August 2021 | Point of View

Why smart field services are key to manufacturing operations efficiency

Manufacturers can’t afford to waste time with inefficiencies. Learn how smart field services can help mid-market manufacturers increase productivity throughout their workforce. 

Why smart field services are key to manufacturing operations efficiency

Manufacturing jobs are experiencing an evolution. Roles such as equipment servicing, customer support, and sales previously had clear delineations. But these separations are being blurred, and employees are being asked to do more than ever. And as employees in these roles continue to age, and it’s becoming more difficult to find new people to fill these vital positions.  

These factors mean that companies must be smarter about how they use technology. That technology must empower employees to perform new tasks and help organizations reduce inefficiencies—becoming more precise and strategic about how they use their staff. Manufacturers are beginning to utilize smart field services to accomplish these objectives. 

Smart field services help manufacturers leverage data in a different way while increasing efficiency and improving customer experience. It’s similar to smart home devices like thermostats that allow homeowners to reduce energy consumption, and smart fridges that alert them to expiring food. These devices help people save money and reduce their carbon footprint. So how are smart field services improving business performance today?

Smart field services improve customer retention through service layers 

Customer demands and expectations have shifted dramatically with the rise of digital innovation, requiring manufacturers to adapt or risk losing buyers to competitors that offer more personalized, seamless experiences. Providers can adapt by offering service layers that deliver additional value to their customers and give them less reason to look for lower-cost alternatives.  

Service layers are applications or services that manufacturers offer on top of their main product to provide additional value and functionality. For example, manufacturing customers may be producing data but lack the capabilities to utilize what they’re collecting. A manufacturer could offer an analytics service that provides insights on machinery usage and helps customers run equipment more efficiently while extending its life. 

Deere is utilizing service layers by using data to empower agriculture clients. Even clients in industrial agriculture can lack robust analytics capabilities. Deere provides more value by taking a client’s data and providing insights like how to optimize against certain weather conditions, land patterns, and soil fertility. 

By strategically using data, manufacturers can help customers increase uptime, optimize performance for specific use cases, and leverage usage data for OEMs to improve future versions of the product. 

Smart field services enable new business models for manufacturers 

Smart field services enable manufacturers to employ new business models. Consider the data-as-a-service (data monetization) and product-as-a-service (consumption-based) models. Many mid-market manufacturers have limited analytics capabilities, preventing them from extracting insights from their data. A lack of in-house capabilities also makes investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities an enormous challenge. This means their best option is to buy analytics capacity from companies that have robust data capabilities.  

The concept of data-as-a-service can enable manufacturers to use data to optimize processes, improve customer experience, and even uncover new revenue streams. For example, installing smart sensors on machinery at client sites can allow manufacturers to collect ongoing data regarding machine health. The data collected from these sensors can enable predictive maintenance by anticipating and fixing breakdowns before they happen.  

Data services like these are difficult for many manufacturing clients to implement. As a result, clients are willing to pay a premium for data service layers that help them improve equipment usage, knowing that they are getting more value out of the equipment. 

A scenario for the product-as-a-service model is when customers use equipment seasonally or for specific jobs. Rather than purchasing the asset, they may choose to subscribe to the equipment. However, when leasing equipment, the provider must carefully consider risk management — ensuring that the asset is recoverable and usable by the next customer. 

Smart field services reduce operational costs through remote diagnostics 

The difficulty of finding new talent and the evolving roles of service technicians presents a challenge common to manufacturers: How can they keep up with servicing equipment and labor? The answer? By improving operational efficiency through technology. 

For example, service providers can proactively schedule appointments for a tune-up before an item breaks by using data to anticipate equipment failures. This saves time, effort, and costs incurred by possibly needing to rush-order a replacement piece. It also builds trust and loyalty with the customer, who will feel that they’re in good hands with their service provider.  

With smart field service technology, OEMs don’t need to wait for return merchandise authorizations (RMAs) to come back. Instead, they can see problem codes in the field that help them identify issues before they send technicians. Based on patterns in the data, they may even create new offerings that better fit customer usage and reduce maintenance costs. 

Smart field technology can also help:  

  • Reduce truck rolls by identifying maintenance issues before drivers set out  
  • Provide rapid resolutions that improve productivity and increase customer satisfaction 
  • Reduce R&D spend on market research for product lifecycle management 
  • Reduce customer service costs by leveraging previously collected data 
  • Reduce the need for maintenance and customer service by automating troubleshooting

Implementing smart field services is a weighty initiative for mid-market companies. But the challenge that manufacturers are facing with labor, productivity, and efficiency require action, and success can signify longevity and more profitable client relationships. The right technology combined with the right business strategy produces results that create lasting value. 

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