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Taking IoT on the voyage of discovery

June 28, 2018
Avoid vendor lock-in and unlock field service benefits.

IoT has moved from nice to have, to operationally critical. Using IoT to automate tasks can improve workforce efficiency, better utilize assets and predict possible failures before they disrupt operations. Yet some organizations face missing out these IoT benefits because they are unable to on-board tools which help action IoT data.

With IoT-enabled equipment, companies can provide condition-based or predictive maintenance, metered billing based on duty cycles of equipment, and gain better visibility into how customers are using a product for a more targeted sales approach in the future. North American organizations are beginning to target IoT benefits, IFS research recently found that 30 percent of product-oriented companies said they are already using IoT for field service to some extent, while a few companies are harnessing IoT data to automatically trigger work orders or technician dispatches.  

Avoid vendor lock-in

Many industries involved with field service, most notably the medical device industry, power generation industry and process manufacturing, have been ahead of the curve in machine-to-machine communication and IoT. But as IoT becomes more central to a variety of industries to add value to aftermarket and field services, service organizations will need to avoid proprietary, closed systems to ensure interoperability with a variety of equipment and management software.

The safe path forward is for field service organizations to adopt standard IoT discovery technologies.

A lack of interoperability is one problem presented by proprietary technology. But organizations that manufacture a product and sell it along with an aftermarket service contract may find differentiating their service offering difficult if they embed an IoT technology into their offering that is in fact marketed by a competing equipment manufacturer. These same service organizations might also support multiple product lines from different vendors, but a proprietary IoT discovery tool may not play well with multiple product lines, again leading to vendor lock-in.

The safe path forward is for field service organizations to adopt standard IoT discovery technologies that will help them monitor data from a wide variety of different machines and also integrate with the field service management software of their choice.

It’s all about discovery

But simply implementing IoT sensors isn’t enough – businesses need the tools that work behind the scenes to turn information into actionable insights. The process of gathering data from sensors in the field and turning it into usable information is handled by IoT discovery tools. These tools take equipment data captured in real-time and convert it into events that can trigger field service work orders, parts requisitions or other transactions in the software system.

In many cases, the equipment makers themselves provide and sell the IoT discovery tools used to service the asset after the sale. They may also sell supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) tools, field service management software and more as part of a unified technology stack. The idea of a complete system from the same vendor might be attractive to a company that plans to service their own equipment using asset management and maintenance software provided by the equipment manufacturer, but it is not viable for a service organization that is potentially servicing not only equipment it manufactures but equipment manufactured by others. Furthermore, looking to a single vendor for an entire technology stack – from IoT sensors and discovery tools to asset management software – may not make sense functionally, financially and may even block important business benefits from the IoT data.

Open IoT opening up new opportunities

Open IoT platforms like the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite are much quicker and easier to install and are also able to connect to the cloud, APIs and other third-party solutions. These tools, combined with IoT-enabled field service management software, transform operational data into observations and actions, so organizations can increase the efficiency of field service processes and expand into new service business models enabled by IoT.

Field Service Management software that facilitates IoT in this open fashion avoids vendor lock-in and maximizes interoperability with the wide spectrum of assets that may need to be serviced in the field.

Unlocking new advantages

Simply deployed IoT enabled devices does not constitute an IoT strategy. In order to reap rewards from an IoT deployment, organizations must be able to quickly collect, analyse and action data. This means using open platforms which have been designed with connectivity in mind – or these benefits will remain locked away forever.

Tom DeVroy is Senior Product Evangelist, North America, IFS. DeVroy has over 30 years of experience in high tech service operations including work with hardware, software and consulting firms, as well as premier global service organizations like Ericsson, DHL, Xerox, and Ingenico. He holds a degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

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