Author: Mehmood Khan, managing director and vice-president for the Middle East and South Asia at IFS
Through digital transformation, AI can help unlock efficiency gains across the Middle East’s field services management industry.
When a piece of equipment breaks down, it can take days or weeks to get it fixed, whether because of diagnostic issues, insufficient resources or time-consuming processes. The situation is compounded in the case of far-flung operations, as in the case of an oil rig off the coast of Abu Dhabi or at a telecommunications tower in the remote Saudi desert. But what if the equipment in question was able to flag up a malfunction and trigger a preventive maintenance alert several days before a system failure forced a halt in production? What if it even requested for a technician’s visit, and then queued up an invoice for payment?
Beyond that, a little further into the near future, a next-generation system may even be able to automatically plug into a larger network, where it interfaces with human technicians, and as well as a fully automated call centre, self-driving cars, and drone deliveries of parts.
This level of automation is the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) in field services management and can be realized through digital transformation, as the GCC’s political and business leaders have already realised. The region’s economies are already moving towards AI and advanced technologies, with an estimated impact of $320 billion by 2030. Indeed, much of the technology is already available, and in some cases, is already being put to work.
As such, the impact of AI is already being felt in field services management here and around the world. At present, AI use cases are making their way into a variety of software solutions, augmenting automation and helping to improve service outcomes. However, they remain disconnected from one another. True digital transformation through AI will leverage machine learning across all processes within an organization, automating systems and making repetitive tasks a distant memory, allowing managers, technicians, and dispatchers to focus on customer engagement and the nuanced complexities best suited to humans’ skill sets.
But how do the Middle East’s field services companies get to that everything-is-automated stage? Unlocking those efficiency gains is both easier and harder than you think. Here are three recommendations to help you get started on the process:
Centralise, connect and future-proof your FSM system
This is a necessity for all service firms, wherever they operate. FSM is not meant to be a bolt-on to a CRM. Field service operations are far too complex to cut corners. Your field service management system needs to be the coordinating factor of all touchpoints within your system. Beyond this, it needs to be calibrated to accept whatever the next new technology is, whether it’s a new module built off the system itself or a separate system that integrates with your FSM platform. Smart organisations are taking a cloud-first approach here, allowing for constant updates and easy integration.
Allow data to flow freely
We can talk ad nauseam about the importance of a solid data science team that cleanses and distributes data insights throughout the business, but more important than that, even, is simply ensuring that data is written in a common language and freely accessible, so that, for instance, if work order history needs to be pulled into an AI system connected to routing management, that it can be done quickly and easily.
Invest in the hardware today
The Internet of Things (IoT) will ultimately be the key to successful utilization of many AI systems. In manufacturing, this is an easy sell, but what about HVAC repair, telco, home services, and other systems that, as of today, might not yet be calibrated for IoT? The short answer is, even if you don’t think the technology is there, it is, and if it’s not, it will be in the next five years. It’s imperative that forward-thinking companies stay on top of these advancements as they become available and invest smartly. When AI becomes standard practice, everyone’s going to be sprinting for your customers. If you want to run with them, you have to start by building the road. In AI-focused economies such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, that’s even more important.