‘I am still making order out of the chaos of reinvention’ said novelist John Le Carre as he penned another cold war spy thriller.

Many would say the same is true of manufacturing today. Gone are the days when a manufacturer simply made the product, delivered it to the customer, sometimes supplied some parts & services, and then moved onto the next sale. In today’s unpredictable world, this model is fast becoming unsustainable.

Accelerated by the chaos of the financial crisis and propelled by the industrial internet, many businesses are moving beyond this traditional notion of manufacturing. No longer do they just ‘make stuff’, they provide services such as financing, maintenance programmes, lifecycle consulting or even outcome orientated service contracts. Complex equipment manufacturers are leading the way in evolving ever more strategic relationships with their clients, as they deliver their technology as a service outcome rather than stand-alone product.

Why is this important? It’s not just that product transaction orientated business models are being replaced by those centered on relationships, outcomes and service. But that to achieve this re-invention, manufacturing must overcome a severe skills shortage! Without people and skills, all the advances in technology and thinking will stagnate. Companies need to attract a completely new talent pool into their industry. One that is technically and socially more diverse and which has many of the marketing, customer experience and media skills found in the FMCG and financial sectors.

If manufacturing is re-inventing itself, so must the services back-office. Much has been written around how IoT and analytics will change the nature of field service in terms of efficiency, transparency and customer relationship management. All this is true, but more profoundly as the product/service boundary blurs towards solutions, so the idea of field service as an entity must fundamentally change. Rather than being perceived as a ‘bolt on’ entity fixing customer problems, field service must be integrated into the business. As this happens it too must broaden its skills set, outlook and relationships, especially in the areas engineering, sales and other service back-office operations.

As connectivity and data become more available in real time, so increasingly problems can be solved centrally. As service thinking becomes more embedded in manufacturing businesses, so even self-healing technologies may be introduced into product design. One can see that this will require a completely different approach as to how service organisations are perceived and managed. It is logical that in order to provide seamless outcomes and experiences to the customer, organizations will become much more integrated, between, centralized technical support, the machine itself, local support, 3rd parties and parts and sales/relationship management. Exactly how this happens will depend on the business models being supported.

For example in the Asia-Pacific market a leading supplier of industrial robots see their mix of Field /Central services swinging from 60/40% to 40/60% as they increasingly integrate remote services into their solutions. There are companies in the defence industry who have their service team located in situ on warships where they are contracted to provide availability. These are perhaps the more extreme examples of the moment, but one can clearly see that there is a link between the technologies, the contractual relationship with the customer, and the organisation of the service organisation.

We we will also see field service and centralised support organization being closer to the sales teams. Just look at the emphasis we have seen in recent years on the Trusted Advisor roles and the discussions of how field service as one of the major customer touch-points, has a significant impact on customer experience. Trying to balance relationship skills with technical problem solving is a real challenge for the industry.

The bottom line is that as manufacturing re-invents itself, so field service as an integral part of most service offerings will become a significant part of the companies growth strategy. How this will happen is difficult to tell, because we are still in the early stages of a manufacturing revolution. However, this re-invention of manufacturing is exciting from two perspectives. It means that a more diverse and broader skills set must be attracted into industry. And secondly that field service itself will need to adapt to evolving product technologies and business models bringing new challenges and opportunities for its people.

To be part of this re-invention process, Service Leaders can follow a simple 3 point plan:

  1. Undertake a strategic re-evaluation of the customer /industry supply chain to identify how services can contribute to sustainable business growth.
  2. Experiment with and adopt connectivity technologies to discover the cost and business model benefits.
  3. Constantly look at how other businesses are adapting. This Outside-In perspective will speed up your adoption of innovation and can be gained in many ways. You can achieve this through not only reading publications such as Field Service News, but by joining networks such as that offered by ‘The Manufacturer’ to explore the role of Manufacturing Services in industry (MSTLN.com), the Service Community (www.service-community.uk) or the servitization courses for industry by the Aston Business School, UK.

Published in Field Service News  October 2015 by Nick Frank, Co-Founder of Si2Partners