This article takes a closer look at how IT suppliers are helping manufacturers apply social technologies to support collaboration during product maintenance and after-sales service.
At IDC Manufacturing Insights, we've spent a lot of time discussing with manufacturers how they are adopting 3rd platform technologies - namely cloud, big data, mobile and social - into their critical business processes and functional areas. Social is an area that seems to continuously lag behind the other three, mainly because manufacturers often find it difficult to understand exactly how to apply social to specific business goals for measurable outcomes. Customer experience is an obvious application, and we have seen a number of examples of manufacturers across value chains incorporating social into their B2B commerce initiatives to enrich the customer experience.
Product maintenance and after-sales services are another area ripe for the benefits of social technologies, especially as they support collaboration between the owner of the product and the entity responsible for servicing it and maintaining its continuous operation. This is especially true for industrial equipment, for which any downtime can bring loss of revenue and other negative business impacts. In the manufacturing process value chain, operations are often spread out among plants and production facilities, some of them in difficult to access geographies. The industrial equipment that runs in these facilities needs to maintain uptime and perform its tasks. If there is a problem with the system, or a machine in need of service, often, a service call needs to be made. Depending on location and type of equipment being serviced, multiple visits may be necessary to bring the correct expert(s) and parts to fix the equipment. All of this costs time and money.
Consider this scenario: a company has a secure network installed at their remote plant that enables voice, video, and data to stream for sharing across a group of plant managers, engineers, service technicians, and other necessary roles. Using a collaborative platform, the plant manager can walk to the piece of equipment, share a view of what is going wrong, speak about it, and perform tasks to ascertain the exact cause of the problem through the guidance of the engineer or service technician.
In some cases, the problem can be fixed and no site visit is necessary. In others, this collaboration reduces the number of site visits to one, in which the correct expert with the proper parts and equipment can visit to close out the ticket. Through social collaboration using mixed media and a secure wireless network, the service experience is transformed into an efficient, economical experience for the customer. As we like to say at IDC Manufacturing Insights, this is Service Innovation and transformation at its best.
Recently, we were briefed by Cisco, who is bringing to market this very offering for manufacturers in process industries. Cisco Collaborative Operations Solution (COS) was unveiled in July, and the first customers are beginning roll-out of the collaborative portal that combines voice, video, and data collaboration in a single, secure view. Among the technologies included are: Cisco Video Surveillance Manager; Cisco IPICS; WebEx and multiple application sharing into an Operations Environment over a secure network; two-way radios; remote speaker integration; chat functionality; landlines, and mobile. While initially being used by customers in Oil & Gas and Mining, Cisco also sees applications for COS across manufacturing, transportation, utilities, healthcare and the public sector. Implementation can be on-premise or structured as a managed service to appeal to the line-of-business buyer that is driving this investment.
The future of Service Innovation is upon us. Manufacturers are beginning to identify the tangible business benefits that come from connected products, collaborative platforms, and creative after-sales service offerings. Those that lead understand that offering innovative after-sales services can not only enhance customer experience but also create additional business opportunities, including transformative product-as-a-service models that drive higher margins and greater revenue capture. These are the types of trends we will be covering in our Service Innovation and Connected Products service over the coming year. I look forward to exploring this frontier with you.