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October 31, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

You Get the Results You Deserve: Wise Words from Michael Phelps at IFS UNLEASHED

October 31, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

You Get the Results You Deserve: Wise Words from Michael Phelps at IFS UNLEASHED


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

At IFS UNLEASED in Miami a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear from the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 28 medals, Michael Phelps. While I’m not a swimmer and have never followed the sport, I was very interested to hear from a household name like Michael and understand more about the person behind the achievements. His session did not disappoint!

I’ve talked often about how much I value authenticity. It’s a trait that I always aim for and appreciate when others do the same – it’s also a trait I believe is in high demand from leaders today. Michael oozed authenticity – he showed up with no false pretenses, no ego, no need to be anything but 100% himself. I respected and enjoyed that so much and believe the entire audience benefited from his willingness to be open and transparent. 

As he shared stories from the span of his career, he retold experiences through a lens of self-reflection that not only illustrated how much he’s grown and evolved as a person but also made his journey relatable even for those of us who will never take part in an Olympics. 

I wanted to share with you all a few of the points from Michael’s session that really resonated with me and reflect on how they relate to some of the topics that are top of mind within service today:

  • Whether you fail or succeed, keep right on going. Michael said, “The day after I set the World Record, I got right back in the water to train.” He didn’t take time off, whether he was working to improve or working to maintain success. This is the idea of continuous improvement, and with the pace of change in service today, we must keep on swimming – whether we have far to go or are working to maintain a competitive pace. 
  • You get the results you deserve. “I got the results I deserved every single Olympics,” Michael said. Facing nerves at his first Olympics, he took it as a learning experience to help prepare for the next race. He discussed how you cannot expect to get the results you want if you are not willing to do what is needed to prepare – and I think this parallels the concept I wrote about here that some companies claim to want the benefits of transformation but aren’t willing to do the work it takes to achieve those benefits. Your results are reflective of your effort. 
  • The small things matter. Michael shared a couple of stories about how much the details come into play in races as close as an Olympic swim. In one story, he discussed how his goggles filled with water during a race which made it impossible for him to see. If he’d have taken even the briefest pause to clear his goggles, he’d have lost – but with the amount of preparation he’d put in and the level of detail he included in that preparation, he knew exactly how many strokes it took him to get from one end of the pool to the next. So, without being able to see, he was able to win by counting his strokes. “The small things matter, and they show up in the most pressured situations when they matter the very most,” Michael said. “I’d spent six straight years of every single day in the pool, so I had more feel for the water than anyone and relied on that when I needed.” This is a great example of the power of details and a great reminder that sometimes the smallest things can present the biggest challenges – make sure as you plan for change or growth, you consider what small things will play a big role. 
  • We must break the stigma around mental health. Michael asked for a show of hands from the audience of who had struggled with feelings of loneliness during the pandemic, and a sea of hands raised with mumbles of appreciation for such an honest question. He shared a personal story of being a young child struggling with ADHD who was told by a teacher he’d never amount to anything because he couldn’t sit still, and of battling thoughts of ending his life after his DUI. Michael had the strength to ask for help and to learn how to live with his ADHD, depression, an anxiety and urges others to do the same. He began the Michael Phelps Foundation to help children avoid some of the struggles he faced. “I feel lucky every day waking up to make a difference in people’s mental health,” he says. “Communication is the key to breaking the stigma around mental health.” We know that better addressing mental health in the workplace is a huge area of concern and focus – it was great to see someone with the fame of Michael speaking about the topic so openly on stage. 
  • The importance of communication can’t be overemphasized. Michael talked about how since his career started in childhood and was maintained into adulthood, communication with his coach was imperative – what he needed at the beginning of their relationship was far different than what he needed later in his life. In any form of change, we need to remember the critical importance communication plays – it is one of those seemingly “small” things that can truly make or break the relationship you have with your employees (or customers) and their engagement and satisfaction.
  • Goals motivate people. “What are you directed towards? Goals motivate me,” said Phelps. “If you’re not challenging yourself, you’re cheating yourself.” It’s hard for most people to harness motivation if they don’t have something specific to direct it toward. This is important to remember in terms of considering how you motivate the different personality and skill types within your workforce – the goals they have will be different, but no one thrives in ambiguity and having something specific and agreed to work toward will help your teams achieve more. 
  • The great do things the good won’t. “No one feels 100% every day, some days you have to fight through that,” acknowledged Michael. “But if your goal matters to you, you get up and go. The different between being great and good is that great do things the good won’t – they’re ok getting uncomfortable.” While you can’t expect all your talent to fall into the “great” category, this point does beg the question of how you will work to acknowledge, appreciate, and reward those who are willing to go above and beyond. 

October 26, 2022 | 22 Mins Read

DELL Eliminates Siloes for an End-to-End Service Approach

October 26, 2022 | 22 Mins Read

DELL Eliminates Siloes for an End-to-End Service Approach


Bob Feiner, Senior VP of Dell Technologies Services, joins Sarah for a discussion around how the company has evolved its services approach and execution to improve the customer experience. 

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we're going to be talking about how Dell has eliminated silos for an end-to-end service approach.

I'm excited to be joined today by Bob Feiner, who is the Senior VP of Dell Technologies Services. Bob, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Bob Feiner: Hey Sarah. It's great to be here. Looking forward to talking to you.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, thanks for coming on.

So I had the pleasure of seeing Bob and one of his colleagues do a presentation at the Service Council Symposium in Chicago in September. And I was struck by it for a number of reasons. I mean, first of all, you both did an excellent job presenting.

Bob Feiner: Thanks.

Sarah Nicastro: But secondly, I think the work that you've done is such a shared challenge for organizations that are really needing to better orient themselves around the customer and eliminate some of those longstanding and traditional silos. So I just felt it was so, so, so relevant to our audience, and I'm thankful that you were willing to come on and talk about that journey with our audience as well.

So the conversation starts really with trying to restructure or reorient around a common goal. So before we talk about how, can we talk about the why that is so, so important to do? Can you talk a little bit about, for you and for Dell, why was this reorganization, this restructuring so, so important?

Bob Feiner: Yeah, that's a good question. I would tell you the why is because customers don't care about our work structure. They just don't. What they care is that the outcome that they need, it happens and happens quickly and is done right the first time.

And there can be a tendency when, particularly if you look at an organization like us, we're in almost every country in the world. We support over 200 million active devices around the globe. I do millions and millions of contacts and dispatches every year. So there's a lot of complexity. And what can tend to happen is that you want to make sure that you're minimizing that complexity as much as possible. So your parts team optimizes what they do. Your field team optimizes what they do. Your contact center teams optimize what they do because they're just trying to make sure with all the complexity, they're taking any noise out of their systems.

But our customers don't care about what happens in those different pieces. They care about the outcome. And I think we just came to a realization, and some of it was triggered by things that we saw, even during the pandemic, that enabled that. And I think the response has been pretty solid. There's still always work to do because, even with the customer experience levels that we have today, considering the amount of transactions we do, we still have a lot of excursions, and we've got to minimize those as much as possible.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I mean it's interesting, you bring up the word complexity, and it's so true. But what the customers want is seamlessness. They want the same seamless experience they can get when they, and I know this is an overused analogy, but when they request an Uber or when they order a package from Amazon. There's a reason that those examples are overused though, because that is the standard that has been set in experiences that have bled over into what customers expect in all industries and from all of their providers. And I think it's a really good point that you can't necessarily eliminate that complexity, but you do need to manage it, and you need to focus on making it as invisible as possible to the customer. And that-

Bob Feiner: That's right.

Sarah Nicastro: ... is the most important point. They want the experience, the outcome, the seamlessness. They don't, like you said, care about any of the hard work that goes into them getting that. Now, can you tell us a little bit about the historical structure and some of the ways that that prevented Dell from achieving the type of customer centricity that ultimately you want to achieve?

Bob Feiner: Yeah, I mean, I think it's no different than most organizations, particularly as you grow up into a larger entity. I think probably startup companies probably don't necessarily have the same experience because leadership in those companies are, they're wearing multiple hats. But as you become bigger, you look at, okay, how do I do my logistics better? How do I better manage my field teams, whether it's outsourcing or insourcing? How do I manage my contact centers? And I think there's just a natural tendency to structure things, okay, here's the field service team, here's the contact center team, here's the parts and logistics and parts planning teams. And that brings expertise into how to make those things better. And you kind of build all the infrastructure around how the field operates or how parts and logistics operates or how the contact centers operate.

And quite frankly, that's what we did for a long time. And there's a lot of success involved in that. But I think, again, back to the point, particularly in a world that's becoming even more and more digital every single day, and we're used to doing things on our, ordering food and our groceries and transportation and you name it on your cell phone, that digital experience is what customers expect. And they don't care about who the picker is in the grocery store, and they don't care about who the driver is. They just care that, okay, all my stuff was delivered, and it was delivered at the time you said it was going to be delivered. And I think that that's the experience that we realize we need customers to have. So that led us to, there are things you can do without necessarily a structural change, including a business management system, but I think we realize having a structural change helps enable that even more so.

Sarah Nicastro: And I think there's a couple points this makes me think of, which is an intelligent consumer, so if I think about myself, and by intelligent I just mean knowledgeable about what goes on behind the scenes. So because I host this podcast, and I have a lot of discussions about what it takes to deliver service, that's what I mean by intelligent. I may understand in the instance of a poor experience that it isn't that picker's fault or isn't this part's fault or what have you. But there's still a frustration then with the company at large of saying, come on, I mean it's 2022. You need to do better. And that's kind of where every... Or some people don't maybe have that context, and so then they're rude or frustrated with the frontline worker, and ultimately they're just doing their best to do their job.

I think the other thing it makes me think about is when we're really talking about silos, you can have immense success within a silo, but ultimately fail in delivering the customer experience you want to fill. But that can make the people in that individual function feel very defensive because they have achieved success in their view.

Now, this kind of brings me to my next point, and I love this analogy. So you talked at the event about everyone needs to win, but we need to stop focusing on winning trophies and start focusing on winning rings. And this is really the crux of the point here. So tell us a little bit about what you mean there and how that hit home.

Bob Feiner: Yeah. That's kind of become my mantra. So rings, not trophies. And I'm kind of a big sports guy-

Sarah Nicastro: I can tell.

Bob Feiner: ... in particularly team sports. So I mean, you name it, team sports especially. And when you think about any team sports, it doesn't matter what the sport is, when somebody has a great year, and they win the MVP, or if they're in baseball, they win the Cy Young or whatever it may be, they get a trophy for that. They did a great thing individually. They had a great year.

But when you win a World Championship, no matter what the sport is, the Super Bowl or the World Series or Stanley Cup, whatever it is, every member of that team gets a ring. And because they played together, and to win that championship, and you're going to have all stars on that team, you may have an MVP or two, you may have brand new players or rookies, you may have folks who quite frankly didn't make it through the season, and you had to move them into another position or another role or even outside the organization.

And I just think about leading teams that way. And what I often tell my teams are, we're actually playing for a World Championship every day. There is no... Our Super Bowl is every day. Our World Series final is every day. Our World Cup final is every day. So that's the mindset we need to have. And if you do that, then I think people look at it from a team perspective and not just, okay, I got this great trophy that I can put on my desk somewhere, or a badge I can put virtually. It's really about getting that ring and continuing to get those rings. And if you look at folks who were great, even individual athletes, what they care most about are rings. They don't care about the trophies. And they'll say that time and time again.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And it makes me think it isn't even about just the individual players looking at the rings, but the functions as well, right?

Bob Feiner: That's right.

Sarah Nicastro: So the ring is not, let's win as a team at being the best in call center. It's let's win the ring for customer experience and-

Bob Feiner: Exactly.

Sarah Nicastro: ... customer satisfaction, right?

Bob Feiner: That's right.

Sarah Nicastro: I think it is a really good lens to put it through, because again, it goes back to the point I made, which is if you're trying to motivate everyone to win those rings, you don't want to make their trophies that they've already won feel unimportant or irrelevant. So the success they've achieved, you want to honor that and then motivate them to look at winning a ring rather than saying, hey, it's great that you've totally optimized this function, but it doesn't matter because we're not achieving X. It's hey, you've done a great job, but now we need to shift gears and look at this whole thing.

