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

kris_small.jpgIn a blog post last week, I talked about Vertical Solutions’ (VSI) offerings for field service management (FSM), including the company’s customer profile, partners for extending the solution, and VSI’s big data capabilities. To expand on the company’s value prop and positioning, we recently had an in-depth candid discussion with VSI’s executive vice president (EVP) Kris Brannock.

Ms. Brannock focuses on the strategy and direction of VSI’s product suite as well as establishing strategic business partnerships. For her business and community accomplishments, Ms. Brannock was nominated as one of Cincinnati’s “top forty under 40” up-and-coming business leaders, and speaks regularly at technology and business oriented events across the United States. Here are some highlights of our interview with her.

TEC: What are the evident remaining white spaces (functional gaps) in your best-of-breed FSM/CRM suite and how do you plan to fill them (e.g., parts pricing, parts planning, assembly instructions, etc.)? That is to say, how do you beat the competitors that offer more complete suites?
KB: The answer is simple: we either integrate or build based on demand that is tempered by our strategic vision. Due to the nature of our focus on complex environments, we hit four key areas: contact center, scheduling, heavy service management, and mobile. Areas such as parts pricing, parts planning, etc. are touch-points within parallel technologies with which we integrate and partner today. These would be the product configurators, visualization tools, e-commerce storefronts, etc. (see Figure 3). We know our strengths include in-depth service knowledge as many of our employees come from large service organizations. We couple this with a non-proprietary, SaaS-enabled platform that was designed to quickly enable partners, resellers, and customers a place to meet their verticalized and/or specific needs.


Figure 3 – VSI Apps Strategy

In a nutshell, we beat competitors by doing the following two things:

First, we partner with those ERP organizations, integrators, and resellers that have clients looking for new, innovative ways to generate revenue. Offering field service to customers is a given. Aligning a service organization with companies’ core revenue goals, and putting post-sales service as a key component of growth is strategic. These partners can help with this vision. For example, we have one customer that substantially increased its manufacturer maintenance revenues when it experienced a more than 300-percent increase in top-line revenue during its first few years of deployment. Many of our partner’s clients would be thrilled to achieve such results.

Second, we keep our eye on ways to increase our customers’ revenues through technology. Would it be helpful to have a fully integrated VoIP solution coupled with our collaboration tool for field techs to communicate with dispatchers or customers based on location, drive time, estimated time of arrival (ETA), contractual obligations, and more?

TEC: VSI is touted to have several differentiating traits (depicted in figure 4 below). Can you please illustrate some concrete examples of where your guidance/compliance and multiple tiers of workforce management (WFM) work well?
KB: We have a customer in the home services business that uses our solutions to manage both its internal call center and its field force—our strength in both guidance and WFM have enabled the company to improve multiple processes. Order intake is a particularly challenging problem for home services firms because the caller—often a homeowner—usually has limited plumbing/electrical knowledge and must describe his or her problem to a non-technical customer service representative (CSR). Previously, our customer devoted hours of training to help CSRs understand plumbing and electrical scenarios so they could capture relevant information for the tech.

However, if the reported problem differed from the actual problem, the company had to dispatch a different tech with the correct certifications, equipment, or parts needed to make the fix. By deploying VServiceManagement, the company’s CSRs are now able to capture the right information in a methodical and efficient manner via the decision-tree workflow process. The CSR information transfers to an automated workflow in VSM developed by the customer, who makes decisions based on the skills, parts, equipment, and certifications required, matched with the tech’s geographic location and workload. (Note that VServiceManagement enables customers to develop these workflows without requiring custom programming services or heavy IT involvement—this particular customer in the home services business has created dozens of workflows to streamline service management functions.)

Scheduling and dispatch issues were also resolved with VServiceManagement: the company’s prior manual processes relied on dispatchers to make educated guesses on how many calls a tech could handle in a day within a set geographic region. The dispatcher had to match customers with techs who had the right skills, parts, and equipment. From the completion of one call to the dispatching of the next, the field techs were experiencing downtime of between 18 and 24 minutes. After deploying VServiceManagement, the company reduced the turn time between calls to less than two minutes.


