IoT investment into field management software slow in coming

Data from connected devices can lead to a less service equals more approach to field service management, but some industries are still wary about achieving a return on investment.

BOSTON -- In today's connected world, data is everywhere. McDonald's knows that it sells roughly 75 hamburgers every second across its locations. Airline companies know that a plane lifts off every two seconds in the U.S. What's the use of this data, however, if companies can't access it or act on it to provide better efficiency or prevent downtime?

Field management software provider ServiceMax Inc. is hoping its alignment with asset performance management through General Electric's Predix platform helps customers tie their data to actionable outcomes with the hopes of IoT investment, the main theme at the Maximize 2018 Boston conference, a day-long event taking place in a select number of cities throughout the year.

"The mission of field service management is less service equals more," said Scott Berg, CEO of ServiceMax, to the roughly 300 attendees. "Customers think of uptimes and outcomes -- your customers bought something to produce. They don't want you there in the first place."

In the opening keynote, Berg touched on the unfulfilled promise of IoT. Roughly $3 trillion will be spent on IoT investment and connectivity and service by 2020, according to Deloitte, yet there's still a disconnect or unfulfilled promise according to Berg.

"What people want to evolve to is a predictive model for maintenance," he said.

'Technical hell'

The IoT movement is already here -- its scope depending on the industry you're looking at. According to 2017 research by Gartner, the consumer segment is the largest user base of connected devices, with smart TVs, security cameras and electric meters among the consumer devices that have taken an IoT approach.

The B2B market for IoT is also substantial; a seemingly endless array of machines require updates and maintenance. By 2020, Gartner expects there to be more than 20 billion connected devices between consumer and business uses -- all requiring some form of field management software to help monitor and alert users when something goes awry.

While this influx of connected devices is real and upon us, there still exists this unfulfilled promise of the return of an IoT investment for some customers -- mainly due to the initial cost of the investment to upgrade or replace connected products.

What people want IoT to evolve to is a predictive model for maintenance ... Before IoT, the customer was the sensor.
Scott BergCEO, ServiceMax

Several attendees at the Maximize event, ranging from customers to vendor partners, cited the initial investment required to make manufacturing tools or construction machines smart. If a manufacturing company is investing in its equipment today, there's a good chance that IoT capabilities and field management software will be a cornerstone of that growth.

But many companies that on the surface fit the description for IoT capabilities don't see now as the right time for an IoT investment -- whether that's due to market maturation, the cost of upgrading inventory to be connected or if their use cases don't reap the benefits of IoT measurement and the need for field management software.

"A lot of IoT is applied at medical device and life science [companies], and it's 'Look at this problem we've discovered and we fix it and the problem goes away,'" Berg said in a roundtable with media and analysts. "What's lost with that is the [field management software] benefit doesn't live on; it doesn't repeat and learn from itself."

This one-and-done aspect of some IoT projects should "scare C-level executives to death," according to Eddie Amos, CTO for GE Digital. "If you go out and build a one-off customized solution, you're in technical hell forever."

A predictive model for maintenance

What this movement toward more connectivity and IoT investment means for customers -- and the customers of field management software -- is less maintenance and more timely repairs.

"Before IoT, the customer was the sensor," Berg said.

And while field service management is evolving to a more proactive maintenance approach, the industry is still a long way from complete predictive maintenance.

"We can tell you based on algorithms that there may be an issue," Amos said. "But you still need to go out and service it. Right now, it's about getting the right people at the right place at the right time."

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