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Schneider Electric defines itself as a specialist in energy management and automation. Its client list spans the globe and covers a wide range of industries including utilities, manufacturing and distribution. This has led to rapid growth in its service teams which now includes 20,000 tech support engineers. Understandably it has built up a complex service structure to manage its resources but not without a degree of pain.
According to Manish Gupta, senior vice president of Schneider Electric, growth and acquisitions have led to the company having “lots of disparate systems from multiple vendors, including Excel spreadsheets.” Schneider Electric has, to be fair, been a very acquisitive company. It has bought and integrated 17 businesses in the last few years, including a £5 billion purchase of UK engineering firm Invensys earlier this year. This acquisition trail brings its own challenges and has been a contributor to the company’s service management conundrum.
“We had different solutions across different business units as well as different countries,” says Gupta. “As part of our global program for One Schneider, our objective is to enable consistent and accessible visibility into our customers globally. This led us to purchasing Salesforce for CRM, and then we wanted to extend that single view of the customer to our field service. ServiceMax enables an end-to-end connected experience for our customers, techs and management and was on the Force.com platform.”
This fits with Gupta’s and Schneider Electric’s vision for the evolving role of the service engineer. “The installed base is key,” adds Gupta, “because we want to track how customers are using our products. We want to improve products and improve the experience.”
As well as the obvious potential for upselling, Gupta sees this ability to create a two-way conversation with customers an increasingly essential skill for service engineers. The premise is that retaining and upselling existing customers is easier than finding new customers.
Schneider Electric is currently in the process of rolling out ServiceMax for 6,000 of its service engineers and plans to review its contract when rollout is complete this year. Although still in mid-adoption, Gupta has identified a couple of pain points.
“Governance and training have probably been our biggest challenges,” he says. “It’s not unusual. Any large software deployment will have its sticking points and getting users up to speed quickly on new software tools is not easy. It’s time consuming and never moves as quickly as you want it to.”
So what are the initial thoughts on dealing with ServiceMax? “I like that fact that it aligns with our corporate strategy on standardisation, and the partnership we have with ServiceMax allows us to contribute to their roadmap. And ServiceMax’s functionality enables us to be more dynamic and support the business.”
So what does Schneider Electric get out of it beyond the original remit for buying software to manage its service teams? “The strength of partnership we have with them is enabling greater innovation in what we are doing with our service organisation. As a company, they think strategically about the software, which empowers us to do more strategic things with our service delivery.”
The Industrial Internet of Things
One of the more strategic things is increased automation. Schneider Electric has been an advocate of the Internet of Things within its various customer industries, claiming that IoT is a driver for increased efficiency as well as increased sustainability.
Its own industrial IoT whitepaper talks about a “wrap and re-use approach” rather than a “rip and replace approach”, the idea being that this will enable greater business control through accurate machine intelligence.
This measured approach, it says, “will drive the evolution towards a smart manufacturing enterprise that is more efficient, safer, and sustainable.”
Gupta believes that IoT is a “fundamental strategy” that will significantly “change our service organisation.” In what way? “Technology is not the issue,” he says. “We can already do things quickly and efficiently. The biggest impact for us is the value we are able to give to the customer. This is where the biggest opportunity with IoT is for us – mitigating downtime, maintaining uptime and assets becoming predictive. IoT must become an operational strategy and not just be a vision. We are focused on scaling the innovation to an industrial level, not just pockets of visionaries doing isolated projects.”
As if to drive home the point, Schneider Electric also rolled out its VP of information process organisation, R&D and Innovation Efficiency. Twila Osborn, as well as having a long job title, is a mathematician. She worked on the space shuttle programme in the 1980s, using her problem solving skills on the well-publicised issues surrounding the shuttle’s heat-resistant tiles.
Today she works out of Boston in the US, designing processes across Schneider Electric’s data and technology platforms to ensure a lifecycle of data across the organisation. She has just finished with a proof of concept, she says, reaffirming that “R&D is relevant.”
Her proof of concept is essentially about using automation to create a standard data flow across the organisation, “designing serviceability and scalability into the marketing attributes we need in the products from the very beginning,” she says.
“We can now look at the products and get metrics so we can develop competitive models now, looking at how we compare with rivals and plan accordingly. We can close the loop with our service team, so the engineer in the field can capture the data and look for upsell opportunities. It’s about service engineers getting the right product and parts while on site or maybe even like the Tesla, refresh the software without interrupting the user?”
She talks about value creation, not a standard phrase for a mathematician, and applies to the idea that the service technician has this increasingly important role in helping the company define its future. “They are going to be critical in the chain,” she adds. “The speed of reaction will be huge and can alleviate customer problems quickly through the data telling you what is wrong – intelligence is becoming critical.”
The role of the service engineer will keep changing
So does she see service engineers selling or just good sources of raw ideas for R&D? “The automation will enable us to close the loop again with the service engineer who can see gaps in the market or problems and feed them back instantly to the product design people, so products will change based on real experiences in the field. So yes, the role of the service engineer will keep changing.” And selling?
ServiceMax’s Dave Hart, VP of global customer transformation steps in here. “It’s a fine line between serving and selling,” he says. “You don’t really want them to sell because they break the trusted adviser status. Empowering field service engineers to make more informed decisions though, that’s different. A lot of companies don’t have direct sales forces anymore, so in many respects filed service is the touchpoint with the customer but not really a salesperson.”
Hart adds that if you speak to most field service leaders they will probably tell you that one of their biggest issues is data. They know it’s in there, they just can’t get it out the system in any meaningful way. “It’s usually in a bunch of disparate systems that don’t talk to each other,” he says.
And that is the problem Schneider Electric is trying to solve. It has a plan to coordinate the whole organisation; not a small task but if Osborn’s proof of concept flies you get the feeling it will be on that road relatively quickly. She understands that you need meaningful data to glue a modern business together. It’s finding ways to make this data easily accessible and that makes Schneider, not for the first time, one to watch.
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