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.

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

Back to the Future with Design-for-Service

Yes, it’s really happening!”. That was my feeling when a customer of ServiceMax contacted me to enlighten them on the Design-for-Service concept. Six years ago, they started their service transformation journey to get Visibility and Control. Now they are moving the needle towards Excellence and Growth. What makes this ask even more ‘special’, is that it is the engineering department that wants to know what service needs to deliver value.

Black swan

Most of us will have plenty of examples where engineering asks technicians to record all kind of diagnostics, reason and fault codes during the service execution. What happens with that data? Will the technician feel taken seriously when servicing yet another piece of equipment that is engineered for manufacturing?

Thus, you can imagine my positive surprise when engineering wants to ‘learn’ what service needs and what modern service execution tools are capable of. It is a true win-win when both service and engineering are seeking the joint benefit of their siloed effort. 

  1. Technicians will get a return on their administrative effort when they see that it results in easier-to-maintain products.
  2. Engineering will get the justification to fund their design-for-service effort when they see that service can improve the margin and drive new revenue streams.

Attach Rates

The concept of design-for-service is not new. Still many organisations only apply design-for-manufacturing. The latter concept drives for cost optimisation in the manufacturing process of a product at the expense of a potential higher maintenance cost over the life cycle of the product. Design-for-service optimises both the manufacturing and the maintenance aspects of a product. Yes, I hear you. What about TCO, total cost of ownership? TCO is great, but TCO only works when capital expenditures (Capex) and operating expenses (Opex) are evaluated by a single entity.

Cutting a few corners and dialling it down into a single metric, have a look at your Attach Rates. You can imagine that when engineering puts more effort/ cost into the design of the product, the selling price of the product goes up. Balancing the effort equation, you have the maintenance cost going down due to better quality and more efficient maintenance delivery. On top of that, the engineering effort may also result in the creation of new types of service offerings like availability services and data-monetisation. To reap the benefits post point of sales, you need to have or get your customer ‘attached’.

Attach Rate: the percentage of your installed base that has an associated service contract with your organisation

Getting ‘attached’ customers might be easier when you sell your product via your own direct sales channel versus units sold via your indirect channel, read dealers and resellers. That all changes when engineering starts including concepts like ‘digital activation’ of the product.

Serviceability

When engineering defines the Product, the result is captured in a BOM (Bill of Material). So far, nothing new, this is design-for-manufacturing 101. When we start designing-for-service, we need to make a number of explicit decisions. Amongst those I’m highlighting two of them:

  1. What components from the BOM are serviceable?
  2. What service delivery model is applicable for that component?

First, is the product serviceable at all? If it remains a single unit, you have made the implicit choice to exchange the whole unit with the option to have the defect unit repaired or scrapped at a depot. This model may be a fit for some products but the larger, expensive and critical the product, the more you’ll need to ‘open the box’.

Second, in the BOM you’ll have to identify those components that are serviceable. For each component in the Service-BOM or SPL (Spare Parts List) you’ll have to classify the part.

  1. FRU: Field Replaceable Unit – the repair/ replace of the component requires specialised skills of a technician
  2. CRU: Customer Replaceable Unit – the repair/ replace of the component can be done by any customer (no explicit skills required)
  3. DRU: Depot Repairable Unit – the repair cannot be done in the field, but requires the asset to come to a depot where dedicated skills, tooling and components are available

Old-school textbook?

I’ve come to learn the above two service design considerations when I stumbled into my first service job at IBM in 1993. Though I did not grasp the full impact at first, the more I talk to today’s customers, the more I am convinced we need to re-establish the handshake with engineering to deliver above and beyond the service value promise. 

Handshake

In my session with this customer, I had conversation with a very adept, eager and forward-looking engineer. He understood the consequences of engineering choices for the service delivery … and ultimately the impact to cost, revenue and customer expectation.

Next, he wanted to know how service delivery constraints and possibilities would impact his engineering process. It was clear to him that state-of-the-art service execution tooling, with a high degree of asset centricity would enable him to create a positive ROI for his design-for-service efforts.

This article is published in ServiceMax Field Service Digital on December 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.