Sarah talks with Scott Lowes, Construction Supervisor at FortisBC, about his love for technology, his excitement in seeing it permeate field service, and his advice as a change champion for how to make technology palatable, how to foster adoption versus just compliance, and the joy of the “aha” moment when it takes hold.
Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to The Future of Field Service Podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we are going to be getting some real world advice from a change champion. I’m excited to welcome to the podcast today, Scott Lowes, who is a construction supervisor at FortisBC. Scott, welcome to the podcast.
Scott Lowes: Hey Sarah. Thanks for having me.
Sarah Nicastro: Thanks for being here. Before we dive in to our content for the day, tell our listeners a bit about yourself and your role at FortisBC.
Scott Lowes: Yeah. High level, I’m somebody that is always on the move but I’m always doing something, whether it’s tinkering on stuff around my house, figuring out a way to brew better coffee, all that stuff. I’m always doing something in my personal life and then at work, I’ve been with FortisBC for about 14 years now, just over that. And throughout that time, I’ve had every job that we’ve gotten the field really. I’ve been through our construction department, putting in gas mains and services, then moving into our field customer service department, dealing with our customers forward, facing that way and then also working down at our liquefied natural gas plant. Pretty technical job there. And then most recently I have now made a change into our project management office as a construction supervisor. That’s me in a nutshell.
Sarah Nicastro: And in case anyone isn’t familiar with Fortis, give the overview of the organization.
Scott Lowes: Yeah. FortisBC is a natural gas and electrical utility in the province of British Columbia in Canada. We supply natural gas and electricity and I’ve been on the natural gas side of the industry. We operate and maintain our below ground gas utility and we provide all of the service for that. And so dealing with our customers that have gas meters on their houses and all that pertains to that. So there’s a whole lot in there.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So you love a good project at home and at work. You like to stay busy.
Scott Lowes: Yeah.
Sarah Nicastro: I’m assuming you like to be just learning new things. It’s what it sounds like.
Scott Lowes: Yeah. If I’m not learning a better way to do something in my personal life, it’s like learning something new at work, right? A lot of people do Netflix and chill, I do like research and chill. It’s usually like, my wife is watching Netflix, I’m watching or I’m like researching how to build concrete forms or do some something random around the house.
Sarah Nicastro: I’m laughing because this is very much parallel my home life. My husband spends a ton of time watching the most random things on YouTube, I’m like, what are you watching? “I’m watching how you…” Okay. Who cares? But he loves it.
Scott Lowes: There are those people that care. It makes it really good at parties and gatherings because when people are like, “I’m in like an aerospace…” I’m like, well, I’ve done carbon fiber repairing and they kind of give you this like, “what? Who are you?” But yeah.
Sarah Nicastro: And it’s all come in handy. I mean, there’s a lot of home projects and things like that that he’s tackled that are far out of his comfort level that he literally just YouTubed and followed along and learned how to do it himself so it works.
Scott Lowes: Yeah. It’s handy that way. But my disclaimer is don’t do any gas work unless you’re a ticketed gas fitter.
Sarah Nicastro: That’s really good advice.
Scott Lowes: No. But yeah.
Sarah Nicastro: We did draw the line at gas. Actually, last summer we put in a pool in our backyard and he did all of the electrical himself. Which he was pretty comfortable with but we had someone come in and run the gas line and all of that stuff.
Scott Lowes: That’s a good call.
Sarah Nicastro: We have to draw the line somewhere, right?
Scott Lowes: Yeah.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Scott and I were introduced by a part of the IFS team which is Clevest and we were introduced to related to FortisBC’s use of remote service technology. That’s how we got in touch with one another. But as I was talking to Scott, I realized there was a lot more about our conversation that stood out and I felt like if we were to do a podcast talking only about the remote service topic might be leaving some good content on the table. Before we talk a bit about how you’ve leveraged remote service at FortisBC, I want to talk about some of those other things. The first thing that stood out to me Scott is your passion for technology, which was very clear. Tell us a little bit about why you love tech and why you’re so passionate about it to use in Field Service.
