Should I Buy An Asset-Centric Solution or Build It?

It takes twice as long, at twice the cost and you will only get half of the expected functionality.” Many times, we have heard this proverbial phrase. And even if it is true, does it automatically mean you will go for the buy-variant? We’ve learned that decision-making consists of weighing many pros and cons. In this blog, we’ll provide you with a set of arguments to take into consideration.

More than just the financials (The Mindset Matters)

In our experience, a build-versus-buy decision is both multi-faceted and multi-stakeholder. To give you an example: A business leader will typically look for business process support and time to value. An IT leader may have a preference to stay on the same platform and exert control through the deployment of internal IT resources. Procurement will weigh the risk profile and continuity of the vendor base. The security officer may focus on secure, compliant transfer and storage of the business data. And finance? From finance, we expect that they will compare the cost of build versus buy in relation to the budgeting cycle.

What you have here is a mix of different personas, each with different priorities and objectives. So, how to tackle this, how to move forward? You can start to untangle this Gordian knot by genuinely trying to understand and acknowledge each stakeholder’s position.

One word of caution. However accurate the numbers are that you come up with. As you are zooming in on the pros and cons with the goal of creating a viable comparison, you need to do your homework and not only gather the facts but also be aware that each stakeholder has a different motivation.

As a business leader from Bosch said so eloquently:

“I don’t care about the make and model of the tool. I’ve got a business to run” – business leader at Bosch

We started this blog by outlining the various personas that each have their own priorities, but at the end of the day, there is one common goal: keeping the business running—today and tomorrow. And to do this, you need a solution that can either be built or bought.

What are the hidden and obvious costs?

Let’s start with the most rational comparison: the financial axis. For sure the first and foremost thing finance wants to do is compare the cost of build versus buy. The purchasing cost is easy to identify. It’s the figure at the bottom of the vendor’s quotation. What is on the build side of the equation is more elusive. If building software is not your core business, it is difficult to grasp what effort goes into creating and maintaining a business application. When we see stakeholders evaluating the financials of build versus buy, typically only a fraction of the build costs turn up in the comparison. The reputed tip of the iceberg.

Together with a number of prospects, we created a model to help identify and uncover how far the iceberg extends under the waterline, in other words—to make the hidden cost elements visible. While building the model, we had to face difficult questions such as:

  • How much effort does it take to retrieve the data points?
  • Is it even possible to obtain an insight into the below-sea-level items?
  • To what extent will a complete view of the build cost influence the decision-making?

In close collaboration, we discovered two findings:

  1. Apart from any numeric comparison, getting a complete picture of all cost elements proved to be extremely insightful and changed how both scenarios are evaluated.
  2. Appraising the ‘submerged’ cost elements is essential in defining the tipping point.

Evaluating build versus buy

When making a build-versus-buy decision business leaders strive to get a complete picture of the cost aspects and understand the impact on the business as a whole. But how do they know that? This is where the iceberg comes into play.

When working with prospects and customers to uncover the true cost for them, we found the iceberg to be an educational exercise and a great conversational framework to understand all aspects of business application creation and usage. Different areas in the framework have different owners and they don’t all have the same agenda, e.g. the cost for software developers falls within the IT department, whereas cloud-subscription fees come out of the line of business budget.

Our framework requires input from all areas that DIY touches on. By doing so, it also reveals the mindset and priorities of the different stakeholders and provides insight into the evaluation criteria of the build-versus-buy decision. As such it will be an eye-opener and helps to align all stakeholders.

Conscious Competence Learning Matrix

‘Hidden’ costs impact the tipping point

The hidden or underwater costs play a significant role in determining the tipping point. It’s a matter of simple mathematics. The more you can exclude hidden costs from the equation, the more your decision will lean towards build. This conclusion led us to investigate why one would exclude hidden costs. We found:

  • The effort to retrieve the hidden cost is too high.

What to do about it: This is fairly easy to mitigate. To find your way out of this impasse, think about using estimates and guesstimates as an alternative to actuals. As long as your data is ‘good enough’, you can still use it to make good decisions. Thus, not creating an exact cost comparison, but a probable comparison.

  • We don’t want to include hidden costs.

What to do about it: This finding is more of a political and commercial nature. Here it matters who you are talking to. You can imagine that a sales rep who is trying to sell the buy-scenario has an avid interest in having as many costs associated with the build-scenario and vice versa. To overcome this potential conflict of interest, we co-developed the cost comparison model. As a result, we know that all cost elements in the model are relevant to the decision-making. When we encounter a persona saying that a particular cost element is non-retrievable, we have solid arguments to go into challenger mode.

