The Internet of Things presents a stark choice to field service organizations, says Kevin Ashton, author, visionary and IoT expert: Prepare today … or fail.

Kevin Ashton

Kevin Ashton

“The first industry to be massively disrupted by IoT is the field service industry,” Ashton said at ServiceMax’s recent MaxLive Europe conference. “Field service is the killer app for IoT, and it’s coming whether you like it or not. This is not something that is maybe about to happen; it’s happening now.”

If anyone is qualified to make such bold statements it’s Ashton. Dubbed the father of the Internet of Things, Ashton coined the phrase in 1999 to describe his idea for solving a perennial supply chain problem: Why do shops run out of products when there’s plenty of inventory gathering dust in warehouses? Ashton recognized the potential for attaching RFID chips to consumer goods, which could transmit data automatically and identify items that were selling quickly.

IoT’s Biggest Impact? Reducing Service Costs

Today, it’s the industrial applications of connected technology— not the consumer applications, such as a fridge “talking” to a toaster — that will wield the greatest power, Ashton says. And service management is at the top, where the IoT’s impact will be felt in three waves.

SEE ALSO: Service Leaders Will Be Hard Hit by Internet of Things Revolution: Harvard’s Michael Porter

“The near-term opportunity in field service and IoT is reducing the cost of reactive service,” he says. “The medium-term opportunity is to get more efficient and better at proactive service. The third wave — and this will be the nail in the coffin for any company that doesn’t do it — is the ability to understand how your product is being used.”

Smart Products, Smarter Product Design

All too often, service engineers deal with problems caused by design decisions made without sufficient data on how machines are actually used. The IoT removes that blind spot and has the power to profoundly affect R&D and product development, Ashton says.

“Field service is the killer app for IoT, and it’s coming whether you like it or not. This is not something that is maybe about to happen; it’s happening now.”

A constant stream of data from IoT-enabled equipment can help manufacturers and service organizations alike design services around how customers actually use equipment.

“You can then use assumptions based on reality rather than based on myth to improve the development of the product. That’s incredibly powerful,” Ashton says.

The Writing on the Wall

The lesson for service leaders? Prepare for the IoT now, or lose to companies that have either moved to proactive service or are developing products and services based on real, data-driven feedback.

Despite the IoT’s potential to transform service, Ashton suspects that many service leaders will drag their feet.

“There’ll be some companies that are so wedded to the man in the van with his ruggedized PDA that they’re actually going to get their lunch eaten by some 25-year-olds.”

ABOUT Janine Milne

Avatar photoJanine Milne has been writing about HR, technology and business for more than 20 years, both as a freelancer and as an in-house editor.