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Enabling IoT for your simPRO-powered business

20th Jun 2018

In a series of articles I have talked about IoT and the massive potential it holds for field service businesses, as well as what to do in order to start preparing your business for IoT.

Just to quickly recap, I am hugely excited about IoT and what it means for the industry. The potential to be able to completely flip many painful parts of field service companies’ business models on their head by being able to receive live data feeds from all the equipment that is maintained and needs to be monitored, is huge! Plus, doing so means that we can spend more time focused on problems, less time looking at things that are perfectly fine, scale up operations without taking on more overhead, provide much better customer service and access even more information.

So, whether you have read the previous articles or have come straight here after hearing something to about this IoT thing (or perhaps you’re clued up and are looking for how to make your plans a reality), this article is about walking you through some practical steps to get from where you are now to being up and running with a simPRO IoT enabled business.

First things first, go back to 'Preparing your business for IoT' and make sure you are clear about what problem you are trying to solve and why you are trying to solve it. Think about how this is going to change your business model and how that can give you a competitive advantage.

Now lets move into the more specific and practical aspect of how to get that going. The simPRO IoT platform is for field service contractors and facility managers alike. It has been designed to move beyond simply looking at graphs to actually automating workflows in the business and doing something with the data. The platform allows much better visibility on what's happening with equipment, predicting future problems for planning or imminent issues for attention, data sharing between contractors and customers for better collaboration and triggering events based on what is happening live.

With that broad scope in mind, If you are a field service contractor it pays to stop and think about whether you are working on sites that you alone service or whether there is any power in collaborating with other contractors in different disciplines. The simPRO IoT platform allows for multiple systems to work together to pool IoT data and share it across systems to give you a bigger view, and your customers better visibility. Alternatively you can use it as a unique value add to help upsell your services to the client, for now!

If you are the site owner / facility manager, have a think about who is going to own the data i.e. which system does it originate from, who needs to see it and who needs the information shared with them in order to effectively service your site. These decisions will all impact how you should deploy the system and how you engage service contractors to carry out maintenance and repairs.

Next we need to consider how we are going to get the information from the equipment in the first place. Is the equipment already equipped with sensors? Can those sensors be configured to transmit to your system? What is the format of those transmissions? How are those transmissions to be sent? On the simPRO side we have an engine that we can add different formats and protocols of data to pretty easily, but if it's one we haven’t seen before it will need to be setup. Perhaps the asset doesn’t already have sensors in it?

What we have seen a lot of is existing facilities, with lots of equipment that is not IoT ready, and a big quote to replace it all to get there. Obviously that’s not ideal, so we have partnered with sensor manufacturers who can retrofit sensors to equipment without even turning it off!

These sensors transmit using LoRa (a low bandwidth long range frequency) to a gateway installed on site. These gateways work up to 30 kilometers away under the right conditions, but are certainly more than capable of working across any metropolitan site. However, even if this seems more like the scenario you would be working in, its important to think a little about what kind of sensor is needed. The temperature sensor you put into a room for ambient temperature compared with one you put into an oven obviously needs to be a little different. Luckily we are also there to help with that and have come up with some out-of-the-box solutions for some tricky situations.

So, we know what problem we are trying to solve, we have a solid business model and have managed to pick up a new customer. The equipment is ready to transmit to us either with retrofitted sensors or existing sensors. Now, assuming you have enabled the IoT functionality in simPRO you can now configure the gateway for the site within the system. The gateway is the device on site that is there to receive the transmissions directly from the sensors and forward them through to us - again we have options here if you don't have something already ready to go. Once thats configured simPRO will either start subscribing to the data stream or the gateway will start transmitting to simPRO. Major milestone reached, the data is now streaming into simPRO!

Next step, we need to know which sensors relate to which assets in simPRO. This can either be done on site from a mobile device whilst the technician is still installing the equipment, or can be done in the office. Now we can start seeing those pretty graphs and dashboards come alive with some information. One of the major problems we have seen with IoT deployments to date is that’s where it ends.

In simPRO however, we can now start actually getting some actionable insights and automated scenarios occurring. Within the system there is a powerful rules engine which can trigger alerts, emails, SMS or jobs based on a whole range of different events such as: a reading going out of (or into) range for a defined period of time, or, the sum or average of all readings within a specified time window having reached or not reached thresholds or ranges.

So take for example the temperature of a cold room has become too hot for the last hour. Instead of waiting for the customer to notice everything is going off, you can have a technician automatically dispatched from the system to go to site to make necessary repairs before all that waste occurs, by having that live data feed. The same situation can result for a range of different things, like if the oven in a kitchen is not hot enough, the water temperature is out of range, a fire panel has reported a problem or a plant item is vibrating too much! The examples are endless, and just imagine how valuable it would be to be able to monitor that and get a notification or SMS your customer and dispatch technicians proactively. In the system we can simply configure various triggers on assets in simPRO to automate all of these outcomes, as well as record the readings from all these sensors for future reporting and monitoring.

On top of that, while monitoring the trend of readings coming from various equipment, the system also keeps track of when it believes the readings will permanently trend out of range and therefore a replacement could be warranted. Lets get that quote out and into the budget well ahead of time!

Through clustering, simPRO will also help notify you if our machine learning algorithms have picked up an imminent failure, before it has even happened!

Through a mapping and sharing process; site, asset and sensor data can be linked and shared across multiple systems to give facility managers and owners a birds eye view of what is happening across all of their monitored equipment regardless of who is working on it. This can also be shared amongst the service providers to provide a better level of service, collaboration and insight across all contractors working on equipment.

There’s no doubt that to implement IoT into a field services business is quite a change. A change that is as exciting as it is daunting to the industry and to individual businesses. It involves thinking through a unique point of difference or problem you can solve, thinking through the commercial aspects of how you will benefit from the change and how you are going to implement it - all things that take time.

However, on the other side of the coin, it’s also a fantastic and rare opportunity to do so and the benefits are huge. Large, forward thinking organisations are already working in this space and there are a lot of smart people progressing the technology at a considerable pace.

According to a survey found in The Service Council’s 2015 report, ‘IoT - Powered Field Service’: 55% of executives working in field service stated that IoT will become a fundamental part of the industry, 82% believe early adopters will gain a competitive advantage, 15% already have a strategy in place and 45% believe that IoT will have a bigger impact than any other technology for field service companies.

There is a window of opportunity where innovative and creative organisations can get in front of the curve and take advantage of what IoT has to offer. How long will it be before its expected that this level of service and information is made available to your customers from your competitors?

Partnering with simPRO on your IoT strategy allows field service companies to have an out-of-the-box solution, and gives you the grunt to make meaningful and effective improvements to your business and your customers’ satisfaction.