Last Wednesday (4/10/2017), I had the pleasure of attending the IPEXPO Europe 2017 event at the ExCel Convention Centre in London. Full of experts that were bursting with innovative ideas and keen insights, the event left me feeling inspired and motivated, if not a little overwhelmed as well. There is so much happening in the world of technology, especially when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and cyber security that as someone who writes about these things it can often feel like it’s impossible to keep up with every new development; perhaps this is why events like this are so essential.
The IPEXPO 2017 had an impressive line-up of distinguished speakers, from Brian Cox (world-renowned physicist) to Brad Anderson (VP of Microsoft), there was no shortage of brains to pick and idols to admire. One of the talks that really stayed with me, however, was one given by former world number one chess champion Garry Kasparov.
Though one of the greatest chess players of the twentieth century, Kasparov will more than likely go down in history as the first human to lose a game of chess to a computer. Deep Blue, a 1996 IBM version of a supercomputer beat Kasparov in their second meeting in New York City. The loss, while devastating at the time, allowed Kasparov to move beyond the game of chess and start thinking critically about the relationship and potential partnership between humans and machines. As he highlighted in his talk, once he had “finished licking his wounds” Kasparov started thinking about how a computer could beat a human at a game traditionally thought of as the ultimate test of human intelligence. His answer: speed of processing. Kasparov argued that it was the speed at which a machine was able to process information that gave it the ability to ‘outsmart’ a human player. He reasoned that if those processing capabilities were married up to human intelligence and intuition, then a machine enabled human would consistently beat any machine only opponent. Kasparov turned out to be correct, and in subsequent years he went on to demonstrate that by partnering human ingenuity with technological processing, the results were efficiency and innovation.
Progress is Process.
Finding efficiencies by perfecting processes is at the heart of what Dynamics 365 does and in order to demonstrate this clearly, I thought it best to look at how Dynamics 365 for Field Services perfectly encapsulates the virtues of human-machine collaboration.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, let’s define what Field Services is.
Field Service is the job performed by an engineer or technician off-site at either a customer’s business or home. This can be anything from a plumber fixing a broken tap to an air conditioning technician coming in to install some much-needed ventilation in your cramped office. Ever required roadside assistance because your car broke down in the middle of nowhere? The mechanic that’s helping you get back on the road is known as a Field Service Technician.
While some Field Service technicians can have relatively easy-to-fix callouts, there are others, say those that are responsible for ensuring the machinery that runs Britain’s nuclear reactors is at operational excellence, that have significantly more complex callouts to deal with.
Dynamics 365 for Field Services is essential to making sure that every Field Service technician, regardless of the level of complexity, is able to provide customers with the very best solutions and fixes first time around, and getting it right the first time around takes us back to process.
The processes Dynamics 365 improves
‘Improves’ seems like an understatement, what Dynamics 365 for Field Service does is revolutionise.
Dynamics 365 for Field Services puts the customer front and centre and gives field service organisations the ability to communicate and interact with their customers in an honest manner, with real-time insights. With Dynamics 365, field services no longer need to rely on a reactive business model, rather they can provide a predictive and proactive approach to their customers through advanced scheduling, resource optimisation, and mobile enablement.
By using Dynamics 365, a field services organisation is able to leverage the power of intelligent business applications in the cloud such as Project Service Automation, Sales, Customer Service, Operations, and Marketing (in collaboration with Adobe) and integrate them all with Office 365, as well as their Field Services app. Enhance these with Power BI and Azure’s Internet of Things (IoT) Suite and organisations have the ability to centrally control their entire field services operation with the click of a button.
Human-machine collaboration in action
Making sure SLAs (Service Level Agreements) are met is crucial to any business’ success. SLAs are the benchmark by which your customers judge your performance, as well as being indicators of how critical a particular task is to an organisation. Dynamics 365 offers flexibility with how a field service organisation chooses to manage the SLA process by offering manual, assisted and automated optimised scheduling. By providing an easy-to-use visual interface, schedulers are able to make appointments using the technician’s driving routes along a map, as well as assess the complexity of a particular project a technician is attending to and match that up to all active projects and technicians to identify any opportunities, gaps, or risks.