A blend of arguments

We started this blog by explaining that a build-versus-buy decision spans multiple departments and stakeholders, and we gave the financial aspect the most weight when it comes to making the choice. There are certainly other factors that play a role in the decision, such as time to value, feature richness and risk, but ultimately, all of these aspects affect the total cost to build.

For several of our prospects, the co-developed framework has been instrumental in finding an answer when faced with the question Do I Build or Do I Buy?

build costs

If you want to find out what other aspects are influencing the build-versus-buy decision, check out our Build-Versus-Buy Guide here.

This article is published in ServiceMax Field Service Digital on June 22nd, 2021

How to Maintain and Protect Your Brand as an OEM

You make great products. You have a strong brand. But how do you maintain those products and protect your brand beyond the point of sale? What do you do when customers demand more through CX or regulators demand more through compliance or channels partners struggle to deliver consistent service? The good news is modern field service management systems provide you with the tools to manage and overcome these challenges.

Trending in 2021

At the close of each year, a lot of people ask me to make some predictions for the new year. Honestly, with some extreme disruptions in 2020, it is hard to single out a theme for 2021. Though I do see a consistent trend over the last decade. A trend that will very much drive the OEM transformation agenda: how do we extend our value proposition beyond the revenue of the product sales? Margin contribution on product sales is dwindling. Thus, it is logical that your CFO is eying service margins and tasking you with service revenue growth. So, let’s focus on two 2021 topics to achieve those goals.

  1. Improve your installed base visibility across all your sales channels
  2. Support your product throughout its life cycle

And by focussing on these two, you’ll get a lot of adjacent benefits too.

Step 1: Invest in Installed Base Visibility and Effective Channel Partners

To exert a maximum level of control over the value an OEM can provide to its customers, an OEM may have the ambition to own each step of the value chain. The commercial reality is that a network of partners and competitors is involved in the value creation. This may result in a battle over the ownership of the customer relationship. Especially when we consider the underlying paradigm: the one who owns the relationship owns the levers to CX and sustainable revenue.

The key enabler to value creation is your Installed Base Visibility. It is pretty straight forward. If you want to create value from the products you sell, you need to know where they are and how they are being used. Without visibility, your service delivery will be in the blind. Without a relationship, your revenue streams will be unpredictable.

We see more and more OEMs investing in installed base visibility. This starts with shifting from margin contribution through product sales to margin contribution through using the product.  The increased margin contribution pays for the investment and buy-in from the channel partners.

Are you curious about what installed base visibility brings to the bottom line? See what Schneider Electric was able to achieve here.

Step 2: Support Your Product Throughout Its Life Cycle

Who knows your product best? You, the OEM. You designed it and built it, so it seems you are best qualified to support its use during its life cycle. Hence the previous paragraph, you need to know where your installed base is and in what condition.

For each product, we know that the true test comes when it is used by real customers. No matter how well designed and built it is, actual customers seem to use products in more different ways than you have anticipated. Whether the feedback is coming to you via the quality department, service interactions, or through an autonomous engineering department, your products do get revisions and engineering changes.

Some of these changes are for liability and compliance. Others may enhance the function of the product, potentially driving more value. Thus, you have multiple reasons to reach out to your installed base. And when you do so, you want to track what portion of that base you have reached.

Two to Tango

The combination of installed base visibility and product life cycle support form an ideal tango to strengthen your brand. Though the commercial reality of your channel strategy may impact your ability to reach out to your installed base, asset-centric field service management tools make it much easier to visualize and manage your assets. Extending those tools to your channel partners will make it easier to share and grow the value creation for your customers.

Whether you decide to take tango lessons in 2021 or not, at least put some thought into the beauty and joy of the dance. I promise you; your customers will like it.

This article is published in ServiceMax Field Service Digital on December 17th, 2020

Finding Revenue Leakage in your Service Business – part 1

Have you ever had to Credit or Discount an invoice? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you have leakage, if the answer is ‘no’ then you definitely have leakage.

How do you respond to the Aberdeen finding that best-in-class companies have a whopping 14% warranty & contract leakage? Denial, absurd, overstated, or … wait-a-minute, maybe I’m not looking at the right KPIs to detect leakage. Once you acknowledge leakage exists in your organisation, wouldn’t you go all the way to manage leakage out of your business, knowing it has a direct impact on your bottom line?

Defining leakage

What is service leakage? In the simplest terminology: you are losing money. And the bad news is that it often happens without you knowing or realising it.

