When you hear the term “service” in the electromechanical fields, most people would envision a blue-collar professional who may be very adept at his job but has limited experience and/or education. He shows up, does the job, and departs. It’s a very reactive, task-centered approach to service.
Bell and Howell has a different approach that views service as a technology business rather than an add-on or the traditional definition of a service business as a commercial enterprise that provides work performed in an expert manner by an individual or team for the benefit of its customers. In our approach, technology enables people and people enable technology.
We recognize that technology augments human capability in ways beyond simple automation or artificial intelligence. Technology can enable us to do more than we could before. Think of exoskeletons that enable operators to lift heavy crates with ease, or Web-connected appliances that email you when a malfunction is sensed.
Beyond just fixing a machine, we believe the difference in the way we approach service is rooted in the interplay between people and technology. In true mechatronics, an expert technician possesses the knowledge and understanding of the machine in context. He or she knows that if this device fails, it impacts machines up and down the production line, which would negatively impact operations and productivity.
At the practical level, a lot of our competitors approach service through regularly scheduled “P.M. downtime.” Similar to an annual physical that humans undergo, the machine is taken offline and examined at least yearly for wear and tear and preventative maintenance. Everybody believed an annual checkup was sufficient but what ends up happening the rest of the year is that the equipment is in “break/fix mode” and only addressed if it fails.
Bell and Howell’s maintenance cycles are much more frequent, perhaps quarterly or even monthly. Although it may seem excessive or unnecessary to some, this approach is much more beneficial and economical because it leads to more productivity. If you drive your car 12,000 to 15,000 miles a year, you don’t change the oil annually. You have your vehicle serviced more frequently based on usage, not the calendar.
We can use data and analytics to improve service and perform “predictive failure maintenance” before you even know you might have an issue. This makes your operation more productive and reduces the cost of per-piece operation.
Getting back to how people can enable technology, our technicians report back to us upon completing a visit and increase the knowledge base of the organization. They know they don’t operate as individuals but as part of a team of more than 700 electromechanical experts throughout North America that share and transfer knowledge to one another.
Our technicians have had service dispatch applications (SDAs) for a while, first through BlackBerries and soon iPhones and other smart devices. This allows our men and women in the field to use the app as an extension of themselves. Through GPS, video, barcode scanners and tags, this helps us to enable not just the “Internet of things” but the “Internet of people and technology.” It’s a unique concept that empowers the mutual exchange of information that makes both our people better through technology, and our technology better through our people.
As Bell and Howell evolves from our historical printing and mailing foundations to eCommerce, parcels and beyond this approach will help Internet-enabled connectivity across our lines of products and services. With enhanced knowledge, our technicians can now fix a wide range of products from printing and mailing equipment to 3D printers, currency counters, and much more.
Neither humans nor technology can optimally solve problems on their own. It’s the interplay between human judgment and technical data that combine to enhance operations. Machines will never replace human instinct, intuition and interaction, and that’s one of the reasons why Bell and Howell will continue to invest in its human resources for the betterment of our company and our clients.