“There is an increasing pressure on the sector to make the most out of every technician.”

“The impact of lost knowledge and customer relationships built over the years and decades by retiring technicians is keeping service leaders up at night.”

“Many companies have not been able to capture their ‘tribal knowledge’ in a systematic way, risking the loss of valuable insight into service operations.”

These quotes come from “The Future of Field Service”, a February 2018 article in Field Technologies Online. Of course, they also could have been quotes from a 2008 or even earlier version of the article. Why is it that these problems that have been considered significant issues by Field Service executives are not solved and still considered problems year after year? Are they simply intractable problems that have no solution? Perhaps the answer to these questions is hidden in another quote from the article:

“The core of field service, the technician’s visit, is the aspect least addressed by field service management solutions.”

To date, everything before and after a site visit is digitized and chronicled to great extent, but much of what goes on during the visit is still very much a “black box”. Sure, there are now Remote Expert video based collaboration tools that may allow recording of a session, but what if the person on site IS the expert and doesn’t need to make that call? In addition, these solutions don’t capture what went on before or after the the call. What did the tech do that lead up to the call? Without that information we (a) put the expert at a disadvantage because they have no context to help solve the problem and (b) fail to capture the tribal knowledge of what NOT to do, or understand the common mistakes that might lead to difficulties in the field.

From my early days working on Internet based Remote Service, first with Questra and then with ThingWorx, I have seen many companies that have tried to address the Tribal Knowledge issue in many ways. Knowledge Management systems, social networking tools, video chat sessions, etc. have all been moderately successful at best, and usually at very high cost. The reason for this is that they largely relied on “after the fact” documentation. Asking the tech to remember everything that happened while on-site (while they are rushing off to the next job) is often a lesson in futility.

So, what is the answer? How do we break open that black-box? To quote from the article once again:

“It seems so paradoxical that so few field service management solutions focus on these aspects of field service”

Some folks have seen IIoT as a solution, letting the equipment itself collect and send data. While this is certainly helpful, it doesn’t reveal the true story of what the tech is experiencing onsite. Others have said that the aforementioned video collaboration tools are the answer, but again, there is the critical before and after the call information that is missing. And mixing Social Networking and people heading towards retirement is almost never a good idea(!).

So what is the answer? Are we destined to forever be wandering around the darkened room of the customer site visit with a blindfold on? At Augmentir we think perhaps not. But much more on that later…