18/06/20

Building a new normal: Technical services pivotal to implement & support essential technology

Marc Sanderson

As is so often the case with freshly-minted phrases, it seems that no one can quite agree what the ‘new normal’ actually means; what it will look like; or indeed how important a concept it will prove to be.

Of course much of this is down to uncertainty about the future course of the Covid-19 pandemic itself. From speculation over vaccines and herd immunity to whether an economic recovery might be v-, u- or even w-shaped, the future looks as unpredictable now as at any time in most living memories.

But one of the few predications it does seem safe to make is that technology will play a huge role in whatever the ‘new normal’ actually turns out to be.

Digital and online technologies are already playing a key role in our response: from online shopping to track-and-trace apps; from click-and-collect to the race for new medical equipment. Virtually all of our social, cultural and economic lives have been lived through Zoom, Teams, YouTube, Instagram and more.

While everyone is hoping that in some regards our ‘new normal’ will return to look at least something like our old normal, the pandemic and post-pandemic planning that is going on around the world seem certain to cement, and indeed accelerate, our reliance on these technologies.

Of course, that places huge pressure on the companies who will be expected to manufacture, and in many cases invent, a lot of the technology products we will rely on.

Critically, it will place an equally large pressure on the technical service and support specialists who will be needed to implement these solutions and then keep them running.

The retail 'new normal'

The rush to technology

The technologies we are talking about here really do permeate every economic sector and aspect of our lives.

In retail, the anticipated 10-year switch to a cashless society has happened overnight, and contactless payment looks certain to cement its position as the preferred method of customers and retailers alike.

Meanwhile supermarkets are accelerating their investment in self-scan and self-checkout technology, and going further again the sector is looking with renewed urgency at new mobile solutions to allow shoppers to use their own devices for scanning, paying and even queuing, for even greater safety (or, just as importantly, perceived safety).

Hospitality is preparing for fundamental changes in almost everything it does. No one is sure how strongly the trend to takeaway and home delivery will endure, but a range of new delivery systems from self-service boxes to drones look certain to stay.

The in-restaurant experience is likely to become even more unfamiliar. As well as the physical screens and widely spaced tables, diners are likely to find plastic menus being discarded in favour of systems that work on their own phones. Click-and-collect boxes, already a familiar site in supermarkets and other retail and public environments, will start to appear in a host of food service applications, such as these innovative double-access lockers designed to minimise interaction between staff and customers.

The relentless trend towards online shopping looks certain to stay, which will further increase investments in supply chain technologies like robot picking, conveyors and warehouse automation – as well as in emerging innovations such as drone and automated vehicle delivery.

Public transport has already found itself on the frontline as lockdown restrictions are eased across the world. Contactless payment and ticketing will become the norm here too, and new considerations are having to be made about the location of payment devices away from drivers and other staff.

This may well also be the spur that pushes driverless public transport to new levels of public acceptance, as companies look for new ways to protect their staff from frontline contact. And for private motorists, parking meters across the UK have already started switching to contactless or mobile payment only.

Of course the medical technology (meditech) sector speaks for itself. Meditech was already big business with a global market worth in excess of €426bn. It is also immensely innovative, responsible for more patent applications than any other sector (ahead of both digital communication and computer technology). Although growth in the sector had been relative sluggish in recent years there seems certain to be huge political pressure for increased investment leading to even more innovation.

Even sectors not traditionally at the forefront of technology innovation, such as education, are looking at technology and digital- or (hybrid-) based service delivery as a post-Covid reality.

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The need for speed

In every one of these sectors, the economic and operational impact of Covid-19 has been little short of catastrophic. Working technology solutions are are needed urgently to avoid even more profound and lasting damage.

That represents a huge challenge for the technology sector. All this new equipment needs to be manufactured, trialled and tested to ensure safety and operational robustness. Pilot projects will be condensed and intensified, and huge nationwide rollouts will need to be managed. In many cases concepts will need to be turned into marketable products in record time.

Much of this demand falls on the technical service and support teams who are tasked with the pivotal role of turning customer demand and product supply into an on-the-ground reality.

As a specialist technical service and aftermarket support outsource partner for global technology manufacturers across all these sectors, Qcom is seeing a significant uplift in demand for a full suite of pre-sales and service support functions including:

  1. Product demonstrations and tests

From on-site demonstrations to extended pilot projects, this is a vital step – particularly with new and innovative technologies – to ensure the correct application and specification for each customer.

