In the third of a series of articles on outsourcing field engineering services, we look at how to decide when it’s the right time to outsource – and then how to find the best field engineering outsource partner for your business.
In recent articles, we’ve explored how profound changes in B2B technology markets have driven a widespread shift towards the outsourcing of technical services.
As technology products and systems becomes ever more sophisticated and ubiquitous, so they become increasingly mission critical. In environments as diverse as operating theatres and car parks, supermarkets and manufacturing production lines, technology downtime can severely compromise, or even completely suspend, operations. At the same time end-user expectations are rising, competition is increasing, and customers are proving more and more willing to vote with their feet.
These factors present significant technical support challenges for technology manufacturers and distributors – many (if not most) of which seek at least part of the solution in the outsourcing of field engineering and related services: break-fix repair; preventative maintenance; installation; and service parts logistics.
So how does a technology manufacturer or distributor decide when the time is right to outsource field engineering support? And once they do, how do they identify the best field engineering outsource partner for their business?
When weighing the benefits of outsourced field service support vs existing in-house provision, there are two primary factors to assess: the cost benefit analysis; and the strategic / operational advantages.
Given that a high proportion of outsourcing projects begin with a desire to reduce or better manage costs, an accurate cost analysis is essential. Here it is important to understand that an accurate cost analysis is not simply a matter of comparing the current annual cost of running your in-house function with quotes from outsource providers. You can read more here about our simple four-step checklist for a comprehensive and accurate outsourcing cost analysis.
But that cost analysis, no matter how accurate, is far from the complete picture. There are any number of powerful strategic and operations advantages which might make outsourcing the right thing to do even if it wouldn’t reduce your costs – and perhaps even if it might cost more!
You can click here to read more about the quality, cost and operational benefits of outsourced technical service, and the pros and cons of outsourcing vs in-house provision.
Ultimately though, if you do decide that it’s time to find an outsource field engineering support partner, how then do you identify the company that will best meet your requirements and support your specific company objectives?
We would suggest that the following four factors should feed into that assessment.
Put simply, can they do what you need them to? Initially it might be tempting to look for a pureplay field engineering specialist, 100% focused on break-fix repair and preventative maintenance. But in our experience, successful long-term technical support partners almost always grow and evolve over time.
What might start as a contract for the delivery of one service can quickly expand as other areas of potential value are identified. Alternatively, there can be huge value in having a partner who can step up on an ad hoc basis to meet unexpected projects or situations. A full-service technical services partner should be able to meet all these requirements, growing with you and supporting changes in your business on a year-by-year or even just a week-by-week basis.
So, in addition to assessing the scope and scale of their field engineering capability, you might also look for additional service capabilities such as: project management; back-to-base workshop repair; logistics, fulfilment and the warehousing of inventory; warranty management; site surveys, configuration and installation; product trials and customer demos.
2 Service features
But when it comes to assessing capability, don’t forget that the devil really is in the detail.
Be prepared to ask whether nationwide coverage really mean nationwide coverage? If there are any exclusions, what are they?
What are their call logging and reporting systems? Can the company support extended hours and seven-day requirements if they arise? Critically, how much can they scale up and down as required to meet your ongoing (and often unpredictable) seasonal and cyclical demand?
How do they train their engineers, and then keep them trained, on fast-changing technology products? And do they employ different specialisms within their team – field service engineers, project engineers, hardware engineers, technical support engineers, and technical couriers for example – or is everyone simply a jack-of-all-trades?
And crucially, do they actually PAYE employ those engineers?
3 Track record
Sometimes the hardest question to answer is not what they do, but how they do it. Here, experience and track record can be your best guide.
First, have they previously worked on the equipment you need supporting, or similar technology? The key differentiator might not be the technology itself but the environment in which it is installed. So, if your technology supports industrial automation, have their engineers got experience of production line technologies and the factory environment?
More generally, can they point to a long track record, not necessarily in your sector or technology type but more generally as a technical services and support partner with diverse clients and technology types over a long period of time? Longstanding commercial relationships and testimonials will tell you more about the quality and reliability of their work than any number of websites, glossy brochures and promotional films.
Ultimately, track record and reputation are likely to be leading factors in identifying who will make the best field engineering outsource partner for your business. Accepting that NDAs are often a barrier to full disclosure in outsource partnerships, companies should still be able to provide relevant contacts for references able to give a first-hand account of the service quality and customer experience.
4 Easy to work with
One of the first questions you will want to ask those references is “are they good to work with?” The best field engineering outsource partner for your business will almost certainly be the one that best integrates with your existing team and operations, reliably delivers the results that it promises, and provides a seamless service such that neither your own people nor your customers really notice the ‘outsource’ factor at all!
If implemented correctly, all of that will lift the service burden from your own team, reduce your own management costs, and increase efficiency and outcomes right across the board.
Particular attention should be paid to the onboarding procedures, which will set the platform and tone for this ongoing relationship. As you get ready to put ‘your brand in their hands’, you need to be sure that their due diligence and preparations will rigorous, and that critical factors which can make or break a project, such as real-world and significant experience of managing TUPE undertakings, are in place.
It is to onboarding, TUPE, and related issues that we will turn our attention in the fourth and final article in this series, which will look at how to turn your field service outsourcing plans into an effective reality.
If you would like to find out whether Qcom could be the right field service outsourcing partner for your business, please get in touch with us firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01905 827650. Or click here to start reading more about the many advantages of outsourcing field service and support with Qcom.