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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.