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How is the IoT fuelling the gig economy in field service?

The internet of things (IoT) and advanced data analytics mean the field service industry looks set to be led by real-time supply and demand. But how will this reshape the way the industry operates?

Imagine this: a field service technician is having breakfast and viewing a list of nearby repair jobs on his smartphone. Scrolling through, he (or she) sees one is half a mile away and available in 30 minutes, followed by another in just over an hour. The technician chooses the latter, giving him time to drop his children off at school first.

Just as Deliveroo riders can drop off takeaways and Uber drivers can pick up passengers at times that suit them, this flexible way of working could soon be something field service technicians will be embracing.

The global field service management market is expected to be worth £3.95 billion by 2023, according to latest research by MarketsandMarkets. One of the main factors behind this will be the rise in connected devices in both commercial and residential buildings that will create a demand for responsive, rather than reactive, repairs.

Let’s take the example of a tower block that has smart lights installed. If there’s a problem with the lighting then this could be a safety hazard, especially in winter when it gets dark earlier. Thanks to sensors, it might be possible to spot defects before a problem occurs. A field technician who lived down the road could then see on a job board that repairs had been requested and he can make himself available immediately.

The close proximity of the technician would help to ensure the problem is fixed quickly, saving costs for the tower block’s management company and enhancing the reputation of the smart lighting manufacturer.

So does the industry think it’s likely that the IoT will fuel a gig economy? “In a word, yes,” says Mark Homer, vice president and head of global customer transformation at ServiceMax, a field service execution management software company. “But it’s wider than that. As well as an Uberisation of field service workers, we’ll see field service management companies, including software companies that provide the field service management software, becoming the network between its customers and its agents.”

Mr Homer adds that this will lead to a mixed‐​labour model. A service execution platform will enable jobs to be auctioned to qualified technicians available in a given area. This will enable them to work flexibly and as much or as little as they like.

“It could be ad hoc on a day‐​to‐​day basis; the work gets thrown out to be bid on,” he says. ”A field technician could see there are tens of jobs in their vicinity; companies could also see who is available to help them with that day’s workload.”

Scott Sherwood, founder of TestLodge, a cloud‐​based software testing tool that outsources work to freelancers, believes that as businesses become more connected, software testing of IoT devices is going to be even more critical for minimising downtime and loss in productivity. From his experience, there are both risks and rewards attached to this type of work.

“You get a lot of value for your investment. The individual is working for themselves, so is naturally more motivated, and you don’t command the financial commitment of an employee,” says Mr Sherwood.

The flip side, he adds, is that if on‐​demand workers renege on a job or are late to a booked servicing appointment, then this could do long‐​term reputational damage.

There are plenty of benefits to be gained for the field service companies outsourcing the work, from reduced service costs and a reduction in the meantime to repair, to improved customer satisfaction and an increase in customer contract renewals

Customers want to be able to have confidence in the brands they use, argues Mr Homer. If a smart device company is going to rely on third‐​party field service technicians, then they will need to ensure there’s continuity in the brand experience.

If freelance field service technicians can hold themselves to the same values, there are plenty of benefits to be gained for the field service companies outsourcing the work, from reduced service costs and a reduction in the meantime to repair, to improved customer satisfaction and an increase in customer contract renewals.

[Companies] will need to implement digital solutions that provide actionable insight into key metrics, like customer satisfaction and punctuality.

Chris Mean, Columbus

Nevertheless, companies that adopt this staffing model won’t be able to rely solely on freelance technicians’ values. “They will need to implement digital solutions that provide actionable insight into key metrics, like customer satisfaction and punctuality. This will allow them to react quickly when a service isn’t being delivered as expected,” says Chris Mean, chief operating officer at Columbus Global, an IT services and consulting organisation.

Such actionable insight will also help companies in the field service industry to stay ahead of competitors and make the most of what the gig economy has to offer.

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