In the second in a series of articles on outsourcing trends, Qcom managing director Neil Anderson considers why it is field engineering outsourcing in particular that many, if not most, technology manufacturers put at the heart of their technical services strategy.
While the outsourcing of technical services and support was once seen simply as a cost-saving alternative to in-house provision, it is now increasingly seen by B2B technology manufacturers and distributors as an essential partnership.
As I explored in my previous article, this shift is being driven by profound and wide-ranging market changes.
As the manufacturers’ technology becomes ever more sophisticated and ubiquitous, so it becomes an increasingly mission-critical part of their customers’ day-to-day operations. Technology downtime is no longer simply an inconvenience – in environments as diverse as operating theatres and car parks, supermarkets and manufacturing production lines, technology downtime can severely compromise, or even completely suspend, normal activity. Meanwhile end-user expectations are rising, competition is increasing, and customers are proving more and more willing to vote with their feet.
For all these reasons and more, technical service and support can no longer be treated as an afterthought – it sits front-and-centre as a core component of any technology solution, calling for careful planning and specialist provision.
And while outsourcing has always been viewed (usually correctly) as an efficient and cost-saving alternative to in-house provision, several decades of outsourcing experience have amply demonstrated that critical service level factors such as time to repair, first-time-fix, technology uptime, and end-user experience can also be improved by the outsourcers ability to build and operate 100% service focused operations.
The question for technology manufacturers therefore becomes not if they should outsource, but what they should outsource.
In an increasingly mature outsourcing market, it’s probably true to say that just about any service can today be provided by an outsource contractor or partner. Qcom’s service portfolio, for example, covers the entire pre-sales, sales and technology product lifecycle, providing a comprehensive whole-of-life solution for any technology company looking to outsource 100% of its technical services requirements.
While this kind of total outsource response to the challenges of technical service and support can suit any business, it is most commonly deployed by smaller and start-up technology companies. These are generally looking to create a large-scale support solution in a flexible, scalable and cost-effective way which can grow as their emerging technology develops and their customer base grows – and which keeps their engineers and other technical resources free for critical product research and development work.
For larger companies and more mature technology classes, a selective outsourcing strategy is more typical. By partially outsourcing – often known as selective outsourcing or rightsourcing – one or more technical services to Qcom, our manufacturer partners can resolve specific operational challenges.
And it is the nature of those challenges which defines exactly which services they look to outsource.
We generally identify five key challenges as being the main drivers of outsourcing to Qcom. These are, in no particular order: (i) controlling costs; (ii) improving service quality; (iii) managing fluctuations in demand; (iv) focusing technical resources; and (v) expanding geographic coverage. You can read more about these here, and download a white paper to explore them (and how outsourcing can address them) in more detail.
What unites them all is that the solution to each is, more often than not, to be found in field engineering outsourcing.
Field engineering in this context covers a broad portfolio of services which are ultimately delivered by Qcom’s unique nationwide network of field service engineers. Naturally that includes break-fix repair, but also preventative maintenance, installation, and service parts logistics.
These services are closely related and interconnected: the specialist resources required to carry out mission-critical break-fix repairs are also required for the preventative maintenance which will reduce future break-fix requirements, and also the correct installation (with configuration, end-user training and full logistics) required to effectively and efficiently roll new technology out into the market place.
More specifically, there are three critical challenges which outsourcing field engineering services help technology manufacturers address, and which explain why it is to field engineering that these companies turn to first when looking to maximise value and outcomes from their outsource strategy.
Arguably the biggest challenge of technical service and support provision is the fluctuation of demand. This can be predictable variation throughout the year, in response to seasonal pressures such as the pre-Christmas, Black Friday and Christmas periods in retail. Or it can be the unpredictable variation inherent in break-fix incidents, customer installations, unexpected software patching, and more. Either way, maintaining sufficient field engineering resources to handle the peaks of demand is likely to create unproductive slack during the corresponding troughs. By aggregating multiple outsourced field engineering contracts, the specialist provider can build the scale necessary to smooth out these peaks and troughs, passing the efficiency on to all its customers.
Closely related is the issue of coverage. Put simply, there is no ‘working from home’ in field engineering – it’s very much about boots on the ground! Achieving nationwide coverage with realistic response times and operational costs requires a genuinely nationwide field engineering network, something which further compounds the complications and costs of scale.
And, since ‘no man is an island’, these field engineers need support! The infrastructure requirements of vehicles, service management systems, helpdesk / customer engagement teams, forward stock locations, and more all add to the costs and complexities that technology companies look to divest through field engineering outsourcing.
And what about the field engineers themselves? Field engineers are not just fixing, maintaining and installing equipment – as often as not they are the frontline (and perhaps the only visible) representative of an entire technology brand. As such, field engineering calls for a very specific skillset – not just technical excellence but also a service mindset. A field engineering specialist like Qcom can recruit, train and develop its people with this specific blend in mind, whereas in-house engineers are often drawn from a more pureplay engineering, product development or workshop environment.
Another complexity is that not every job requires the same skillset. For this reason, Qcom employs four types of engineer in its field engineering network: professional services engineers; project engineers; hardware engineer; and technical support engineer. Again, this is an efficient mix requiring a scale of operations not easily emulated within an in-house team.
What all of these issues have in common is the fixed cost and management challenges they represent for any company whose core business is technology, not service.
While technology manufacturers can only succeed in competitive markets by fully focusing on the development, manufacture and distribution of technology products, a specialist technical service provider is free to focus 100% on the unique challenges of service and support. Through outsourced field engineering services, we can then pass those advantages on to the manufacturer in terms of improved service outcomes, enhanced brand reputation, lower costs, and more.
In the third and final article in this series I’ll look at how to decide if outsourcing field engineering services is for you, and how to go about making it a reality.
In the meantime, if you would like to discuss your technical service and support requirements, please do get in touch with the Qcom team on 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 to Qcom.