We can distinguish two types of service leakage:

  1. Non-Contract leakage : the periods in the operational life cycle of an asset not covered by warranty and/or a service contract (sometimes this is also called T&M-leakage because service outside a contract classifies as T&M).
  2. Contract leakage: an asset is covered by warranty and/ or a service contract but in your service delivery you provide more and/or a higher level of service than the customer is entitled to. 

Contract leakage typically occurs when service organisations do not know and/or manage expiration dates of warranty and contracts. Non-contract leakage typically occurs when the entitlement process is fragmented and/ or when the information is not accessible to all involved service actors.

Let’s mention a couple of common scenarios:

  • A customer claims a defect within the warranty period. You correctly entitle the job as ‘warranty’. On site the technician detects ‘customer induced damage’. The technician performs the repair anyhow and there is no charge to the customer.
  • A customer is entitled to next day service but presses you to fix the machine today without paying an additional fee. Because your technicians are not busy today, you give in to the request.
  • A customer makes a service request assuming the current contract is still active. Upon entitlement check you detect it has expired three months ago. The customer agrees to renew the contract per current date. You incur 3 months loss in contract revenue.
  • A customer has multiple machines of the same model. Only one of them is covered by a contract. The single contract line is used to entitle work on all of them because the customer always uses the same serial number.

Service Leaks are not the problem; they are the symptom. They reveal a disconnect between process design and actual behaviour. Denial of leakage increases the disconnect.

Impact of leakage

One of the unfortunate things in business is that the cost always hits you – now, if you are so good at capturing cost why do you allow revenue to slip through your fingers? How do you think your shareholders would enjoy hearing that you worked on a customer’s asset and neglected to bill them? 

Another way to look at the impact of leakage is to establish how much extra revenue would need to found above and beyond what you are already billing for. Let me paint a picture for you, as we have established you capture all of your costs so any leakage (missed revenue) that you capture will have a 100% positive impact to your bottom line – every dollar billed will be a full dollar of equivalent gross margin. So, let’s say you were running at 20% margin as a service organisation and you allowed $100,000 to leak through your service organisation, now a service org would need to go and find $500,000 of brand spanking new business to offset this $100,000 leakage just to break even. How hard is it for a business to find $500,000 of extra revenue with the same resources? 

Actually, quite easy – set your system up to minimise the risk of leakage….

On top of the cost, revenue and margin contribution impacts, customer expectation is a big one. Leakage has a very large behavioural component. If a customer is used to getting service for free, it becomes very difficult to start charging for it. If a customer ‘discovers’ you can’t manage your entitlements correctly, this may lead to ‘unwanted’ service calls.

A similar behavioural impact can be expected on the technician’s end. A technician chose his job because he/she wants to fix things and be a hero on site. A technician did not select the job to do admin and become a contract-referee. Thus, if you do not empower your technicians with the right tools and information, do not expect any cost/revenue sensitivity, they will go for CSAT and please the customer.

Finding leakage

Do you find leakage or is it a matter of ‘capturing’ it? You are delivering all of the services that create the opportunity for leakage, so you already know where it is, you just need the correct tools to capture it, Oh and by the way,  they are never humans and excel… You need a robust process and a software solution to support that process and remove ‘chance’ from the equation. 

Detecting, quantifying and finding the origin of leakage in your organisation is a process like remedying a leaky roof. You’ll need adjacent ‘instruments’ to find the source.

Remedying leakage

The first step towards remedying leakage is accepting its existence. Once you have made leakage visible, you can start actioning it. And in general those actions fall into three categories:

  1. Stop delivering free service; this has a direct cost reduction benefit.
  2. Continue delivering ‘free’ service and start charging for it; this will increase both your revenue and your margin; the additional margin is 100% as we have shown you have already incurred the cost.
  3. Continue delivering ‘free’ service and use it as collateral for something else of value; this benefit is harder to manage, but we can argue it is good for CSAT and can be used during contract renewal to counter cost & rate reduction arguments from your customer.

This article is published in ServiceMax Field Service Digital on November 10th, 2020

Post-Crisis Handbook – Managing the Backlog

We’ve been talking about disruption for quite a while, but many could not fathom out its consequences or that it would even hit us. Nations, organisations and individuals have discovered that their business continuity plans could not mitigate the impact.

Now we’re past the initial shock, what is business-as-usual going to look like? How do we pick-up and how do we process the backlog created by three months of lock-down?

In the previous chapter of our post-crisis handbook @Daniel Brabec provided four handles that are top of mind when navigating the service world in the New Normal. In this chapter we will focus on managing the backlog.