Scott Lowes: Yeah. Passion with technology started once… Okay. If we go way back, it’s probably I think when my parents had I think it was our first computers, either at 286 or 386. The power switch was like the size of my head type thing. It’s just like a giant toggle, the lights dim when you turn the thing on but then it powers up and it’s all text-based DOS right? That was my first introduction to computers. Fast forward a few years, I’m learning a lot more about computers but I’m breaking them all the time. It was like a non-stop, revolving door of having like my dad’s tech support guy in the house fixing the computers because Scott broke the computer again. And now I’m the tech support guy for my parents for their computers so it’s come full circle but it was probably a painful for that period.
Scott Lowes: But yeah. In terms of technology, I’ve been around it for a while, I’ve seen it, used it, always trying to be early adopter, right? Like, okay. Something new is showing up. I want to have the newest, latest, greatest. Or if I can’t have the newest iPhone I’ll leverage the older iPhone to extend that lifespan right?
Sarah Nicastro: Mhhmm
Scott Lowes: Everything from back in the day when jail breaking iPhones was a thing so you could get all the little tweaks and stuff. I nerd out on that stuff and so that’s where the technology for me, my passion for it I guess came. And then I guess in terms of where I think the use with Field Service stuff, it’s probably one of the one… If you think of technology, everybody’s using technology except the guys that are swinging the wrenches. The field techs aren’t using technology to the same extent that the rest of the globe is.
Scott Lowes: If you think of like okay. We’ve got such high horsepower in terms of technology and stuff that’s out there, why not utilize it in a field that isn’t really utilizing it yet? Or to its fullest potential right? Because there’s lots of cases where it could just make their job or, and make my old job a lot easier and just… Yeah. It’s pretty neat to see what’s out there in the marketplace right now and where we’re going. I’m excited for that part too.
Sarah Nicastro: You are the epitome of the young guy in Field Service that loves technology right? When we talk to different service leaders on the podcast, one of the topics that comes up is the challenge of managing a multi-generational workforce right? And so there’s folks like you on one end of the spectrum that are, technology’s awesome. I love it. I want to use all the newest, latest, greatest things and then as you well know based on some of your team members, there’s people that want nothing to do with that right?
Scott Lowes: Yeah.
Sarah Nicastro: It is challenging for organizations to strike the right balance and I think that when we spoke initially, one of the things that I thought would be interesting to share on this episode is, you very much are a change champion within FortisBC for greater adoption of technology in the field and you have a lot of firsthand experience introducing these things to some of the people that are a little bit more resistant or less excited about the tools right? One of the things you said to me that I’m hoping you can talk a little bit about is, when you introduce a new tool to one of the people that’s less passionate about technology or really against the idea of it, I guess on a continuum, you mentioned you love when you can see an aha moment, where it just clicks and that resistance fades away a little bit. What do you think it is that prompts that aha moment?
Scott Lowes: I think it’s the magic really. Because I’ve grown up with technology, I don’t want to say the magic is lost but I’m expecting a groundbreaking thing and it’s not like this huge thing. But the aha moment for me that I’ve seen, we just did finished up a pilot using some VR headsets for training and so a guy, I think he said to like retire in November right? He’s on the complete opposite end of the spectrum as myself. We’ve got a great working relationship and I was like hey. I want you to try this out and put on this VR headset. And I’m able to walk him through all the controls because he doesn’t know how to use the hand controls and all that stuff.
Scott Lowes: And he’s like, “I just want to see it.” He puts the thing on and his mind is blown. He’s like freaking out. And so for him, he’s like, “wow. This is crazy.” And then next thing you know, he takes it off and he’s going around the office, “hey. Go see Scott and you got to go try this thing. It’s really cool.” And so his little aha moment was the barrier was broken because he didn’t have to learn how to use the controls of a VR headset or try to navigate into the software, he just got to get plunked into this virtual world and he’s looking around and his mind is blown. Those aha moments I think it would come in all of our different texts, when there is no barriers to entry right?