So I think, to your point, it gives people another way to connect in and view it through the lens of working together without discrediting the really hard work they've done and success they've had that just doesn't fit the business today and where you need to expand and grow into. So that's sort of the mindset side of it.

Now when we look at moving toward end-to-end service, and really the goal here is aligning everyone around that customer journey. And this means less silos and individual success plans and a bigger picture view of strategy, processes, technology, and measures of success. So tell us a little bit about the different components of what you looked at to really achieve this end-to-end approach, and we'll go from there.

Bob Feiner: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of it really starts with your business management system. I talked about this a little bit earlier, but you've got to look at your measures and how you're measuring the experience that customers are having with your service end-to-end and what those outcomes are. And like you said, look, it's absolutely fine to have, you're going have to have measures within each of the functions because they still have to operate well, because that's how you get the great end-to-end performance. You still got to have players that know their position and play them well.

And I think starting with the business management system and really looking at and questioning, okay, are the measures that you have truly what customers are experiencing or care about? I think it starts with that. And then you build backwards from there and say, okay, if it's an NPS or a customer set or whatever measures you think are important for your customers, and then you build from there. What are the things that get you to those experiences, and what are the things that are most important?

So we really started with that as kind of the measurement system. What do the measures need to look like? And then we start, and then we added onto that a governance program. And literally, every week we have a weekly meeting end-to-end that looks at those measures. Some of them are functional, but most of them are end-to-end, whether it's backlog or customer experience or whatever it may be, how many defects we have, and talk about, okay, what are we going to do to solve that and prevent a similar issue if we have one happening end-to-end? And it may be that, hey, the logistics team may need to spend a little more money to help out the field ,,or vice versa, or the contact center needs to do some other work to ensure that the field's getting the right information which may impact their individual metrics, but helps the end-to-end. So I think it starts with that and then the governance of that.

And then also you need to constantly thinking about the long term. And so in addition to a weekly view that we have on our management system, we also have a weekly end-to-end view on how we are modernizing what we do. And that could be technology. That could be having an outside end view where we bring in a third party to say, here's what we're seeing in the cross industries. That could be other functions that we have to tie into. So I think you need to be looking at both, both how you're operating today and then also what you're building for the future.

And then that leads to what's the technology roadmap look like? And how that technology roadmap incorporates that experience that you want the customer to have end-to-end and seamlessly and digital just like we all do in our personal lives, or that we all expect in our personal lives. And the technology piece is probably the toughest piece because, again, historically I think folks have looked at, okay, I'm going to put technology in that optimizes my part of the business, but then how do you do that end-to-end from what the customer's experiencing? And it's kind of like a jigsaw puzzle to make sure that the different pieces come together so that the customer can experience what that great response is going to be.

And then honestly, I think the last piece is org structure. So I think you put those other things in place, it's kind of just a natural movement to, okay, well, maybe there's some structural things we can do to even more enhance the alignment from an end-to-end perspective. And I think you put those other pieces in place first,` and that just enables that.

Sarah Nicastro: Now from an org perspective, what did change?

Bob Feiner: So we actually combined our contact centers and our field teams, and from a dotted line perspective, our parts and logistics altogether. So they all sit on my staff. They're all part of my organization. They're all in those meetings together. I have a peer who runs all of our parts and logistics across all of our products. And just because in some cases a motherboard doesn't distinguish whether it's a client product, or a hard drive, I should say, doesn't distinguish whether it's a client product or server or storage product? It doesn't really make sense today to split that up. But so structurally, that's what we put in place.

And then on my team is it doesn't matter whether it's consumer or a commercial customer, whether they're a contact center or a field or parts and logistics, we all work, we all talk together, we go through the same meetings, we all talk in unison, whether it's financials or operationals, with one voice. And that works really well from the standpoint... The other thing that works well from that standpoint is if somebody's not in for the day or takes vacation or whatever, since we're all talking in the same voice, you can have multiple people talking to the leadership team about what's happening or what's going on. And it really helps enable that collaboration because everyone's on the same page.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, well oftentimes, I think those silos exist not because anyone is intentionally creating them, but because there isn't that cross functional collaboration and that level of group communication that keeps everyone on the same page. I mean, that is so, so important in reducing that because a lot of times it's just nothing more than I'm staying in my lane, I'm doing what I need to do, and it's just not having the awareness. And so that's no one's fault. It just wasn't the way that it was structured to exist.

One of the things that I think is really important about what you just said is the balance of the tactical sessions and the strategic sessions. Because that's tough to balance.

Bob Feiner: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: I think it's really tough, and this is what I want to ask you is how do you protect the time and effort for the strategic sessions? And what I mean by that is, in my experience talking with folks, what all too often happens is that people have very good intention. They know innovation is important. They know they need to be strategic, but they get so caught up in the day-to-day aspects of the business, particularly when there are challenges, customer challenges, etc., that it gets pushed, and it gets pushed, and it gets pushed, and then it's just not a priority. So how do you protect that and make sure that you are having those conversations, knowing that they're very important for the future of the business?

Bob Feiner: So actually, what we do is, I think I said this, I spend, every week we do our business management review, and that has a set agenda where there's going to be some topics that happen every single week. But then there's other things where we may want to drill down into a functional area that we have a rotation of topics. And that agenda is set usually a month or so in advance. And so everyone sees, here's coming up.

We do a similar thing on the strategy side. We call it a modernize meeting where, okay, what are we doing to modernize what we're doing? Or digitizing? And a similar type cadence where we set an agenda, a rolling four-week, four to five weeks in advance that says, okay, here's the topics we're going to go through for this session. It's going to be what are we doing that's unique from a field technology last mile? What are we doing to think about an outside in and bringing a third party in? What are we doing around our social media engagement? And where do we have to take all those things in the future? So I think what's really important is setting that cadence and setting that cadence to the point where when you're doing your business management reviews on a weekly basis, you're also setting a cadence around, at least I've got some time blocked out every week where I'm talking about what I'm doing from a modernized or strategic perspective.

Now also in addition to a couple times a year, we'll just have essentially brainstorming sessions, particularly for the next planning year on what do we want to go do? What do we want to think about from the future? I tend to look at those as, okay, let's make that a five year plan, and this is year one of that five year plan, and what do we want? And that five year plan should be what do we want the customer to experience, and not what do we want to go optimize, but what do we want the customer experience to be? And what do we think it's going to be based off of all the technological innovations that we're seeing in the market in our industry and others? So you need to do that as well, but you absolutely need to set that cadence every week just like you do with your business management.

And you've got to hold yourself accountable that you're not going to let go of that because it can be real easy to let go of that. And particularly, in times like today, where there's a lot of challenges going on in the marketplace, you can lean into, okay, what am I going to do just to get through the day? But if you don't think about the future, you're never going to get to that future vision, and your competitors will pass you by. So it's really important, even more so in a challenging environment we're going through, to do that ongoing thinking through what does the future look like.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. I agree. And I think it's great that you have it structured that way.

So this is a lot of change with a large team. And we talked a little bit about some of the emotions that may come up in this type of shift in approach because people may think, well, I've been doing great, so what needs to change? Why? I'm crushing it in my area? So what's the big deal? And a variety of other things, I'm sure. So what have some of the challenges been in working through this that you would kind of caution others on? Because I think what you're doing is so important for companies to do if they have not. If you're delivering service, and you are not orienting yourself to the customer journey, I mean, they should be. I think one of the barriers is that change management. It's really hard to dig in and shift things around when there's a lot of legacy process and legacy mindset. So what were some of the challenges that came up?

Bob Feiner: Well, I think the key thing is, ultimately, as a service organization, what we're providing is people. And you've got to get your people to change that mindset. And look, we still have some folks that are very focused on their function. Not sure that they'll last through this transformation that we've gone through.

But when I look at folks in leadership roles, I look at, okay, I may have a role today that's open to go run my field service, and I may go look at somebody who can go fill that role. But I'm also thinking about, okay, if something comes up, and somebody from one of the contact centers takes on another great role, can I move that field service person into the contact center? Because I'm looking for do they have the leadership skills to think end-to-end, think about the team and not the individual, think about rings and not trophies, a and have the general business skills to move and motivate teams and think about the future and what customers are doing, rather than that they are just a functional expert. And it's okay to have functional experts, but I think when you look at your leadership team at your more senior levels, you need to be thinking about players that can play a variety of positions and that can be successful in those different positions.

So that, I think, is key. Talent is extremely important. And the mindset of that talent, thinking about what the customer outcome is, and not just what their outcome is, is crucial. And I think we've had some people go through that mind shift. We've had people who haven't, and they've left the organization. So like any team, it's the talent that you surround yourself with. You got to be looking for talent that can replace you. You've got to be looking for talent that can bring other talent in, just like you would expect from a winning team.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That makes sense. Can you share you yourself, as a leader, what is the biggest lesson you've learned throughout this process?

Bob Feiner: So that's a good question. I think for me, the biggest thing is, again, it's you've got to just put the customer at the core of everything that you do and realize that, hey, for example, I may have an impact on my financial metric. I'm held accountable to a certain cost number or P&L number. I may take an impact to that, but if I'm doing the right thing for the customer, I think that gets excused as long as there's a balance in that. And I think having that perspective of it's okay for an individual to have a challenge accomplishing something, as long as the outcome is the right thing for the customer. I think that's a perspective that all of us have taken to heart and have really learned from. And I think that's enabling the success that we have today.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It's a greater success to be challenged achieving the right outcome than to be successful achieving complacency.

Bob Feiner: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it's-

Sarah Nicastro: And an outcome that your customers don't value, right?

Bob Feiner: Yeah. It's we, not me, right?

Sarah Nicastro: It's growth. It's growth. I mean, it's not going to be, you wave a magic wand, and all of a sudden things are transformed, and everything is sunshine and rainbows. There's going to be bumps and fits and starts and lessons, and that's the hard work of it. But it's commendable hard work. So I think that's a really good point.

I know you said you still, you're in the midst of all of this, and there will always be improvements to make. What progress, benefits, wins have you seen so far since you've started the journey?

Bob Feiner: Well, I can tell you a great example is earlier this year, obviously, we have a supply chain that's global, but we do have a lot of things that come through Shanghai. Shanghai's the largest port in the world. Even if things aren't manufactured necessarily there, there's a lot of product that comes through there, components. And earlier this year, Shanghai went through a pretty significant shutdown from a Covid perspective and really impacted supply chains and you name the product around the world.

And I think prior to having this structure in place, once Shanghai reopened, we probably would've optimized, okay, the parts are going to ship parts out. We may not coordinate that with the field. The field will get a big backlog of parts. What are they going to do? How are they going to go manage that? Contact centers will get a flood of calls coming in, trying to find out how to get their problem solved.

And I think with having the structure in place, what we actually did is we were able to be much more thoughtful end-to-end about, okay, once products are able or components are able to come out of Shanghai, how do we solve problems for customers end-to-end? And we put a plan in place. We thought, okay, we are going to have a spike in backlog, because when you can't get parts, you just can't get parts. And we built out what our plans were going to be to go solve our customer problems. And actually, we were one month ahead of schedule by having this end-to-end in place because everyone was working in sync. Everyone, the contact centers were planning, okay, what kind of calls are going to come in? And where are they going to be? The parts teams were coordinating with, okay, these components, these specific components are going to be released. They're on a ship, and here's where they're going to be delivered. So then the field knows when that's going to show up, and they can go deliver for customers that need that component or that product.

And I think having that better end-to-end view from the business management system to the teams working together to the communications that we have on a weekly basis helped us to get a month ahead of what our original plan was, and which is a huge boon to customers, particularly folks who are waiting on particular things to do their jobs. So I think that's a great example of where we looked at it as a team and not as individuals to really go solve customer problems.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. And instead of scrambling to react when that happened-

Bob Feiner: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: ... you were able to come together proactively in advance and think through, okay, we know this is coming. How do we work together to get ahead of it? And yeah, that's really good.

