Keeping Your Assets in Shape

Do you have this feeling that the battery of your phone drains faster and faster? Internet forums are full of testimonials and resolutions for keeping your battery in tip-top shape. How does this apply to B2B products, equipment and assets? Can asset owners monitor the performance of the equipment, and what handles do they have to maintain output/ outcome at the nominal level promised at point of sale?

For many years I’ve captured the digital and service transformation journey in a single tagline: “from fixing what breaks to knowing what works.” The message is driven by a simple principle: customers expect things to work. Even more, they expect the outcome of the asset to be stable over the lifecycle.

Another simple truth is that everything eventually deteriorates and breaks. This prompts the following questions:

  • What is the life expectancy of the asset? 
  • What do I need to do to keep the asset in shape?
  • What can I do to extend the life cycle of the asset?

Building a Fitness Plan

Preventive maintenance might be the first thing that comes to mind as the way to keep your assets in shape. But what does preventive maintenance (PM) prevent? And how does it affect asset performance and life expectancy? This was a tough question to answer when one of my counterparts in procurement, who was looking to reduce the selling price of a service contract, asked me, “What will happen when we reduce the PM effort by lengthening the interval?” This was even more difficult to answer when it became a numbers game, and the purchaser asked me to prove the offset between PM and break-fix. 

So where do we look next? I propose condition-based maintenance.  

We know that the performance of an asset will deteriorate over time, and we know the rate of deterioration will depend on various attributes like aging and usage. Because these attributes are measurable, we can use them as levels to trigger a service intervention. 

So rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach based on time intervals, you can create a custom fitness plan for keeping your assets in shape. One that looks at the condition of the asset in relation to its expected performance. This can look like an intervention being triggered when the output of an asset or the viscosity of a lubricant drops below a certain threshold. 

To continue with the fitness metaphor, we often don’t just want to stay in shape—we also want to increase our longevity and even get in better shape as we age. When it comes to your assets, this is where mid-life upgrades, booster-packs and engineering changes come into play. And in the same way you use predefined levers to trigger service interventions, you should use these levers to trigger updates, upgrades and lifecycle extensions.

Both of these service strategies use asset health at the core of your service delivery model, steering you away from ‘fixing what breaks’ and towards ‘knowing what works.’

A Real Life Example

Imagine you have a pump and valve combination that has a nominal capacity of 140 m3/h.

If you used a preventive maintenance model that runs every 6 months, it would not take into account the age of the pump and valve combination, nor would it account for the corrosiveness of the transported materials. 

But if you took a condition-based approach using IoT-connected sensors, you could measure attributes like vibration, temperature, and energy consumption and use them as indicators for asset performance. For example, if the capacity drops below 130 m3/h, a service intervention would be triggered. It’s like the pump saying: “I’m not feeling well, I need a medicine.” On top of this, if you detect the pump is consistently pushed beyond original specifications, you can know that it’s necessary to initiate an upgrade conversation to safeguard asset health and durability.

Asset Centricity

The common theme of these service strategies is asset centricity. It’s about putting asset health at the core of your service delivery model and continuously comparing an asset’s current output with its expected performance.

By looking at current performance, expected performance and demand, you can also advise your customers on when it’s time to downgrade or upgrade the asset. Through this asset-centric lens you can truly become a fitness coach, advising your customers on the right fitness program that will keep their assets in tip-top shape.Learn more about IoT and condition-based maintenance here.

Identifying new revenue streams in Service

It is no big secret that service revenue streams are profitable. Thus, it is to be expected that many CFO’s are the driving force behind your organisations’ service revenue growth ambitions. Especially when margins on product sales are dwindling. And indeed, we see the majority of today’s CSO’s having a revenue target. This is where the real transformation starts.

Having a cost-centre heritage practically all CSO’s know how to drive cost reductions in the service delivery process. Ask those same CSO’s if they know how to grow revenue, and the answers are less clear. Read on for the missing insights.

A small personal anecdote. In 2012 I was responsible for selling service contracts for a division of a € 60 billion family-run German company. Because my targets were revenue based, my role was moved from the service domain to the sales domain. The CRO asked me how I would achieve my goals and what marketing budget I needed. I said I would first build the delivery capability and then go for the marketing budget. How naive I was.

Voice of the Customer

How could I know what capabilities to build without understanding what customers really value? Without ever having put a lot of thought to my current services portfolio my service revenue stream was more a bookkeeping metric than a conscious business driver. Looking at my website under the services heading I saw the usual suspects; installation services, periodic maintenance, spare part sales and a helpdesk for break-fix scenarios. Remembering the words of the CRO; how did I market these offerings? Well, beyond the website, I didn’t. It made me aware that I needed the voice of the customer.

Customers expect assets to work

And when I asked, the answer was really simple; customers expect their assets to work. They want to maximise uptime while at the same time minimising operating cost.

The Preventive Maintenance story

May I make a guess? Preventive maintenance is a significant portion of your service revenue stream. But what if your customer starts questioning your rationale of ‘preventing’ and how those activities link to the achieved uptime? What if the procurement department of your customer pressures you to reduce the maintenance cost?

In our previous blog on how to sell customers on the value of preventive maintenance we have shown that value recognition of service delivery is moving from the actual execution to the insights you can provide. Sure, the service work needs to be done, but beyond fixing the asset, you have to ‘fix’ the customer. So, if you perform a periodic maintenance, try to shift your focus to the reporting and the interpretation/ communication of what the outcome means to the customer.