Scott Lowes: When it’s not like, I got to figure out how to use Windows 10 just to use a software, if we can remove that, that’s when I think the most success has happened and yeah. It’s that interface. Having that smooth interface so once somebody can use it, it’s not cumbersome I guess. And that’s like I’ve seen have happened where it’s just… they can use the software and it works. That’s probably one of the bigger things.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That makes sense. I mean, user interface is obviously super important but what you just said also made me think of, and I’ve talked to companies that have done this as part of their change management strategy. Prior to actual rollout of a new solution, having more of a low pressure, even making it fun, introductory phase to the technology, where it’s that ability to casually familiarize yourself with it and looking for different ways to maybe make that bad idea even fun for people that aren’t as excited about that new thing. But having a period prior to roll out where you’re going to be driving toward a very specific outcome but more of like a familiarization period where that barrier to entry is low because there isn’t an expectation of immediate outcome. Does that make sense?
Scott Lowes: Yeah. And I think you hit the nail on the head there, where it’s like having it fun is key because for me, I can get over if it’s not fun or not because I’ve been around it for so long and I know the leverage that’s there, I can get on board with a little bit of pain to get there. But to get the mass of really who we’re wanting to push this technology towards, is the mass workforce and to get it there, it’s got to be fun. It’s got to be engaging and it’s got to be a way that these individuals are going to say, hey. Man. I really want to use that. That’s a really cool piece of software. That’s a really cool piece of technology. I’m like, that makes my job easy or that’s a really cool whatever it is, but if it’s not fun, why would anybody like to use that boring thing over what they’ve been doing for the last decade or two decades or four decades. If it’s not fun and engaging, they’re never going to use the technology or the tool or whatever it is right?
Sarah Nicastro: One of the other words that you used in our initial conversation that I really liked is that, really for change to be successful, the technology that’s being introduced needs to be palatable. What would your advice for listeners be on, how do you make the introduction of a new technology palatable?
Scott Lowes: That? Man. That is the magic question. And that is like the key. And I think the way it becomes palatable is having somebody that is not only passionate but willing to educate and willing to go through the tech support aspect. I remember I broke my arm so I couldn’t work in the field and they said, “hey. You’re good with technology, can you go sit on the tech support desk?” And said yeah. Sure. And we’re rolling out a new software. This is probably 10 years ago now. And one of the guy comes on the phone and he starts griping. He’s like, “computers are the damnation of the world. I don’t have a computer at home so why do I need to use one at work? I just want to throw this thing off the bridge.” And that just really stuck out to me.
Scott Lowes: And I was like okay. Everybody’s feeling that at some point that it’s not going to work. Having somebody that is aware of that as well, isn’t just somebody that’s going to say hey. This is a new technology we’re using, you got to use it or you’re done. That’s not an option when you’re rolling out technology especially when you’ve got an already effective workforce and you want to see them become more effective, the way you do it is, you’ve got to really have somebody that is passionate about the technology that’s willing to be that change champion then says hey. You know what? I’m going to go through the hard stuff. I’m going to figure this out. But then also, they’re going to see or foresee those roadblocks and those speed bumps that are going to come along and help the people through that and say hey. This is what we can do or just being available as somebody to just go through that so they’re not stuck struggling, right?
Scott Lowes: Because the way that you can take any technology rollout and make it just fall flat on its face is you come up with this great idea and you say, hey. We’re going to release this technology to the guys or to the girls or to whoever and you’re just going to release this technology and then there’s no support. And there’s nobody that is… Another term I’ve used is the tech expert, right? Because you got to have somebody that knows just that much more than everyone else that they’re always getting the call, they can say hey. Scott. How do I do this? How do I do that? You’ve got to have that person that you’ve identified that says okay. I’m going to learn this technology and all the nuances and I’m not going to learn it from a book, I’m going to learn it by using it and finding out the problems and the success with it and then they become really your technical expert on that software or technology.
Scott Lowes: When they understand it and they love it then they can make it palatable just through, “how would you teach your grandma how to use this.” In some aspects right? You don’t care about the gigabytes that this thing has or all that stuff. You just want to know how to turn the thing on, how to work it, how to make it work for you and make your life easier not make it more complicated. Having that change champion or somebody, your technical expert identified with anything, with software or tech or hardware to then make it palatable for those individuals to actually use right?
