Instructor: Aleksi Aaltonen, Section 002

Is the future of Field Service DIY?

Photo showing mixed reality assistance with the ability to draw on the screen

Photo: Microsoft via TechCrunch

According to a report today by TechCrunch, Microsoft is integrating its mixed reality product, the HoloLens, with its enterprise CRM and ERP software, Microsoft Dynamics. This is significant; while mixed reality is a well-known technology, it has yet to become a pervasive element of either organizational or home technologies. The company is connecting an unproven technology to a neglected user group, field service workers; which could mean an untapped and easy-to-capture market.

Microsoft’s use cases focus on field workers, those with expertise in a trade. Tradespeople are one of the last segments of the workforce to use technology in their daily tasks, given much of their work is hands-on. ERP and CRM systems are great for documenting and implementing business processes, but can these systems benefit a repair-person whose brain may cycle through a list of ten malfunction checks in a matter of seconds? Microsoft is proceeding with caution- the HoloLens use cases revolve around more unusual or difficult repairs. For such cases, HoloLens provides a real-time view to a remote expert who can assist an onsite employee through the repair.

Microsoft is starting with an exciting set of use cases for the HoloLens, but I don’t see the connection to ERP and CRM systems yet. The company could combine this technology with the Business Process Flow (BPF) functionality currently available in Dynamics CRM. Business Process Flows walk an employee through a set of steps in a process, diverging down new paths as the customer scenario plays out. This technology could be useful for everyday repairs, as well as unusual cases. For example, a plumber could visualize and verbally check off the repairs completed from a list in the system as he is completing them. The repairs could be tallied up into a virtual bill on the spot. He could also document what the completed job looked like for warranty records and perform any quality assurance checks required by the system. Finally, he could document a visual confirmation from the customer that they are satisfied with the job. Using BPF would automate the data points moving into the CRM and ERP systems, reduce field repair errors, and speed up the interaction between client and employee.

I’m really excited about this technology and think the use cases will expand as users become comfortable with it. I could see the HoloLens becoming a household product with consumers performing their own repairs with the help of an expert or business process flow!

4 Responses to Is the future of Field Service DIY?

  • This will be an outstanding development in trade work and field service when it comes to fruition, but it will almost certainly bring long term changes to the affected industries that will need to be addressed in the appropriate schools, apprenticeships, and training. It seems like it would add a lot of business potential for trade workers and repair-persons, but could also simultaneously drive down the price of their services considering that clients would be getting more hands on than before and using their own resources/time to complete a repair or task. For some trade workers, it might not make sense in terms of business value to pursue use of this type of service; maybe clients want no involvement in the field service process, or maybe they are willing to get involved, put up their own time, and save money. These are big things to consider, and I am excited to see what potential this new technology offers and how participating parties benefit from its mass introduction.

    • I appreciate your point about institutional acceptance of such technology. It may be that apprenticeships and schools will not see the value for their students or their business model in teaching this type of technology. However, I could see this giving more power to trade workers who want to learn this technology themselves. Perhaps the revenue would be driven down some, but would easily be made up in the way of transportation, tools, and time costs to the laborer. There is a need for more tradespeople and more affordable trade services. Perhaps this market is ready for disruption.

      I also agree that not everyone is interested in DIYing. As someone who is still sitting on half a kitchen renovation, I can tell you the novelty of DIY wears off quickly- However, imagine a knowledgeable tradesperson who could send out a network of more affordable employees to perform the work under their guidance. That would solve both sides of the supply-demand equation. And still, many tradespeople are certified by some government entity, so there are legislative hoops to jump through.

  • I think this is a sensible approach to bringing a whole new interaction paradigm to the market – start with a specific user segment with very specific needs. Apart from CRM and ERP, I think the application might well link with Knowledge Management systems. As Nicholas hints, this could enable new forms of self-service, i.e. you can perform repairs, perhaps with the help of remote support person yourself. Also, emergency response teams could benefit from this kind of systems that would allow them to gain situational awareness faster.

  • Good that Microsoft has come with impressive technology plans for field service workers. The major problem that field workers are facing today is being well-informed about the customer scenario, which would help them determine the kind of tools required to perform the task and creation of invoice. Visibility into the Business Process Flows could help field service workers know about their at-the-moment position in the task and what and when about task completion.

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