The IoT: the next level of field service optimisation

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-smart-home-internet-things-concept-cloud-computing-to-connect-global-wireless-devices-each-other-wireframe-world-image54020234The future of field service management is happening right before our eyes, and it’s being led by the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a network of physical objects that can connect to each other over the internet. Once connected, they’re able to talk to us, to applications, and to each other. They might be home appliances, office equipment, vehicles, street signs or even whole buildings. We call these objects ‘smart’. It’s been estimated that the IoT will consist of 30 billion objects by 2020. A decade from now, an object that doesn’t connect to the internet could be an alien concept.

Rise of the machines

The IoT isn’t new. Tech pundits have been talking about it for decades. In fact, 1982 saw a modified Coke machine become the first internet-connected appliance, able to report on whether newly loaded drinks were cold enough.

But a large-scale network of smart devices didn’t become a reality till more recently. New, more sophisticated technologies, faster internet speeds, and a push for more mobility and efficiency in the way we live and work have triggered a revolution. Now all kinds of objects are being manufactured with built-in sensors and software that enable them to connect to the internet and exchange data.  

The IoT revolution is transforming the field service industry. And at some pace, too. In fact, you only have to blink and you could find yourself falling behind your competitors. Gartner says that service companies should adjust their business models and technology to take full advantage of the IoT and the cost and customer experience benefits it brings. There’s growing realisation that IoT strategies are ultimately poised to make the difference between the destined-to-be market leaders — and everyone else.

Smarter service

A machine that’s connected to the internet is able to send messages to the field service company charged with maintaining it. If it breaks down or isn’t functioning properly, it can notify the company that it needs a repair without the customer having to make a call. 

But this fix-it-when-it-breaks mentality is not where the true value of IoT lies. Increased connectivity and data collection fosters a more predictive model of service. In other words, the IoT can give service companies the ability to diagnose and address problems before they happen. This reduces downtime for the customer, and saves time and money on service calls and maintenance visits for the service provider. Everybody’s happy.

Let’s look at some examples within the context of the copy/print industry. Smart printers can do wonders for managed print services (MPS) providers, who are under increasing pressure to deliver better, more proactive service despite falling prices, rising costs, and declining print volumes. By communicating with a service management software application like Evatic Service, smart printers and copiers can transmit relevant data to the provider and empower them to address issues before they become problems. The data could include their toner levels, the number of hours they’re running, how many copies they’re printing, the status of their parts, and their lifespan.

For example, a copier contains a drum that produces an image. After about 200,000 copies, that drum needs replacing. Evatic will tell the MPS provider when a replacement needs to happen. It’ll schedule a service visit before the machine breaks down or starts producing defective copies, assigning it to an engineer who’s in the area at the relevant time. Not only that, but it’ll tell the provider if the drum is actually worth replacing, taking into account the mileage of the copier as a whole.

The fact that smart printers and copiers can transmit data about their toner levels is probably the most important benefit for MPS providers. It allows them to deliver toner ahead of it running out, saving customers from being unable to print or from having to ring and request more.

Having said that, while predictive toner replacement services are great for customers, they can be super-costly for providers who don’t have a sensible, streamlined system in place for processing and analysing the toner data.

The importance of automation and analytics

Many MPS providers have to monitor all their connected devices and generate shipment orders manually when new toner is needed. This relies on the person doing the monitoring to decide when toner levels are too low and replacement cartridges should be sent. Different volume outputs for different printers and copiers can lead to toner being sent too early or too late. Cue wasted costs.

Evatic Consumable and Meter Management (ECMM) is a module within the Evatic system that accurately and automatically calculates the ideal time for toner replacement based on consumption and pre-defined rules, ensuring just-in-time delivery. ECMM also automates and optimises the delivery process, reducing administration and shipping costs.

But wasted toner is not the only concern for an MPS provider. You also need to make sure you’re charging enough for the toner you’re providing. This is another area where failing to keep your eye on the ball can cause your profitability to take a serious hit. After all, toner accounts for more than 50% of the cost of an MPS contract. You need to make sure you know how much toner is going out compared to how much toner should be going out, according to the rules of the contract. For instance, if your customer starts doing more short-run print jobs or printing with a higher coverage ratio, they’ll end up using more ink and needing more toner. You need to make sure your charges on the contract reflect the additional toner deliveries. If you don’t, you’re making an immediate loss.

A performance management platform like Evatic BI Tool will allow you to compare delivered toner and planned toner in relation to coverage and volume printed. It will show you the effects that higher-than-expected toner deliveries are having on your profitability so that you can adjust the contract price or charge extra for the additional toner.

Getting the data is great, but it’s really about what you do with it

There’s no doubt that the IoT is changing how companies approach field service delivery. More and more contracts are now being designed to take advantage of IoT sensors’ abilities to predict when machines need maintenance or consumables, or are likely to break down.

But what all the above shows is that just because a device is connected to the internet and transmitting data doesn’t inevitably result in cost-effective service. It’s what you do with the data that’s important. Having a service management software application in place to analyse the data and automate certain processes is the key to a truly optimised operation.  

To find out more about the Evatic system, please contact us or send us an email at sales@evatic.com.