18 June 2012
Sharpen your service edge
Creating a culture of service within an inherently product-focused business can help to cut costs, generate greater revenue streams and secure long-term relationships with customers
In today's market, businesses are increasingly reliant on information technology and its associated services to gain and retain a competitive edge. At the same time, for the business to become more agile, IT needs to be more agile.
Typically, 70% of an organisation's IT budget is spent on operations – supporting the current set of applications and services, and keeping business users productive. Only 30% of that budget and effort is dedicated to transforming the business through innovation. However, those who have moved beyond these parameters, and invested in the latest technologies and solutions, have reaped the real rewards. By bringing these into the heart of the business – whether that be through investment in IT service management systems (ITSM), mobile comms or data devices – they have effected a shift in the management of IT from reactive fire-fighting to proactive innovation.
Let's start with ITSM. In a nutshell, this enables the business to maximise productivity and customer retention by delivering better services and after-sales maintenance and support, increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty, while also maximising workforce productivity and growing revenues. Not only will it schedule jobs for service engineers, but also have modules for handling invoicing, web self service, quotations, call/case management, maintenance contracts, as well as for purchasing and stock.
Moreover, many manufacturing businesses have discovered that service management can help them address current challenges. For example, rising costs related to raw materials, labour, and environmental and regulatory compliance are squeezing margins ever tighter. Service revenues can mitigate shrinking margins and drive topline revenue growth, as global consultancy business Capgemini points out in its 'Service as a Strategy' report.
"Customers are looking more closely at the total cost of ownership, expecting manufacturers to provide lifecycle maintenance services, and a comprehensive solution and service experience around their products," says Capgemini. "At the same time, globalisation and the rapid commoditisation of products have put additional pressure on product lines, forcing manufacturers to constantly innovate to create sustainable differentiating factors.
"Increasingly, service management is being viewed as a differentiator and competitive advantage. For those companies that have begun the process of transforming from a product-centric to a service-focused approach, service is viewed as a strategy. And evidence suggests that a strong service strategy can have a positive impact on a manufacturer's financial performance."
Key vendors in this market include Axios Systems, BMC Software, Cherwell Software, Exel Computer Systems, Hornbill Service Management, LANdesk, Marval, Sunrise Software and Vivantio.
Upper crust solution
One manufacturer that has embraced ITSM is Allied Bakeries, which commands one-third of the UK's bread market, baking brands such as Kingsmill, Allinson and Sunblest. Its previous help desk tool wasn't felt to be delivering, in terms of functionality and provision of management information. Also, it did not have an integrated change management module, which the management team considered a priority.
"The existing help desk only handled Incidents and we had a separate asset database, which we wanted all staff to see as well. We were keen to introduce change management and integrate all three of these components. These were the main business drivers," says head of IT infrastructure Dave Rowland.
Each morning, thousands of supermarkets and shops throughout the UK send their orders electronically to Allied Bakeries' IT centre in Liverpool. Each week, its computers centrally process a large batch of orders, deciding which of its 13 major bakeries is best placed to produce the goods that afternoon, so they can be sold the following morning.
As one of the country's top EDI (electronic data interchange) users, Allied Bakeries delivers to 16,000 stores once, and sometimes twice, daily. "When you think of bread, you think of baking, but half of our business is logistics and computers. We needed an ITSM solution to underpin this, which is why we made the move to assyst [Axios Systems' solution]," says Rowland.
Computers are not only becoming more important in the Allied Bakeries' production processes, guaranteeing even higher and more consistent quality, but they are also adding technological bite to its distribution network. Its fleet of 1,000 delivery vans are equipped with the latest in telemetry, including global positioning satellites (GPS). Drivers use handheld PCs loaded with order details to show them what and where to drop off, and can print out delivery notes, in order to scan them as proof of delivery. Its integrated ITSM solution also helps to ensure problems are identified and fixed rapidly, and that any changes cause minimal disruption.
Key vendors of GPS solutions include: Garmin, Thales Navigation, Navman, DeLorme, Microsoft, OnStar and TomTom.
Mobile communications – ie, technology that is portable and so particularly suited to service engineers out in the field – clearly figures strongly in Allied Bakeries' IT armoury (telemetry and GPS devices); likewise it would benefit any manufacturer running a field service operation.
Sometimes you don't need networking capability on the move. It might be sufficient to download and upload the information required at the start and end of the day. However, real-time communication with the office can be important in delivering business benefits, such as efficient use of time, improved customer service, and a greater range of products and services delivered, such as: when making presentations to customers and being able to download product information to their network during a visit; providing quotations and interactive order processing; checking stock levels via the office network; and interacting with colleagues while travelling – sending and receiving emails, and collaborating on responses to tenders, for example.
The array of mobile devices now available spans everything from laptops and netbook computers to palmtop computers/personal digital assistants (PDAs); from rugged handheld computers to mobile phones and smart phones… all of which have their part to play in improving the management of communications across the business and hence the levels of service provided to the customer.
Mobile devices can greatly improve the service you offer your customers. For example, while away from the office, employees can access the company's service management system over the internet, allowing them to update an existing customer's details, set up a new customer account, check prices and stock availability, close out a job or place an order online. This leads to much greater flexibility in working practices and improves customer relations.
Laptop computers and netbooks provide the functionality of a desktop PC and can handle the full range of software.
Netbooks make the perfect fit for many field service operations – transportation and logistics, repair and servicing, surveying, even medical care – thanks to their small size, low price, and the fact you can create or run custom applications quickly and cheaply, because they use standard desktop operating systems (unlike handhelds). Notable suppliers include Getac, Panasonic and General Dynamics.
