IoT has extended our understanding of industrial equipment far beyond its original definition, and has imparted a vast and ever-expanding range of capabilities to this equipment. Commercially viable IoT solutions have been present in the marketplace for only a few years, but the initial pattern of concentration in a handful of industries is rapidly evolving into more balanced, cross-industry adoption. The implications of IoT for businesses with deployed infrastructure are substantial, not only in terms of optimizing field service operations, but also in terms of substantially improving the customer experience and creating new sources of revenue.
This post is part 2 in a 4-part series: “How Sentient Infrastructure Changes the Game for Field Services, and Why This Is Important”.
The Service Imperative for IoT
As long as industrial equipment has been around, there has been a need to service it, wherever it was deployed. With IoT, the nature of service is also changing dramatically.
Businesses that have embraced the IoT value proposition and adopted IoT solutions have understandably high expectations. The technology needs to function properly, and it needs to deliver the kind of meaningful results that underpinned the business case for adoption. As a business infuses IoT into its market offerings and core operations, its customers also evolve their expectations higher. Businesses using IoT must meet or exceed those expectations. Businesses not using IoT must consider how their IoT-enabled competitors are getting ahead, and what implications this creates.
In the hyper-connected environment of IoT, maintaining the availability, performance, and security of infrastructure and devices takes on new urgency. It is no longer acceptable to address malfunctions or breaches after an incident has occurred. Instead, real-time (or near real-time) monitoring must provide a current view of each IoT endpoint, and the connectivity that allows this monitoring must also facilitate remote remediation of issues. Analyzing data from individual endpoints and aggregated systems also enables a business to predict issues and incidents with a high degree of confidence. More accurate predictive analytics improves the business’ ability to conduct preventive maintenance and drive downtime to new lows.
Infusing IoT technologies into physical infrastructure, business models, and operating models creates an imperative for truly enterprise-grade service. Businesses that succeed in delivering such service stand to benefit in at least five principal ways. These are:
- More effective preventive maintenance. Preventive maintenance has traditionally been rooted in proactive activities, but a predictive orientation to service represents a more sophisticated approach to preventing service incidents. Accurate, timely, and actionable information about deployed infrastructure allows businesses to shift their services orientation away from a post-incident, break-fix posture to a proactive posture. IoT-enabled infrastructure allows the business to generate data, analyze it, and apply resulting insights to services operations. In so doing, businesses further strengthen their preventive maintenance effectiveness by shifting to a predictive services posture.
- More effective reactive capabilities. Even with the best possible preventive maintenance capabilities, a business will still experience equipment and system failures. When such failures occur, the service response is reactive by definition. Yet IoT enables a more granular approach to reactive service by breaking down the incident into stages. Self-diagnostic functionality allows an endpoint to detect risk factors or early signs of failure. Self-healing functionality allows the endpoint to attempt troubleshooting automatically (e.g., initiating a reset of an application or of the device itself). If these self-directed actions do not resolve the issue, then the endpoint can automatically initiate a call for manual intervention. Self-aware equipment and systems that are less reliant on human intervention, and that are capable of independent corrective action if necessary, optimize reactive service.
- Increased control over distributed systems. Connected equipment and devices operating as part of an intelligent system are in constant contact with each other, with the controlling platform, and with dependent systems. This connectivity and high degree of control allow the business to adjust performance, capacity, feature access, and other parameters as necessary. It also becomes possible to take individual devices and functionality offline if necessary and shift their roles to other parts of the system to maintain business continuity. In this way, IoT-enabled infrastructure is highly analogous to cloud infrastructure (e.g., workload portability, performance optimization, engineered redundancy and failover). These similarities also strengthen the case for using cloud-based platforms for the development, deployment, and ongoing management of IoT solutions.
- Improved customer experience. Customers may or may not observe or knowingly interact with physical infrastructure when engaging with a business’ services. Similarly, customers may be entirely unaware of IoT technology when it is present. However, the presence of IoT-enabled infrastructure is almost certainly delivering a measurable improvement to that customer’s service experience. IoT technologies increase system uptime (e.g., through automated diagnostics, repairs, repair dispatches, and ordering of replacement parts). IoT technologies also give the business the ability to actively adjust the parameters directly and indirectly influencing the customer experience, often in real time. When companies take full advantage of IoT technical capabilities, they also obtain greater volumes of data and resulting insights, helping them achieve higher levels of system performance, provide more sophisticated information to customer service representatives, and deliver customized experiences. Whether the customer is a business or consumer, IoT improves the experience.
- Improved financial performance. Businesses with deployed infrastructure must monetize that infrastructure. IoT-enabling that infrastructure helps both sides of the profit equation. When IoT endpoints are covered by service contracts, maintaining an accurate inventory of the installed base and an accurate record of device-specific contract coverage is essential to prevent revenue leakage. Using IoT technologies to assess device utilization can also allow a company to determine if the customer is using more features than the contract allows, or if feature utilization and device performance patterns suggest device replacement, up-sell, or cross-sell opportunities. Additionally, data gleaned from the IoT-enabled installed base can identify unaddressed or underserved customer needs, creating the basis for entirely new market offerings or business models. IoT technologies also lower operating costs, through more efficient field service scheduling, remote diagnostics and issue remediation in lieu of physical service calls, automated ordering of replacement parts, and reduction in the cost associated with system downtime.
The service imperative for IoT is universal. While use cases naturally differ by industry vertical, a business in any industry should be able to realize these five benefits of IoT-enabling its deployed infrastructure. Improving the timeliness, quality, consistency, and effectiveness of service directly improves the customer experience. Embracing the financial dimension of world-class service allows a company with deployed infrastructure to not only realize operating cost savings, but also increase revenue by preventing leakage and integrating new revenue-generating service offerings. The bottom line for IoT is high-quality service, and high-quality service in IoT is all about the bottom line… and even the top line.
About the author:
John Mack is an enterprise technology marketing executive and member of the board of directors of ThingLogix, Inc, a provider of Internet of Things solutions, solution components, and advisory services.