Perpetual Backlogs

Right now, all focus is on Covid-19 and its impacts. But if you look deeper, you will see that many COVID-related themes have pre-existed in varying degrees; its only now that we look at them through a magnifying glass.

  • Remote service procedures have been around for more than 30 years. Rethinking business continuity plans will likely expedite their adoption.
  • Digital tools allow you to remodel your business processes and simulate the amount and mode of touch points. Social distancing guidelines add an additional ingredient to that business process (re)engineering.
  • Balancing the availability of technician capacity and contracted workload is an ongoing exercise for each service-focused executive. Disruptions and imbalance exist at all times. Only Covid-19 is a major shock, illustrating that business-as-usual balancing mechanisms can’t cope.

Balancing Supply & Demand

For about three months many businesses have seen huge fluctuations in both the volume of work and the availability of resources.

The existing workforce has been confined to work from home, has been furloughed or has taken sick/ care leave. In addition, those that are available have to spend more time on a job for extra precautionary activities. In all, you have less capacity to execute work.

From a workload perspective we see that many jobs have been pushed out. We see some equipment being ‘sweated’ to maximum usage (e.g. medical diagnostic equipment) and others going into hibernation (e.g. aircraft engines). This will have a huge impact on the life cycle of the asset warranting a more asset centric approach.

The Impact of the Backlog

Just try to imagine all the impacts a work-related backlog might have on the business:

  • Compliance: For three months Preventive Maintenance (PM) and Inspection jobs have been pushed out. All time-based schedules and counters will see non-conformity. To what degree can you apply flexibility to compliance dates and how do you manage those shifts?
  • Service Level Agreement attainment: There are many relevant questions that need to be answered in the measurement of SLA performance. How does one measure uptime for e.g. medical diagnostic equipment that has been running 24/7? How do you measure uptime of equipment for furloughed organisations? And How do penalty clauses apply; or is the pandemic considered an act-of-god? And finally, how do you filter/ clean metrics that are impacted by Covid-19?
  • Contract renewal: This possible renewal scenario might play out between organizations and customers. Procurement at the customer may say “We’ve not had the benefit of contracted services for three months, so we will only renew in three months” or “We’ll only renew after completion of the pushed-out PM jobs”. Try to imagine and forecast the impact on your contract revenue streams.
  • Dispatching priorities: How does contract renewal drive the priorities for rescheduling the PM backlog? If you have more jobs than capacity, what jobs get priority and what will be the impact to the above three bullets?
  • Workforce capacity planning: Now we have more jobs than capacity, how long will it take us to process the backlog? Will we strike the backlog, or will we contract additional/ temporary capacity? What jobs will we assign to 3rd party technicians and what jobs will our own people do?

To reiterate, the above impacts are not only related to Covid-19, they are universal and timeless. You might recognise yourself in the synthesis of pre-Covid-19 quotes made by various companies: “At present we can only deliver on 85% of the contracted work due to unavailability of skilled resources. In the execution of work, we take calculated business risks balancing compliance, cost and revenue streams”.

Running Scenarios

Ultimately, the challenge for any organisation is the balancing of supply of resources and the demand of (contracted) work. And as we know by now, we have to be able to handle disruption in various degrees of intensity. This brings us to the requirement of being able to run scenarios.

Some examples:

  • What is the revenue & compliance risk of executing 85% of the jobs versus adding resources to get to 95% execution?
  • What happens to my contract renewals, SLA attainment and penalty clauses when I prioritise pushed-out jobs of gold-contracts over bronze-contracts?
  • Can I use knowledge on capacity availability in my service-sales process when making commitments on execution dates?

In its most generic form, running scenarios will help you making informed decisions on both capacity/ resource management and prioritising (contracted) workload.

The New Normal is Business-as-Usual

So, what is so new about this New Normal? Is it new? Or is it business-as-usual under a magnifying glass? I believe it is the latter. I believe backlog management in the past has focused a lot on the transactional aspects. Now the disruption is visible to all, I believe the time is right to make backlog management a strategic decision-making function.

This article is published in Field Technologies Online on June 22nd, 2020.

7 Tips for HVAC – Service Execution Excellence

Through sweltering heat and fierce blizzards, HVAC technicians are there to keep equipment running at peak performance. But how do you make sure you get peak performance out of your HVAC service organization year-round, year-after-year?

Here is a list of 7 tips to help you achieve excellence in your HVAC service organization.