If you'd rather relinquish a keyboard in favour of a simpler, less expensive PDA that can fit into your pocket, then a palm-size PDA is for you. These monochrome-screen devices go through fewer batteries than handhelds. On the downside, inputting data can be a more painstaking task, since these devices have smaller displays and rely on character recognition or diminutive on-screen keyboards. Key players in this area include Psion, Palm, Dell and HP.
Rugged handheld computers
Compact-sized computing devices, small enough to hold with one hand, and durable enough for use outdoors and in other tough mobile computing environments, rugged handheld computers run cut-down versions of 'standard' office software packages and are ideal for remote access to email, schedules and documents. Out in the field, they:
- Eliminate paperwork and manual data entry
- Improve agents' access to key customer or service information
- Improve efficiency and productivity
- Optimise route planning
- Streamline signature capture
- Track and trace deliveries
- Reduce billing delays and improve cash flow.
Typically, they have a display screen with stylus and/or touch input, and a compact keyboard or numeric keypad. Fully rugged computers such as rugged laptops or rugged notebooks have been designed from the ground up for use in outdoor, dusty or mobile conditions. They can handle water spray from any direction, due to the 'sealing' that keeps out dust, dirt, sand, salt, moisture, heat and cold. Also, they often come with display screens that can be viewed in outdoor lighting conditions. Rugged handhelds are different from rugged laptops and tablet PCs, in that they run a scaled-down version of the Windows operating system (Windows Mobile), versus a full-blown version of Windows 7.
Prominent in this field are vendors such as Psion, Motorola and Datalogic.
Mobile phones are now an all too familiar feature of business life, of course, but they also offer data transmission services, such as global system for mobile communications (GSM), allowing mobile phones to send and receive data; general packet radio service (GPRS) – an 'always-on' data service similar to broadband, but at slower transfer rates; and 'third generation' (3G) cellular data services, also offering always-on connection.
Many mobile handsets, known as 'smart phones', are capable of accessing these data services, and include functions such as email and web access, and simplified office applications. Meanwhile smart phones, such as the iPhone, Google Android handset and BlackBerry, can combine phone and PDA into a single device. This is a versatile business tool, handling email, offering diary functions and providing data connection for a laptop, along with conventional mobile phone use.
In summary, an effectively mapped out IT service management approach is a must within any manufacturing environment, while workforce field service management and service optimisation tools are equally essentials in the armoury of a company that seeks to harness these solutions into an overall strategy that wins customers and retains them – by meeting and beating their expectations time after time.
The above technology solutions constitute a very broad market, but vendors include: Acer, Apple, Cisco, HP, NEC, Nokia, palmOne, Panasonic, Psion Teklogix, RIM, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba. An online search by solution type will bring up a more comprehensive list.
Setting the standards
There is a twist to the IT service management message: it cannot function adequately as a technological solution to human issues without… humans. It is a point that the Service Desk Institute, regarded as the leading professional organisation for everyone working in the IT service and support industry, stresses.
With ITIL (the IT Infrastructure Library), and a number of other standards and methodologies now prevalent, we have become obsessed with 'process', often to the exclusion of all else, argues SDI. Meanwhile, there is still too little information available on the key element in delivering service excellence – people.
"People deliver processes. People operate in roles. People have responsibilities. Without people, there would be no processes, and it is people that are required to understand the roles and responsibilities required to deliver processes and services," points out SDI founder Howard Kendall. "Many ITSM processes could also be defined as responsibilities and it is therefore vital that people understand the key elements required, in terms of approach, skills, tasks and attributes, to carry out service delivery."
The SDI approach is to focus on imparting the right skills set to people, who can then deliver better quality to their customers in their roles and jobs. SDI provides a number of training courses and learning sessions, including simulation games, workshops and individual coaching, to help IT service management professionals improve their skills and knowledge. It also has the only Service Desk 5* Certification method to evaluate the service/support quality delivered to customers.
Out of sight, still in touch
Modern solutions, such as mobile apps, provide visibility and seamless process progression, allowing manufacturers to drive further efficiencies from their workforce, which directly translate into cost savings and a more positive customer experience – which leads to long-term loyalty.
"One of the most common issues for any company is the breaking of appointment times, which can turn a happy customer into an unhappy ex-customer very quickly and often at no fault of the field engineer," adds Dean Murphy, director of solution consulting EMEA, ClickSoftware. "We help to deliver a positive service experience to a customer by providing tools that manage the whole process (or just elements of it), allowing the quoting of a relatively specific appointment time, moving away from the traditional 'we'll be with you between 8am and 6pm on Tuesday' to something more helpful, such as a two-hour window.
"Coupling this with notifications when the engineer is on his way keeps the customer happy and informed; and a happy customer is a retained customer," comments Murphy. "The wealth of information that is delivered by the solution also helps increase the first-time fix rate, helping to drive down the cost of service delivery, and making a win-win situation for supplier and customer alike."
To read the report in full, please download the PDF below.
Allied Bakeries Ltd
Apple Computer Limited
Axios Systems Ltd
BMC Software Ltd
Cisco Systems Ltd
ClickSoftware Europe Ltd
Datalogic UK Ltd
Dell Computer Corp
Exel Computer Systems plc
Garmin Europe Ltd
General Dynamics UK Ltd
HP Enterprise Services UK Ltd
Marval Software Ltd
Motorola Solutions Inc
Navman Wireless UK Ltd
NEC (UK) Ltd
Nokia UK Ltd
Panasonic Mobile Communications Europe Ltd
Psion (UK) Ltd
Samsung UK Ltd
SDI Group UK Ltd
Sony UK Ltd
Sunrise Software Ltd
TomTom Business Solutions
Toshiba Electronics Europe GmbH
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