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think that’s a good point. I also think going back to what you said previous to that, no company is going to deploy a new technology just because it’s cool or fun right? There’s obviously a objective that’s being worked towards and value that that needs to be achieved but the idea of leading a little bit with fun and trying to think about how to make it fun, to at least get people engaged enough to hear what that value to them might look like right? And to warm them up to talking about, here’s how this fits, here’s how this ultimately can help you be more effective at your job so that they warm up to even entertaining that discussion right? In the early phases, I think the idea of considering okay. How can we take some of the pressure off? How can we make this process fun? How can we get people engaged? And then get into to the heavier outcomes of the project makes sense as well.
Scott Lowes: I definitely agree. And so with that, we just wrapped up our pilot for this VR software and we were using it for training. Right? Or that was the intent. But how I pitched it, I said. Okay. The people I want to actually have use this technology, they’re not the people that are going to look at the, does it meet our requirements for the training and all the nuance. I’m like, I want the people that are going to try it on this VR headset and they’re going to get so excited and so jazzed on this that now all of a sudden they don’t care if it meets the requirements, that’s for later on in the project but they’re like wow. This is exciting. I tried it. Scott showed it to me, I’m blown away. I want to see that thing go.
Scott Lowes: And then now all of a sudden, you have people that have bought in throughout the organization that can help push it through those roadblocks and those speed bumps that you’re going to get when you say, well, it doesn’t have XYZ or it doesn’t meet our requirements here or there. That early stage of having it fun and exciting and just something new and cool to try, you’ve got to get to that first before it can go through the nitty because sometimes that nitty gritty takes a week, sometimes it might take three years to get through whatever it is in your deployment. To have somebody or a group of people that are passionate to push you through that phase to get you to the deployment, yeah. I think that’s key for sure.
Sarah Nicastro: It just made me think of a point when you were saying that, taking a step back and thinking about where you want to put the pressure of the project right? Ultimately like I said, whenever a new technology as it’s being introduced it’s being introduced to drive a certain outcome right? And there’s a business case, and there’s a desired state that you’re changing from and to but at the end of the day that frontline worker who you need to ultimately accept and adopt that technology, the overarching outcome of that entire project is not their responsibility, their responsibility is to leverage the new tool and to do that, it needs to be useful to them, it needs to have a good user interface et cetera. But maybe it’s not a good idea to put even implied pressure of the entire project on their shoulders. Do you know what I mean?
Sarah Nicastro: I’m just thinking about a conversation I had recently with a leader within an organization that has taken a really big hit in business since COVID. And he was talking about the fact that their frontline workforce is so disheartened because the company is struggling but his point was the company’s struggles aren’t that worker’s responsibility, they’re still doing a really good job, they’re hitting all of their milestones and their performance is above average and above expectation and so how do we as an organization separate the overall situation and outcome from individual performance right? I’m just thinking, when you think about managing change related to technology adoption within an organization, looking at the project outcome versus the individual contribution and making sure that you’re either rewarding or coaching individuals based on their individual adoption and use and engagement versus maybe some of the complexity of the overall project. Just a thought.
Scott Lowes: Yeah. No. It does. And I think that where it gets tricky is, sometimes we come up with this project or we have this idea and we just want to see it implemented but we forget about the people that have to use it. And so when the software that we rolled out at Fortis was used, I was still in the tech role and I was the guy that had to use it. And I wanted to see it rolled out in a way that… It wasn’t like, you’ve got to use this no ifs, ands or buts. It was like, here’s the tool in your toolbox that is valuable and I’m going to show you how cool it is and how valuable it is. And the people that were willing to use it, they got to see the benefit from it.
Scott Lowes: And it’s that snowball effect, right?
Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Scott Lowes: Because you got to think if you’ve been doing your job for 20, 30 and 35 years and some young kid comes in and says hey. We want you to use this software, you’re going to get clocked right? It’s that figuring out, okay. We got to get the snowball moving down the hill and once it’s going, it’s picking up steam but we also got to be careful that anybody that is at the bottom of the mountain, that we’re not going to just mow them over either right? We got to get them on board rather than just say, this technology is coming whether you like it or not, get on board or get out right? You can’t say, get off the bus, because if everybody hops off the bus because they don’t want to use the software guess what? You got no workforce right?