  1. Manage resources through all seasons
  2. Maximize uptime of HVAC equipment
  3. Improve margin of service operations
  4. Drive cross & upsell
  5. Deploying (sub)contractors
  6. Dealing with increased HSE requirements
  7. Sustainability, dealing with HazMat

Manage resources through all seasons

A customer requirement for heating and cooling is seasonal, resulting in an equally seasonal pattern in technician demand. Typically, a service organisation will try to balance resource capacity by doing installations, retro-fit and preventive maintenance during low season and dedicate capacity in peak season to break-fix. 

Over the years HVAC organizations have acquired a lot of tribal knowledge to mitigate the daily resource juggle. Modern service execution systems will facilitate you to formalize this tribal knowledge and to upgrade your capacity planning process applying dynamic scheduling. As a result your customers will get the service they expect and your technicians will feel in control instead of being dragged from job to job.

Maximize uptime of HVAC equipment

The majority of today’s service level agreements are still stated in terms of Effort. “We will commence the fix of the malfunction in x hours”. Some contracts up the value promise to a Result. “We will deliver a fix within y hours”. To offset the risk of penalties, the latter contracts often have a section of fine print watering down the Result. What owners of HVAC equipment want is Uptime. 

Combining IoT connectivity and Service Execution Management allows a service organisation to both deliver the Uptime a customer expects and to deliver that service in a cost-effective way.

Improve margin of service operations

Competition in the HVAC industry is fierce. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), Third Party Maintainers (TPM) and Facility Management Companies (FCM) all operate in the same space to make a margin. A quick search on the internet tells us that a typical HVAC nett profit margin ranges from 1.4% for TPM/ FCM to 12% for OEMs. These numbers indicate that cost control is a constant driver in decision making.

To control cost you need visibility. To create visibility you need tools and processes. Though HVAC equipment may comprise of generic components, both the infinite number of configurations and wide range of commercial conditions agreed with customers define your requirements for agile service execution tools. Tools minimizing the dependency on IT support and maximizing flexibility for your markets & channels.

Link: https://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/betterbuildings/neighborhoods/pdfs/hvac_contractor_business_model.pdf

Drive cross & upsell

Although we see cost control having the primary focus in HVAC, we see maturing organizations driving for revenue increase. The service agreements with low margins won via a tender process, often only contain the basics. The basics being periodical maintenance, a response promise topped with contracted rates and material discounts. To make a customer account (more) profitable, service organisations depend on their ability to cross and upsell beyond the basic contract.

Technicians being trusted advisors to your customers can act as eyes and ears to detect revenue enhancing opportunities. Capturing leads, enabling technicians to quote on-site and ultimately being able to convert a quote into a work order will attribute to your revenue growth targets. In parallel you will see that both customer experience and technician empowerment will get a boost.

Deploying (sub)contractors

According to The Service Council approximately 32% all field service work is completed by partners/ subcontractors. Though this percentage may vary per market and product segment, subcontractors play an important role in getting all the work done. Subcontractors come in all shapes. Sometimes they will compete with you, in other markets they may complement your route-to-market.

Prioritizing and assigning jobs are most probably the two most important aspects of dispatching affecting both cost and service level attainment. Make sure your dispatching console supports you in decision making while simultaneously maintaining visibility of the job progress once handed off to a subcontractor. Modern tools can alleviate the need for complex subcontractor integrations by means of allowing the subcontractor using your processes on a device of their own choosing.

Link: TSCReport-F-2016 -FSOutsourcing-04.pdf

Dealing with increased HSE requirements

“Heating, ventilation and air conditioning company, HLA Services, has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and fined for safety failings after an employee suffered serious injuries in a fall whilst repairing an extraction unit in Newcastle.”

A headline like this is the dread for any company. Of course, you will tell your technicians how to adhere to all regulations at hiring, during onboarding and probably you will have periodical health & safety briefings throughout their tenures. Ultimately you want to create a safety culture in your organisation.

Life gets complicated when the regulations change, when procedures are different per customer location. Somehow you need to embed health and safety handles into daily operations. What if you could make those part of the work order and track compliance through a configurable set of check lists.

Link: http://www.heatingandventilating.net/hvac-company-fined-by-hse-for-safety-failings

Sustainability and dealing with HazMat

Beyond safety for technicians governed by measures of HSE and OSHA we see that HVAC organisations also have a responsibility to take proper care of hazardous material like refrigerants. The increasing attention for the sustainability theme is raising the bar to reduce the use of materials in general and reclaim reuse.

To achieve these goals, you need a service execution system that embeds a supply chain function. To be able to track the use of material and to instruct technicians what to do with defect, used and waste materials.

Links: https://www.refrigerationschool.com/blog/hvacr/osha-affect-hvac-industry/