Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series about service transformation from Patrice Eberline, vice president of global customer transformation at ServiceMax from GE Digital. It originally appeared on GE Digital’s site and is republished here with permission. 

As service leaders, we love data. Most of us can’t get enough of it! Swimming in a large pool of numbers and data points however, is not the best way to fully understand the business in order to take it to the next level. We must look further into the data in order to see patterns, compare and contrast, understand trends, and gain true business insights. It’s only as we gather and use these insights that we can effectively accelerate service evolution and transformation.

So, what is a business insight? It is a combination of facts that brings meaning and furthers understanding, with the potential of benefiting the business.

As field leaders, we face a number of challenges. Many of them are tactical–resolving operational issues, refining process, and defining operating budgets. Other challenges, however, are a bit more strategic, with greater ramifications across the organization and the company. These challenges include things like how to best compete with a new entry in the market, or how to increase efficiencies in order to drive higher service margins. These challenges go beyond the tactical level and require that service leaders review and consume larger amounts of data and understand that data over time in order to pull the information that is relevant to them in order to positively impact the business.

And the hardest part of uncovering influential business insights? Jumping to conclusions and acting too quickly, without the complete picture understood.

Avoid Transformational Traps

There are three “transformational traps” that seem to arise repeatedly and limit our decision-making ability, and thus, our ability to truly evolve our service organizations.

  1. The first of these traps is relying on generic data, rather than data specific to your use case. For example, data may tell us that MTTR across your organization is X, and you might even have trending on that statistic showing that your performance is average in your industry. While that’s a step in the right direction, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Dig deeper. Look for specific data to further your understanding and thus augment your decision-making ability.  How have your various teams trended in the past year?  Is there a product line outlier to address? How are the newer employees faring and is your onboarding ramp (and therefore cost) going up or down? By uncovering this second layer of data, you may find opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise see.
  2. The second transformational trap is using anecdotal information from leaders, supervisors, field operators, etc., as your sole data point. We’ve all done it. We rely on our field leadership to bring us information and an understanding of what’s going on within our organizations that we could not otherwise get in our roles. The issue comes about when you are using those perspectives as your only window into your organization. That is risky, as it relies on a single perspective- a perspective that is subject to external factors, biases, etc. Use those inputs, but make sure they are grounded and confirmed by additional data points.
  3. The third transformational trap is using backwards looking, historical data as your anchor. As we all know, creating spreadsheets is a manual, painful, and error prone process. Often it is so onerous that when the data finally is compiled, it is no longer timely and therefore no longer as relevant. For example, think about Black Friday in the retail industry. Retailers need to know store flow, shopper volumes, and staffing needs in real-time, not in a report detailing the last season. The same goes for service organizations. A busy operations leader needs to understand his or her service seasonality now, and not assume that last year’s data is reflective of this year’s trends and market conditions. Look to current state as a basis to make insightful business decisions.

Turn Traps into Insights

Turning those traps into insights is as simple as beginning with a question. Whatever you are facing, don’t be afraid to ask the questions “why,” and “how.” Remember, there are no stupid questions. Dig deeper; data without context is useless, and one piece of data shouldn’t be relied on in isolation.

Let’s take the age-old question ‘What is America’s favorite flavor of pie’ to illustrate. Generic data tells us it’s apple. Certainly many of us have had apple pie served at family gatherings, and mom always says it’s because it’s everyone’s favorite (hearsay), and if you looked, you would easily see that over the years apple pie sales are consistently large compared to other types of pie (historical data).

That said, let’s take a closer look and get some context. It’s interesting to note that pies used to be sold in a 30cm size. This was a wonderful size for families, and was literally the only size that consumers could purchase for many years. But then a funny thing happened. Stores started selling 11cm pies, or ‘personal pies.’ Well, this opened up a whole new world of choices! Families didn’t have to settle on one flavor of pie for the holiday meal anymore. They could enjoy multiple flavors! As someone born in the south, I can tell you that the favorite pie of most of my friends and family was pecan pie. Apple just happened to be the ‘safest choice’- the lowest common denominator if you like. Not many folks dislike apple, and so traditions were set.

So, what does pie have to do with field service? Stay tuned for part two of this blog series.

ABOUT Patrice Eberline

Avatar photoPatrice Eberline is the former vice president of global customer transformation at ServiceMax. She has nearly two decades of services and leadership experience and has held leadership roles at several fast-growing software companies, including SuccessFactors and Infor.