Keeping Pace: Delivering Field Service In The Age of the Modern Workforce

Written by: Jeff-Coon

Read Time: 5 min

With more than 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring a day, training, support and skills requirements are rapidly evolving for a new generation of digitally native field service technicians. At the same time, customer expectations around service are higher than ever.

How do you ensure today’s technical publications (tech pubs) and service teams have access to digital collaboration, support, immersive training and documentation? How can organizations visualize complex data instructions while keeping them continually updated and refreshed?

In this blog, Jeff Coon, Director of Product Management at PTC, explains how to successfully keep pace with changing workforce demands, customer expectations and how to use the digital thread to address these challenges head on.

1. How are changing workforce expectations influencing the pace and approach to product development and service delivery?

One of the things we're seeing, particularly in the Service context, is the ‘YouTube type’ experience of just seeing the key information required without all the extras. For example, when you're connecting this information to CAD data, there's the potential to have an overwhelming amount of information that may or may not be appropriate for the person consuming it.

Understanding how to deliver the right information for a service technician out in the field about what they're specifically working on in the right way and enable them to easily view it is key. With Creo illustrate, we have the ability to author a one-time work instruction but deliver that as a series of still images,  videos or as live interactable 3D content. We even provide a precursor that links all the way to augmented reality and allow the consumer of the information to decide how do they want to consume it. Historically, in contrast, service technicians were given a one size fits all type of approach.

2. What specific expectations do service teams have regarding collaboration, communication, and problem-solving, particularly in the context of fast-paced environments?

A lot of the expectation is more collaborative, and this goes back to having more digital communication happening in real time without needing to be on site, but at a distance. Today, service teams expect to have access to the information they need, including other people or knowledge sharing from what other people know. This can be in the form of voice, video or text chatting, and being able to project that hard won knowledge from an expert to a novice, anywhere on the planet.

Giving people the flexibility to access and consume information in the method that works for them, so they can interact not just with the prewritten or prebuilt content, but also with others that may have more experience or know better, whether they are there physically or not.

That's a unique perspective that we're still maturing in right now, but it is very much the direction that everything is going. Covid was instrumental in this collaboration trend and now it’s become the new norm.

3. What challenges do organizations face in training and upskilling their workforce to meet the demands of rapid innovation and evolving customer needs?

One of the challenges that I hear most often in this regard is ‘how do we keep the information up to date with what is actually going on out in the field?’  This can take a couple of different avenues. Some equipment assets will be out in the field for 70 years. That's still relevant data, even if it's 70 years old. So how do you allow a 20-year-old service technician who was born 50 years after the product was installed, to access information that is appropriate and relevant for today? How do you uplift older information like that and be able to deliver it in a more current fashion, given the earlier question around collaboration and communication workforce expectations. This is just one layer – the information itself. Then there's the environment the information resides in. We can't leave that old information behind. It has to be accessible so that service technicians out in the field have access to it and interact with it.

A lot of times it comes down to the individual. I used to be a helicopter mechanic. There were things I did every day, and there were things I did three times in 11 years. The level of assistance I would want would depend on how often I performed a particular task or interacted with a piece of equipment.

All of these factors come into play so with regards to levels of communication and the depth of information we’re now able to provide, we can give multiple levels of detail on the same information, depending how much assistance the individual needs for the specific task they're doing in that moment.

4. How can agile illustration tools help break down silos between departments and foster cross-functional collaboration, especially in time-sensitive projects?

Silos in general have been a problem for a long time. Most of us have experienced them at multiple levels and across multiple different companies. As humans, most of the information we get is visual. Being able to show someone a simple illustration is extremely powerful, which is part of the way Creo Illustrate helps.

The person looking at the illustration could be a service technician, a design or manufacturing engineer or a prospect interested in buying a product. Allowing an easier flow of visual information, creates an easier flow of understanding. Silos don’t give you context. They can’t show you the impact of what happens elsewhere within their own company, which leads to breakdown in communication, assuming there was any communication there to begin with.

Having tools like Creo Illustrate become extremely useful. We have customers using it for service, for manufacturing and even have some engineering departments that use it specifically to allow for easy rapid creation of a piece of information and be able to propagate and share it where and when it’s needed.

5. In what ways do training challenges impact an organization's ability to rapidly deploy new products or services to market?

Historically, this used to be a big problem. A lot of times, the service information that is put together is the last thing done. In the past, the cost to redo the service information was higher than it is today. It used to be that you would have to wait for the design to be finished to the point they're manufacturing it before you would even start on the service information. The design would still be fluctuating, which led to very tight deadlines on that information. The knock-on effect meant being able to deliver and deploy the product, created delays in training field teams on how to service and operate it.

