Enhancing Service Information to Improve Product Performance
November 01, 2012
Joe Barkai, Practice Director – IDC Manufacturing Insights, describes the increasing challenges and new technology opportunities related to the delivery of service information for supporting complex, long lifecycle equipment.
Product companies find that service information is more critical than ever before. Service, overall, is very important to companies for a number of reasons. First, products are becoming more complex. Maintaining equipment to be up and running to provide value to the customers is more complex than ever before. Customers expect better service on top of better products. Very often companies find the service helps them differentiate their products from their competitors.
On top of that, one of the biggest opportunities for companies is to generate revenues on top of products. Not only can the product provide revenues from sales, but also throughout the product lifecycle we have opportunities to provide various services, to sell parts and services, and to overall increase the value of our product to the market.
Having said that, companies also find it increasingly complicated to provide better service for a number of reasons. As we mentioned earlier, products become much more complex. The sheer knowledge and complexity involved in maintaining equipment is very difficult.
In addition, we have major issues around an aging workforce. We have a depletion of knowledge in the industry. We have a shortage of able bodies, of experienced people that can actually maintain the equipment and achieve the level of satisfaction that our customers demand.
As we do our research in this area, we're finding out that one of the important elements of providing topnotch service is providing very high-level service information to our technicians. As we said earlier, products are complex. We have less expertise. We have less able bodies. We need to augment those weaknesses by providing better service information to our technicians.
The challenge facing companies is how to create and maintain this complex service information? How do we describe the complexity of products? How do we manage the information that is required to understand failures and repair procedures of equipment? How do we provide the right information in terms of what are the right parts for the right equipment for the right configuration?
All these things really challenge the organization in creating up-to-date, topnotch service information. What we are finding, on the other hand, is that companies that have excelled in providing service information, excel or provide top level revenue in a number of ways. They provide better service to their customers. They generate more revenue from products and services and parts, as we mentioned earlier. We find a connection between the importance of service in providing up-to-date, timely, error-free service information.
The next question is, therefore, how do we create and maintain an organization that always provides up-to-date, error-free service information to our technicians? We recommend that companies engage in self-assessment, engage in a way to assess where they are relative to their own performance, relative to their peers and competitors, and find a way to understand how they move from one level of maturity to the other.
We recommend looking at a maturity model of service information at a number of levels. The basic level, that unfortunately most companies are still at, is sort of ad hoc service information. What happens in these organizations is that we use a collection of informal - sometimes formal, but mostly informal - service information tools. We use email to manage information. We tend to re-create information. That would be the very entry level, ad hoc service information maturity model.
The next level would be trying to apply some standards into the process, use more formal tools, use more standards that define the format and the content that we deliver. Yet these organizations, even though they may have applied some standards into the process, tend to re-create information from scratch. They tend not to re-use information. They tend to be slow in reacting to changes in the information system.
The next level would be to integrate the process with the rest of the organization, to integrate the offering process with the PLM process so whenever there's a change in the product there's a change that is reflected in the service information. This information can then propagate to the point of service.
The utmost level of information authoring would be to optimize these processes, to apply key performance indicators to measure and manage the processes, to understand performance in the field, and to apply those to improve service information so we always provide the right information that is sensitive to the configuration of the equipment, that is sensitive to the skill level of the user, of the technicians, and so on.
On top of that, we can use this as an information source to improve product quality in not only current product models but future products.