It’s easy to see autonomous vehicles as some far-flung future tech, but the reality is, autonomous cars are on the road today, and each year, between new entrants, acquisitions among traditional auto makers, and fierce public interest, we are closer to a driverless world than you’d think.

We already know where the first business entrants will come from: Logistics, delivery, and transportation services. An eclectic group of brands, from Google to Dominos have already dipped their toes into driverless vehicles. Big rigs are right around the corner as well, and from there, attention turns to other industries that operate fleets of vehicles. Field Service, of course, being a somewhat less obvious next step.

There will likely be some consternation about leaning into autonomous vehicles in service, since, until we start building robo-technicians, a human will need to accompany the vehicle, anyway, but it doesn’t take long to see the framework of positive use cases start to materialize. What becomes instantly apparent is that businesses will need to start thinking about what impacts this will have on their business, even today.

Here are four key ways that service will change because of autonomous vehicles:

Your car is now your office.

When my wife and I moved from our city apartment into our suburban house, one off the most difficult changes was adjusting to the car commute vs. the train. In spite of the unique odors and the frequent delays, the train was a place where I could shoot off a few e-mails, look at some data, or, more likely, scroll idly through Twitter for 25 minutes. An automated card allows all of that and more, with a bigger work space and added privacy. For technicians, this means that notes and back-office utilities can easily be handled not at the end of the day, but when traveling from job to job.

For that to work effectively, of course, organizations need to have a committed cloud infrastructure for their service management solution. The software needs to be accessible anywhere, synchronized immediately, and available across devices. Organizations should be laying the groundwork for that today, of course, since cloud-enabled service software is overwhelmingly the tool of choice among top ranked service firms.

The new warehouse is on wheels.

Imagine this scenario: You’re a technician on a job site, and you have a part in your van that a colleague needs for a repair job across town. Rather than stop your job, hop in the car, and bring it to them, your car is summoned to deliver the part, then return to you. This is done in half the time it would take for your colleague to drive to you and back, and doesn’t take any time for you at all. This is the future of parts management. Moreover, parts can be quickly dispersed from a central warehouse without a technician needing to go off-site, delivered by a car, or perhaps a drone, depending on the size and scope. After initial diagnosis, call for the parts you need, and begin dismantling the current system. The parts will be waiting for you outside. This will limit downtime, improve first-time fix rates, and save technicians even more time.

Automating parts management will of course require oversight into the status of your parts inventory, yet another capability that needs to be in every organizations’ toolbelt today. Parts management isn’t just knowing where your inventory is stored, either; It’s an understanding of how to forecast demand, anticipate bottlenecks, and understand the ebb and flow of your business. Doing parts management intelligently is easy today, so why not start now?

The importance of security will skyrocket.

Security has traditionally been one of the most overlooked functions of digital transformation. Hacked e-mails and service details leaking are bad enough, but when you lose control of two tons of metal, a problem very quickly graduates into a potential catastrophe.

The infrastructure to manage that sort of security is only beginning to come into existence today, but it underscores the necessity of secure systems that update frequently and reliably. You don’t want the software infrastructure guiding your vehicles to be susceptible to takeover. The big piece to keep in mind here has to do with what partner will power your autonomous vehicle, as you’ll likely be employing their proprietary guidance software. It’s a guarantee that the corporate landscape governing that will not be the same today as it will be in ten years, but it’s easy to see which players are proving to be reckless today compared to those with more restraint. Keep an eye on those companies who take care to get it right.

Fleet management will be a day 1 requirement, and it will need to change.

Every company today should have a fleet management solution anyway, but by the time autonomous vehicles are making their way into service, there will no longer be an option. Customers already demand smaller service windows, and more reliable traffic patterns provided by fewer fallible human drivers means that those windows can be generated, but only if you have the necessary tools to do so effectively.

Route optimization will further come as a necessity, making sure techs’ vehicles are efficiently traveling through their area, that the vehicles understand the scope of jobs, and the lengths of jobs, and are able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. You can do all of these things today. An autonomous vehicle will just make it easier and more accurate.

While our autonomous future may seem far-flung today, it wasn’t so long ago that they thought of the internet in your pocket was a wild dream. Technology moves quickly, and service firms owe it to themselves to be prepared for the future today.

Tom Paquin
Author

Contributor, Future of Field Service