and others’) naivety when it came to blogging.

Most stunningly stupid was my failure to realise that people might read what I posted.  And that those readers may also react to it.    

Lesson One:  You’re are talking to the world not chuntering to yourself  in a private room so don’t say anything in a blog you’re not prepared to say to anyone’s/everyone’s face

As you can see the previous post was about recruiting a new editor.  Despite some interest in the blog there was no serious candidates at all that could be tracked back to it.

Lesson Two:  Don’t listen to over enthusiastic proponents who tell you that in the new era social networking is the driver of all commerce and the solver of the world’s ills.  It’s just one of many channels with which to communicate with the world.

Despite the fact I put a great deal of detail into the blog about the role it was clear that almost no one (inside or outside of the company) read it all.

Lesson three: Keep it brief…

Categories: Service Management

Web savvy editor – the job description

April 16, 2009 Leave a comment

As someone who works more on facts than faith the reaction to the last post about recruiting a web savvy editor has helped reassure me that blogging can be useful.   

I have had a number of responses – most asking for more details so to save time and effort the fuller job advert and description is below.  If you’re interested  drop me an email and let me know what difference you think you could make to CS (and attach an up to date  CV please) – mark.turner@ubm.com.

Recent covers of Customer Strategy magazine

Recent covers of Customer Strategy magazine

Customer Strategy's home page

Customer Strategy's home page

Editor/Community manager  – Customer Strategy

 

This is a great opportunity for an ambitious, web 2.0 savvy journalist looking for an exciting challenge.  The new editor of Customer Strategy will be facing an almost blank sheet of paper.  While the title has a history in quality journalism and a pedigree in design – its challenge is to drive those values into a vibrant online community.

 

But this community is no closed, easy-to-identify set of job titles – it is for senior managers who understand the need for a business strategy focused on their customers.  Sales, marketing, service, CEOs even IT people – we need them to find us, to engage with our content and identify themselves as our community.  That’s why web 2.0 is so important to the future of this title.

 

I am looking for a bright, inquisitive, experienced journalist (at least two years experience) who also understands Twitter, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, RSS, webinars, web sites and newsletters,  and more importantly how to use them to create and maintain an active online business community.   That someone will also be passionate about driving-forward web metrics such as page impressions and unique users but also the quantifiable measurements of their users’ engagement – authority, participation and influence.

 

This is an opportunity for a driver not a passenger who can take this respected title into a brave new world.

 

 

 

Job Description

Job Title: Editor/Community Manager

Department: Customer Strategy

Division: CM & ATC, UBM Live

Location: Ludgate House

Reports to: Publisher

 

Summary

The Editor is responsible for the content and editorial integrity of the magazine, supplements, web sites, newsletters, webinars, roundtables, forums and other associated products, for where appropriate managing their direct reports and for working with colleagues to develop content programmes for portfolio events. The Editor is responsible for driving product performance and achieving agreed targets through reader and visitor engagement and interaction. The Editor is also part of the brand management team responsible for driving the products’ development, their P&L and new and existing project work.

 

 

Job Purpose

To drive, manage and produce editorial content and budgets for all brand media, to represent the brand to the industry and outside world, to drive brand development and manage and improve all aspects of product quality and production to schedules and to budgets. To work with the commercial team to ensure the brand performs to budget and develop commercially viable initiatives. To assist in furthering relationships with customers, absentees and potential customers, identifying opportunities to aid the sales process, advising sales colleagues and assisting them to win business where possible.