A customer may respond with:

  • Did you find any anomalies during PM and what impact do those have?
  • Do I need to reserve any additional budget to keep the asset going?
  • How can I improve the performance of the asset?

From fixing what breaks to knowing what works

Beyond reactive services

Considering revenue streams based on reactive type services are in jeopardy, the way forward is offering services that focus on the output and outcome of the asset. This implies that you have to change your paradigm from a product focus to a customer focus. At the core of your service delivery is not the product, but how your customer is using it. It makes a big difference if the same product is used intermittently at a 25% utilisation versus a 24/7 usage at 99.x%.

The key to selling uptime and performance-based services, is your understanding of the ‘cost of downtime’ of your product in the context of its use. Thus, we’re back at the voice of the customer.

I love penalty clauses

A ‘great’ way to engage in a value conversation with your customer is the topic of penalty clauses. I love them! Not because I, and my CFO, like to include the penalty liabilities into a service contract, but because penalties are a surrogate for something that is important to your customer. Try to discover the ‘why’ behind a penalty clause and focus on the mitigation of that reason. You may discover new types of services you can sell. 

My guess, it’s all about availability of the machine. Apply more curiosity and your customer will tell you when that availability matters … and when not. Even a 99.x% utilisation will have ‘black out’ windows allowing you to perform the necessary service activities without the stress over-dimensioning your service delivery organisation.

Sell first, then build delivery capability

Going back to my CRO. On a continuum of potential services, I could offer a full range from reactive to pro-active, from product to usage-based services. In the end, the determining factor is not me, the seller of the services. It’s all about the buyer of services. My CRO ‘cured’ my naivety. I first listen to my customer and sell what he/ she wants. Then, if I have a state-of-the-art and flexible service execution platform then I do not need to worry about the service delivery capability being able to catch up.

This article is published in ServiceMax Field Service Digital on November 24th, 2020

Selling Preventive Maintenance as a Value Add

Selling preventive maintenance is not what it used to be. In the old days a manufacturer could use its expert position to prescribe a maintenance scheme. Today, a combination of emerging technologies and pressure from buyers to do it cheaper/ smarter warrant a revisiting of the value proposition of preventive maintenance.

PM = Periodical Maintenance

As acronym we use PM. When talking we utter the words preventive maintenance. But what do we really mean?

  • Planned Maintenance
  • Periodical Maintenance
  • Predictive Maintenance
  • Prescriptive Maintenance

Analysing a lot of service contracts offered by OEMs we still see most of the maintenance is periodical or counter based. Just like the maintenance interval for your car; a PM each year or at 15,000 km.

All those periodical or counter based maintenance jobs are good service revenue for your service organisations But what happens when customers start challenging you? What if the customer has access to knowledge that amends or contradicts the engineering assumptions that led to the definition of your current maintenance intervals?

Buyers seek to reduce maintenance cost

In a world where people are more vocal, we see customers expecting things to work and buyers seeking to reduce maintenance cost. These expectations impact the way we sell service contracts. 

Selling is more straight forward when you can see a direct relationship between the pain and the gain. Such a link is obvious for installation and break-fix activities. But it is less apparent for preventive maintenance. Try to picture buyers asking these questions:

  • What does PM prevent and what is the risk that remains?
  • What is the rationale of the current maintenance interval?
  • Nothing happened last year. What will happen if we skip or delay a PM?
  • Can you dissect the PM job in activities (show me what you do) and is it really necessary to have all those activities done by an experienced/ expensive technician as yours?
  • Can we do pieces of the PM job ourselves?

You get the gist of the conversation and know where it is leading  less cost for your customer at the expense of less PM revenue for your service organisation.

Problem-Fix curve

What complicates the selling of service, is that in most scenarios the buyer and the customer/ user are not the same person. You may convince the user of a piece of equipment to do preventive maintenance, the buyer on the other hand has a different set of objectives. Most likely the buyer will push you on a path towards commoditising and cannibalising your PM services. All in order to reduce cost.

Rediscovering value

To stay ahead of the game let’s dissect PM along the lines of value creation for the customer. High level you can split a PM into three pieces:

  1. The execution of the maintenance activities
  2. The reporting on those activities
  3. The communication and interpretation of the results

Ask your customers to rate the value of each of those pieces. It’s probable that you will find that the business value of PM to a lesser extent is in the execution and more in the reporting and communication.

Maybe you pride yourself in your uniqueness of execution, whereas the customer might perceive it as a commodity. If also reporting and communication are on par, you may face price erosion.

If your customer needs the PM report for compliance or insurance purposes, the value of the report increases. When you consider that PM is often a play of risk and liability, you can price the value of your brand. Example: It does make a difference to an insurer if a yearly PM/ inspection is performed by a triple A company or a middle of the road company.

Communication value comes into play when your customer expects you to be a partner rather than a supplier. 

  • Supplier – “just send me the PM report, I’ll read and interpret it myself. When I need assistance, I’ll contact you.”
  • Partner – “help me interpret the findings and consequences of the PM. How does this impact my business?”.

In the latter situation you can monetise the communication beyond the effort of having a conversation for a couple of hours. PM can thus elevate from an obligatory periodical execution to an instrument of customer satisfaction and cross- and upselling.

Repackaging the preventive maintenance offering

In order to retain and expand your PM revenue stream in a context where the buyers move to reduce their spend, do go in discovery mode and (re)define preventive maintenance. PM is not a singular black box once defined by somebody in engineering with a product focus. Modern PM is a menu of choices (and consequences) for your buyer based on the usage profile of the product, budget and risk.

This article is published in Field Service News Jan/Feb 2020 issue.