Like me, you’ve probably read headline grabbing statistics around technology: “More mobile phones on the planet now than human beings.” (7.1 billion people vs 7.3 billion mobiles to be more precise). However, you may not be familiar with some of the more interesting minutia about the extent of the technology and machines around us. 

Here’s a taster for you. There are 1.1 billion computers, 37,684,879 vending machines, almost 35,000 aeroplanes, and 9,537 different types of tractor models in the world to name just a few. And our world is becoming increasingly linked. Thanks to the rise of ‘The Internet of Things,’ 25 billion devices are now connected to the internet (50 billion expected by 2020), and 59% of thermostats and 56% of lights are also now connected to the Net. Just about every street lamp, every wind turbine, and pretty much every piece of equipment around us is somehow connected to the internet.

Our entire civilisation depends on machines working. But they don’t keep themselves running. To do this takes a massive amount of labour, as well as technology to manage an unthinkably complex set of dependencies. Every day an army of field service techs – around 15 million of them globally – wake up with the aim of keeping our world running.

The huge irony is that field service itself is one of the last industries to be dragged into the modern age. It’s the underfunded afterthought of the technology era. Not much has changed in service over the past 40 years. It’s riddled with paper-intensive, time consuming, inefficient processes. Yet field techs are by their very definition a mobile workforce. Like most of the working population, they need the right information in right context to do their job well while they’re on the road.

Service businesses represent around 70% of the world’s economy, yet to date, only about a third of the world’s large service businesses currently use field service management solutions. It’s a market poised for growth, and it’s applicable to all vertical service industries and businesses of any size, particularly given the handsome returns of servitisation. With almost half of manufacturing companies expecting service to account for a third of their total revenue by 2016, it’s an area benefitting from both innovation and investment.

That’s why we’re about to see some major leaps forward in the field service arena to keep pace with the voracious demands of our corporate expectations and our consumer appetites in the Industrial Internet Age. In fact, serving field service is itself big business. The field service management industry alone is worth $15bn.

And here’s why. By empowering service technicians with cloud-based, real time tools in the field means they can do work-orders, request parts, schedule and be scheduled, look up manuals, take payments, renew maintenance agreements, use social channels to communicate problems swiftly and effectively and upsell and cross sell products and solutions where appropriate.

All of this is done on a smart phone or a tablet. All the data is real-time and technicians have the ability to work offline, saving time consuming administration at the end of a job. And customer relationship management systems pick up the information and ensure that the customer receives future communications, advice, updates and education. And of course, all of that data is delivering valuable new insights about your businesses and customers.

The way field reps support and maintain machines today will be very different in a few years’ time. We already have wearable technology that can communicate with onsite engineers and help desk employees, obtaining critical information before field techs arrive on site, and communicating with customers on arrival times. Likewise, the ability to view the contents within a service van or central/forward stocking location remotely while on customer site, as well as viewing maps and blueprints of nearby machines while onsite or in nearby radius, will enable reps to conduct preventative maintenance or able to cross sell and upsell while they’re in the area.

With machine to machine learning, devices are already able to communicate with the support organisations technicians when they are broken or in need of repair. This helps gather deeper business intelligence, guide future service and product decisions to achieve best practices, business and customer service. Data that machines capture can strategically inform technicians when preventative maintenance needs to happen based on the number of hours they’ve been running, number of patients treated, or transactions performed, for example, achieving zero downtime in normal operating hours of those machines.

Joining the cloud revolution and automating end-to-end processes of field service management are just the first, tiny steps. Give it another decade, and the field service industry of today will be almost unrecognisable in terms of how it operates and what is expected of it. Just look at the numbers. The Internet of Things and machine to machine learning are expected to see more than $370bn in growth over the next five years – too big of an upswing for Heads of Service to ignore any longer. Welcome to the party field service. We’ve been expecting you.

Dave Hart is vice president of Customer Transformation for field service management specialist, ServiceMax.