 

Management Responsibilities

  • Contribute to the strategic development of the Customer Strategy portfolio and its market position across all media
  • Form and build close working relationships with internal colleagues, to include the Sales, Digital, Circulation, Marketing and Production teams, as well as external contacts within the industry
  • To be a member of the Customer Strategy management team and contribute to the future development of the portfolio
  • Work with Art Director and Web Editor and other staff to develop and direct the products
  • Liaise with and report back to Publishing Director on editorial developments and initiatives
  • Build and maintain effective working relationships within Customer Strategy team

 

Editorial Responsibilities

  • Developing and delivering a range of complementary, added value products and services to the market
  • Creating and sustaining a high profile in the industry and within key professional groups
  • Delivering a focused, readable and valuable magazine
  • Delivering an editorially robust web platform that attracts industry readers
  • Engaging fully with digital technologies and platforms in the market including social networking, blogging, commenting, forums and online debates
  • Presenting and moderating online events such as webinars
  • Managing content and design of e-newsletter and other outbound electronic communication
  • Chairing and leading debate at events such as roundtables and conferences
  • Delivering superior editorial coverage in terms of news, quality features, surveys and reports
  • Managing and meeting publishing deadlines and controlling all editorial budget areas
  • Gathering and maintaining market, reader and competitor intelligence to present to the commercial team
  • Supporting other portfolio brands and initiatives
  • Knowledge, Experience and Qualifications
  • Editorial management, product development and project management experience
  • Experience of digital media including blogs, social networking and online discussions groups
  • Experience of editorial and project budgeting and cost management
  • Experience of working closely with and supporting commercial teams
  • Excellent communication and presentation skills
  • Excellent organisation, prioritisation and personnel management skills

 

Person Specification

  • Inspirational, creative, results-orientated, flexible and dependable
  • Able to handle a number of different priorities and projects at any one time
  • Ability to work with industry bodies, host seminars, lead round tables etc
  • Able to work cross functionally with a number of departments
  • Able to perform effectively under pressure

 

Performance Measures

  • Successfully deliver associated products and new initiatives to market
  • Effective editorial development of Customer Strategy
  • Involving readers in electronic media at a rate that outperforms other market media
  • Maintaining a strong and credible editorial platform online
  • Reader perception of magazine, web site and associated portfolio
  • Effective direction and development of editorial resources
  • Delivery of magazine, web site and associated portfolio within deadlines and budgets
  • High visibility and respected industry profile
  • Effective use of market, reader and competitor intelligence
  • Effective communications and working relationships

 

 

 

 

Recruiting a web 2.0 savvy editor

April 15, 2009 Leave a comment

I sense a real challenge in the making here for me.  I have a B2B magazine that is making the transition to the digital world not necessarily causing the demise  of the print but there is a definite need for speed in newer media.  So far we have successfully launched a webinar programme and digital versions and  do other things like web sites (currently being relaunched) and newsletters pretty well. 

But to my mind the challenge for the title is to build its community by  reaching out with a quality editorial platform.  The potential of Web 2.0 is huge in this just with sites like LinkedIn and Twitter and of course blogs alone.    

So here I’m testing the new network.  Below is a brief outline of the role – if any web 2.0 savvy journalistic bloggers are reading this and want an exciting challenge to build a network in a sector unfettered by conventional industry or job role boundaries then please get in touch.  You’d be working with one of the UK’s biggest B2B publishers and based in central London.

Role Purpose
The Editor is responsible for the content and editorial integrity of the magazine, supplements, web sites, newsletters, webinars, roundtables, forums and other associated products, for where appropriate managing their direct reports and for working with colleagues to develop content programmes for portfolio events. The Editor is responsible for driving product performance and achieving agreed targets through reader and visitor engagement and interaction. The Editor is also part of the brand management team responsible for driving the products’ development, their P and L and new and existing project work.

Role Summary
To drive, manage and produce editorial content and budgets for all brand media, to represent the brand to the industry and outside world, to drive brand development and manage and improve all aspects of product quality and production to schedules and to budgets. To work with the commercial team to ensure the brand performs to budget and develop commercially viable initiatives. To assist in furthering relationships with customers, absentees and potential customers, identifying opportunities to aid the sales process, advising sales colleagues and assisting them to win business where possible.

Contact me at: mark.turner@ubm.com