2012 saw field service organizations creatively find ways to boost service-related revenue and experiment with new tools like the iPad to make technicians more productive, connected, and efficient. What will 2013 bring?

The SmartVan spoke with Ravi Naidu, director of research for field services at the Technology Services Industry Association (and a colleague of John Ragsdale, a frequent contributor to this blog). According to Naidu, service companies are going to get savvier about capturing and making sense of data — and using that information to increase productivity and sales.

The SmartVan: So, first off, where is field service headed in 2013?

Ravi Naidu: We recently had our annual Technology Services World conference in Las Vegas, and a lot of good information came out of that. There are several things trending as we head into 2013, and while they aren’t any big surprises, there are a couple of areas that I was surprised by how much interest they generated.

From a technology trends standpoint, data analytics has a lot of momentum behind it, which shouldn’t be a big surprise. Knowledge management and content management are also really big. Once field service businesses have data, they need to figure out what they can do with it and how they can share it across their organizations.

Cross-collaboration within the organization is definitely driving a lot of discussion internally. How does the support organization tap into what the field service organization knows? How does support know what engineering and product management know, and vice versa? How does product management know what the field technicians are seeing?

From a planned-purchase standpoint, believe it or not, a lot of companies have planed to invest in CRM tools. Many of the larger companies are using homegrown systems that are archaic, outdated and not very collaborative. They’re definitely not robust enough to handle mobility, collaboration with customers, online collaboration, etc.

How are companies figuring out how to capture and apply data in a world with more mobile and cloud technologies than ever before?

With cloud computing offerings, the whole sales model is turned on its head. It’s no longer a big up-front purchase that customers make with huge service contracts to go with them. With the cloud, customers buy based on consumption. Service and product executives are asking themselves, “How do we understand how our customers consume?” They’re starting to look at field service and realize that field service techs can naturally get a lot of that consumption data unobtrusively without coming across as trying to sell something. They’re looking to field service employees who can easily get consumption information and data out of customers so the executives can understand what features are used most, which are falling by the wayside and how to invest most appropriately.

Any other overarching themes or trends that are going to be big in 2013?

As the economy starts to swing back, companies are starting to look at new field service scheduling and dispatch tools. The main driver for that is there are a slew of cloud-based field service management offerings that require very little investment up front but that tie in nicely with the increase in mobility tools. Companies want to provide techs with more mobility tools, so they need the backend technologies to utilize that data, whether it’s real-time traffic management or scheduling/rescheduling tools.

Long-term talent management is also important. Baby boomers are starting to retire, and the incoming generation works a lot differently. It’s vital that companies keep their best talent and, from a knowledge management perspective, farm the knowledge that’s been in the heads of the ‘lifers’ —  the employees who have been with the company for 10, 15, 20 years.

So it’s not just about capturing the knowledge of what’s happening in the field, but also from internal employees?

Exactly, and the last thing is reverse logistics and spare parts management. We’ve seen a lot of interest about how to drive value at the tail end of spare parts process. How companies can minimize scrap, how to get cash out of that scrap by identifying channels where they can sell those scrap materials, possibly even in emerging or smaller markets. When our members and the industry are able to do that, they usually get some intangible marketing and PR benefits, as well.

Any predictions on gadgets that will break through in 2013?

I don’t think there’s going to be any new gadgets that will change the world like the iPad. I do think we’ll see more adoption of iPad- and Kindle-type devices. In 2011 and 2012, these trends started to take root. The money wasn’t necessarily there to take off big, but they’ve rooted themselves well enough and proven their value. Now that the money’s there, I think we’ll start to see a much higher level of adoption.

More: 5 Smart Ways to Drive Service Revenues in 2013.

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