I think this is great, Bob. I'm really glad you came on and talked through this with me and with our audience. Like I said, it's commendable, hard work. It's hard work that I think a lot of folks are in the midst of as well, and can commiserate with some of the challenges. And others, hopefully, are taking notes and thinking about what they need to be doing. Any final thoughts or words of wisdom for folks?

No. I mean, I think it just all goes back to kind of the mantra around rings, not trophies. I mean, if you think about it from a customer view, that's what you've got to do. And I think you got to think about it from what do you experience? What's the great experiences that you have every day? And what are the ones you don't because we all have the ones that aren't happen. Do you want your customers going through that as well? And I think if you take that mindset of. What I do in my personal life is also what I've got to think about for the service that my company's performing, I think that helps you along that road of truly being a customer-centric organization.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for being here and sharing with us. I appreciate it.

Bob Feiner: No, it's awesome. It's great to talk to you.

Sarah Nicastro: Yep. You can find more on service transformation, business transformation, customer-centricity, all of those things by visiting us at 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 at

As always, thank you for listening.

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October 24, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

A Winning Service Strategy: Think Rings, Not Trophies 

October 24, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

A Winning Service Strategy: Think Rings, Not Trophies 


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service 

When I talk with leaders about what stands in the way of achieving success with their service transformation, their business transformation, or their digital transformation, one very common response is organizational siloes. When it comes to providing standout service, these siloes are detrimental to the customer experience. Customers seek seamlessness, ease, and outcomes – the disjointedness that even very individually successful but disconnected functions causes in the customer journey simply does not meet today’s expectations. 

On this week’s podcast, I talk with Bob Feiner, SVP of DELL Technologies Services about how the company’s service organization has overhauled its strategy, structure, communications, and technology use to be more customer centric by creating an end-to-end approach. There’s a lot to glean from the conversation, because what Bob and the DELL team have undertaken is a lot of hard work – but work that in my opinion is very necessary to achieve the level of customer centricity they’re aiming for.

One of the points that Bob made that stands out in my mind most is how he’s articulated the shift in mindset that is required to undertake such a significant change. “My mantra has become, ‘Focus on winning rings, not trophies,’” he says. “I'm a big sports guy, in particular team sports. When you think about team sports, if somebody has a great year and they win the MVP or whatever it may be, they receive a trophy. But when you win a World Championship, no matter what the sport is, the Super Bowl or the World Series or Stanley Cup, every member of that team gets a ring. Because they played together to win that championship, to achieve the common goal.”

Motivating Teams Toward a Shared Goal

In many ways, this analogy has served as a guiding philosophy as Bob has led his teams through a significant reorientation toward the customer experience. “I just think about leading teams that way. What I often tell my teams are, we're actually playing for a World Championship every day. Our Super Bowl is every day. Our World Series final is every day. Our World Cup final is every day,” he says. “That's the mindset we need to have. I think this has helped people look at it from a team perspective and not just, okay, I got this great trophy that I can put on my desk somewhere, or a badge I can show virtually. It's really about getting that ring and continuing to get those rings, as a team. And if you look at folks who were great, even individual athletes, what they care most about are rings. They don't care about the trophies. And they'll say that time and time again.”

If you’ve managed through change, you know that often the mindset – overcoming the human inclination toward what’s comfortable and known – is the hardest part. This is why Bob’s analogy and how he’s used it to reinforce the principle of why DELL needs to evolve its approach stands out to me – it’s a concept teams can understand and get behind. 

Sometimes we rush past explaining the “why” and right on to tackling the how, and this can leave workers feeling confused and frustrated which is never a great basis for acceptance of change. Not only has Bob prioritized starting with the “why,” but he’s found a way to articulate that why that is relatable and a theme he can keep revisiting to reinforce the teamwork and cohesiveness that is crucial to DELL achieving its overall objectives of creating an end-to-end approach. 

Stay tuned to hear more from Bob this Wednesday on the podcast about how he built off of this mindset shift and has made great progress in eliminating siloes within DELL to improve the customer experience. 

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October 19, 2022 | 6 Mins Read

Highlights from IFS UNLEASHED

October 19, 2022 | 6 Mins Read

Highlights from IFS UNLEASHED


Sarah shares her personal reflections and highlights from last week’s IFS Unleashed customer event in Miami. 

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. I am recording this episode here at the Miami Beach Convention Center in South Beach, Miami, Florida, where we are in the midst of wrapping up IFS Unleashed. It has been a very exciting, very energetic, very fulfilling, very informative, and very exhausting week here in Miami at the IFS Event. IFS traditionally has done what it has formerly called its World Conference Events every 18 months, but, obviously, with the pandemic, those didn't happen for a bit. So this is the first IFS Customer Event since the fall of 2019, and it's been rebranded to IFS Unleashed, focused around how IFS is helping customers unleash their potential, and it was just a wonderful, wonderful event. So I wanted to record a podcast and just talk about some of what I've experienced here this week. I myself have done a horrible job of being on social media, taking pictures.

I've been running from one thing to the next and really just focused on spending quality time with a lot of folks that I have not had the opportunity to see face to face in quite a while. So I have some notes that I'm going to glance at and they're in no particular order. I just wanted to go through some of the things that stood out to me personally this week. So when Darren Roos, the CEO, kicked off the event on Tuesday morning, he started with an image behind him on a huge stage of a tent. And if you've never heard the story of the tent at IFS, it's about how the company's owners early on in the days the company was created, actually put a tent outside of a customer location and camped there to deliver a project they had committed to. I've always loved that story. I think it really speaks to the customer centricity being at the heart of IFS all the way from its beginning. So I loved that, that image was up there from the beginning of the event and really reinforcing that story and what it stands for.

I also really enjoyed Marne Martin, who is the President of Service Management, Enterprise Asset Management, and Global Industries at IFS, did an all woman panel with two IFS customers, Susan Stevenson from NUCO2 and Martina Schoultz from Gilbarco, and it was a great conversation. I just also really admire the fact that anytime she can, Marne looks for ways to lift up and draw attention to the women in still a male dominated industry that are doing amazing, amazing things. So it was great to see Marne, Susan, and Martina chat about not only business transformation and digital transformation, but just what the landscape is like today for women who are in leadership roles. 

Michael Ouissi, the COO of IFS, had a session yesterday morning, Wednesday morning, where he brought up a number of IFS customers to share a bit about their journeys, and one of those was Sasha Ilyukhin, who is the Senior Vice President for Customer Service Operations at Tetra Pak.

I myself have had the opportunity to interview Sasha before on this podcast a couple of times, But one of the things that Sasha said during their chat really stood out to me, which is in a business as complex as Tetra Pak's is they have to relentlessly drive towards simplicity. I really like that point because I think it's important and true in more than one way. Certainly, from a technological perspective, companies need to be looking for ways to reduce complexity, but also within the organization, within how you're communicating, within how you're managing and what those relationships look like. Are things clear? Is there ways to eliminate confusion, eliminate complexity? So I thought that was a very, very good point. We had the opportunity to be joined here yesterday by Michael Phelps. It was really, really cool to see him speak. I greatly admired his authenticity and his vulnerability.

He shared about his ADHD and his anxiety things I also have, and I just really appreciated him being vulnerable, being open talking about what has gone into him winning and succeeding as much as he had, but also what has gone into some of the challenges and some of the really hard parts of it. He was just very, very open and honest, and it was a really neat experience to have him here with us and sharing his story. 

I led a number of sessions myself this week. I had a panel discussion with Sasha from Tetra Pak, that I mentioned earlier, Roel Rentmeesters, who is the Vice President of Digital Transformation at Munters, and Marc Ringwelski, who is the Head of Rema Tip Top's Smart Services Division, and we had a conversation about transforming service from the inside out and talking about some of the things that tend to happen when we don't focus on some of those internal components.

So not only setting a strong foundation with our technology and making sure that it's solid before we look for those ways to leverage it and really provide that external value, we also talked a lot about change management and how important it is to get that right. It was a really great conversation. I also had a session on the influencer track with Jorge Mejia, also from Tetra Pak. Jorge is leading Tetra Pak's next generation service management project, and the influencer track session at IFS Unleashed is a track of press and analysts. I personally always find it fun to present on that track because I used to sit in that audience before I was a part of Future of Field Service and IFS, and it just gives the press and analysts an opportunity to have some dedicated time with the speakers and be able to hear a bit more, ask them questions. Jorge gave them really an inside look at some of the details of Tetra Pak's service transformation or NextGen Service Initiative, and that was a lot of fun as well.

We had Tuesday night some beach parties. I may or may not have had too many tequila seltzers that evening. It was a lot of fun. And Wednesday night there was a big customer appreciation event at the Frost Center here in Miami. It was a beautiful place with a planetarium, a multi-level aquarium, a ton of entertainment. It was really fun, and most importantly for me I had an opportunity both in planned sessions and meetings and scheduled time, but also just at random in the hall at the parties and events to run into people that really mean a lot to me. A lot of friendly faces that I had an opportunity to reconnect with, some for 30 seconds and some for far longer, but really appreciated being able to see those faces and reconnect. I think that was really what the energy this week was a lot about. I think people just seemed so excited to be here, to be together, to be learning from one another, sharing stories of success and trials and tribulations, and hearing what IFS and IFS's customers are up to.

It was a wonderful week. I'll certainly plan to do some additional follow-up content stemming from the event and getting into a bit more detail on some of the topics. But while I'm here, I wanted to record this and report in with a bit of I guess a video diary of how the week has gone, because I haven't had my phone out much to be capturing a lot of the moments. I've been busy living them. I am actually taking some much needed time off next week to spend with my kiddos when I get home, so while you're watching this or listening to this, I will actually be in Disney World for my very first time and my kids very first time. Appreciate you tuning in and we'll look forward to presenting more soon. In the meantime, you can visit us always at You can find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter at The Future Of FS. The Future of Field Service Podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at As always, thank you for listening.

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October 17, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

Lessons from a Run Last Week in Miami

October 17, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

Lessons from a Run Last Week in Miami


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Last weekend, along with 1,500-plus others, I landed in Miami for IFS Unleashed in South Beach. My suitcase included workout gear for every day of the trip – clothing that once would have been packed with good intentions but returned home untouched. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve lost 35 pounds and have re-committed myself to daily movement, so the clothes were put to good use (Ok, maybe the morning after the beach parties I didn’t make it). 

I’ve shared before that I am a Peloton subscriber and enjoy the company’s instructors. They’ve recently teamed up with actor Ashton Kutcher, who is preparing or a marathon to benefit his charity, to create a series of runs based on his training. They recently had a session where Peloton instructor Adrian Mills (one of my personal favs) and Ashton were joined by psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant to talk about why and how we as humans are motivated. On a rainy morning in Miami, I decided to take this run in the hotel gym and really enjoyed not only the workout but the discussion. 

Knowing not everyone in our audience is a fellow Peloton subscriber, I thought I would share some of the points from their discussion that stood out me:

  • There’s more than one kind of workaholic. In a discussion around work ethic and how they each perceive productivity, Adam shares that there are two types of workaholics – engaged and compulsive. Engaged workaholics work a lot because they genuinely enjoy what they do and want to do it, whereas compulsive workaholics work a lot because they feel pressure and a sense of obligation. I really appreciated this distinction because I realized I’m the engaged type and gave some more context to what that means. However, it also reminded me that while he pointed out that the engaged workaholic is a healthier type, it’s still important to maintain balance and set boundaries. 
  • Altruism is rarely just that. As the group explored what was behind Ashton’s frustration with himself for falling short of a goal, Adam questioned if he’s running the marathon solely for his foundation – or if there are some personal motivations woven in. In doing so, he made the point that altruism is rarely just altruism alone – and that it is OK to enjoy and even love the ways that you can change the world. This stood out to me as well, because it highlights one of the many “either/or” ways of thinking we often have – if it’s doing good, it won’t be enjoyable – and if it’s enjoyable, it isn’t doing good. It can be both! We can give of ourselves in ways that have a positive impact and that we enjoy. 
  • The basement holds up the house. This part of the discussion was all around building a strong foundation for yourself, in whatever ways work for you. This can be everything from rest to nutrition to movement to therapy to meditation to hobbies, and beyond. But the point is that everything we do builds upon our own foundation, so we must make sure that foundation is strong. I use this analogy a lot when discussion digital transformation, too, because often companies try to race to the flashier, more exciting layers without first putting in place that strong foundation – and it’s like building a house of cards. 

