As the US and European markets continue to drive away from manufacturing toward a more services-centric model, the twin factors of workforce mobility and inherent “change” that are tied to people-based industries have spawned a host of new technologies, software applications, and support structures. Simple customer relationship management (CRM) strategies have birthed new wired and wireless field services management, remote asset management, and transportation logistic operations. Time clocks and time sheets have been replaced with digital time and billing systems, much the same way that parts and materials order inventory and control systems have nearly achieved the “holy grail” (ultimate goal) of real-time analysis and reporting.
In short, a new business order has emerged, one of people- and project-based organizations with diverse and ever-changing needs. Professional services (and public sector) businesses are no longer just the bastion of doctors, architects, lawyers, and Maytag repairman, but rather an intricate network of interconnected operations. And, like the ad slogan goes, when it comes to solutions supporting people-centric businesses, it’s just not your father’s Oldsmobile anymore—unless you are talking about the tether between field services and asset maintenance which, until now, has struggled to lose its disjointed “old world” image.
At this juncture, it appears that technology vendor Agresso, an international enterprise resource planning (ERP) software company with more than 2,700 customers worldwide, might have bridged the gap. Specifically, Agresso’s product lines seem to have reached a level of deep product maturity, integration, and flexibility to perform agile field services and asset maintenance—without the compromise and shortcomings. This article will focus on Agresso’s new combined asset maintenance and field services product called Agresso Field Force.
Despite the huge capital outlays that businesses have sunk into their ERP, order handling, contract management, field services, enterprise asset management (EAM) and maintenance, and other disparate solutions, industry research continues to show a suboptimal track record for integrated field services and asset maintenance.
Asset management service organizations, such as those responsible for the building, maintaining, and management of malls or public housing, as well as utilities or IT business infrastructures, have had no easy way to tie in supporting technologies for mobile field management. Field services support technologies that are used to high-volume, low-price-per-order deals fall short operationally for the needs attached to singular large, complex asset development and maintenance cycles.
What’s the suboptimal “fix-it” choice today for companies that need both?
Pick two best-of-breeds and lengthy, customized IT integration projects (which is expensive and time-consuming all the way around). And, even for companies that bravely take this route, the course is smooth for the short term only: these rigid, “fixed” solutions work well only until a change is required. Then the cycle of “business need-IT spend” returns for each and every change thereafter. It’s slow, it’s costly, and it’s never fixed for very long.
Or, as the IT buyer market continually drives toward a preferred one-stop-shopping paradigm, the choices have been less than optimal: The ERP providers generally force their customers to pick which solution is more important to them—one that favors the strengths of a strong asset maintenance solution, or one calibrated to nimble, constantly recurring field services needs. With almost no exception, if these solutions should happen to do both, there is always a “weak sister” (a weaker component) in the mix.
And finally, there is the reverse solution: a strong best-of-breed player that integrates tightly to a strong sister solution, but woe be to the services organization when the inevitable business change comes about via an acquisition, market or service expansion, or regulatory compliance. You are going to rip, replace, and re-implement your solution yet again.
What’s more, the greater the disparities between the building and maintaining of large assets (against high-volume, small-order needs), the wider the solution gap. Think, for example, of an IT service provider installing the complete hardware and wiring technology infrastructure for a corporate headquarters, followed by servicing the individual personal computer (PC) and networking needs of thousands of users with small, individual maintenance issues. Those businesses and their accompanying models change rapidly, and they differ from contract to contract.
The giant ERP leaders have inflated buyer hope by heavily marketing the idea that expensive and time-consuming migrations to their newest service-oriented architecture (SOA) platforms will culminate in a panacea for disparate applications and siloed processes. However, without a tightly unified data, process, or delivery methodology underpinning these solutions (and without an inherently tight, pre-built, and optimized coupling of the broad capabilities demanded by asset intensive or project-based businesses), the user market will continue to be disappointed.
The ideal solution is a single product (from a single, reputable provider) that manages the (mobile) field services, operational, and asset maintenance needs via a change-oriented architecture. This solution should provide high-volume, remote field services management; unlimited contract and service model variations; and asset management and maintenance. Furthermore, these features should be incorporated into a framework that supports the achievement of short-, mid-, and long-term business goals, irrespective of any changes an organization undergoes.
