BOSTON -- As companies begin to use the Internet of Things (IoT) to keep tabs on equipment performance and remotely diagnose problems, the resulting flood of sensor data presents opportunities to spot trends and predict failures. According to experts, field service engineers and call center agents could shift from providing reactive service to playing a proactive role in equipment maintenance and even product development. But first, organizations need to establish the necessary IoT technology and processes.
In a panel at the recent IFS World Conference 2015, Adam Brody, director of enterprise systems at Sysmex America, Inc., and management consultant Michael Blumberg of the Blumberg Advisory Group, Inc., discussed the IoT's applications for enterprise service management today and in the future.
According to Brody, Sysmex, which uses IoT technology to perform remote performance monitoring and diagnostics on its medical equipment, didn't jump on the IoT trend because of the hype. The company's customers in the medical industry helped drive the change.
Michael Blumbergmanagement consultant, Blumberg Advisory Group
"There was a time when businesses were driving the consumer world. Now it's the opposite. You have the consumer using mobiles devices and Internet of Things [technology], and they're saying, 'Bring that into the business,'" Brody said. He added that medical device technicians are a dying breed for the customers Sysmex serves, so there's typically no one in-house to perform the necessary diagnostics. "Our customers were demanding that we find a way to get this information because they have a lack of resources within the laboratory."
As customer expectations and requirements change across industries, "I can't think of an industry that won't be affected by IoT," said Blumberg, who specializes in reverse logistics and the service supply chain. "With any technology that requires service, as long as there's a way to connect a sensor, there's an opportunity for IoT."
IoT-enabled service requires big data strategy
Companies that want to use IoT technology to transform service management face some major obstacles, including updates to technology infrastructure. "Some technology out there is 10 years old. If you really want to adopt IoT throughout the enterprise, every piece of technology has to be IoT-enabled. That's going to take some time," Blumberg said.
But IoT for enterprise service management requires much more than installing sensors on equipment. A company like Sysmex that has implemented IoT technology must now grapple with big data. "Our organization had to figure out; we have all of this information, what are we going to do with it?" Brody said.
He advised developing a strategy as early as possible, not just to glean useful information from the influx of data, but to avoid the potential pitfalls of gathering customer information. "Especially being in the healthcare market, now you're opening yourself up to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance. Without planning ahead, we would have been up the creek to some extent," he said.
Then there's the issue of turning sensor data into actionable information.
"We have connected devices flooding our servers with information," Brody said. "It's trying to pick it apart and grasp the right information from those devices. We have that information interconnect with some of our back-office applications, whether it's our ERP or our field service management or even our sales force management tools. It's making that information go to the right places, analyze it and get the right data from inside that massive amount of information."
Solving equipment problems before they occur
Field service and call center operations are traditionally reactive: An immediate problem comes in and a call center agent or field technician tries to resolve it as efficiently as possible. Blumberg said that IoT-enabled devices have the potential to transform enterprise service management into a proactive practice by helping organizations predict problems and head them off. "If you can see something's happening and get someone to resolve it before a problem occurs, there's value in that," he said.
Service driven by predictive analytics could change not only the role of the field service engineer, but call center agents as well. "Call center people will become more like data scientists, having to track and analyze data and predict what might happen, as opposed to just taking the call as it's occurring," Blumberg said.
Blumberg also mentioned IoT's potential influence on product development. "As we move toward the 'servitization' trend where you only get paid if your equipment is working, all that knowledge that the field service engineer is collecting will help design a better product that will operate at a higher level of reliability," he said.
But for Brody, IoT's immediate value is that remotely tracking equipment performance encourages a certain standard of service. "I think it's raising the bar, at least within our organization," he said. "We have hundreds of field service technicians across the country, both high-experience techs and newbies. With the Internet of Things, we're starting to see that people are becoming more consistent and our service is going to get more standardized and consistent because of that."
How the product as a service model could transform manufacturing
What do you need tosupport product as a service?
Companies start to embrace product as a service