In our fast-paced world where burnout is a major challenge and how leaders must motivate teams is evolving, I thought these points were universally helpful to consider. If you do happen to use Peloton, I strongly urge you to look up this ride and take it – it’s a good one. 

As for IFS Unleashed, what a week! Stay tuned for this week’s podcast on Wednesday recapping the highlights for those who weren’t with us in person. 

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October 12, 2022 | 31 Mins Read

Koolmill’s Cool As-a-Service Story

October 12, 2022 | 31 Mins Read

Koolmill’s Cool As-a-Service Story


Sarah welcomes Alec Anderson, Managing Director of Koolmill Systems, to talk about how his company is disrupting the rice milling industry – not only with its innovating rice milling machine, but with an As-a-Service go-to-market strategy. 

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we are going to be hearing a very “cool” as-a-service story, which is the story of Koolmill. I'm excited to be joined by Alec Anderson, who's the managing director of Koolmill Systems. Alec, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Alec Anderson: Thanks, Sarah. Nice to be here.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Thanks for being here. Okay, so I'm excited to share your story with our audience, because there are a couple of really interesting aspects to it, and we were introduced by James Galloway at BDR Thermea, who was on the podcast not too, too long ago, and I'm really glad that he suggested I connect with you, and that you agreed to join me here. So before we get into the Koolmill story, tell our listeners just a bit about yourself and your background.

Alec Anderson: So yeah. How did I end up in rice milling and doing machinery as a service? That's a good question. I started off as a marine engineer, when I left school. I was a qualified marine engineer, but that was a dying trade, so I went back to university as a mature student. During my vacation between second and third year, I went to work for a local company for summer vacation job for 12 weeks, became a final year project. I joined the company, and I bought the company, and here we are now. Rice got the hook into me there somehow.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, yeah. So let's explain to our audience. So tell everyone what Koolmill is, and what industry you're in, because obviously our audience reaches across a variety of industries. So you're definitely going to have plenty of people here that are not familiar with the rice industry.

Alec Anderson: And that's not an unusual story. Rice is a huge global industry that feeds half the world every day, but it's not known for it's as a service opportunities. Koolmill is a small, family owned business based in the UK, and we've developed a novel disruptive technology, a paradigm shift if you like, in milling technology. And effectively, we are trying to transform a global food system, move it from a wasteful current position into a more sustainable future position. And that really depends on doing things differently, both in the physical sense, and then also in the business model sense.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay. So we're going to talk a little bit more about some of the competitive differentiation that Koolmill has. Before we do that though, being that our audience won't necessarily understand of the market trends in the rice milling industry, just from very high level, explain what some of those pressures, challenges and opportunities are.

Alec Anderson: Yeah. So rice is a very conservative industry. So after 8,000 years of rice processing, we are the thumb generation in technology, and the current mechanized machines that are bound today, what introduced around about 160 years ago, and have evolved over that time, but effectively they're all based on those early machines.

So rice has saw a number of problems. There's enough rice to feed around about 600 million people, is lost each year from farm to fork, and that's due to poor storage, drying and processing, and we can help address the losses in processing, and the estimated loss is around $127 billion a year, or something like that. So these are massive numbers, and we need to do much better.

Sarah Nicastro: So there's an opportunity to improve the technology, which will reduce waste. Right? It is one big area of opportunity. And I think we'll get into this more later, but just to sort of set the stage for folks, when it comes to the organizations that are milling rice, and where that happens, and how it happens, there's some aspects of the industry that make it possible for huge corporations to do that, and leave a lot of people out of the realm of possibility. Right? So can you kind of explain the landscape, from that perspective?

Alec Anderson: Yeah, so the current state of the art in the industry, that's probably around about 50,000 large millers globally, and they're very highly capital intensive. Not necessarily digitalized, but quite automated in many instances. But to run that kind of operation, you need lots of money to buy it in the first place. You need lots of rice to keep it running, and you need a huge amount of infrastructure and power to support it.

Now, there are around one and a half million SME processors globally, if you don't have access to those three requirements. So they're kind of locked in to using antiquated and wasteful equipment. In fact, we were in Nigeria earlier this year, and they were running machines that were made in the 1870s, still driven by diesel. So they're kind of locked into what they have, or if they do replace, they replace like with like, because they don't have access to this high performance, state of the art, modern equipment, and we aim to try and change that.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay, I did a horrible job of setting that up for you, but you did a wonderful job of explaining it. So there's opportunity in the sense of within the industry, there's a lot of waste.

Alec Anderson: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: And so there's opportunity, both in the machines and in the process, to minimize that waste, which will of course help us feed more people in the world. Right?

Then, from a competitive landscape, you have these large corporations that can afford the most modern equipment, or if even a couple of generations more modern than the 1800's, right? But anyone that's at the small and medium size, that is attempting to play in this space, is kind of boxed out just based on the cost of the equipment itself. And so Koolmill is disrupting the industry, both in the sense of offering a machine that meets the needs of reducing waste, and then also offering a new business model that equalizes the ability for companies to compete and to produce. Okay? Did I explain that correctly?

Alec Anderson: Yeah, you've got it. So basically, I think maybe a better way to explain it is these large mills are large, and you can't scale them down and retain the level of performance. They're just not viable.

Now, one of our unique points is that we can scale down without loss of performance. So whether we're milling a ton an hour, or we're milling at 100kgs an hour, we have the same performance, and that's revolutionary in the industry. So basically I think probably three aspects to Koolmill. One is reduction in power, which is obviously very critical right now. So we're looking at upwards of 90% reduction in power.

We're looking at producing more food from the same input from the harvest, and increasing the value of that output, because more there's a higher quality. So we have a quantitative improvement in quantity, and we have a qualitative improvement in the quality of the output, which is higher value, and that all builds to better revenues for these smaller producers, and also for the growers.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So perfect. So the machine that Koolmill has developed improves those three areas. And when you talk about quality, we're talking about nutritional content of the ultimate output of the rice, right?

Alec Anderson: Because another aspect of Koolmill, we call it Koolmill, because we mill cold. We mill cold because we don't waste the power, which comes out as heat in a conventional machine. There is some evidence emerging that the cold milling retains more of the micronutrients, so that then produces potentially a more nutritious food product.

Also, our bran that we produce is very clean, very pure, and doesn't deteriorate after milling. So that enables that to be valorized into again, a human food ingredient, rather than as currently, mostly goes to food for animals, because it's basically gone rancid. So these are all things that increase the value creation.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. And so those are how the machine itself is a competitive differentiator. Let's talk a bit about the decision to leverage the as a service business model, and how that is also a competitive differentiator, and a real change in the rice industry. So talk a little bit about that.

Alec Anderson: Yeah, it's a really interesting one, this, because I guess we hadn't heard the term Servitization before, and what we found when we did hear that term was they'd actually been doing it for many years, we just hadn't been charging for it. So we've been providing the machinery, providing the engineers, providing the consumables, and that was really necessary because of the development of the machine had to be in a rice mill, because of the quantities of rice that we needed to do that.

We spent a lot of time working with large customers, trying to sell them a machine that we didn't understand, that they didn't actually need, because they already had the best of what was already there. And then we started to look at the smaller users who had the need, but we find there's no point in having great technology if nobody can afford to buy it.

And we had two primary barriers. One was a perceived technology risk. We're a small company with a novel technology, nobody knows us, nobody knows our technology, and that creates some reluctance. And also we were perceived to be a high capital cost, which none of these are true, but the perception is harder to argue than the facts. So we became involved with the Advanced Services Group at Aston, and we started to work on this pay as you mill service, or the machinery as a service business model, very similar to world wise powered by the hour, where we've evolved to know we guarantee hours in exchange for a fixed fee.

So that offers these small operators cost certainty. We have the technical risk. They know what it's going to cost them, and it takes away the need for capital cost as well. So it's an enabler, an empowerment. It empowers these small producers now to compete on pricing and quality with the large producers.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay. So we're going to talk a little bit more about that. Before we do, I want to talk about, you brought up to me three aspects that were key to making the as a service model work. So the first is connection to the machines. So talk a little bit about that.

Alec Anderson: Yeah. The whole service model is basically underpinned by connectivity, digitalization, and clearly if we are going to guarantee a certain number of hours per month, it's important that we understand what's actually happening on the machine, that we can work preemptively if things are going wrong, to mitigate any downtime, and to maximize value.

When you move to a service model, you're really moving away from the conventional transactional sales, which is a confrontational business model. I want lots of money, you don't want to pay me any money, and we try and meet somewhere in the middle, and you never see me again once I've got your money. Whereas the service model's really based on very much a strong collaborative, long term partnership, where both parties are aligned in the outcome, either successful or not successful. Hopefully successful.

Sarah Nicastro: Well, and to your point that you mentioned earlier and just now, there's risk sharing. Right?

Alec Anderson: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: So that helps you in terms of eliminating or negating that perception that's out there. What is this new innovative thing? Could be great, might not. I'm going to just stick with what I know. Right?

So when you say, "Yeah, but listen. We're not asking you to pay us this huge, upfront capital investment. Try it out and see if it works for you, and we'll share that risk." I mean, this is an area of moving to as a service that is really, I think, a huge opportunity. But it is an area that existing businesses that have a legacy, are very, very uncomfortable with. Right? Because it's just completely different. Right?

But there's no risk, no reward, I guess is what they say. Right? And so for you, it's been beneficial to share in that risk, to introduce something different to help these companies find a new way of working. So, sorry. I just wanted to point out the risk part, is a part of this that for a company that's moving to this model, there is no way around that. Right? If you're guaranteeing an outcome, there's no negating that risk. There's no way to do that without accepting some risk, and that's just part of this that we need to get past, as an industry, with companies that are going in this direction. Okay. So sorry, I interrupted.

Alec Anderson: No, but I think just picking up on the risk point, yes. The risk is there. There's always risk. Things will go wrong. The question is how do you deal with that risk? How do you write your contracts to deal? And again, if you have this strong collaborative partnership, so say for instance if we had a customer with five or six machines, we may put seven or eight machines in, so that any time, a given number of machines is working. Nobody knows your machinery or whatever you're making better than you do. But a lot of manufacturing right now is designed for manufacturer. How can we reduce the cost of manufacturer? How can we reduce the materials? How can we reduce everything, to make it as cheap as possible? We're trying to do a cost plus offer.

We take the opposite view, and moved to a value creation. So if I can look at the value I can generate from a machine over its life, rather than just selling it once, can I change the way I design that machine? So design for service. Can I design it in a modular way, so that anything that fails on a machine can easily be changed? As we already touched on, digitalization, the ability to remotely monitor, capture data, to pick up at an early stage things in data that a human being wouldn't be able to detect, and to make proactive management, rather than reactive management, which is where lots of companies are at the moment.

I think if you were in a traditional industry that's already selling equipment, it's probably a bigger change than it is for us, because we came in clean. We weren't selling anything. We are a new technology, so it's easier for us to start. But I think you have to think about the creation of value. How can you create that value? How can you capture a share of that value? And if that means redesigning the machine so that they can have a longer life with more service, and I think the world is moving away from the disposable, buy it, scrap it, get another one. If you can design machinery that has a longer life, and it can be upgraded through its life, I think there's great value there.

Sarah Nicastro: Well, there's great value in the sense of, like you said, you're moving into a relationship. Or for you, you've created a relationship. I understand it's different context here, because you're not moving away from a legacy, but a lot of our audience is, which is why I'm bringing up some of these points. You can imagine having done this from fresh, how hard that is. Right?

