Vertical Solutions Inc.-All About Field Service: Part One

Field service management (FSM) is a growing enterprise software segment, and while it may not be a new software market, it is quickly increasing in value and relevance globally. The manufacturing industry has always been an active user of FSM software solutions, but as companies reinvigorate their post-sales support strategies, one can see continued growth in this market segment. Companies are recognizing that post-sales service is a profit generator and revenue driver, and are increasingly interested in automating mobile workforce processes and streamlining workflows.

To cater to this market, privately-held Cincinnati-based Vertical Solutions, Inc. (VSI), founded in 1986, develops, implements, and supports best-of-breed contact center customer experience (CX) and FSM solutions. The company focuses on providing innovative ways for organizations to increase revenue via its post-sales service management (scheduling, service support requests including entitlements, social, and mobility) and contact center technology solutions. In 1992, VSI established its mobile development group (well before today’s onslaught of mobile devices and tools), and in 2001 the company launched its application service provider (ASP)-hosted CRM solution called PowerHelp.

After an intellectual property divestiture to Mercury Interactive (now part of HP) in 2006 for nearly $20 million, VSI focused its research and development (R&D) efforts on developing new cloud-based technologies, starting with the Vertical Services Platform (VSP), a non-proprietary, open technology platform. Since 2010, the vendor has released the following next-generation solutions on the aforementioned VSP foundation (see Figure 1):

  • VServiceManagement—an end-to-end service management solution for customer support, field service, and mobile environments; and

  • VContactCenter—a solution for internal, external/business process outsourcing (BPO), and hybrid contact centers.

These application systems are built on a service-oriented architecture (SOA)-compliant and cloud-based technology platform and delivered on-premises or as software as a service (SaaS) in a private, public, or hybrid cloud environment. VSI's applications were designed to integrate relatively easily with legacy systems and offer rapid deployment times. Companies in a variety of industries (manufacturing, business process outsourcing (BPO) contact centers, third-party servicers, healthcare, and residential services) and throughout the world use VSI's solutions to improve service response and resolution times, reduce the costs of delivering service, capture actionable customer data, integrate with external partners, and broaden their portfolio of service offerings. The company currently has nearly 70 employees and nearly 100 customers, which are all referenceable, including RSystems, ABB, Inc., JMS, and Medxcel Global.


Figure 1 – VSI Platform and Apps

VSI Customer Profile
One area that is interesting about the FSM space is the variety of providers that emphasize either field workforce mobility or scheduling. VSI manages to be a true end-to-end FSM solution in this regard. Much of what it considers the “heavy lifting” comes by combining three core components: scheduling, work order management (including handling complex contracts and warranties), and mobile workforce management (WFM)—all three of which VSI offers. VServiceManagement offers a single view of the service continuum—where everything affiliated with service is in front of the customer, and VSI is also truly automated through a business process management (BPM) layer in the VSP foundation.

VSI’s ideal customer profile typically fits into the following categories of high-end/mid-sized companies (or large divisions of billion-dollar organizations) with 50 to 2,500 users:

  1. Any complex field service organization that finds the depth of the FSM capabilities available in its enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution lacking (see blog post: The Field Service Secret Weapon). These groups typically view service management as a revenue source, a customer experience differentiator, or both. They require tight integration with multiple data sources, including in-house data from ERP and other systems, and external data from partners and vendors, but they’re looking for nimble deployment options (private, hybrid, or public cloud), and the flexibility of automating their unique business processes via business process management (BPM) throughout their post-sales solution.

  2. Any service management organization that wants a combined seamless contact center and FSM solution; for example one that essentially handles the entire post-sales service delivery process where remote diagnostics may also be a priority.

  3. Discrete manufacturers—as products become more commoditized, their service group relies on the tight transfer of data and information to break down silos and maximize the areas where they can increase revenues, cut costs, or both while improving their service delivery.

  4. Healthcare companies, including the manufacturing side (medical equipment) as well as the home healthcare market.

  5. Complex service management for manufacturing, home services centers, and BPO centers that manage customer service for multiple companies. VSI’s platform approach enables the vendor to offer its BPO customers a decided advantage: they can quickly and easily replicate business processes for multiple clients, while keeping each customer’s data segmented and secure. VSI accommodates their needs to create and enforce multiple service-level agreements (SLAs), warranty management and return material authorization (RMA), and other service tasks without having to build each process from scratch. This enables VSI’s customers to streamline their ability to bring on new customers, or develop new campaigns for existing customers, and is something that few of the FSM competitors do at all, and hardly anyone as seamlessly as VSI.

Within the past year, VSI has incorporated HTML5 mobile extensions, and “Store and Forward” functionality into its VServiceManagement product line. This enables companies to provide information to technicians in the field on virtually any mobile device to extend their on-site support footprint. For example, if a technician is on call for a particular repair, the system uses intelligent logic-driven capabilities to add requirements to the work order based on other equipment pending scheduling at the site. As with other functionality within the VServiceManagement solution, information is available to the technician even when he or she must work offline.

