Opinion

Mobilising manufacturing industry field services for better customer outcomes

6 min read

14 February 2017

The global manufacturing industry used to be very much about creating products for sale, however, we’ve seen a gradual erosion of that concept.

Indeed, in recently years, in the manufacturing industry there has been a marked shift towards the provision of services, rather than products, has evolved.

Many businesses, for example, now lease their photocopiers from a manufacturer so that any repair or maintenance requirements can be handled by an engineer sent by the manufacturing company.

The gains to be had for both the customer and the manufacturer in this instance are clear: the customer is relieved of any maintenance hassle, and the manufacturer continues to profit from the ongoing relationship.

Hand-in-hand with this move towards service, comes a growing customer demand for great experiences, yet for manufacturers who are used to simply creating commodities and then selling them in a transactional – as opposed to relationship-led – capacity, this presents both new challenges and new opportunities.

So how can modern manufacturers set themselves apart through the delivery of optimised customer experiences? The answer lies in being more agile and more communicative, and that starts with optimising mobile-led technologies.

Mobilising the manufacturing industry: The benefits

Through the application of mobile-led technologies, manufacturing process costs can be reduced in the supply chain, which translate to cost-savings for businesses and end-consumers.

In addition, mobile technology enables key manufacturing industry data and information to be shared more easily between relevant parties, limiting production lag time, and ensuring a prompt service and/or product delivery for customers.

Similarly, but this time for the engineers who create and service the manufacturer’s products, mobile technologies can support a move up the business value chain by making their roles and responsibilities as much about creating and servicing products, as delivering great customer experiences.

The combination of the engineer’s capacity to act as both manufacturer and brand ambassador presents significant business opportunity, but adding mobile into the mix is where the real business rewards can be reaped.

Mobile mañana

So which mobile-led technologies are set to take the manufacturing industry by storm this year and beyond?

Here’s our take:

The Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT offers clear advantages in terms of improved communication through mobile-led channels, which in turn enables manufacturers to deliver a greater level of convenience to customers by eradicating the need for long “wait-in” windows – something which our recent survey revealed to be the most frequent cause (60 per cent) of poor customer experience.

Connectivity is key to strong business outcomes and manufacturers that arm themselves with IoT-enabled technologies will be amongst the industry’s key innovators in 2017.

Industry 4.0

In recent years, the cloud and IoT have become more embedded into the product creation process, creating Industry 4.0. Factories are now focussed on a data-driven model, whereby they receive and analyse information from machines before acting on the intelligence provided.

In many cases, employees working in manufacturing factories now have a hands-off approach, and only intervene in the process when there is an issue with a machine. They no longer build products, but instead act as surveyors and analytical problem-solvers.

Because of this, the focus workers are better positioned to focus on addressing issues within complex processes and reducing the downtime that can occur within these processes, by leveraging the data that is generated. This consequently reduces inefficiency, and increases employee safety, not to mention business productivity and profit.

Wearables

They’re are more than just cool gadgets, they also present significant business gain for organisations that have a field-based workforce. For example, less experienced engineers can be remotely guided through a job they’re struggling with via wearable devices that support augmented reality.

This provides a great way for manufacturers to mobilise their new recruits sooner rather than later, safe in the knowledge that they will have the support of a senior engineer should they encounter any issues. As well as the clear benefits this delivers in terms of long-term customer satisfaction, it also has the added advantage of helping to reduce safety-related business risks.

Predictive learning

Looking to the slightly more distant future, we can also expect to see predictive learning playing an increasingly business critical role in the manufacturing industry – and indeed, across other business sectors too.

This will work by enabling real-time data to be fed into machinery so that it can act (or operate) with more intelligence and knowledge in mind. It may seem like science-fiction, but it’s the future of business and none more so than for those operating in field service industries such as manufacturing.

Mobile will become easier to deploy as technological advancements become more ingrained in field service industries, however the real opportunity for innovation and competitive prowess is now.

Alec Berry is VP of consulting and technical services EMEA at ClickSoftware

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