But when you create this partnership, and you are now moving away from, "How do we do it fastest, cheapest, and make the most money up front?" to, "How do we create the most mutually beneficial working relationship for the long term?" You build the machinery different, which helps you in servicing it, and guaranteeing the outcomes, which helps your customer. But there's also a huge environmental impact, because the additional investment that is required to create machinery that is intended to last longer is something that, in a traditional model, no one's willing to accept the cost of. Right?

And so this allows organizations to really transform the way that their operations are affecting the environment, without forcing themselves or their customers to accept that cost. I mean, they both are, but that's because you're moving into a model that makes that far more feasible. So I think that's really interesting part of the discussion too, is there's another benefit here, which is to the environment, and moving away from that consumable mindset, moving away from just turn and burn, create cheap, sell it, we don't care what happens after that. Right? So that's a really interesting aspect of this, as well.

Alec Anderson: So I think our machines are designed not to be scrapped, but they're designed to come back and be re-manufactured. So there is no end of life cost, because theoretically there should be no end of life. But it's minimal in that re-manufacture, you want to minimize the amount of materials that have to be recycled.

I think just to pick up on your cost point, it's really interesting, wasn't it? Because it comes back to the focus on cost reduction, rather than value creation. If I'm going to build something at a cost, and then I'm going to put a mark up on and sell it to you, it's an issue because the higher the cost, the more difficult it's for you to buy. If I, on the other hand, I'm not selling you that. Then the cost of the initial machinery is less of an issue. It becomes an asset finance question now.

And where I would argue is, forget the cost of the machine. What is the value that machine's going to create over its next 5, 10, 15 years of life? And when you look at it from that perspective, the cost of the actual, physical build is generally insignificant. So one of our machines may cost 10, 15, 20,000 pounds to make, but over its life, it's going to make process 50, 60 million pounds worth of rice. So the cost versus the value is really the key driver, and it's really changing that focus, because right now everybody's focused on, "Let's get the cost down."

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. No, it's a really good point, and here's what I want to ask you. So you know, you brought this up when we chatted the first time, which is you have to educate people in this context, customers, that productivity is not only about reducing cost, but increasing value. Right? So we're programmed to think increased productivity means reduced cost, but in increased productivity can also mean increased value. Now, you're not battling an internal legacy that you have to overcome with what Koolmill is doing, but you are still battling a legacy mindset, in the companies that you're selling to. So how have you shifted that narrative?

Alec Anderson: Slowly. As I said, we work in a very, very conservative industry, and I would say our challenge right now is not a technical challenge. It's really a culture or mindset. It's changing the perceptions and how people think about. And if you think about it from their perspective, here's this small company from England coming and telling us we've been doing it wrong for a hundred years. You know?

So it is a lot to take in, and there is another problem I think, in that your sort of intermediate management level, their power base is based on their knowledge of the existing technologies. And when you come with a new technology that's very disruptive, it's highly digitalized, I think there's a fear there that the younger generation will pick up that new technology, and more quickly, and that will devalue their power base, if you like. So you have to work very constructively with these people. They could be the blockers, the saboteurs, to try and make them the hero of the story rather than the villain of the story. But it can be very challenging, and I guess if you are already got an established supplier-customer relationship, then changing that barrier, or getting through that barrier is going to be probably harder than it is for us.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's a really good point. I mean you're able to come in as a fresh take. Right? "Hey listen, we don't work together, but let me tell you about this." I'm not saying that's not hard, but one of the biggest objections or roadblocks that I hear from organizations, that maybe recognize the potential of as a service but are struggling to understand how they could get there is, "Well, our customers aren't going to be willing to pay for that. Our customers aren't going to be willing to allow us to connect and implement remote service, because they pay us for hours on site. Our customers are..." you know? And it's because they haven't figured out how to change that dialogue, and what goes into having that conversation constructively. And it isn't just about figuring out what goes into it.

I mean, there's a lot of factors here. I said, "How have you handled it?" You said, "Slowly." So there's a lot of patience that has to be at play here, and I think it's really interesting that you bring that up. I've been in this space for, I don't know, 14-ish years, and I get asked all the time, "What's new? What's cutting edge? What's the next big technology?" Right? And I think like you said, the technology is there. Okay? There is capability in technology, accessible to organizations today, far beyond what they are prepared to use. So we should not be focusing so much on AI, and what's next, and we should be talking about the cultural, and people, and mindset shifts that are preventing companies from making use of what exists today.

So when I think about, "Where are we going over the next five to 10 years?" I'm always asked for predictions. I hate predictions, but that is where the change comes in. And the reason that we're as media, or as thought leaders, still talking about the same concepts that we started talking about 10 years ago is because you're talking about foundational business transformation, that takes a lot of time because there's so many layers to it.

So I think it's a really good point that you are not tied to that legacy, as the owner of Koolmill, and that makes your remit maybe a teeny bit easier than companies that are. But overall, we all need to understand this isn't just a vision and a strategy that you put in place and boom, you go execute, and in six months or 12 months, you are an as a service business. This, it takes time, and we can't allow ourselves to become discouraged, or not believe in the power of the business model, just because it's not easy to get there. Right? So what do you think about that? That was a lot of words. I'm sorry.

Alec Anderson: No. Look, we live in a very fast world. Fail fast, move on. I don't have a problem with that, just define fast. So for us, a hundred years is fast in rice milling, but it does take time. And also I think if you're in a transactional sales model, where I make a product, I want my profit, I want to sell it to you, often that's where the story ends.

What do you do with my product? How much value does my product create for you? How can I enhance that value? How can I capture my share of that value? And so one of my customers said to me, "Look, I like your machine, but the price has to be fair." And I said, "Yes, fair to who? Fair to you, or fair to me, or fair to us both?" He said, "Well, just charge me what it's worth." And I said, "Well it costs you about $750,000, then borrow a machine. How many do you want?" And he wasn't so keen then.

So you have to understand, or maybe think about things from a different perspective. If you are delivering something to a customer, what value are you creating for that customer? Do the skills and knowledge that you have, and perhaps by adapting your product, by adding extra features to that product, can that create more value for them? If you don't understand your customer and how they use the product, and how they create value with your product, then it's very difficult to justify a service model. But if you have that knowledge, and you have that cooperation. So I guess the key aspect, you're just finding that initial customer to work with, who you can be very close, very transparent. We are very open with our customers. We'll show them what it costs to make a machine.

Everybody asks me, "What's a machine cost?" It doesn't matter. It's not relevant. It's, "How much will it earn you?" is a much better question.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Alec Anderson: So there's the challenge. Now again, I think going back to what we said earlier, much easier for us because we're starting from scratch. Much more difficult where you have established practices, and if it isn't broke, don't fix it. That's a saying here in the UK, and people like to just do what they've always done. There's no thought required.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. For sure.

Alec Anderson: But the margins, or the additional revenue potential is significant. And again, it comes back to that capture of the value. Capturing your fair share of the value.

Sarah Nicastro: I think the point about transparency is a really good one too, because if you were having those conversations, and your answer stopped with, "It doesn't matter what the cost of the machine is. What matters is this," you're not resolving that objection as successfully as if you say, "Well, I can tell you the cost of the machine doesn't matter. What you can earn with it does, but it costs X," because you're not hiding anything. You're not trying to get one over on them. Right?

And so that's another part that I think is a big mindset shift in how this is sold though, is that value creation conversation, and the shared risk, but it's also the honesty. Right? We're very accustomed to these negotiations, and, "Don't show your hand." And this is just, it's different. And if you can be upfront about, "Yeah, the machine only costs this and we're charging you this, but what you can do with it is this," and believe in that value proposition, then you know you can start a real conversation, versus trying to seem that you're hiding something or whatever.

Alec Anderson: That's key, but I think trust is the word there. You have to build that trust, and that, again, takes time.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Alec Anderson: And so we are lucky that we've been doing this a number of years now, and we've developed very strong relationships, both in a supplier. So we don't have customers and suppliers, we have partners. Our supply chain and partners, and our end users. So it is really that commitment to that partnership.

And I think again, we are a small company, so it's easier for us. Everybody's on board with the whole concept, and that's all they've ever known in the company. So if you were in a conventional existing company, with a conventional product, it's really important that this is driven from the top down. You can't push it from the bottom up. It's got to be a commitment, and it's got to be a genuine commitment, not just a dressing.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. For sure. So one of the things that I really, really like about your story, Alec, is when we chatted the first time, you referred to this as your ability to create a more virtuous cycle. Okay?

And so talk to us about how you see the as a service business model, and what Koolmill is doing with it, as a way to equalize competition among the really, really large rice milling companies, and the small and medium size. Tell us a little bit about what you're doing there and the way you view that.

Alec Anderson: So in terms of the virtuous circle, there's a number of things. So we have three pillars. There's economic, there's a social, and there's an environmental. So right now, rice is one of the largest polluters in the world. It's equivalent to aviation. About two and a half percent of all greenhouse gases, and 10% of all methane emissions come from rice.

So one of our is about valorization of these waste products. So the bran, already we talked about, can be made into a human food ingredient. Straw can be used to make power, which can power a mill, which can provide a 24/7 power to a local community, from a waste material. And the rice mill produces high value employment, which means that people can now actually buy the electric that's now available to them, unlike solar, many grids where they don't have a job. They can see people with light, but they don't have money to buy that light and power.

So that's the one aspect. In terms of the environmental aspect, obviously by not wasting rice, that avoids the waste of the resources going into growing that rice. By reducing the power demand, that's a massive benefit. And also the bonding of the straw, the methane from the degradation of the straw.

But perhaps in terms of building the social capabilities, we call it rural industrialization, where we can use that rice mill as a focal point, as a employment generator, as a means of creating and retaining value at a local community. So rather than a rice farmer right now maybe getting 25 cents a kilo for their rice, if they could turn that into a viable mill product, they're worth a dollar a kilo. So we could transform their livelihoods. So I think at the SDGs, we would say we address 16 out the 17. If we can put one on a submarine, we might get 17 out of 17.

So this is really a transformative technology. It can transform this global food system, and that's really critical because by 2050, it won't be three and a half billion people rice is feeding. It'll be 6 billion. Asia has a lot of issues right now, in terms of land stress and water, and weather events, and contamination. So we don't have enough rice. I think the FAO said we have to increase rice production by 70% to meet the demand by 2050. So it's really fundamentally important that we don't waste what we are already growing.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Alec Anderson: We've got to get the best use that we can from that. And if we can use that as an empowerment tool to give these local communities a means to create a wealth or value, and redistribute, rebalance that value chain, reduce the food miles, reduce the power per ton, these are all growers. And then also at the added valorization of using these extra waste materials to create for those adds value. That's kind of how we see our virtuous circle.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, and just to dig into that a little bit, so we talked earlier, at the beginning about historically, these large rice mills can afford the latest technology, they're doing a ton of output. Now they might not be doing it in a cost conscious way, or an environmentally conscious way, but they're just focused on in and out, in and out production, high volume. Right? And the small and medium size rice mills have struggled, because they cannot afford that technology. They struggle to create that output, et cetera.

So by leveraging the as a service model, you're equalizing that competition a bit. You're making it possible for those small and medium sized businesses to invest in the latest and greatest technology, in the same way that the large companies could. And then that gives them the opportunity to improve their output, improve their value creation, without that challenge of not being able to afford that capital expenditure.

I don't know if you're willing to share this example, but I know you told me, when we spoke, that you have had folks ask you to buy the equipment outright, and you have not allowed that to happen. Can you talk about that, and why that is?

Alec Anderson: Rice industry is very large, but it's also very small. So I think my feeling is we believe and are committed to our business model. The easy option for us right now would be perhaps to sell some machines to big companies, and just bank some money. But I think once we do that, we kind of shoot ourselves in the foot, and then trying to introduce the model will become significantly harder.

So it's tough, and you have to have a persistence, and belief, belligerence maybe. But we have a unique technology. It's patented, and so you can only get it from us, and we want to make it available to those that, perhaps the best impact is going to be with the smaller consumers. If you think about a lot, if we're looking at Africa in particular, or even rural India, you've got infrastructure problems. These big mills require lots of rice. So that means you've got to truck that rice for miles and miles.