Growing Ecosystem
VSI partners with companies that are interested in working together to extend post-sales service solutions, or that work with the vendor to build their own ecosystem of solutions using the VSP foundation. Much of the VSI pipeline is direct, and generated through focused efforts with affiliated technologies and consulting partners. These include providers that offer technologies or services around the following:

  • ERP solutions—Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 (VSI recently formally became an “Emerging Partner” for Microsoft Dynamics and is a managed partner in the ecosystem), NetSuite (VSI has been NetSuite’s SuiteCloud Developer Network [SDN] partner for over three years), SAP, Oracle, Epicor, Infor, and more;

  • Unified communication (UC) solutions—Avaya, Cisco, and ShoreTel;

  • WFM and Global Positioning System (GPS)—CallCopy and SkyTrace; and

  • BPO—R Systems International Limited.

VSI’s consulting partners include Centric Consulting, Cameo Solutions, TDCI (now part of Infor), Technology Medical Partners, eBizNET Solutions, Ellipse Solutions, and McGladrey.

Figure 2 (below) depicts VSI’s apps strategy and how its own solutions fit in with third-party solutions. Interestingly (since the perception is that ERP solutions can compete with FSM specialists), many ERP providers are well aware of the white spaces in their solution profiles, even with their post-sales service offerings. VSI has direct relationships with many of these providers. An alliance initiative was created with ERP providers and their partners that should assist existing clients in recovering, as well as prospects in securing, their ERP implementation fees. This is generated via revenue growth they can obtain through VSI’s post-sales business services’ solutions. Tight integration between major ERP providers and VSI’s VServiceManagement is available today.


Figure 2 – VSI’s Functional Fit

FSM Data is Big Data Anyway
VSI has had to field many questions around big data and what it actually means for field service. Indeed, what is the difference between “data” and “big data” in FSM? For example, VSI has a global manufacturing client that uses its solution in the following control divisions: drives, instrumentation, control systems, analytics, substation automation, power technologies, and more. The company has seven hub countries across these divisions that serve an additional fifteen-plus countries worldwide, from Singapore to South Africa. VSI’s solution is the hub for over nine other integrated solutions, including a high-volume ERP data solution. The analytics pulled from the solution combines all post-sales data, which seems pretty “big.”

However, you’ll hear companies comment that big data includes not just volume and variety of data, but also velocity and complexity of data—but what does this actually mean? Think of the following true-to-life situations:

•    An organization is capturing not only data about customers’ home addresses but also their real-time locations.
•    Companies are not just assigning the next available contact center agent or sending the next available field engineer but also assigning/sending the best candidate based on the customer’s personality or sentiment trend about that individual.
•    In addition to using transactions such as tickets, requests, or work orders to assess customers’ needs, companies are also looking at customers’ product usage across the board (even their competitive buys) in ongoing pattern analysis.

The bottom line is that organizations are capturing more information about more things than ever before, and that this new realm of information is often more complex and represents more intricate situations than in the past. If this “big data” is captured and used properly, it enables an FSM organization to create the best possible experience for the customer, which can help influence loyalty and spark new business. This also means that organizations have the ability to capture structured and unstructured data—something VSI has been doing via its AppliedSocial layer in the VServiceManagement solution for years. So essentially, VSI’s big data strategy is impacted by the interest and maturity of each client and whether their big data strategy views their post-sales service offering as a component of a larger big data analytics solution or as the hub of one.

A key strength to VSI’s VServiceManagement solution is that it can be deployed via public, private, or hybrid cloud options, so the big data question automatically expands to take into account data that pure public cloud players have difficulty touching. The technology is VSI’s, and the vendor is not dependent upon another platform that may not have security privileges.

VServiceManagement’s dashboards are configurable to be able to incorporate data within the organizational context of each specific user. This allows executives, managers, and even line-level technicians to see analytics that are more meaningful to their specific role within the organization without the “noise” of extraneous data that may cloud key performance indicators (KPIs). Data driving these analytics can originate with VSM or be fed from external sources.

Additionally, VSM makes analytics available throughout the application, not simply through application dashboards, to provide service staff real-time access to information. For example, users can immediately view their FCR (First Call Resolution) rate for a customer in real time, directly within a service request. Trend analysis analytics like “Asset Downtime Versus Product Norms” can also be accessed directly at the point of service. And VMobile provides real-time analytic and KPI’s to field staff to allow them to see how they are performing against performance targets.

Read Part Two in this blog series for an excerpt from an interview with VSI’s executive vice president Kris Brannock, including her insights into how the company fills VSI’s functionality gaps, where the product’s “sweet spots” are, the company’s growth strategy, and how technology trends such as cloud and social factor into the equation.
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