Kevin Rusin is finding new opportunities for a small California distributor thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). Despite the Web bringing buyers and sellers closer than ever, his company is focusing on the value-add opportunities found in enhanced customer service using sensors, new sources of data, field workforce automation and a work ethic built on old-fashioned, offline connectivity.
Thanks to the IoT, the middleman is making a comeback, bringing knowledge, advice and connections linking makers, buyers, sellers and users in new ways. Several were on display at LiveWorx 2016 with advice on how to retool a range of companies to capitalize on IoT.
Rusin is CFO at California-based McKinley Elevator. The 60-person company sells and services residential elevators and equipment for car elevators and turntables in the western United States. He called the live data and error codes “a gold mine of information” that helps deliver the best service possible.
“Technicians with better information from the device itself can start with better information, reduce the need for multiple trips and fix it right the first time,” he said.
He knows the field because he started as a repair technician. So, if a client’s call involves complex work beyond the skills of people at the scene, a specialized technician can be dispatched -- avoiding delays or a second visit.
Companies from GE to tiny local repair shops are exploiting new data from smart, connected products, and accelerating their client’s business cycles with large data sets that deliver insight, preventive services that avoid downtime and service and product knowledge that flows back to the manufacturers they represent. For manufacturers, data flows about production and parts can add bargaining power when negotiating delivery times or raw materials pricing.
Bringing together customer information, product data, details, configurations, warranty and work history in one place using ServiceMax helped cut the company’s response time for making a repair and closing the order – McKinley averages 1.8 days, less than half the national average of 4.5 days.
McKinley’s sensors report usage patterns and error messages that save the company money, Rusin said. A simple ‘door open’ warning light, for instance, might trigger a call to the home or text message reminding someone to close the elevator door manually. That eliminates a service call, provides pro-active customer attention and supplies user data for the manufacturer.
Even a small distributor or dealer can harness data to help manufacturers identify features or functions that customers want, said Thurman Keene of Service Max. That is redefining every company’s ecosystem of suppliers and partners.
Better Information, Delivered Faster
Better information, delivered sooner helps managers be more efficient, adds Paul Boris of GE Digital. Repairs and remanufacturing -- especially of large industrial equipment – demands human judgment to differentiate light maintenance from heavy, teardown-and-replace cases involving the same item. Applying that judgment more quickly is a difference maker.
GE uses sensors to feed data from locomotives into an application built with the ThingWorx Composer, to compile different views of the same project – financial, parts, timing, staffing and location – and automatically create Red, Yellow, Green, Blue signals that alert and inform project staff at a single glance.
“It’s a simple interface that is getting deeper and deeper into back-end systems,” Boris said. “The data needs to be integrated. It compresses cycle times and increases learning.”
Not Just Data, Knowledge and Instant Help
LiveWorx presenters including Trane, Devicify, GE Digital and Synapse Wireless all are working to accelerate information and identify untapped potential as they help companies “go digital” adding smart sensors and automated knowledge flows to their existing machinery, process and staffing.
IDC analysts Heather Ashton and Kim Knickle shared their forecasts in a Liveworx keynote and the key message “Start Small and Scale Fast” was a thread woven through several presentations.
By 2025, IDC Research estimates that at least half of workers will use automated assistance technologies – from smart online agents to advise on operating data or Virtual Reality goggles to “see” repair suggestions and order parts in real-time.
Knowing what companies to share data with, and who retains ownership may cause some complications. But smarter systems will create their own value for companies. Preventive maintenance now means automatically ordering replacement parts before a failure interrupts operations. And recognizing the midpoint companies that can affect your daily operations is vital.