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Emerging Technology in Field Service

The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to be a high impact emerging technology in field service operations. According to Field Service News, talk of IoT has just superseded talk of big data at the top of the what's new talk agenda among field service managers and pundits. In a survey last year, a majority (76 percent) of field service managers stated they thought IoT would become "a fundamental part of field service operations" and even that IoT "is critical to any field services operations...."

In reality IoT is already being employed in the field more often than big data ever was. IoT and field service are made for each other. In fact, forms of machine self-report have been employed by some manufacturers, such as security firms, before IoT was even a glimmer in the futurist's eyes. Medical device manufacturer Elektra has built digital communication systems into their devices for more than 20 years, even packaging their devices along with 56k modems of their own.

If machines could call field service managers, report their condition and even arrange for field technical repairs, it could save waiting for a human operator to make the call, and it could provide much more detailed and precise information about the nature of the problem. Today, connected devices are booming, from thermostats to power generators. Many devices have the power to remotely monitor, diagnose, and even occasionally repair device faults autonomously. In fact, the growing capabilities of IoT have driven one field services manager to worry that when machines start making service calls on their own, his field service operators are just going to be overwhelmed.

Security Concerns: As field service operations get increasingly used to IoT coming from and through the cloud, new security concerns will bring operators into growing cyber-security technology as well. Data has become the new coinage. With so many sources of data, the new breed of cyber criminals will find ways to make stealing profitable. One new technology that will have a profound effect on a connected field service industry is ransomware or Cryptolocker attack. With all the world's gadgets sending code through the cloud there is ample opportunity for criminals to steal some, hijack important files and make those who need the files pay ransoms to get them back. Field service managers will face an ever broadening range of security technology, grown out of increasing use of broadband data transmission.

Augmented reality is a new technology that may not only optimize the level of service, as mobile computing devices and IoT have been doing, but may change the way field services companies approach how they provide their service. Augmented reality (AR) is the overlaying of digital information over reality. AR technology allows for the two-way presentation of audio and visual information, then the augmentation of what the service technician sees as generated by a specialist or senior technician. Through AR, a remote engineer can not only see exactly what the onsite engineer is seeing, but also collaborate in the solution in real-time instead of simply explaining a solution over the phone.

The potential use of AR in technical training is vast. Coupling AR technology with large-scale cloud storage of service experience opens whole new vistas for training, allowing experience to be shared by field engineers. Although AR technology is still under development, with new kinds of AR receivers coming out regularly, projections are that AR will begin gaining traction in the field in 2017.

3D Printing may be another area of technology that will begin having an impact on field service operations. Using computer aided design technology, 3D printers can mold real objects out of plastic, reinforced plastic as hard as steel, aluminum, stainless steel, and other materials (including living cells). Today's 3D printers can make useful tools as well as replacement parts on the spot, based on plans downloaded to them from a distant library. Current 3D printers have practical footprints that can be mounted in service vehicles. The use of 3D printing can save enormous time and reduce the need to carry stocks of rarely-used parts.

The world of opportunity for the field services industry posed by emerging technologies is vast and largely unexplored.

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