“There’s no going back,” claims McKinsey, in its recent report The Next Normal Arrives: Trends that will define 2021 and beyond. “The great acceleration in the use of technology, digitization, and new forms of working is going to be sustained.”

As we start to consider what a post-pandemic will look like, assuming of course that the global rollout of vaccinations continues to be successful, there will be those who will be tempted by the past. But as McKinsey rightly suggests, there is little point in looking back now and expecting a return to pre-COVID working patterns, processes and habits.

It’s something industry watchers are calling ‘neo digitalisation’. Before COVID all business had a digital transformation roadmap. But those roadmaps have changed—digital business goals were achieved almost overnight as many organisations had to radically alter how they implement technologies and serve customers.

For field service teams, the pandemic will have highlighted both good and bad ways of working. It will have exposed gaps in planning and job management and highlighted inefficiencies, inconsistencies and frustrations. No doubt, most service teams will have their own stories to tell but there will also be areas of enlightenment. By being forced into a corner, businesses have had to adapt quickly and adopt measures and practices they would never had considered previously.

The McKinsey report found that many executives said that they moved 20 to 25 times faster than they thought possible on things like building supply-chain redundancies, improving data security, and increasing the use of advanced technologies in operations.

While many short-term changes to protect employees were necessary, they have also led to the realisation that to maintain service levels, keep customers happy and ensure job satisfaction, on-going digital transformation is essential. Of course, none of this can simply stop because the panic is over. It might not need to stay at the same warp speed but does need to continue.

More than ever before, there will be a growing need to monitor and analyse assets remotely, through IoT networks. We will see increased demand to predict potential problems and only despatch an on-site engineer when it is strictly necessary. And organisations will need to ensure those engineer visits are efficient, with each engineer despatched with the right parts and tools for the job.

Service delivery must become more efficient, predictive and prescriptive, and data is crucial for de-risking service operations and delivering high-margin service offerings. Critical new technology capabilities are what’s setting organisations apart from competitors. Things like a 360-degree view into the equipment asset delivers complete visibility into assets in the field so companies can maximise asset performance. This new level of insight empowers service leaders to shift to outcome-based business strategies that propel their business forward in an age where service is now a leading differentiator.

The New Virtual

Of course, the biggest change we will continue to see is the use of remote service. Through necessity, remote service has been pushed into the limelight. The ability for engineers to connect in real time with customers to solve problems, annotate videos and share information across teams has been invaluable but it has also improved response times to problems and increased customer engagement.

Organisations are being much more agile in their approach and there is a greater appetite for experimentation. There are challenges to be ironed out. For example, organisations are worried about warranty and liability issues if a remote session leads to a customer doing something wrong. Others are more concerned with remote support eroding the perceived value associated with a field service relationship. No doubt more challenges will emerge. That said, COVID-19 has increased everyone’s appetite for innovation by lowering the cost associated with failure.

This also has an impact in how engineer resources are managed. It means that service teams can allocate higher value jobs to more experienced engineers regardless of location. just as importantly, lower-value maintenance work can be allocated to junior engineers to gain experience while also remaining efficient.

By removing the need for constant engineer visits, organisations can start to realise a different future, where new and existing technologies take the strain of field service and enable organisations to find and maintain new ways to manage assets.

In short, everything should be connected to provide complete oversight of sales, assets, parts, service history, contract warranty and engineer performance. From the use of technologies, such as AR and VR for example – which can help to reduce mean time to repair, service and install assets remotely, through to the use of AI automation to monitor and analyse assets in real-time – the tools are available here and now to cope with necessary ongoing change.

Change has already happened in service delivery and support – largely out of necessity than choice. The challenge facing every field service team from here on is how to manage and sustain the changes that neo digitalisation has brought us and turn them into the status quo.

Joseph Kenny is Vice President Global Customer Transformation and Customer Success at ServiceMax.