How the gig economy will transform field service management

By | 4 minute read | February 20, 2018

A use case for the future

Imagine the scenario: a master electrician is responsible for fixing motors, transformers, generators and electronic controllers on industrial robots. He finishes the first shift at a manufacturing plant, gets an alert on his phone as he’s driving home. Something is wrong with a nearby photovoltaic system – aka a solar array – operated by a regional energy provider. The company is offering $125 an hour to someone who can fix the problem in the next four hours. It’s easy money – so he accepts the job and his phone guides him to a field a few miles away.

He arrives on site, grabs his tools, and puts on his augmented reality glasses. On his phone he receives the work order from the energy company for the troublesome equipment. An hour before, the company had received an alert that the electrical output from the system is atypical based on the current weather conditions. He reviews the system blueprints on his phone. Following a blueprint map displayed on his glasses, he begins his inspection.

After some testing, he realizes there is a problem with the inverter and calls the energy company’s engineering team. They help him diagnose the problem based on a video stream from his glasses to their headquarters 200 miles away. After some wiring improvements guided by the engineers, the system is performing well. And he receives a $125 payment directly in his bank account within 5 minutes of leaving the job site.

A cloud-connected, utility-grade Conext SmartGen solar inverter from Schneider Electric

A cloud-connected, utility-grade Conext SmartGen solar inverter from Schneider Electric

The rise of the gig economy

Currently, stories such as the one above are uncommon. But, with extreme growth and interest predicted in freelancing, this may not always be the case. The application of gig economy staffing models to industry seems inevitable.

So, what does this mean? Well, the gig economy refers to the increase in the number of temporary, flexible jobs. It also incorporates the trend of companies hiring independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time employees. It’s widely believed that over 30 percent of the U.S. workforce is involved in the gig economy.

A freelance economy specifically refers to hiring self-employed workers to undertake specific, short-term jobs in return for an agreed upon wage. There are lots of examples of B2C companies using the gig economy to support their business models – such as Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, Instacart, Airbnb and Shyp.

Field Service Management basics

Field service management (FSM) is the process of planning and dispatching workers to a location to meet service commitments. It’s complex. Companies need to predict service needs, forecast staffing around demand, schedule work efficiently, and enable staff to complete works.

Technology is already changing how the FSM process works at its core. For example, using weather data and advanced analytics from equipment data in the field, companies can more accurately predict outages and deploy their workforce. Systems such as Maximo are used to track work orders and maintenance records for all field infrastructure. Maximo Anywhere enables field technicians to work more productively on site. It’s no wonder the world’s largest asset-intensive organizations rely on IBM for operations solutions.

How will technology enable freelancing in FSM?

There are a few emerging technologies that will make the story above become real, faster than anyone is anticipating. First, the Internet of Things is connecting equipment and operations in unimaginable ways. This means improvements in uptime and operational efficiency. With new sources of data, Field Service can be optimized much more efficiently.

Second, artificial intelligence (AI) is changing how field equipment is managed. For example, IBM provides the ability to apply analytics to video and audio to see whether there are issues in the field. AI can also help optimize the deployment of field resources. This is partly because machine learning models can account for more variables than a human can comprehend.

Over time, services like Watson might be able to give field technicians advice. For instance, by working out the probability that certain equipment is the cause of operational failures. With the world’s computing power at its disposal, Watson might even serve as am educator for apprentice electricians on the job site.

Finally, augmented reality is developing rapidly beyond its initial commercial applications. Not only is augmented reality hardware improving, but the software powering the hardware is finding powerful industrial use cases. In the near future, cloud-based solutions such as Maximo will be easily accessible via augmented reality. This means technicians can both learn from and use Maximo as another tool in their toolbox.

Learn more and join us at Think 2018

When do you think the story above will become a reality? How do you see technology changing field service? We’ll be exploring answers to these questions and more at Think 2018: our landmark conference in Las Vegas. Join us there from 19-22 March, and meet partners, thinkers and innovators from around the world.

In the meantime, you can learn more about Maximo, the world’s leading enterprise asset management solution, by visiting our website.