In contrast, if you have a good digital thread flowing and the tools like Creo illustrate, the information is immediately accessible. The engineers get to review the designs and you can actually start creating those illustrations for service content because it is digitally connected. As the engineers make changes, ensure its’ displayed properly and disseminate it so that everyone can see the impact of that change. The information is simply refreshed, rather than recreated from scratch.

6. How do agile illustration tools streamline the design and development process, enabling teams to iterate quickly and respond to market changes effectively?

This leads back to the digital thread, but in this context, you're leveraging that digital thread during the design and prototyping. It's one thing to design the engineering and there's obviously a lot you can do with digital prototyping and simulation, but at some point, you still need to actually build it.

Using an agile illustration tool allows you to build a set of instructions so that the people assembling the prototype have something to work with. As the next iteration of the prototype comes down, you can update those illustrations and those work instructions to facilitate doing that again. A lot of times, the people assembling the prototype are not engineers, so they need to translate that information. We can even extend the process to include considerations when setting up a manufacturing line, because once you get past the prototype, now you build a prototype line to manufacture on. How do you iterate that and the instructions that go along with it? It all ties back through that digital thread before it even leaves the company and goes out into the field.

7. What strategies can companies employ to ensure that workforce training aligns with the need for fast time to market without sacrificing quality?

I talk with a lot of companies, and training is done primarily on the job as you're doing it. Some organizations still have a training room or academy, but for the majority, the expectation is that the work instruction is simple enough. This goes back to the ‘YouTube type’ concept of it's this easy, you don't necessarily need to be trained other than do you know how to use a wrench and a screwdriver. A lot of organizations build to order or provide a customization.

Even something like an engine in a a big semi-truck can have 100 plus different configurations. How do you train someone on that? You don't. You make sure the instructions are clear and simple for the mechanics. It doesn't really matter what engine version they're standing in front of. The information is clear and simple and allows them to use their knowledge as a mechanic and apply that to any engine because the service information available to them is clear and easy to understand. All the information is at their fingertips, so it's less about training the workforce on your product and making sure that the Workforce itself has the basic knowledge of how to perform service. Then you don't need to train them on how to fix the individual products and versions of products.

You see this with car dealerships today. They don't retrain all their mechanics every time a new model year comes out. They simply make sure the information is clear and available and rely on the mechanics themselves to be able to apply that information to the product. If it's clear and easy to understand, the rate of first-time fix is higher.

8. How do service team expectations for efficiency, accuracy, and customer satisfaction intersect with the urgency to deliver products or services swiftly?

For me, this comes down to the confidence of the service team itself and having the softer skills of being able to talk to a customer. Obviously, having that reliable information, gives you the confidence that the information that you get is correct, that you’ve applied it correctly and you know what you've done is accurate. You have the confidence to know that what you’ve done is going to resolve the issue. It leads to higher quality work, higher first-time fix rates and provides a much better experience for both the technician and the customer.

9. Do you see 2D ever going away? Or what is the strategy/plan for IsoDraw and Creo Illustrate merger?

No, but if it does, it's going to be decades away at the earliest. One of the primary reasons and this goes back to the subject of the right level of information for that person at the right time. A lot of the value that you a mechanic got from 2D illustrations was ‘glanceability’. You could just glance at the image and understand what it's telling you. You don't need the extra details. You might need it to remind you of the washer stack up or the torque value for the bolt or something straightforward.

If you have to watch an animation, whether it's a video or live 3D or augmented reality, that's taking more time and for this particular task, you may not need that.

Some tasks only require that glanceability. Others are more complex. Do you need 3D? Do you need a video? Do you need augmented reality? That should be up to the individual consuming the information and not the people creating the information.

With regards to the strategy between IsoDraw and Creo illustrate, the current strategy is we are incrementally building features into Creo Illustrate similar to what IsoDraw has. There’s not going to be any one point in time where we say we're done. The strategy is to build more capability. We're not copying and pasting anything. We're taking a look at what makes sense today in the workflows, and usage.  Over time, it will be up to individual customers and users to decide there's enough of it here for me to make the switch. 

Find out more about 3D technical illustrations

With Creo Illustrate, you can create rich 3D technical illustrations, 2D drawings, and interactive animated sequences that accurately reflect current product configurations and support formats from hard copy to augmented reality. Learn More
Tags: CAD Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Arbortext Creo Digital Thread Field Service

About the Author


Jeff Coon is PTC’s Solution Management Director, overseeing PTC’s illustration tools. With 34 years of experience in field service, Jeff’s career began as an AH-1 Attack Helicopter Repairman in the U.S. Army. After his time in the service, he worked as a technical illustration specialist at Boeing for five years until he joined ITEDO Software as a technical engineer in 2000. In 2006, he was named PTC’s Principal Application Engineer for the company’s illustration tools, defining implementation strategies for Boeing, John Deere, and others.