By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
Alfa Laval is a Swedish company founded in 1883 that is a world leader within the key technology areas of heat transfer, separation and fluid handling. With more than 3,700 patents, Alfa Laval provides worldwide solutions in areas that are vital to society, including energy, pharmaceutical, marine and food. The company has over 17,000 employees, including more than 700 field service engineers, that help customers in nearly 100 countries.
As a product manufacturer with deep history, Alfa Laval has had an eye on advancing its service focus for quite some time. “Service has become an increasing strategic focus for Alfa Laval as we have a huge, installed base with which we need to continue to position ourselves as a trusted partner,” says Cedric Domont, Global Service Sales Director at Alfa Laval. “Service is a key enabler of differentiation and has a critical impact on customer experience. These are the major reasons that Alfa Laval’s focus on service has, and will, continue to increase.”
Like any other manufacturer on the path to Servitization, Alfa Laval has learned it is a journey that takes some time and involves some foundational changes. Jens Pulczynski, Manager Global Service Operations at Alfa Laval, points to a significant shift in company alignment that has enabled the company to make the progress it has. “In 2017, the company was reorganized, and the total lifecycle of products was clarified for alignment, including service sales and service execution,” Jens says.
Digital Transformation is Key to Advancing Service Goals
In addition to its greater companywide alignment on the opportunity around service as a strategic differentiator, Alfa Laval has recognized the role digital transformation will play in achieving its ultimate Servitization vision. “I would divide our technology focus into three categories,” says Jens. “The first is connected products – we have, for some time, embedded our products with connectivity that will allow us to remotely monitor the status and operations of equipment which will increase our service value proposition. The second is remote guidance, which we began investigating last year as a better way to provide expertise to our field service engineers. Then, as COVID-19 hit, we recognized the potential it had in customer-facing capacities and decided to speed our investment in the technology.”
The third area, which will be upcoming for Alfa Laval, is to determine a productive method of virtual selling. “We want our employees to have the right balance between physical and virtual interaction with customers. The progress we’ve made in effectively selling virtually as a result of this time will become something that is sustainable for our business. We’re looking into the right technologies, training, and processes to make this a permanent transformation”, says Cedric.
Remote Assistance Plays a Pivotal Role Through COVID-19 And Beyond
In both navigating the complexity of COVID-19 as well as furthering the company’s broader service objectives, remote guidance has proven impactful for Alfa Laval. “When we began researching remote guidance last year, we were looking at how to support our more than 700 field service engineers. They are supporting a product portfolio with significant complexity and machines sometimes in the market for more than 30 years. We were interested in the idea of providing them more efficient and productive access to remote expertise with a technology that would simulate a hands-on interaction,” says Jens. “As COVID-19 spread and travel restrictions were introduced, we realized that if we acted fast this would be a tool that would aid us in continuing to serve customers throughout the crisis – as well as set us up to serve them better than ever before after the crisis passes.”
Alfa Laval chose IFS Remote Assistance, collaborative merged reality software that blends two real-time video streams into an interactive environment. Two users can collaborate and interact in real-time while telestrating, freezing images, using hand gestures, and even adding real objects into the merged reality environment – whether that’s supporting field service engineers on site or customers directly. “We chose IFS Remote Assistance for our remote guidance because we felt it was a strong technology but also because we value the financial stability and long-term vision of the company,” says Cedric.
The timeframe from beginning of pilot to full rollout was just six weeks, and IFS Remote Assistance is now in use by approximately 150 employees at Alfa Laval. “This solution has provided us business continuity during COVID-19 in areas where travel was banned and keep utilization of our resources high. As we recover from the crisis and return to more normal operations, our use of IFS Remote Assistance will evolve from business continuity to business transformation,” says Jens. “We’ll look at how we can continue to offer remote guidance, eliminate unnecessary travel, improve efficiency, and provide a better work/life balance for our field service engineers. Our customers have been 100% satisfied with the introduction of IFS Remote Assistance and impressed by the way it enabled us to continue serving them, so they will welcome expansion of its use.”
As recovery ramps and business circumstances continue to change, Alfa Laval will work to determine how to expand its use of IFS Remote Assistance and how to continue progressing on the path to Servitization. “IFS Remote Assistance helped us to be fast and flexible when we needed to be, which meant we did sort of a ‘quick and dirty’ release of this technology due to its value proposition in helping us through COVID-19. But it’s just the very beginning,” says Cedric. “We now need to take a step back and operationalize how this fit into our broader transformation – keeping it simple for our customers but looking at how we commercialize it as well.”
Alfa Laval has further goals of connected field service that will all keep the progress moving toward Servitization. “We’ll look at how we can use IFS Remote Assistance hands free, to allow even greater productivity,” says Jens. “And we have various other initiatives to tackle in ensuring our field service engineers are armed with everything they need to provide an excellent customer experience. This is part of a major transformation, and while that includes technology it is also about being willing and ready to think and work differently. We’ve made great progress amid a challenging time and will continue to work together to drive service excellence.”