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Get back in the kitchen, Alan: The future of field service
by Euan Matthews

Last week a reasonably expensive number of floorboards started to warp in my kitchen (well, more specifically, cup).  Floorboards do this when they’re exposed to moisture – not a mishandled third G&T of the day kind of moisture, but more the leaking pipe kind.  After a bit of rummaging behind the sink I found said leak.  Immediately I switched off the water at the mains, called Alan (my plumber) and started to consider how much this was all going to cost me.

During Alan’s successful repair visit, I was bemoaning the fact that the leak had obviously gone unnoticed for a few days and how, if we had a smart water meter, it would have noticed an abnormal usage of water at night-time and notified me that there may be a leak. That alone would have been useful.

Now throw 5G into the mix and the Internet of Things. What if my smart water meter knew who my plumber was, and my plumber had a service booking piece of tech that my water meter could talk to? It could then report a leak directly to the plumber, book an emergency call out, then send a notification to my phone telling me to turn the water off, and that the plumber would be calling at 3pm. 

Great. Except I’m on a conference call then that I really can’t miss or reschedule.  But that’s OK, I’ve got a smart house with a smart doorbell camera, smart locks on every door in the house, and smart security cameras dotted around the house. Alan’s booking system sends a facial ID of him to me, which I then upload into my home security system specifying expected time of arrival, departure, rooms he is allowed to access, then this sends these details to Alan’s phone so that when he approaches the doors it auto-unlocks. If he were to stray into another room, then cameras would tell me and I’d be able to say ‘get back in the kitchen, Alan’ over the intercom system (or maybe it would do it itself actually). Then it would tell me when he had left.

This may either sound utopian or dystopian, but it is not that far-fetched as the component parts exist right now:

  • Smart doorbell cameras are here (Nest, Ring, etc.)
  • Smart internal and external security cameras are here (with facial recognition)
  • Smart locks are here
  • Devices unlocking things is here (Apple just released a beta-version of software enabling your iPhone to lock/unlock/start your car[1])
  • Connected appliances are increasing in prevalence (just think about your router, washing machine, cooker, boiler, fridge, freezer – whatever – reporting faults themselves and arranging service visits)
  • The ability to auto-report an incident is here (think ADT and home security monitoring)
  • The ability to connect customers directly to appointment booking systems is here (ContactEngine does it!), so it’s not too far a stretch to also directly connect a device in the same way

What is missing is all the vendors of these different products/capabilities working to a common standard – although even that is rumoured to be happening now.[2] Once that happens, and with 5G and IoT exploding, I don’t think this future is that far off in the distance.

And what does this mean for the future of field services? Well, no more missed appointments, and probably fewer service visits as devices/appliances will be much better at fixing problems themselves. And if ever there is another pandemic, you could complete home visits without having to have any human contact. And, perhaps best of all, no customer getting irritated with having to stay at home all day just to let you in.

Bring on the future. In the meantime, I am left to ponder one of life’s most important questions – wooden floor or tiles for the kitchen?

 

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[1] https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/5/21125384/apple-carkey-unlock-car-iphone-apple-watch-digital-key-ios-13-4

[2] https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/18/21027890/apple-google-amazon-smart-home-standard-zigbee-connected-ip-project

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