By Sarah Nicastro, Field Service Evangelist, IFS
In a year fraught with such fear, turbulence, and complexity as 2020, it has sometimes taken effort to see the positives. As someone who cares deeply about this industry, one of those positives for me has been witnessing how the leaders I’m speaking to have risen to the challenges of this year with grit, resilience, and fortitude. They’ve shown true compassion for their coworkers and customers alike, bonded together by a deepened sense of empathy.
Beyond the individual level, however, the challenges of this year have forced growth upon service organizations that I am excited to see bear fruit. Elements of increased open mindedness, greater creativity and agility, a collective surrender of comfort zones, and recognition of the criticality of both people and digital tools will spur these companies forth as 2021 takes hold. Here are three predictions for how:
Prediction #1: Digital Innovation Spikes
Our world quickly turned virtual as COVID struck, and the leaders I’ve spoken to fall into two camps: those who had made significant traction in digital transformation and were relieved they had, and those who had lagged behind for one reason or another and felt the pain of lacking tools that would aid greatly in business continuity and decision making.
The moments of service that matter most, the ability to react nimbly to quickly changing business criteria, and the capacity to expand and evolve service offerings all rely on a strong, cohesive digital infrastructure. In 2021, we’ll see digital innovation and investment spike among service organizations. Those who’ve already made progress on their digital transformation journeys will be looking to build upon their strong foundation—and those who have lagged will work hard to catch up. An IFS study of more than 3,000 executives from six regions across the world who weighed in on their organization’s plans to invest in digital transformation technologies in automation, artificial intelligence (AI), IoT and more—expressed that, globally, over 50 percent plan to increase spend on digital transformation initiatives.
In data released in October, 2020, Gartner stated that, “Top performing enterprises are accelerating digital innovation and leveraging emerging technologies to come out stronger on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has arguably been the most significant ‘turn’ in 2020, according to Gartner, Inc.’s annual global survey of CIOs. 2021 will be a race to digital, with the spoils going to those organizations that can maintain the momentum built up during their response to the pandemic.”
Gartner, with findings of a survey conducted online from June through July 2020, polling 402 respondents across the U.S., U.K., Germany, Australia, Singapore and India, points to increased investment in IoT, stating that, “Despite the disruptive impacts of COVID-19, 47 percent of organizations plan to increase their investments in the Internet of Things (IoT).” Another Gartner, Inc. poll of roughly 200 business and IT professionals on September 24, 2020 revealed that 24 percent of respondents’ organizations increased their AI investments and 42 percent kept them unchanged since the onset of COVID-19.
IDC, a leading provider of global IT research and advice, explores how laggards, which it refers to as digital resisters, are catching up, saying that, “The pandemic was a wake-up call for the digital resisters.” The firm’s study “shows 64 percent of organizations will either be early adopters of new technology or aggressively seek out emerging technology, a departure from past recessionary behavior. It is the digital laggards who are expected to make the boldest moves as they play catch up. In all, 53 percent of digital resisters, the least digitally mature organizations, are planning to seek out emerging technology compared to the average of 29 percent.”
Prediction #2: Servitization Journeys Speed
Servitization has been the industry buzzword for the last few years, but has real progress taken place? I believe so, and I believe 2021 will speed servitization journeys. The concept of servitization on paper—that product manufacturers compete on service offerings rather than commoditized products—sounds simple, but in reality, it is a monumental shift in how a business thinks, sells, performs, and delivers. And monumental shifts take time. IFS customer Munters, for example, who is on the journey to servitization, shares insight on both the potential but also the complexities.
However, COVID has brought together several forces that collectively will make strides toward servitization. First, it has created greater customer intimacy—companies have learned more about not only what their customers want, but how they operate. This greater understanding inevitably leads to the discovery of additional opportunities to provide value. Many manufacturing companies I’ve spoken with have seen a heightened interest in service offerings, with customers wanting to maximize the lifespan of their current equipment to avoid capital expenditures. As such, they have become increasingly open to subscription models and premier service offerings, which paves the way for servitization progress.
I’m not saying that we’ll see the full potential of servitization realized in 2021, but I believe we’ll see a quicker pace of progress than we have the last few years as these factors, and others, play out. This Forbes article discusses some other reasons contributing to the move toward XaaS business models for manufacturing in a post-COVID world, including revenue resiliency and employee safety.
Prediction #3: Field Service Becomes Anywhere Service
Remote service capabilities have been the most sought after as a result of the pandemic, providing business continuity as travel bans and quarantine restrictions were put in place. But the value of remote service spans far beyond surviving COVID and, in 2021, our concept of field service will be replaced with one of “anywhere service.” As remote service takes hold and becomes the standard first line of defense for organizations, we’ll realize that the initial service visit can be done from anywhere.
Organizations will recognize the benefit of leading with a remote-first approach that provides far faster response times, increases the odds of remote resolution, and improves first-time fix rates when field service is necessary because of the insight gleaned in advance. Remote service empowers the customer by engaging them in the service process aiding in quicker resolution, and it empowers technicians by eliminating unnecessary trips and travel time allowing them to better leverage their expertise.
In no way do I believe that field service will disappear. Rather, the use of “anywhere” remote service to diagnose issues and resolve problems that don’t require a technician’s time or skills onsite will contribute to the progress toward more strategic service and allow for far more optimal use of resources. Freeing up the time and energy of technicians by eliminating service work than can and should be done remotely will give them an opportunity to focus time in the field on value-add work, sharpening their skills as a trusted advisor, which is precisely what will propel the company forward in its service objectives.
Service organizations should press home their advantage in 2021
I’ve been writing for more than 12 years about how service is becoming more strategic—about the immense potential it holds for businesses across a variety of industries. But to seize that potential takes an immense amount of change—a full departure from “the way it’s always been.” Until 2020, many organizations simply weren’t ready to commit to the cultural, technological, and operational changes necessary to see the potential come to life. In 2021, we’ll see how navigating the challenges of 2020 results in a leap forward to exponentially speed the service evolution in the coming years. And that’s something I am eager to witness.Sarah Nicastro has extensive experience covering the trends, technologies and business drivers that most impact service organizations. Prior to joining IFS to create Future of Field Service, Sarah spent more than a decade as the Editor-in-Chief of Field Technologies Online. Sarah is passionate about helping service leaders share their trials and triumphs through interviews on the Future of Field Service podcast, but also about bringing the community together to collaborate and share best practices.
 Gartner Press Release, “Gartner Survey of Nearly 2,000 CIOs Reveals Top Performing Enterprises are Prioritizing Digital Innovation During the Pandemic,” Oct 20, 2020.
 Gartner Press Release, “Gartner Survey Reveals 47% of Organizations Will Increase Investments in IoT Despite the Impact of COVID-19,” Oct 29, 2020.
 Gartner Press Release, “Gartner Survey Reveals 66% of Organizations Increased or Did Not Change AI Investments Since the Onset of COVID-19,” Oct 20, 2020.
 IDC Blog, “A Renewed Focus on Tech Innovation”, Sept 2, 2020.