Figure 4 – VSI Differentiators

TEC: What is your growth strategy in terms of geography, verticals, functional footprint, etc.?
KB: Our mission for our internally developed solutions is to enable our customers to drive revenue, build customer relationships, and capture valuable information needed to develop and improve products, services, and patient care. We excel in providing strong workflow and business process management (BPM) for very complex service environments, and emphasize integration with both external applications and internal systems. We develop flexible solutions that do not require expensive custom programming or developer-intensive modifications, and that deliver immediate, feasible solutions.

Our mission for customers building on our platform is to create the specific, vertical, service-oriented solutions that they need and that are unavailable in today’s marketplace. By developing on our Vertical Services Platform (VSP), companies can take advantage of social and BPM technologies, and create a host of affiliated applications tailored for their specific vertical market. Companies no longer have to start from the ground up—with VSP, they can get 70 percent or more of the capabilities they need, and quickly develop an ecosystem of tailored solutions that enable them to seize market opportunities.

We are increasingly focused on verticalizing our solutions into markets that need our BPM and service approach, including healthcare (as mentioned above). We are working with numerous partners that are using our VSP to expand into various vertical markets, including GPS solutions to extend machine-to-machine (M2M) capabilities. We are excited about our growth with our ERP alliances. We are evaluating a number of significant partnership opportunities with home healthcare providers. We are extremely enthused about the number of our partners that are interested in working with us to build visionary solutions on our platform.

TEC: Is social media a requirement for your target market and what are you doing in that regard?
KB: Social media is a requirement for any post-sales service provider in this era, and our solutions support external social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. But we believe a more important aspect of social for our customers is internal social support, or “applied social.” VSI’s solutions incorporate applied social techniques such as wikis, collaboration, and tribal knowledge bases that enable employees to work together to solve clients’ issues faster and more efficiently. Users can “friend” more than just people—they can “friend” data too, such as service incidents based on a particular product, interactions of a particular customer, or any other piece of data tracked by the company. Managers can “follow” employees, specific clients, products, or issues so that important information on every interaction will be “pushed” to their attention. This key differentiator will propel some customer service organizations far ahead of their competitors while making others literally go out of business.

TEC: The same question as above for multi-tenant cloud deployments?
KB: Multi-tenant service centers are a hub of business activity, touching multiple business units and even multiple clients. While some business processes and databases can be shared among these various groups, most contact centers have complex data management needs that require segmentation. VSI’s systems offer an easy-to-use data segmentation functionality to create multiple partitions and views of data by individual clients, business units, or entities. Our robust data segmentation enables contact centers to create customized workflows, business processes, and nomenclature for each entity without expensive programming.

TEC: What is keeping you up at night, who/what do you fear the most in the market?
KB: I’d say we experience more frustration than fear. We see so many organizations using the native FSM module of their ERP solution simply because the boxes next to FSM functionality are ticked off; many of these deployments simply are not working. There’s a disjoint between the executives who sign off on an ERP solution and the directors and managers who actually have to run post-sales service divisions or organizations. These directors know that strategic service initiatives take more than capturing data fields on the screen with simple email messages that shoot out based on thresholds.

If we do have a fear, it’s that FSM groups either struggle and settle with their ERP solution or choose a solution that might have high-end scheduling optimization capabilities, but no mechanism or even knowledge of capturing lost third-party vendor warranty data. The inability to act on these data is a tangible loss costing FSM organizations millions each year when they have the potential to switch from a cost center to a profit center. (See Vertical Solutions’ blog post on this subject).

Related Reading:

Just How Smart Is Your Scheduler? (April 2013)

Inside Look at the Success of Cloud Field Service Provider ServiceMax—Part 2 (April 2013)

TOA Technologies Raises Significant New Funds to Expand FSM Space (July 2013)

Vertical Solutions Inc.—All About Field Service: Part One (August 2013)
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