Now in the states, they've got good road systems, great trucks, it's not a problem. In Africa, it's a major problem. They don't have the road infrastructure to haul that rice. So many of these large mills that have being built are not running at anything near their capacity, because they physically can't get enough rice to them, to keep them going. Now again, if you look at the macroeconomics, Africa should be self-sufficient in rice, yet imports enormous quantities of rice to replace rice they already have, because they don't have the physical capability to process that rice to an acceptable standard for the consumer. Therefore the consumer would rather pay a price premium to buy imported rice, rather than local rice.

So if we can increase the capability of these rural millers and bear in mind, going back to the macro, sorry to jump about, but of 750 million tons of rice that's grown each year, maybe 40 million tons will be traded as an export commodity. So most of the rice is grown and consumed in a very tight locality. So by improving that capability, in a distributed local sense, at a high performance level, then you don't need to be trucking that rice.

'Cause bear in mind, if you truck that rice out to process it, you got to truck it back in to the people who grew it in the first place, so they can buy it back their own rice at an inflated price, or they have to live with the very poor quality rice that the current capability can deliver.

So that's the sort of transformative impact we can have in those rural communities. And the large mills have a place, they have a good performance levels, but we can put those smaller mills into a position where they can actually exceed the performance capabilities of the large mills. And of course, the way energy prices are going right now, the reduction of power is significant, even for the big customers now, it's going to become really significant.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah, I think there's so many interesting aspects of the story, and I think you will see those large companies have more interest. It just maybe isn't the first line of opportunity, but I think it will definitely come. Right?

I think your commitment to the business model though is commendable, not only because you believe strongly in it, but also the way you perceive it as an ability to democratize innovation, so that those small and medium size businesses have it, just as accessible to them as it would be to the large companies, and because you believe in and understand its impact on the environment. So it's a really cool story, and a really commendable remit that you are committed to, focused on, being patient in seeing come to fruition. So I just think there's a lot to learn from this, both in a lot of ways you are a really good example of the disruption that's coming. Right?

So, people need to be aware of that and be thinking about it. Those big companies that are struggling to get away from, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," well, maybe not.

Alec Anderson: It is broke.

Sarah Nicastro: Or somebody's going to come up with a different idea that is going to change the game. So we talked a little bit about the impact on the environment, and I just want to kind of recap there. So there's the less power consumption of the machines themselves, less waste.

Alec Anderson: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: We talked about building the machines for serviceability, versus upfront cost. We talked about the impact of being able to get this equipment into some of these rural communities and minimize travel, maximize the opportunity for the local workforce, et cetera. Am I missing anything, from an environmental standpoint, that we should touch on?

Alec Anderson: No. I think the environment, obviously the way the world's going at the moment with the increase in temperature, I mean, one of the interesting stats is that for every one degree increase in overnight temperature reduces field yields by 10% for rice. So everything is a perfect storm at the moment.

There's more demand, and there's more problems about producing. So one of the things that we work with a partner company, they can take a husk, and they use pyrolysis to make a power or heating power. And one of the aspects of that is bio-char, and if we mix that bio-char with manure, and then reincorporate it in the ground as a natural ground improver, so it displaces chemical fertilizers. Again, with the Ukraine situation, there's a massive price hike in chemical fertilizers right now. But one customer we were talking to in Nigeria had done a sort of build out home bio-char unit, and had some really impressive results.

So he'd increased his field yield from two and a half tons to four tons, per hectare. But more importantly, when the drought hit, his rice didn't die because the carbon and the ground actually holds the water better. So we can mitigate carbon released by reducing the power, but you can also carbon capture that bio-char, re-enter in the ground becomes effectively a carbon capture process. So that opens up potential of carbon credits, trading credits in carbon. So these are all additional things that go into that value generation pot, and I think that's the key.

Now, just picking up on one of your earlier points, I think we are a family business. We're driven by our visions and value, so that gives us a lot of freedom to do things that perhaps bigger companies can't do. But we are a for profit company. We're not trying to save the world. Our intentions are to make a highly profitable, high growth, global business. But from a company that makes, we call it profitable purpose, we have a positive impact socially, economically, and environmentally. So why not make money from doing something good, rather than making money from something that's destroying our environment? So that's kind of our drivers.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And it's a great point, because I think that there's increasing recognition that you can do both. I mean, doing good for your customers, and the world, and these local communities, and the environment does not have to mean that you sacrifice being a profitable business. It's the same way we talked about the difference in how you sell this. It's building partnerships, right?

Alec Anderson: Correct.

Sarah Nicastro: So it is creating mutually beneficial relationships, with an eye toward, "What's the social impact? What's the environmental impact?" and working to achieve that, with the partners that you have, that choose to work with you. Right? So I think that is a really good point, because I wouldn't want someone to hear your story and think that you're just a philanthropic organization. I mean, it has the potential to do good, and to make Koolmill money. So it's not either/or. It's and, both. Right? And so I think that's a good distinction.

Alec Anderson: So we would say we are not in this driven by money. We are in this driven by our technology has impact to make, and if we do a semi-reasonable job, the money will come. But that's the way around. So we are certainly not in the Bill Gates league, so we are not philanthropic investors. Let's put it that way.

But I think it's the old adage. If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, he's fed for life. So it's really about this empowerment, and that release of that human capital that's frustrated right now. 'Cause if you look at Africa or India, or any of the Asian rural communities, it's all about human capital. Agriculture is such a massive part of their GDP, but they don't have any way of adding value, and that tends to be done sometimes out of country. So we are exporting all that value. How can we try and retain that value, and drive up that standard of living in that country? That's our key.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. So Alec, in closing, for anyone that is looking at the as a service model, and considering its potential, whether they're a new venture or an existing entity, any other lessons learned or words of wisdom that you would share?

Alec Anderson: Yeah. I've got lots of lessons. I'm not sure about the words of wisdom. I think you have to understand your end user, your customer, if you want to use that word. So you have to understand their business, and what's the business case for them. How do you explain? If you can't explain the business case, you're not going to get anywhere.

And I think when we look at the potential customers that we could have worked with, it's really important that you pick the visionary one. Some people have that visionary capability. They can see where they want to go, and some people are just trying to get through today, and we're not really worrying about tomorrow. So I think that initial choice, and who you're going to partner with to develop the model, because it is a development process. You can't just get one off the shelf and say, "Well, that worked for Rolls-Royce, and we'll just copy that in Koolmill, and then some days come along. Well, it worked in Koolmill. We can just copy that and do the same." You can follow the principles, but you need to adapt and deploy it to suit your particular product or industry, or what have you.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Alec Anderson: One size certainly doesn't fit all. But really, if you don't understand that value you're creating for the end user, then you're on a loser. And if you can't shift your mindset away from what you were doing, don't look at the past, look at what's possible now. Look at all the instrumentation that's available. Can I deploy that to create value?

If you can't create value, what's the point? Big data. What's the point of big data? It's just a lot of data. Is there any gold nuggets in there, that you can pull out and monetize? Because if you can't, then it's just nice to have, but it's not valuable. So these are the key aspects, I think. And be patient, and if you're not the senior management, you need to get that senior management buy in. There has to be a fundamental commitment in the company. This is where we are going, because this will create substantial revenue beyond where we are now, and that protects the future of the company.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, really good. Great stuff. I love the story. I appreciate you coming and spending some time with me, and sharing it with me and with our audience, and would definitely love to stay in touch and have you back some time, to hear how it's going.

Alec Anderson: That'd be great. Thanks for the opportunity. It's been great chatting.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. You can learn more about servitization, and the path to as a service, by visiting us at 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 at As always, thank you for listening.

Most Recent

October 10, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

How Does Servitization Enable the Democratization of Innovation?

October 10, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

How Does Servitization Enable the Democratization of Innovation?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service 

Coming up on this week’s podcast, I talk with the Managing Director of Koolmill Systems, Alec Anderson. Now, I learned a lot from Alec during our discussion – and I don’t want to give that all away here because, well, then you won’t go listen for yourself when the episode comes out on Wednesday. But I do want to share some thoughts on one of the pieces of our conversation that stuck out to me, which is thinking about how Servitization allows for the democratization of innovation. 

To give a little background with minimal spoilers, it is important for you to know that Koolmill Systems is a company that has created a disruptive machine for milling rice. I will admit to you that when I first heard what Koolmill does, I had a preconception that hearing the ins and outs of rice milling from Alec may be a little boring – and I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s actually very fascinating! 

Learning a bit about the rice industry wasn’t the only aspect of the conversation that was fascinating. What’s also interesting is Koolmill’s decision to go to market with an As-a-Service business model, which is also disruptive for its industry. There were a number of angles for Alec and I to discuss there, too, such as exploring the similarities and differences of a new market entrant selling As-a-Service versus the transition of a legacy business to the model. Understanding how the decision impacts Koolmill, its customers, and the environment certainly had my attention – but then Alec brought up how he views the decision to go to market As-a-Service as a way to level the playing field between huge players and the small businesses, as well as what he refers to as create a “virtuous cycle,” and I was intrigued.

The Competitive Landscape Shifts with Move from CapEx to OpEx

In rice milling, the significant capital expense of modern machinery is prohibitive to many businesses. “The current state of the art in the industry, that's probably around about 50,000 large millers globally, and they're very highly capital intensive. Not necessarily digitalized, but quite automated in many instances. But to run that kind of operation, you need a lot of money to buy the equipment in the first place. You need a lot of rice to keep it running, and you need a huge amount of infrastructure and power to support it,” Alec explains. “Now, there are around one and a half million SME processors globally who don't have access to those three requirements. So, they're kind of locked in to using antiquated and wasteful equipment. In fact, we were in Nigeria earlier this year, and they were running machines that were made in the 1870s, still driven by diesel. They're locked into what they have, or if they do replace, they replace like with like, because they don't have access to this high performance, state of the art, modern equipment, and we aim to try and change that.” 

With pay-as-you-mill, Koolmill’s cutting-edge machinery becomes attainable for each of those SMEs. “Offering these small operators cost certainty is an enabler, an empowerment,” says Alec. “It empowers these small producers now to compete on pricing and quality with the large producers.”

With modern milling technology now within the grasp of SMEs within their grasp thanks to Servitization, significant opportunity is created. “We see the opportunity for a virtuous cycle in three pillars: economic, social, and environmental,” says Alec. “In terms of building the social capabilities, we call it rural industrialization. This is where we can use that small rice mill, now equipped with cutting-edge machinery, as a focal point, as an employment generator, as a means of creating and retaining value at a local community. With pay-as-you-mill, we have the opportunity to transform their livelihoods.”

This angle on the impact of Servitization hasn’t come up in my previous conversations, and I admire Alec for wanting to make sure that as he creates a successful business, he is also helping others along the way. It isn’t uncommon for companies to get so narrowed in on their financial viability that they overlook the ways in which they can perhaps achieve monetary success and have an impact – it doesn’t always have to be either/or. This conversation with Alec about how Koolmill’s decision to go to market with their innovative technology in an As-a-Service approach is leveling the playing field in the rice milling industry has had me thinking about all of the other areas that Servitization could democratize innovation as well. I think this angle is one that is intriguing to explore. What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Most Recent

October 5, 2022 | 22 Mins Read

Revisiting the Core Concepts of Industrial Automation

October 5, 2022 | 22 Mins Read

Revisiting the Core Concepts of Industrial Automation


Kevin Starr, North American Service Development Manager at ABB, joins Sarah for a conversation around Industrial Automation and how the education of today’s workforce must evolve while maintaining the core principles.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we are going to be revisiting the core concepts of industrial automation. I will be honest, I have a lot of conversations on this podcast that I feel I know a lot about and I'm very comfortable with, this is not one of them. So this is good though because the reason this podcast exists is to learn and grow and expand. And so I'm excited for today's discussion. So today I'm welcoming back Kevin Starr, who is the North American service development manager at ABB. Kevin was interviewed for episode 59, so it's been a while, Kevin. Welcome back.