The IT solutions landscape offers a wide variety of solutions aimed at fulfilling one or more market requirements:
- proactive, centralized asset maintenance and control strategies (preventative, predictive, and reliability-centered)
- predictive maintenance parts and inventory management
- contracts management
- field services (human capital) management
- reporting for regulatory or environmental compliance
- reporting for government-mandated financial compliance
- time and billing reporting and invoicing (often varied from client to client, based on contracts)
- analytics aimed at cost-cutting, margin optimizing, or top-line revenue growth
- analytics aimed at best industry practices (customer satisfaction–driven)
- best practice human capital management (resource deployment)
- mobile workforce communications and management (time-sensitive and agility focused)
The above is an exhaustive list of solutions requirements, and the following vendors offer partial pieces for the professional services marketplace to meet these requirements:
- ERP vendors, such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Lawson, IFS, Agresso, and Infor
- best-of-breed asset maintenance and management vendors, such as Avexus, Xelus/Click Commerce, Servigistics, and Ventyx
- best-of-breed field services vendors, such as Astea, Metrix, @road, Click Software, ServicePower, and Tesseract
- verticalized industry vendors, such as Mincom (for mining, utilities, defense), Corrigo (for facilities and property management), Syclo (for public utilities and energy), and scores of others
- highly specialized niche players that offer only one product, such as TOA Technologies (for appointment management for phone or broadband companies)
- engineering and services product lifecycle management (PLM) vendors, such as Agile/Oracle, ENOVIA MatrixOne, and Siemens UGS
It’s likely that this list will look very different in three years.
In a report by Gartner Group in 2006, Consolidation Will Complicate the Buying Process for Field Service Software in 2007, Gartner Group advised that “Businesses considering purchases of field service software during the next 24 months have good reason to be concerned about their options, because the market is in tremendous flux.” Gartner predicts that by 2010, 60 percent of the field service management suppliers will merge with, be acquired by, or acquire another supplier. “This will complicate purchasing decisions, forcing buyers to modify the weightings of buying selection criteria.”
We concur with Gartner Group’s general assumptions about what these consolidations will deliver: chaos for buyer decision making, as well as less-than-agile, poorly integrated solutions that miss critical parts. And what of the vendor knowledge required to support these amalgamations?
“Until at least 2010, software vendors will lack the depth of knowledge required to be competent enough in each functional area to bring a full field service process suite to market,” says the Gartner Group report.
This is the first part of the two-part series An ERP for Services Vendor Poised to Overtake the Market. In part two, Agresso Field Force is examined in greater detail.
About the Authors
Predrag (PJ) Jakovljevic is TEC's principal analyst, with a focus on the enterprise applications market. He has nearly twenty years of industrial experience within the discrete manufacturing sector, including machinery and equipment, automotive, construction and engineering, and electronics industries.
Prior to joining TEC, Jakovljevic was a senior consultant in the package-based solutions (PBS) group of CAP Gemini in Houston, Texas (US), with Baan Manufacturing and Logistics modules as his main field of expertise. At CAP Gemini, Jakovljevic was involved in system demonstrations, software gap analysis for prospective clients, and Baan implementation assignments.
Before joining CAP Gemini, Jakovljevic was employed as a senior consultant for Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group in Johannesburg (South Africa), where he specialized in Baan Manufacturing and Logistics modules, and engaged in the processes of enterprise resource planning (ERP) package selections, as well as in proposal preparation. Jakovljevic participated as a team lead for manufacturing, and service and maintenance packages system integration.
He has also served as a consultant for a Baan implementation of manufacturing modules at a manufacturer of special electronics systems. The following services were provided during the period of implementation: business requirements definition and software gap analysis, business process mapping to software functionality, software configuration and parameter setup, and key user training.
Jakovljevic holds a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia. He has also been certified in production and inventory management (CPIM) and integrated resources management (CIRM), and as a certified supply chain professional (CSCP) by the Association for Operations Management (APICS).
Judith M. Rothrock, president of JRocket Marketing, LLC in San Diego, California (US), has over 20 years’ experience as a marketing executive, and is the winner of more than 10 US and international marketing awards. Prior to founding JRocket Marketing—a strategic marketing and analyst relations service for high tech companies—Rothrock held marketing leadership positions at Lawson, Hyperion, Ceridian, Prescient Markets/SunGard, and Ruder Finn Public Relations headquarters in New York City (US). She holds a BA in marketing and communications from Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey (US), and is a former reporter for two metro-New York City newspapers.