Business Continuity in the Service Sector: Deploying Remote Assistance Tools Proves Key
Staff posted on July 16, 2020 |
A software company presents their challenges and solutions implementation onset by the pandemic.

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Having seen the early effects of the growing pandemic, global climate control solutions provider Munters identified an immediate need to leverage remote assistance to help serve customers and support both field and manufacturing operations. The company opted to roll out remote assistance to 200 staff across 22 countries, a deployment it completed in just two weeks. Sarah Nicastro, Field Service Evangelist, IFS, draws on this case study to explain how the service sector can quickly benefit from remote assistance tools both in the short and long term, without disrupting operations.

(Image courtesy of Munters.)
(Image courtesy of Munters.)

Industrial organizations have known for some time that they must embrace the opportunities offered by the fourth industrial revolution or accept to fall by the wayside. They are building more connected teams, data-driven operations, and faster production capabilities, and many have now even moved into aftermarket service contracts. For these organizations already making strides in their digital transformation journeys, ensuring business continuity is paramount.

This attitude to change is currently driving efficiencies for Munters, a global leader in energy-efficient and sustainable air treatment solutions. Recognizing early the effects of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, it identified the immediate need to leverage remote assistance to help serve customers and ensure continuity of both field and manufacturing operations.

When On-Site Visits are not a Possibility

Munters manufactures, sells and maintains specialist equipment for demanding industrial sectors where controlling temperature and humidity is mission-critical. With five production units in the United States and over 20 locations worldwide, the company’s business model relies heavily on completing on-site visits—including even before the initial installation of equipment.

To reduce reliance on site visits, the company looked to remote software tools to create functionality enabling teams to interface remotely with customers and improve efficiency by being able to perform remote resolution and diagnosis—a critical step in its journey to servitization.

The company wasted no time when it realized its servitization efforts could be in danger, creating a level of urgency to make remote assistance technology operational in the shortest window of time possible.

Problems was Solved—Just the Technology Changed

Munters’ goals were both to provide remote support to field technicians and to support a new manufacturing production line without sending experts to the site.

IFS Remote Assistance makes it possible for teams to be anywhere, instantly—this includes field technicians and third-line support using the solution on their mobile devices, as well as experts guiding the opening of the new production line using Vuzix smart glasses. It provides opportunities for remote customer support and resolution, remote diagnosis to increase first-time fix rates, better utilization of valuable resources, as well as more rapid employee training and knowledge transfer.

Merged Reality is the New Normal

Munters technicians can now take advantage of the features and hands-free collaboration opportunities offered by merged reality environments. This means users can collaborate and interact in real-time while telestrating, freezing images, using hand gestures and even adding real objects into the merged reality environment—whether that’s technician to third-line support, technician to customer, or expert to manufacturing facility.

With modern remote assistance tools, time to value can be rapid and what minimal user training is required is extremely intuitive. In the case of Munters, a pilot was underway in just six days and training took less than two hours. The company has now extended the solution to more than 200 users globally in just two weeks.

“What we’ve noticed as it relates to the employees adaptation to the change and introduction of IFS Remote Assistance is that the workforce in areas where travel was restricted were welcoming of this new way to work so that they could continue to do their jobs and serve our customers,” says Roel Rentmeesters, Director of Global Customer Service at Munters. “In this way, COVID-19 seems to have lowered or removed some barriers to change. What we’ve also noticed is that interest in use of IFS Remote Assistance expanded quite quickly internally—once we began rolling out the solution for service, we soon had interest from manufacturing, R&D, and other departments that took note of its usability.” 

Personally, What is Our Experience?

Roel Rentmeesters, Director of Global Customer Service at Munters.

Roel Rentmeesters, Director of Global Customer Service at Munters.

Working from home has been challenging for the team, with respect to the decline in opportunities to support our customers, as well as finding the best ways to communicate with them since visiting on-site wasn’t an option during lockdown. However, it’s given us better understanding as to what issues can be sorted out using online support, which has been cost effective and improving productivity given the multiple customers we can support in a day without a truck rolling out. Plus, the recordings of support sessions have been serving as a training mechanism for other technicians.  Overall, the team has been coping with the changes as best as they can, but they are certainly eager to return servicing our customers in-person as before. 

We plan to phase back into on-site visits as local regulations allow. The health and safety of our employees and customers is of upmost importance to us, and Munters has invested in PPE kits for the team, inclusive of hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, thermometers and clothes. Further, we are putting in place mechanisms to increase zero-touch access at our facilities, like door handles operated by foot, UVC lights installations, as well as adapting air flow and air conditioning systems – after all that is our core business. In addition to these investments, we’ve instructed technicians to perform daily body temperature checks and report movements if and when they go to a customer site (Munters has international travel restrictions which require executive approval).

As other businesses surely understand, this is a significant change to how we operate. Thankfully, the adjustment was made easier with the technology we’ve rolled out to the service organization. We use Microsoft Teams for communication, and IFS Remote Assistance for remote communication and support.

IFS Remote Assistance utilizes merged reality, effectively blending two real time video streams between two individuals in separate locations, on various mobile devices. Expert can be hands on and virtually reach out and touch what their customer or field technician sees in their field of view. They can telestrate, freeze images, use hand gestures, share pictures, or even add real objects such as specialist tools into this merged reality environment. We currently have 260 people registered in IFS Remote Assistance; majority are Field Service Engineers, but we also have members in Operations (plants) and R&D.

Launching was very quick and efficient! Our users were uploaded at once, and they were offered immediate access to training sessions. They were able to test the system over 2 weeks, within various time-zones (APAC, EMEA and Americas), allowing users to feel the application, and ask targeted questions about the solution. We’ve identified an IFS Remote Assistance Superuser in each group to accept initial support and change requests, who then pass these onto an expert who is teamed up with an IFS counterpart. We received excellent support from IFS both during setup, as well as ongoing. For example, we go through improvement suggestions from both sides, as well as open support requests; overall it has been a good experience.

A Business Continuity Tool Today, a Springboard for Growth Tomorrow

(Image courtesy of Munters.)
(Image courtesy of Munters.)
The example of Munters successfully adapting to unprecedented circumstances demonstrates not only how remote assistance technology can ensure business continuity during a global pandemic, but also the immense potential to further leverage the solution once business returns to a more normal state.

When considering how this technology can modernize operations, the benefits are clear to see. Efficiency gains come from the ability to perform maintenance inspections remotely, improve first-time fix rates as a result of remote diagnosis, reduce the number of technicians sent to sites and provide remote support to manufacturing facilities.

Why wait? Accelerate Servitization Now

These are just the internal operational gains. The question business leaders should now ask is not “how do we keep moving”—but “how do we grow from this.”

One of the greatest benefits of remote assistance technology is how it can equip businesses to bring their vision for servitization to life. Remote assistance can be instrumental in helping businesses reimagine how they engage and interact with customers, even long after the pandemic subsides.

Companies such as Munters that leverage the technology not simply to sustain but to innovate operations, facilitate knowledge transfer and differentiate service offerings will come out on the other side stronger than before.

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