Editor’s note: Originally published in Field Service, a quarterly print magazine from Field Service Digital and ServiceMax from GE Digital. Check out the full magazine in print or online

From chatbots to self-driving cars, artificial intelligence (AI) has quickly evolved from a futuristic fantasy to a key aspect of digital transformation. But, as with many new technologies, companies may struggle to use AI to its full potential and measure its impact on business processes. Recognizing AI’s value has been particularly challenging for field service providers, who’ve traditionally relied on the expertise and experience of technicians and leadership to make decisions in and out of the field. AI-empowered technology can shift how these decisions are made—by drawing on vast networks of data to provide precise, metrics-driven guidance at any point in the decision-making process.

How to Implement AI and Recognize Its Value

By and large, field service providers have approached new technologies with caution—after all, it’s known as the quintessential “clipboard, pen, and paper” industry. The apprehension regarding AI is usually an issue of transparency, which could stem from miscommunication between teams or infrequent training sessions. In response, service organizations can use a few strategies to convince skeptics and reap the benefits of AI-empowered technology:

  • Communicate clearly. An organization’s IT department and product management team should train executives and technicians on the advantages that using AI-empowered technology will provide. Categorize AI as a decision-informing tool, rather than as a black-box replacement of essential business processes.
  • Start small. When implementing AI, build up organizational trust in its capabilities slowly. Companies should start small by using AI to solve minor issues that could have the greatest impact on the customer service experience.
  • Identify uncertainties. From weather pattern changes to unforeseen road closures, there are many uncertainties in the decision-making process that can affect how service is delivered. Field service providers should identify the uncertainties that AI-empowered technology can remove.
  • Pick a leader. The most-successful AI initiatives typically have business sponsors—such as thought leaders, executives, or advisory board members. These sponsors should be willing to consistently evangelize the actual initiatives, as well as the anticipated benefits.

Every Business Process Is a Candidate for AI

Every business can benefit from data-driven metrics, which is a key feature of AI-empowered technology. AI is especially useful for meeting “points of uncertainty” in the decision-making process: using data to inform decisions rather than relying on institutional knowledge. Typically, the onus is on industry experts to identify the challenges in service delivery and the strategies that will improve the holistic customer service experience. An example of this is the scheduling process for technicians who depend on dispatchers’ abilities to estimate accurate repair times. In many cases, this system fails to account for important factors like traffic accidents or technicians’ skill sets. Automated scheduling and dispatching takes the guesswork out of accurate repair time estimation—a huge asset for the time-sensitive field service industry.

Since the value of AI-empowered technology is embedded in its application, it’s important to see AI for what it will do rather than what it can do. Taking an outcomes-based approach will not only help diminish the concerns related to deploying new technologies in the field, it will also help companies measure how AI will improve business processes. In the case of scheduling and dispatching, more-accurate repair time estimation will have a snowball effect—shortening in-field response times, cutting unplanned downtime, and increasing worker productivity. At first glance, automated scheduling doesn’t seem like a massive undertaking for an organization that’s already embraced the capabilities of AI and other cutting-edge technology. But digging deeper, it becomes apparent that more-precise repair times estimates will ultimately have a positive effect on a company’s bottom line, allowing technicians to deliver more-streamlined, efficient service than ever before.

Although AI-empowered technology is clearly here to stay, field service providers are only now beginning to understand its implications on essential business processes. At its core, AI’s contribution to any application is to provide assistance at any decision-making point. The impact of AI on business processes varies from organization to organization—but in the end, it’s all about the results.

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ABOUT Indresh Satyanarayana

Avatar photoIndresh Satyanarayana is the chief architect at ServiceMax. He is responsible for driving strategy and roadmap for technology and architecture across all ServiceMax products.