Servitization is a transformation journey that takes place in various areas of a company: organization, human resources, business model, field services, research and product development, and more. The introduction of new digital technologies is one of the areas you will have to face.
This work can be divided into steps. The first digital step towards servitization is certainly making your products “connected products”. Once this is done, you will also need to manage connected products in their after-production life cycle.
Why Connected Products?
For the provision of advanced services it is essential to know in what conditions your product is running: its operating status, its wear levels, its operating parameters, etc. You must also have this information continuously and in real time. Traditional VPN-based remote control systems, for instance, are not enough for this purpose. The product must always be connected and constantly send its operating data to a central system. It is therefore necessary to insert the appropriate IoT technologies (embedded board or gateway) into the product.
What data to collect?
To start, the data currently available on the PLC could be enough. In the future, in a process of continuous improvement, you may want to add additional sensors, to collect data needed to provide a better service. If your product does not have a PLC, you need to investigate which sensors could be added to measure the minimum variables needed for service delivery.
After-production Connected Products management
Once the Connected Product has been created, you will have to think about its management. This is a new need for a manufacturing company, not satisfied by any of the traditional information systems.
What does it mean to manage a connected product?
Managing a connected product in the after-production life cycle means:
- ensuring that once installed, the product is also connected; if connectivity is guaranteed by a cellular technology, this step is automatic; but if you have chosen a LAN or WiFi based connectivity, this step must be carried out by the installer or by the end user;
- associate the connected product to the customer record, through an activation procedure; in this way the data collected by the product can be associated to the customer who uses it;
- keep track of all the phases of the “after-production life cycle”: product installation, product first activation, the outcome of the installation test, the outcome of periodic tests, etc .; we deliberately talk about “after-production” life cycle and not “after-sales” because in a servitization perspective the sale is continuous, and starts right where the production ends;
- collect data from the product and transform it into useful information for your company:
- service department can have information on product’s health, its wear and useful life, and access all the diagnostic data useful to speed up and optimize support and field operations;
- R&D department can analyze the most frequent defects and improve the design of future models, or check if the users use the product as expected and thus adapt the product to their needs;
- sales department can analyze the actual use of the product by the customer to be able to suggest new models, or new sales options.
Connected Product is only the first step
Thanks to IoT technologies you have created a connected product, you have started selling it, customers have installed and activated it, the product sends its operating data to your central information system, the data is transformed into useful information for your company, and you keep track of all the most important events concerning the “after-production” life of the product.
At this point you can declare the first step completed. You can also record some important achievements:
- you have validated IoT technologies also in the field and not only in your R&D department;
- you have validated the distribution and installation process of connected products;
- you have created a widespread awareness in your company of what it means to have data from connected products;
- you have created value in your company, thanks to the new information available.
The main value of this first step, fundamentally, is to have new information available.
You are therefore ready for the second step: creating value from services. We will see it in a future post.