Sarah Nicastro: Right.
Scott Lowes: It’s that really tricky balance of saying okay. How do we get people to come on the bus? And maybe you don’t get on the first bus, maybe you’re on the second or the third. And when I think about how technology would be best deployed to a workforce like Fortis is for instance, is it’s not all at once because you’ve got to get these people onboard that are then going to get the others on board right? And it’s like with the iPhone, you get a bunch of people that started with the iPhone 3G or, and then it’s like, wow. Look at this cool thing. And they show their so somebody is like, okay. Well, you can play a fun game. But now everybody’s got a smartphone in their pocket because the momentum is there.
Scott Lowes: The same thing is when we’re starting especially in Field Service where historically we’ve never used technology to the level that we can use it now. To just say hey. You got to use this or you’re done, it’s not fair because everybody also has that for whatever reason a differing length of time they’re going to take to get used to utilizing a new software or be willing to. There’s multiple buses, don’t just think it’s one bus and everybody’s got to get on because if you think about it that way, you’ll be on the bus and you’ll be thinking everything’s all great and then you’ll look behind you and you’ll realize that nobody else is on the bus with you right?
Sarah Nicastro: And I always say the goal needs to be commitment not compliance right? You’re not going to get the outcome you want if you’re just driving compliance, it needs to be actually them seeing the value and being more bought into its purpose and its use.
Scott Lowes: Yeah.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Scott, talk to me a little bit about how FortisBC has leveraged remote service to navigate the pandemic.
Scott Lowes: Yeah. This is where I guess all this came about. Early days pandemic, just so everybody understands, our job as technicians at Fortis basically, we’ve got to change out our gas meters at customers’ houses, which then means we’d have to shut off the gas then we have to enter the customer’s house and return on all the equipment that would have been shut down. But pandemic hits, nobody wants anyone in their house for obvious reasons. Now, we’re still trying to maintain this work because it’s regulatory requirement and all this sort of thing. We had guys that were… They would get the customer to open windows, they’re hollering through doors, trying to walk customers through how to relight a hot water tank. Even heard stories where guys were just okay. Do you have FaceTime?
Scott Lowes: Yeah. I got FaceTime. And so they just FaceTime and they do exactly what this software that we’ve started using, they started using that. What it was, essentially the software we’re using, it allows us to have a video and audio feed much like FaceTime but we can pause the video, we can draw little circles on it or point to stuff and turn on and off the customer’s flashlight. All this kind of neat stuff. I always called at FaceTime on steroids anytime I was training on the software. And so we rolled this out early days pandemic and said okay. Let’s get this thing going and we’re still rolling it out as we’re getting more and more guys using the software. Again, it’s that like, that you can’t just have everybody on the bus in the first kick of the cat.
Scott Lowes: And yeah. We rolled this out and we’re still going through that as we progress and we’re still dealing with pandemic fears, obviously ongoing. I don’t foresee this tool as I’ve always called it, this tool in our toolbox ever going away, I think through further iterations, there may be a different particular softwares that we use or we leverage but I think the premise is just… The thing that was probably the most exciting about it was the fact that I go up to a customer’s house and say hey. I’ve got this cool software that allows me to just send you a text message, you click the link and then we get an audio video feed and I could walk you through relighting their fireplace or their hot water tank and they said, “really?” And I said, yeah. It’s easy. And when you pitch it that way and the customers do it and then at the end of the call I’m like, how was that?
Scott Lowes: And they’re like, “that was actually really easy. I really enjoyed that. That was pleasant.” Obviously there were the ones where the customers were more frustrated because the technology wasn’t working but again, that’s just getting through those roadblocks and those speed bumps but the coolest thing for me was the fact that our technicians could use it and our customers were able to use it. And it just not just that customer service level just up another, right? Because now those customers that say, “I don’t want anybody in my house but I’m willing to have you walk me through it.” That for me, it was a big aha moment in that regard, that wow. Our customers can do it and our techs can do it. Is it going to work every time? No. And that’s okay. But it works. And yeah. It was a pretty exciting as the software has been rolling out and we’re going through it.