Kevin Starr: Thank you. Thank you. Well, I've got a great book for you to help with your understanding.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. Yeah, and that's what we're going to be talking. By the end of the episode I should be an expert, so.

Kevin Starr: That's right.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So before we dig into the topic, tell everyone just a bit about yourself, your role, et cetera, and then we'll get into it.

Kevin Starr: Sure. My name's Kevin Starr. I've been with ABB for a while. I'd say it's 35 years. I tell people I started when I was five. It's been an amazing journey of automation troubleshooting and seeing the evolution of automation. And I've had the opportunity to work all over the world in all kinds of industries. And along the way I was able to learn process control and industrial automation and loop tuning. And I've been able to present the material, develop training classes, develop tools and software and solutions. And a book that I wrote, that was close to 30 years ago, has really resonated with the community and it's sort of having a resurgence as we're going into this kind of industrial revolution. So I get to work in the service space. I get to help customers improve production quality and reduce the cost to produce and help grab onto and hold onto our tribal knowledge.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay, cool. So you recently re-released this book that you wrote for the first time, I think you said close to 30 years ago, right?

Kevin Starr: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: So, tell us a little bit about your journey writing the book. What was sort of the catalyst for the first round of writing it and how does that compare with the version that was recently rereleased?

Kevin Starr: Well, it's been amazing. When we started this journey, it's been, well a long time ago, 37 years ago, I was what they call a systems engineer where we do process control and startup of a paper machine. And we had a control system that you would have to configure. And I go into college and had a background in electrical engineering and a minor in process control where we had learned about root locus and Bode plots and poles and zeros and a lot of mathematical rigor, but the application of the real world just wasn't really there. And I went to this paper mill down in Vicksburg, Mississippi and the process control manager said, "You can't touch my machine unless you tell me how these numbers work." And I was like, "Oh, well here's my binder." I was given this binder, and we call it the golden binder. "Plug these numbers in, everything will work." And he says, "No, you can't touch my machine."

And I knew I wanted to go home eventually. So, I went and started cramming and studying and trying to figure out how to answer, what's a proportional gain, what's an integral gain, what's dead time? And so I was able to tell him that I knew what I was talking about. He let me set up his machine and it ran good and I could go home. And that was the spark really is like, "I wonder if anybody else is struggling with this?" And then as I was happened to move into instructing and teaching and people started asking questions about tuning, that's when we were going from pneumatic and four to 20 milliamp current loops into the distributed control system. And so the controllers were no longer operating once a minute, they were operating every five seconds or every second.

So some of the maybe sloppy techniques that we had grown up with weren't working. And those, I started teaching classes and then the students would say, "Hey Kevin, could you write this stuff down because we're taking too many notes?" So each class I would write it down. And then Jim Flading once said, "Kevin, if you would just write this as a book, we would buy it. And then I had a boss at the time that let me take several months to compile the information and the Single Loop Control Methods, loop tuning book was born. It is kind of funny, is the first book we sent it to a wordsmith to have them edit it and it came back with so many corrections. Their question was, is English your native language? I still find that funny, because I can't spell, I'm terrible at English. And yet I wrote a book. And that was 30 years ago and now this is the fourth edition that's coming out.

And I would say I was fortunate, I had some extremely talented mentors that kind of took me by the hand and showed me some of the tuning and to tune by feel. And I was able to write that down and then help other people understand tuning from a much more practical perspective. The theory's great, but it has to make sense. So I was able to work with hundreds if not thousands of people. And then as the controls took off and things grew, people sort just used auto tuners and oh, we don't need tuning. And they moved to advanced process control and now people are coming back and saying, "Hey Kevin, all of our advanced controls sit on this thing called a control loop. Can you help us again?" And that was really, we said, "Well, let's dust this thing off." And it's amazing once you hit the resonant of the theory of control tuning, it's applied to every application, every industrial controller. It's non platform dependent, it's vendor agnostic. And that's what's helped me stay relevant and have such a long career.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So how would you describe the current sort of state of the industry?

Kevin Starr: I still work at ABB, and we're constantly working with our customers. And I would say after we've all gone through this pandemic and hopefully are coming out of it, but what I would say we've seen beyond our wildest imagination was the remote work. Doors have just opened up for remote capability, remote access, being able to apply application of technology remotely. Loop tuning is one of those things that years ago customers were like, "You have to be sitting in front of my machine. If you're going to do an evaluation or a step test, you have to be here." That stigma has been removed and we're doing remote tuning and commissioning from anywhere in the world.

And you couple that with the other change that the industrial revolution 4.0 has introduced is one person used to be able to know everything about the technology they were working on, that has passed. They say 2015 was about the point where the industrial revolution really started, and if you look at the amount of knowledge that a person has to have from loop tuning is one thing, but so is cyber security, so is IT and OT and alarm management. And the list goes on and on. And so what's happening is people are only getting smaller and smaller pieces in an academic setting. So no one's really an expert, but everybody's supposed to know everything. So what we're seeing is the state of the industry is our clients are saying, "Can we have a sliver of all these expertise? And we can't have just one person, how do we do that?" And that's where we've introduced the concept of the right person at the right time with the right solution drives the right value.

It's kind of another spark along the way here is my son, who's now, five or six years out of college. He took a class at a Ohio University on loop tuning. And he goes, "Dad, I can now talk to you." And I said, "Okay, let me see what you're doing." And I'm like, "Oh my goodness, that's all you're learning?" And they showed me their videos and I said, "Well, your dad used to do this stuff." And he goes, "Really?" So we got a videographer. And I said, "Get your camera, let's go." And we recorded every chapter as a YouTube video and primarily showed him how to pass his class. And that has exploded.

And people, your listeners can go to Kevin Starr ABB PID, search that in your YouTube and you'll see, ABB allowed us to make those available to the industry for free. And one of them has over 400,000 views, which is kind of crazy is to see that that has really prompted part of the state of the industry is we're a Google... If you can't learn it through Google, it doesn't matter. And so now people are finding this technology and finding how to do things and we've made it available. And then almost always people will read us, well I'd like to have a reference book. So they'll send us a note and then they can get the book now through ABB.

Sarah Nicastro: Very cool. Okay. So let's walk through some of the components that are covered in the book. So the first one is around process identification and modeling.

Kevin Starr: Yeah, it's challenging. A lot of people get into loop tuning, they want to talk about Ziegler-Nichols or lambda control or direct synthesis or pole-zero placement and that goes kind of over people's head. And then you say, Well, I have an ABB or an Allen Bradley or a Fisher or a Yokagawa or a controller. And then there're different types. So people get kind of caught up in the math really, really quick. And I take it back to we start off with processes. Every input output, relationship, like if you go to steer your car and you turn a steering wheel and the car doesn't turn, you don't speed up, you stop.

And that's the way it is with actuation devices. You have to inject energy or figure out some way of looking at historical data to find the causality between that input and how's the process going to respond? Is it going to move really, really slow? You think of a like fire hose or a garden hose. You can't adjust those the same. So there are techniques and methods that we cover for identifying process types and how you come up with numerical numbers to represent how much did it move and how long did it take to get there? So we really try to boil things down. This all goes into calculus and differential equations, but not in this first book. We just say, okay, these six or so different types of processes. Was yours self-regulating or non-self-regulating, and here's how you would do an identification using current lump test techniques or historical data. And if you can't identify what's going to happen when you move the actuator, you're not ready to go into the next levels of tuning.

Sarah Nicastro: And then you talk about the technology that's being used.

Kevin Starr: Yeah, the technology is, we'd like to think that everybody has an ABB controller out there, but industry's been out there for 35 years or longer than that. And so you have to be able to adapt the language to the type of control that's being used. There's actually three main branches. There's parallel, classical, and standard. Those are the three classes of the mathematical formula, which is interesting. If you go clear back to the pneumatic controllers with sniffers and baffles, they literally developed software around physical components that they took into the digital world and there was three versions.

So, there's the MOD systems, the Taylor MOD, the ABB, the Allen. Different companies have different embodiments, but if you understand that you can map your tuning into their language. That's where a lot of people get messed up with tuning is they may have two different controllers and one is set up with a particular equation, one is step with another, and they put the same numbers in both. One explodes, one doesn't. And there's this stigma of process control that it's black magic and you can't understand it. We really try to demystify that with the book.

Sarah Nicastro: And so how are you helping people take the process identification and the modeling, understanding the language of the technology they're using and then getting to the desired outcome?

Kevin Starr: Well, that's great. It's tuning a lot of people it's a guess and check. Well, I'll just throw some numbers in. And see that's how I was brought up, just throw these numbers in, it'll work. Well, no, that tune by feel, in the old days you could actually feel the knob and you could feel the system calm down. In today's world electronics, you don't have that feel so you have to rely on the numbers and the response. And the response is, do you want the response when you change the reference to happen fast or slow? Imagine when you get in your car, if it's cold out and you want it to get hot, well you kind of have an idea of how the heater works. So normally you turn the heat way, way up and you're trying to speed up how fast a car can heat up.

So you don't just put the valve where it ends up, you go really fast and then you come back into it. The reason you can do that in your car is you understand the dynamics and you understand you're doing it by hand. We can do the same thing with automation. We can make a process respond fast or slow. We can give it a percent overshoot. We can actually tune out a particular frequency. I guess that's what I find fascinating about tuning. Once you understand that the control will respond to the way you tune it. Even if you don't know what you're doing, if you know what you're doing, you can do incredible things with process control.

Sarah Nicastro: So, you mentioned when we were talking about the catalyst for the book, you had gone to college and when you got into the act of actually doing the work, you know realized there was sort of a gap between what you were taught and what you were expected to do. And so the content was geared at not only closing that gap for you, but for other people as well. So then when you talk about present day, it seems like the gap still exists, it's just different than it was. So there's still this need to sort of close this gap between the textbook learnings and the real world. It's just the realities of that look a bit different. So you mentioned that in today's workforce we know that people are stretched to find talent. You mentioned that there's this desire for a little bit of all different types of expertise versus someone that's an expert in one thing. What does this kind of lead to in terms of how we need to educate the workforce and provide training and knowledge and enablement that fits what companies have to accomplish today?

Kevin Starr: That's great. That's a lot there and I keep coming back to spheres of influence. There's only so much one person can do. And you can chase rabbits if you're not careful. And so I always try to boil it down to what's the core value. I've had a chance to work in a lot of industries and so production quality, cost perdu, safety, transportation. You figure out what's core. What are the turns in their factory that makes money? And then how can you take your knowledge and help leverage that goal? Instead of getting caught up in, well let's use this dashboard or this tuning tool or this, whatever. Those change, but the cores don't. And so how do you link to that?

And that's what I found with this is that the tribal knowledge that we grew up with. A lot of people were fortunate enough to work in an industry for 20, 25 years. You kind of grew up with this. New people are coming in and they have a different paradigm. It's like, why are you doing? And which is great, we want that, but we have to be able to adapt to that, to be able to bring information to a heads up display so they can be taking data, convert it to information that they can take action on that creates value. If you can't do that link, then you just have a fancy dashboard or a treadmill that you hang your clothes on in your bedroom. It's not really any good.

Don't get sucked into technology for the sake of technology. How does it apply to taking action that creates value? And I know that's a lot there, but as we've transitioned and our industry has grown and the technology has grown and the demands of the people have grown, we call it work-life balance, that's been disrupted. It's people are like, "When that phone rings, what do I have to do?" And when I walk into the building, there's so much, how do I prioritize so that I can give the person the right things to do at the right time?

If, for example, loop tuning, when I first started to tune one, two loops, it'd take a couple days. And we figured out how to do 10 loops in a week and people paid us a lot of money for me to run around and tune 10 loops, 10 control loops like a flow or a pressure, a temperature, a level or machine speed or consistency, those types of things. And then all of a sudden technology kept growing and now we could do 100 loops. And then if you couldn't do a hundred loops in a week, they wouldn't buy it. And then now we're up to two, 3000 loops and you need to do it instantly.

