John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research for the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), recently sat down with Stacey Epstein, vice president of marketing for field service management software company ServiceMax to talk about the technology driving field service today and in the future. The interview is republished with permission from Ragsdale’s Eye on Service. (Disclaimer: The SmartVan is sponsored by ServiceMax.)

TSIA has recently launched our very first Partner Advisory Board, consisting of technology, service provider and consulting partners in the TSIA partner network. This is a great opportunity for us to stay current on marketing and spending trends in other industries, as well as track emerging best practices in our own industry. We have an impressive list of partners on the board; here is a link to view the complete list.

Over the next few weeks, I will be bringing you interviews with our Partner Advisory Board members. First up is Stacey Epstein, Vice President of Marketing, ServiceMax.

John Ragsdale: Nearly a quarter of TSIA’s field service members are shopping for new scheduling and dispatch tools this year, so I’m very pleased to have an expert on the topic join our Partner Advisory Board. Stacey Epstein is the Vice President Marketing for ServiceMax. Stacey is a veteran of the customer service and CRM industry, dating back to the late 90s when she was a district sales manager for Clarify during the time I was working there in product management. Stacey, thanks for sitting down with me today.

Stacey Epstein: Thank you John, great to be here.

John: After a decade of slow spending, the field service industry is back in business, with a number of trends bringing visibility to field service automation. I’d love to ask you about a few of them. First up is the move to the cloud. ServiceMax was the very first TSIA field service partner with a 100% cloud solution. What advantages does this give you over the traditional on-premise tools?

Stacey: From a financial perspective, the advantages are undeniable. The cost savings of a business running cloud-based applications is massive, with many businesses reporting savings of well over 50% over on-premise. But what’s most exciting to me is that really smart people at great businesses are finally being freed from the rigidity of on-premise and no longer have to put their talents and skills aside so they can tend to complex IT systems. They are now able to tackle far more strategic projects with the freedom and agility to be more creative and innovative than any on premise solution would ever allow. Running a cloud-based field service solution is a competitive advantage for our customers because they can focus on what’s most important: serving their customers and making them happy.

John: In 2010, spending on mobility for field service was the #1 spending area in my annual member technology survey. In fact, I’d go as far as saying increased mobility is driving a lot of the renewed interest in field service automation. Could you talk about how mobility impacts field service?

Stacey: Field service technicians, by nature of their job, are constantly working remotely. For so long, they had to carry around clunky computers, or use a mobile solution that was far less functional than it’s PC based counterpart, or worse yet, have no communication with the home base at all. But now, with the iPad, full cloud-based solutions can go anywhere. Field technicians have access to the full range of information and functionality. Their routes and scheduling can be updated in real-time, GPS and routing information is at their fingertips, recording work and job details can be done instantaneously, and they can access a full library of knowledge, training and product information right from their device. Better yet, they can collaborate with experts real-time to solve issues in the field. Mobility is truly revolutionizing field service and, as you mentioned, companies are really starting to see the value it can have on their service organization.

John: On the mobility topic, I have been a bit surprised to see the iPad emerge as the “must have” tool for field service. ServiceMax was ahead of the game on this one, with the sexiest iPad demo I’ve seen to date, showing end-to-end field service using an iPad. While IT may grumble about ruggedized devices, clearly the iPad is meeting the needs of users. What has the reaction been like to your iPad applications?

Stacey: Well thank you! The iPad is such a remarkable device and it really gives you a blank, yet powerful canvas to build technology on. What’s so incredible about the iPad is that people love using it, and even look forward to doing their work on one. We see it in schools, and we see it in field service — the work people used to hate (like homework or entering work order details) becomes fun, intuitive and fast on the iPad. Our customers are reporting remarkable adoption of our iPad solution. We actually just demo’d our most recent iPad app to a customer who initially was just using our web-based solution. He was so blown away that he went to the Apple Store THAT DAY and purchased an iPad to give it a whirl himself. People are really excited about this!

John: Another trend that I see impacting field service is collaboration. In years past, when a field tech encountered a problem they couldn’t fix or a piece of equipment they weren’t trained to support, the customer usually was scheduled for another appointment. Today, there is more emphasis on collaboration so field techs can ask questions and get answers quickly from their peers, even while in the field. With the cost of rolling a truck as high as $750 or more, fixing things on the first visit is important. Could you talk about how ServiceMax embraces collaboration?

Stacey: You’re exactly right, that second or third truck roll is not only costly, but it’s the last thing the customer wants to deal with. ServiceMax is built on the concept of collaboration. Through the fully integrated Chatter application, technicians have access to their entire company to get real-time answers. To take that a step further, our new iPad app leverages the built-in FaceTime application on the new iPad so a technician can actually show a real-time view of what they are working on and get input from others. On top of that, we offer real-time access to a rich media knowledgebase. One field technician usually goes out to fix a problem, but with ServiceMax he’s really bringing the entire company and all of its knowledge with him to every job.

John: With a tough economy, companies shopping for technology focus on ROI—where does the return on investment come from and how long does it take to see results? ServiceMax helps customers figure this out with an online ROI calculator. I love this approach! In what areas do you typically see customers achieving business value with ServiceMax solutions?

For larger companies, the cost savings comes in many forms … better management of warranties & entitlements, better communication and interaction with service partners, tight control of parts logistics, and optimized scheduling.

Stacey: As I discussed before, the savings from moving from on-premise to cloud already gives our customers good ROI to show their boss. Many of our smaller customers were using whiteboards, Excel spreadsheets and even notebooks to track everything from installed base to entitlements to scheduling. They were bleeding inefficiency in all aspects of the business. For larger companies, the cost savings comes in many forms. To name a few – better management of warranties & entitlements, better communication and interaction with service partners, tight control of parts logistics, and optimized scheduling. And many of our customers are not only saving, they’re adding revenue through upsell and cross-sell capabilities, and expanded service offerings that were not possible prior. For a company in, say, biomedical devices, one upsell, or one instance of charging for a service that they formerly would have provided for free covers the cost of ServiceMax two or three times over. The ROI math is really simple and undeniable.

John: We have an upcoming webcast together focused on how best to market and sell your company’s services. Do you see more field service operations looking for ways to generate additional service revenue?

Stacey: Yes, I’m very much looking forward to the webinar. In our current economy, services is a big opportunity for companies to generate revenue. Yet, service departments often don’t have the time or even skill to really market and sell service. As a marketing executive, I really feel for them. In our webinar I hope to share some low effort, high impact best practices that will help service managers realize the goal of becoming a strategic contributor to the bottom line.

John: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, and I look forward to seeing you at Technology Services World in Las Vegas!

Stacey: We’re looking forward to it too, thanks for having me.

ABOUT John Ragsdale

Avatar photoJohn Ragsdale is vice president of technology and social research for the Technology Services Industry Association. He writes a regular blog, Eye on Service, for the TSIA.