Sarah Nicastro: So it was put in place initially because people didn’t want folks in their home due to COVID, as that continues to normalize and becomes less of a concern over time, how do you expect it will be leveraged?
Scott Lowes: Yeah. That’s where I get into dreamer mode a little bit but I think it’s definitely still a tool in the technician’s toolbox but I think as the technology gets more refined, as stuff like that happens and whether it’s for us changing our gas meters or any of anyone else in field service, I definitely think it’s this really… We’re right at this tipping point of saying, wow. All of a sudden, we don’t have to send a technician every time because when a customer calls in and I know this isn’t gas related world, customer calls in and says, my hot water tanks not working, well now, before I even roll out to that job site, I can flash up this video assist software and I can say okay. Well, it actually looks like…
Scott Lowes: Do you mind if I just walk you through trying to relight the pilot light, walk the customer through relating in the pilot light and guess what? You spent 15 minutes on a phone with some technical expert to walk the customer through that without having to roll a truck, without having to dispatch a technician onto those sites, when you think about that, it’s like okay. How do you scale that up in every tech?
Scott Lowes: And I foresee a future where you’ve got a technical expert, whether it’s some central organization, they’ve got a technical expert in multiple fields that now all of a sudden a customer call them, they’ve got a concern about electrical or a gas or whatever it may be, they can now call the technician, that technician can walk them through a very preliminary high level troubleshooting, get a good picture of the trouble shooting that needs to happen.
Scott Lowes: And then now when you dispatch a technician, you’re making one visit rather than two or three. There’s no parts that need to be grabbed, the technician going in knows that he’s going to be working on this model of appliance or whatever it is and it really reduces not only a carbon footprint again, with driving back and forth to customer’s houses and here and there and everywhere but also it’s just quick, it’s easy. The customers get immediate answers to their questions and I think that if we think of just how do we do customer service better, everybody wants to be able to be connected with somebody right now. Look at what COVID has done now. Now you can meet with your-
Sarah Nicastro: Instant gratification.
Scott Lowes: Yeah. It’s instant gratification. But at the same time too it’s like, if the technology is there, why aren’t we using it? It’s no different than if you need to go see your doctor now, you can set up a video chat with your doctor and yeah. Sure. He might not be able to diagnose everything but it’s like hey. I’ve got this or that. He can get you through… or he or she can get you through whatever it is. When I think of the future of where this field service and tech in that regard, man, it’s massive and I think we’re right on that tipping point of where we’re going to go in. And COVID as much as it’s been really tricky and really hard, I think it’s allowed those technologies that we’re just waiting in the wings that there was one person using or a couple of people using have now really been elevated to another level where people are like, wow. Okay. This is actually really cool. We can use this.
Sarah Nicastro: You said that you see the future of field service as less field and more tech. Are there any other major I guess, technology trends or aspects of what you think this will all look like in say five years’ time?
Scott Lowes: It’s hard to say, right? Technology, it’s so bleeding edge but as we tried this pilot for the VR, you’ve got VR software then you got mixed reality and augmented reality, all these sorts of things, as these just become so easy for the technology that we’re using to actually execute. I think really the sky’s the limit. It’s going to be exciting but the flip side with that is we got to remember that we have a huge working force that may not love technology or may not want to use it.
Scott Lowes: It’s being aware of that in any future deployment to say okay. These are the people that if we can sell it and if we can make it fun and if we can engage these people, they become the change champions and they become the ones that now all of a sudden are utilizing it even more than they would have in the past. I think that’s probably the biggest key, is just being in control of the change. Because that’s the biggest thing where you’re going to see the biggest hurdles is, with anything, rolling out change is hard but if you can do it well and efficiently and get the right people on board then yeah. You’re jamming.
Sarah Nicastro: Awesome. All right Scott. Well, thank you so much for coming on today and sharing your experience and insights with us. I really appreciate it.
Scott Lowes: Thank you so much for having me.
Sarah Nicastro: Welcome. You can find more by visiting us at https://futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more about IFS technology by visiting https://www.ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.