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Distracted robots and overtaken by age: Rethinking talent in the industrial age

Author : Mark Homer, SVP Corporate Development & Head of Global Customer Transformation

24 September 2020

Organisations are predicting major changes in their service teams over the next five years, as increased automation and an ageing skilled workforce are starting to have an impact. While we shouldn’t get too worried about robots taking everyone’s jobs, there are some areas where automation, in particular, will render certain tasks redundant. That, however, does not mean service techs will lose their jobs but what it does mean is that given the ageing workforce, new skills will need to be learned.

(Image: Shutterstock)

According to a Forrester Consulting study, From Grease To Code: What Drives Digital Service Transformation, seventy-two percent of companies say within just five years, asset equipment will outlive the working life of the engineers who service them. A further sixty-two percent say technology will completely automate service technician dispatch, replacing call centre and customer service centre staff. 

“The next five years will bring disruptive and major changes to service workforces globally,” says the Forrester report. “With the rise of more digital products in installed bases, simply replicating lost talent will not be sufficient due to the pace of digital skills requirements. Digital transformation demands that organisational workforce strategy should not be independent of a company’s service data strategy.”

Of course, we’ve known this has been coming for some time now but that doesn’t make it any easier. To some extent, we’ve all been a little distracted by this idea of robots taking over. The reality is that automation will, in most part, augment existing work. For service techs, this means shifting skills, focusing on new and different tasks.

According to the research, eighty-five percent of respondents surveyed say that self-healing equipment and remote monitoring will enable field service technicians to focus on more complex specialist work. As a result, fifty-four percent of firms are already investing or planning to invest in condition-based maintenance within the next two to three years.

The situation is exacerbated by what is widely referred to as the ‘silver tsunami’. Research last year revealed that fifty-three percent of field service companies state that replacing an ageing workforce is a challenge for their organisation. The prospect of losing a lot of experience and skills in a very short space of time is very real and while this may not seem such a bad idea given the shift in skills requirements, the reality is that it could and probably will leave a skills gap. Knowledge of installed base is still essential and will be for some time. Training younger workers in old machines and techniques just doesn’t make sense.

Automation may overcome this issue, at least in the long run, but it does highlight the need for organisations to align service talent strategy with installed base strategy. Thankfully, data will come to the rescue here, as long as it is mined and analysed correctly. Mapping service requirements across the strategies will go a long way to ensuring organisations can resource their teams efficiently and not waste time and money.

As service data continues to mature in organisations, companies should also be able to make better operational decisions around predictive maintenance and customer service. That should help inform workforce strategy and provide added value to customers. As this intelligence helps extend the working life of capital equipment through better service data, organisations will be able to limit capital expenditure without hindering overall machine performance and productivity.
Combined with the shift to as-a-service delivery models, this is reframing how businesses best schedule, dispatch and maximize the value from their precious technical service talent. 

Mark Homer is Senior Vice President Corporate Development and Head of Global Customer Transformation for ServiceMax.

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