  1. Site surveys and wi-fi audits

No two environments are exactly the same, making site surveys essential to ensure frictionless and right-first-time installations. A comprehensive survey of each site will make sure the right equipment is installed in the optimal locations, with well-planned provisions for power, data and other requirements – especially making sure your technology can communicate optimally across a network with full coverage and free from interference.

  1. Configuration

Technology units typically require commissioning with either a standard configuration or a bespoke setup, including user-defined items such as passwords. The process can include loading and configuring application software, battery charging, accessory fitting and pre-delivery inspection and testing to avoid dead-on-arrival incidents.

  1. Installation

Fast, widescale and cost-effective rollouts require a flexible and nationwide engineering team working to proven project methodologies. Qcom’s tiered service allows for technical consultants to lead on the installation of higher-end technology products, while technical couriers implement the delivery and installation of simpler devices.

  1. Reconfiguration and re-installation

The demands from reconfiguring, moving or reinstalling existing technology can be as significant as installing new equipment from scratch. The requirement can range from installing new software to physically repositioning units to cope with new customer flows in busy public transport, retail, hospitality and leisure environments.

  1. Training

End-user training will be essential for staff who are already preparing themselves for a bewildering level of change to their familiar working environment. To ensure the correct operation and expected customer-experience for any technology product, training is typically tiered for product users, super users and onsite technical support staff.

technical helpdesk

Mission critical

As our reliance on technology grows across all walks of life, so aftermarket support becomes ever more critical.

Put simply, when your entire operation is reliant on technology for legal compliance, staff and customer safety and core functions such as payment (for example), downtime can be catastrophic.

This can place massive strains on in-house technical teams resourced to meet a much lower level of criticality, particularly when service level agreements are increased to meet these new demands.

And the requirement isn’t just for a few additional service engineers. An effective after-market service and support capability capable of meeting rapid-turnaround and mission-critical requirements needs to provide a comprehensive suite of services.

  1. Customer helpdesk and technical support

In a mission-critical environment, telephone support needs to be more than simply a way to book an engineer visit. With higher demand and plenty of physical restrictions on site visits, an effective technical filter function is essential to allow customers to engage with a technical specialist who can help them resolve their issue right away. Qcom technical filter services, for example, can resolve as many as 75% of problems without the need for a site visit.  And of course, out-of-hours and 7-day service is increasingly important in an economy desperate to make up for lost time.

  1. Field repair

No matter how effective your technical filter and telephone support, on-the-ground support is required. This requires comprehensive local engineer coverage and the flexibility to expand or contract to meet fluctuating demand depending on how the economy responds over the coming months. With the recruitment, training and infrastructure pressures this brings, this can be difficult for any manufacturer, and particularly one based overseas, to establish quickly and run efficiently.

  1. Preventative maintenance

Nothing minimises downtime better than preventative maintenance to avoid equipment failure in the first place. Support teams battling to meet break-fix demands can easily let maintenance schedules slide. Of course customers can be equally to blame in times of economic downturn, seeing this as a cost that can be avoided. Quite simply, it can’t.

  1. Inventory and logistics

Getting the right engineers to the right place is the first part of the battle; getting the right parts, components and swap out units to site at the right time is equally important. That requires an infrastructure of forward stock locations, inventory and asset tracking systems, courier relationships and more.

Going the extra mile…

Despite these many difficulties, it is hard not to conclude that we are fortunate to be facing this situation in an era when technology is sufficiently advanced to help us meet some, if not all, of the challenges.

Whether it is through faster implementation and adoption of existing technologies, the modification and redeployment of technologies into new uses, or the rapid development of entirely new solutions, the technology sector is already playing a critical role in our response to Covid-19.

But if technology’s pivotal role in the ‘new normal’ is to be the success it very much needs to be, every company involved the process will need to carefully consider the technical service and aftermarket support ramifications of this intensification.

Qcom has more than four decades of experience in this field, providing the technical, operational and service excellence required to help technology manufacturers meet their technical services and aftermarket support challenges.

Whether you need to increase, outsource, restructure or launch new technical and aftermarket support services, please call +44(0)1905 827650 or email outsourcing@qcom.co.uk to discuss your requirements in confidence.

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