So the theory of control hasn't changed, but it's a little bit like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. If you have a brush, you can do it, but by the time you get finished you got to start over again. And how do you know? That's the thing with control loops is there's so many now and if you don't figure out how to grab a hold of all of them to give you a heads up display, say, "Okay, these five are broke, go." And then I can distill and still apply, I don't want to take shortcuts on the theory and the tuning, but I can't spend so much time diagnosing 5,000 control loops. I need them come to me and then apply the knowledge to that and then get the desired outcome that is important for my client.

Sarah Nicastro: So, when you think about the challenge to provide employees that have bits of expertise across areas versus a lot of expertise in one area, how do you see that sort of playing out?

Kevin Starr: I think that's what the information age and the digital age and the industrial revolution that we're in is, what we're seeing is if you force everybody to know everything, then not everybody can know everything. And so then they always feel a little bit like, for example, we were sending a guy to go do a feed study and he was talking to the customer and said, "Okay, show me where this valve is." And the customer says, "You're sitting on it." And the guy was really smart, but he didn't know that particular item. And so then it made him look bad and he was embarrassed. And so it's like, well you can't know everything. I don't know about... There's a lot of stuff. So how do you get access? So that's where the distribution of the workforce and the regional and kind of think of the Uber of service. You need to go someplace, if you have that app, they come and get you. It totally disrupted the cab industry.

That's kind of where we're at in the service space is, you had to send one person to know everything. Well, it made sense to me in the oil and gas sector where when an offshore oil rig had a problem and they called in for help, you just didn't have 100,000 people that could go. You had a group of people and then the guy was like, "Well it could be this, this, or that. So let me grab a great big box of parts and hope that when I get to the site I've got the right one." Well, that's where I can still remember sitting with the customer saying, "This isn't okay." I need to be able to make sure that when that person comes to site, he's equipped with what he needs. Or better yet if I can fix it without them even flying on the... Because that's kind of a dangerous... Why put people in this danger when we can remotely bring them in.

So that's what we are seeing back to the state of the industry is technology and remote is changing so that we can kind of self-adjust so that maybe you only need one or two advanced process control experts in your company. But you need 20 or 30 control guys and you need 30 or 40 cybers, but you don't need them all in one place and you don't need them all at the same time. So learning how to dispatch them and orient them based on the need and getting their access and their scheduling, that's what we're seeing is the big change that's happening.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now we talked a little bit about, you were mentioning when your son was taking that class and was showing you what he is up to and you're saying, "Well, that's it?" And just the need here of making sure we don't overlook the core principles. That's kind of what your book does in a way is make sure that people get the emphasis they need on what those core principles are. And you can update it so that it's reflective of present day, but the underlying principles stay the same. It just makes me think there's probably other areas of service and manufacturing and the things that we talk about here often where that's applicable. Are we trying to do all things and overlooking some of the core elements? I mean, can you think of any other areas where that idea is applicable?

Kevin Starr: Oh yeah. I mean, I've been fortunate as to apply the concepts of process control. Once I started putting the inputs and outputs and realizing that once you can compare those, then you can put a control loop. A control loop is simply a device that takes action based upon an input, That's what's special about a PID. It literally makes a decision and makes... Most everything is a diagnostic tool. Control loops convert it into action and that's why it's also scary for a lot of people. If you set up the wrong things and that actuator starts moving and your machine breaks down, then that's kind of scary. But I've been able to apply this.

One example is I was, in one of my positions, I was the software development manager for the global software development. And I started seeing the relationship between developers and throughput and I use the book here and the tuning for a tank to tune the backlog based on the capacity of my teams. And I was like, holy smokes, this stuff applies everywhere. You don't have to guess. So I was able to use these methods and apply them to the extended agile scrum team backlog and prioritization, which people are like, "Oh really?" Oh yeah, it worked. And I've seen that with even down to like this, this podcast. You'll see if you get a million views, you'll probably have me on sooner than later. If you get 10, this is probably my last view. But so we all take inputs and take action. That's a control function and that can be optimized. And that's what I find fascinating still is the optimization of all these processes.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. No, I agree. Now if you think about, you mentioned the YouTube videos you created and how much traction you've seen there. So, you started 30 years ago with writing this book, you had the opportunity to more recently create those videos and relay the content of the chapters there. It just makes me think people learn in different ways. So when we think about empowering our teams with knowledge, what are some of the things we need to have in mind about how best we do that today?

Kevin Starr: I suppose in summary is to assume that everyone learns the same way is the biggest mistake. Is to allow people to learn how they learn because the information and turning it into action is so important. And I guess that's where people need to recognize is, there are different ways, whether it's video or text or remote or in person or mentoring or apprenticeship. What we're doing in industrial and industrial control is important, and the safety of our people are at the utmost. But driving our clients to improve production quality, and cost produce, sits on the back of knowledge. And that knowledge is something that leaves when people leave. We need to figure out how to capture that, and training and capture is one of the ways we can do it.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think, you spoke earlier Kevin, about how technology has allowed organizations to do so much of this work remotely. That also goes for sharing knowledge. You don't have to have access to experts that are in person, you can have access to them remotely. So, there's a lot of different ways teams can collaborate and have that over the shoulder reassurance that you mentioned without that needing to be a physical presence. So, I think that's a good point.

Okay. So, I've certainly learned a lot so far today. Any other insights, comments, or lessons learned that you would like to share with our listeners?

Kevin Starr: Oh, I suppose, one of the lessons learned, I suppose it's somewhat of a personal journey. In my quest to help solve industrial problems around the world, I had let the biggest industry kind of go on back burner, which was me and my health. And my doctor said, "Look, if you don't turn things around, you're going to have a stroke or a heart attack." And that was when I turned 50. And so, I was like, "Oh my."

And I said, "I go around using these techniques of troubleshooting and fixing industrial processes. I wonder if I can apply these skills to me?" And so, I did. I started recording the data, I found what inputs were outputs, I tracked everything down, and I went to my doctor and got physicals and asked for advice and applying it to myself, basically doing the bump test, identifying my process type.

And all of a sudden, I started losing weight and people started asking me questions. And then I started sharing the information. I said, "I've been on this journey before when I wrote the control book, so I wonder if I could take this experience and write a book?" And I did. I just released it called Tuned Fit an Engineer's Journey into Health and Fitness. I lost 50 pounds and became a master’s athlete, and I never would've dreamed these possible. And I credit it to this book and going back 30 years ago and putting that together. So, it's been amazing, is what you allow yourself to learn and then to put it into action. And that book's on Amazon if anyone's interested, you go to Amazon, and type Tuned Fit.

Sarah Nicastro: Well, congratulations, Kevin. That's awesome. I think it is interesting how sometimes what we can put to work in our professional lives, how it can be mirrored in our personal lives. I wrote an article not too long ago about everyone wants the transformation, but are you willing to change? And the idea of how that applies both to organizations, but also to us as individuals. I know I shared with you, so I turned 40 in March and at the beginning of this year I realized I had put on some Covid weight. And so, I've lost probably 35 or so pounds since the beginning of the year. And it is very much just, are you putting the focus in that you need to? Are you paying attention to what works and what doesn't, and making adjustments and all of that stuff? So yeah, there is definitely some parallels there. And I think it's really cool that you benefited from the hard work you've done and sharing your knowledge with others in a very personal way as well. So good for you.

Kevin Starr: And congratulations to you as well, that's a lot. But if your why isn't big enough to overcome your reasons, then you never change. And I think back to the industry stuff, I'm so fortunate to have written a book that has lasted this long, and people are asking for it again. But the pandemic, the growth of an industrial automation, people are recognizing the core values and the core components and knowledge and training and application, they're all kind of new again. And so, this continuum, I was fortunate to touch it at the beginning with some great mentors. I feel like the flag was carried and now we have stuff for the next generation to take with them. So, technology is exciting, and knowledge is something we should never stop trying to gain.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, for sure. All right, Kevin, well thank you so much for coming and sharing with me. I appreciate it. If anyone is interested in checking out Kevin's books, you can reach out to him on LinkedIn. So last name is Starr with two Rs. And you can look him up on LinkedIn, send him a message, and he'll point you in the right direction for either of the books. So, thanks so much for coming on again and spending some more time with me.

Kevin Starr: Oh, thanks for having me. It was a pleasure. Appreciate it.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. You can also find more by visiting us at future of field You can 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 at As always, thank you for listening.

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October 3, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

What Can We Learn from Amazon’s Investment in Its Frontline Workforce?

October 3, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

What Can We Learn from Amazon’s Investment in Its Frontline Workforce?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

On Wednesday of last week, Amazon announced a new investment of nearly $1 billion over the next year in its frontline workforce. The company is increasing the average hourly rates of its fulfillment and transportation workers and has also introduced a new benefit that gives employees greater flexibility around when they collect their pay. The announcement also includes an expansion of career advancement and development opportunities for its frontline workforce. 

The press release states that, “Amazon employees around the world team up to meet the needs of customers every day. Employees are the cornerstone of the company, facilitating the journey of an Amazon package … To ensure customer orders are picked, packed, and shipped on time every single day, Amazon continues to invest in our employees, technology, supply chain planning, transportation, and delivery teams in an effort to get customers what they want, when they want it, wherever they are.”

You may read of Amazon’s investment and think – well, sure, but not every company has Amazon money. Here’s what I want to emphasize – it isn’t as much about the money as it is about the recognition that the frontline workers are powering Amazon’s customer satisfaction. That’s the part of the announcement that stands out to me far beyond the dollars and cents. 

Companies across industries and geographies are struggling with filling roles and finding talent. These challenges often take the conversation to how do we better attract, recruit, and hire – and those are all important things, but I want to urge you to think critically about what you are doing to invest in your current workforce. We’ve all heard the saying that it is far harder to find a new customer than it is to keep an existing one happy, and this is true for the workforce as well. We will exacerbate the talent problem by focusing so specifically on brining in the new that we overlook the need to nurture the existing.

Not Every Investment in Your Workforce Has to Be Dollars

The goal isn’t to replicate exactly what Amazon is doing, but to consider some of the points surfaced in the announcement and reflect upon whether you’re doing what you can to engage and retain your existing workforce while you seek that new talent. Here are a few points that come to mind:

  • Recognition costs nothing and goes far. Yes, Amazon is investing $1 billion – but as I said, while the number is significant, what stood out to me most when reading the news release was the respect and acknowledgement of the critical role the frontline workforce plays in the company’s success. Your employees want to feel that they matter, they want to hear their hard work acknowledged, and they want to be respected for the value they bring to the business. There are very simple (and free) ways to recognize your frontline workers for their contributions that will make a real difference.
  • Pay must be fair. With financial pressures top of mind, it can be difficult to prioritize investing in your resources. What you want to be careful of is making sure you are being fair to your existing workforce when you bring new talent on board. I’ve had people ask how to handle situations where new workers are demanding far more than existing workers are paid – and while there’s no easy answer, I think the right thing to do is to make sure your workers are all fairly paid. 
  • Flexibility is hugely desired today. In Amazon’s example they are addressing flexibility by giving employees greater control over when they get paid. But the takeaway here, to me, is that flexibility in general is very important to today’s workers. In some frontline roles you are constricted in what ways you can offer flexibility, but you should be getting creative in how to do so.
  • Complacency is a thing of the past. Amazon’s commitment to upskilling its workers and offering ample career advancement and development opportunities is one to model. Many companies haven’t moved beyond the memories of being able to hire a frontline worker who was happy to show up and do the same job, every day, for 20 or 30 years. Those days have past and to not only attract new talent, but to retain the knowledgeable workers you already have, you must think of how to offer development and growth opportunities. 
  • Purpose matters to people. In the press release it says, “Amazon workers around the world ‘team up’ to meet the needs of customers.” Now I recognize these are only words, but they are words that can get you thinking in the right direction – which is that a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging, matter. Does your company have a “team” culture? Is there a camaraderie of working toward a common goal and celebrating wins together?

I’d love to hear how your company is investing in its workforce. If you have thoughts or a story to share, email me!

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