In 2007 we saw the launch of the iPhone, heralding a new digital era. Since then, our personal lives have undergone dramatic change. We are always connected, and able to communicate with the rest of the world anytime and anywhere, generating huge volumes of data. Canny minds recognised the value of this data, and developed corresponding business models, propelling them to fame and fortune. In recent years, the digital revolution has scythed its path through the industrial world. The new-economy players have been challenging the old giants, and the major incumbents now face massive changes. And customer service and support, too, is undergoing an upheaval. At SSI Schaefer, we see this as an opportunity, and are leveraging new technologies to develop pioneering products and to improve our internal processes.
A prime example is predictive maintenance. The underlying strategy is to forecast when our systems are likely to suffer from wear and tear, and to take steps to proactively prevent serious damage and downtime – enabled by the analysis of data using self-learning algorithms. In recent times, artificial intelligence (AI) has made progress in leaps and bounds. At the same time, deep learning is currently in what is known as the “peak of inflated expectations” (Gartner hype cycle). In other words, it will take another two to five years before artificial intelligence is truly productive. While it would be unwise to miss the AI boat, it is advisable to avoid concentrating all energies and efforts on just this one particular area. In customer service and support and in repair and maintenance, there are many digital tools waiting to be utilised.
As a company with growing international operations, we are confronted by a very special challenge; we must organise service and support globally yet locally in order to remain responsive to customer needs. SSI Schaefer now employees more than 1,000 people in customer service and support, in all four corners of the world. Establishing and managing an organisation of this scale is a Herculean task. But it is an area where digital technology offers a way to minimize administrative overhead and to maximize agility. Today, it is possible to track processes down to the shop floor, without requiring hugely expensive or sophisticated technology. The data can be captured, consolidated and analysed fully automatically, delivering accurate insights into the performance of individual sub-organisations – and forming the basis for objective, informed management decision-making. Tools such as dashboards can be employed as simple yet powerful means of monitoring and managing the organisation as a whole.
At the same time, we should not lose sight of the human factor. Digital technologies will transform many professions. In service, support and maintenance, we are in the fortunate position of seeing a clear trend: ever-greater automation and ever-greater system complexity are generating demand for ever more highly skilled maintenance engineers. What’s more, the traditional dividing line between an electrician and a mechanic is dissolving fast. We increasingly need specialists in mechatronics – but also with the ability to handle IT systems and analyse data. And the rising demands of maintenance in terms of abilities and expertise is going hand-in-hand with an enhanced image for the profession itself. In fact, we all face significant change, not just service engineers. But with the right preparation and foresight, we can take a positive view of the coming transformation. At SSI Schaefer Customer Service & Support, we see the digital future with optimism, and look forward to the new challenges.