Having a clear communications aggregator involved in the scheduling process also means that customer concerns and calls, across any channel (phone, email, social media, etc.) can be converted into work orders which the scheduler can then sort in order of priority.
The ability to use this data and create even more precise predictions and client recommendations is of infinite value. Power BI allows a field service organisation to see what type of callouts require more or less time, which requires a specific type of technician to be called out and it can also highlight where in the overall customer offering the organisation is excelling and where it’s faltering.
Then there’s the actual technician, the individual that is out there in the field performing intricate tasks on a daily basis. Dynamics 365 for Field Services provides these workers with real-time guidance, customer insights and cross-team collaboration. These valued workers are no longer operating in silos, having to tackle each problem a callout brings anew. With Dynamics 365, they are able to leverage the power of mobile collaborative technology and work together, like a unified organism, aggregating knowledge and experiences, and then sharing them in order to make each new callout more efficient and successful.
Microsoft does this by turning a field service technician’s phone or tablet into an integrated business intelligence hub. Technicians can log in and see a particular client’s history, the work that has previously been done on the machine they’re trying to fix and what other technicians have found to be successful, or unsuccessful, as the case may be. Back at the field service organisation’s headquarters, a scheduler is able to feed new information to the field service technician that will help them complete the objectives of their callout, for example, they can put them in touch with a more experienced technician that can walk them through the task at hand or send the technician a step-by-step manual of how to solve a particular issue.
Human-machine collaboration for field services ensures that a customer doesn’t just get the technical expertise of one single technician, but rather the aggregated knowledge of the whole organisation. Issues which traditionally could have taken two or three callouts can now be resolved the first time around with minimal complications. And this is just scratching the surface of the technology that’s available in this space – there will be more to come in future posts.
I’d like to end this particular post, however, with a brief summary of Dynamics 365’s integration with the Azure IoT Suite. This integration is more commonly referred to as Connected Field Service. Here’s how it works: whereas traditionally a field services organisation would be reactive, i.e., they would only kick into gear once a customer called to highlighting an issue, Connected Field Service makes the whole function proactive by attempting to resolve issues remotely through self-healing repairs, before a technician is required to be sent out. The integration of Dynamics 365 Field Services with Azure IoT Suite allows field service organisations to know about problems and potentially solve them before the customer is even aware there’s an issue in the first place. Needless to say, customer satisfaction along with overall productivity is significantly increased as a direct result of this technology.
An example of this could be a machine that regulates the heat of a particular valve or pipeline. If this machine is part of the Internet of Things (IoT), that is to say, it is connected to the internet and has been configured to automatically send alerts when an issue is detected, then a field service organisation can either send a command remotely to the device to fix whatever issue was detected or immediately dispatch a technician that is fully aware of the problem at hand and is aware of what has already been tried (and failed) to resolve the issue.
Human-machine collaboration is only in its infancy; with innovations like Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) the possibilities are endless. Rather than being fearful of this partnership, we should, like Garry Kasparov, embrace the many benefits that it can bring. Yes, there are still many conversations to be had around these new technologies, and of course, there will be a period of adjustment and economic calibration. However, as Kasparov pointed out in his chat at IPEXPO 2017, ignoring that these advancements are here is pointless.
Microsoft, along with other leading technology firms are building the world of the future, businesses need to be aware of this and incorporate the technology they’re developing quickly. The processing capabilities of machines, combined with the intuitiveness of human intelligence has the potential to unleash a whole new type of super worker. Those who do not embrace the commercial value presented by this opportunity will secure their place as dinosaurs of a previous century.
If you're ready to take the next step and become an intelligent machine collaborator talk to us today.
Words by Camilo Lascano Tribin