Fault Detection & Diagnostics For Mechanical and Controls Service
April 8, 2021
Slowly but surely, a transformation is happening for providers of commercial building mechanical or controls services. Innovative service business leaders are realizing they have a major opportunity to differentiate themselves, showcase their value to their customers, and even elevate the delivery of that value throughout their customers’ organizations.
For these leaders, capitalizing on this opportunity is changing the way their business is perceived. No longer is it good enough to be thought of as the go-to team when there’s a major problem to fix—they also want to help their customers strategically understand the operation of their facilities, the risk factors that they’re facing, and where they can drive longer term value. This includes catalyzing and sustaining energy reductions, extending equipment life, and even supporting capital planning.
What opportunity are we talking about? We’re talking about using analytics software as the engine underneath the hood of mechanical and controls service businesses.
This blog outlines exactly how analytics can transform facility service in four key ways:
- Analytics can help you provide better service
- Analytics can enhance/solidify your relationship with your customer
- Analytics can increase your revenue
- Analytics is a key tool for retaining talent and training your staff
However, just as analytics presents a major opportunity for those that take advantage of it, the other side of the sword is that it could sneak up and harm those that don’t. In a recent Nexus Labs podcast, Digital Transformation for Service Providers, Alex Grace, VP of Business Development for Clockworks Analytics, likened this phenomenon to the Carrot or the Stick metaphor:
“The carrot is the massive opportunity dangling there. Here’s the stick: if you don’t do this, is your organization going to be relevant in five years?”
And while this statement is bold, it has precedence. Many industries have gone through a similar transition and it would be a mistake to think facilities services will be different. Those that don’t embrace digital transformation will eventually become obsolete.
The leaders are proactively going after the carrot and thinking about analytics differently than those that are about to get hit by the stick. As we’ll unpack below, these leaders understand that the analytics opportunity is bigger than just another energy conservation measure (ECM). It’s more than any one product or piece of equipment or project that they can sell to their clients. It’s actually an enterprise tool to enable the digital transformation of their business.
Let’s dig in…
Providing better mechanical and controls equipment service
Time-Based Vs. Analytics-Based Service Contracts
Here’s a way to reframe Alex’s bold statement: Analytics-based service contracts provide superior equipment maintenance compared to the industry standard service contracts. To illustrate why, let’s first summarize the standard way of doing things…
Every so often (once per month or quarter), a technician makes a site visit. They show up on site with a checklist and start walking through it. They don’t know what the day will bring, what they will find, or where the problems are. They haven’t even thought about this site since the last visit. Some of the regularly scheduled maintenance on their checklist will be right on time. Some of it will be too early or too late. If they do discover a potential problem, they must perform manual investigation. If they’re lucky enough to determine the root cause, they don’t know if they will have the right part on the truck. If not, they need to come back later.
At best, that’s an inefficient process. At worst, none of that even has a chance to play out—the technician shows up on site and the customer is ticked off, hands the technician a list of emergencies, and demands they’re fixed immediately. The regular equipment service doesn’t even happen—not to mention the customer service, but let’s save that for the next section.
So what is the analytics-based equipment service process? First, you no longer roll trucks reactively, based on a schedule, or a checklist. Now, when the technician shows up onsite, they’ve analyzed the data remotely already. And for the issues they can’t fix remotely, they already know the exact sensor they need to bring or the exact actuator that needs to be replaced. They have the tools to do the job.
And when they make site visits, they do so knowing exactly what the top priorities are in the building. That’s because the software has already ranked service issues by metrics such as energy and utility cost savings, comfort improvements (which is arguably the customer’s biggest cost—their employees), and the mechanical severity of the problem.
When the tech gets onsite, they’re spending less time checking and more time fixing. They still need to do regular maintenance, like greasing bearings and changing filters, but there’s a certain percentage of that service agreement and the associated labor that can be shifted to higher value activities—like getting things done—resulting in better equipment maintenance and system performance.
Transforming the Relationship With Your Customer
From the building owner’s perspective, this new equipment service approach is much more valuable because they know the technician is focused on their biggest risks, their biggest energy wastes, and the biggest opportunities to improve comfort and IAQ. And using this prioritized list, the technician knows what’s in scope based on the current service contract. They know what’s out of scope that they can now propose new work on. And they know the exact ROI for the customer on that proposal and can advise them on their best next steps.
For the leaders going after the carrot, that increased value and ability to provide proactive recommendations represents a new way of interacting with building owners as a trusted advisor. This trust is built on the foundation of visibility into facility performance provided by analytics software, allowing your technicians to be the go-to experts on how the systems are doing. And this trust is solidified when you can show up at a client’s facility to tell them about an issue you’re there to fix, versus showing up after they have complained to you.
Another way the relationship with the customer is transformed is through the ability to prove the value provided by the service agreement. Can you report on value today? You may be following preventative maintenance best practices, but what quantifiable impact did you have on building performance? Imagine you were able to say: …
“Here’s exactly what we saved you last year as a result of doing predictive maintenance and continuous commissioning. Here’s exactly the impact we had on your facility in terms of quantified maintenance value and quantified comfort value.”
When you add more value and can prove the value you’re providing, that’s a huge differentiator compared to your competition.
Increasing the profitability of your service contracts and pull-through revenue
When you provide higher value and have less competition, you inherently have the ability to capture healthier margins. However, that’s not the only way analytics can help increase the profitability of your service business. Analytics-based service organizations are also more profitable because they leverage remote analysis, facilitate standard operating procedures across field offices, and drive more pull through revenue.
Analytics-driven process efficiency improvements start with figuring out what can you do remotely versus what needs to be on site. And it doesn’t mean you’re starting with a huge investment in a fancy remote operations center. It means you have an analyst in the office—someone who is one of your most experienced technicians or an energy engineer and who really understands building systems—that can now be 10 times more valuable because you don’t have them on customer sites one-to-one. You have them supporting many projects at once, and they’re now able to use the analytics to guide less-experienced technicians.
Another way to increase profitability is to create standard analytics-based operating procedures across your service organization. You can go through your service workflows on a task by task basis and determine which can be done more efficiently. For example, if I don’t need to check x,y,z equipment component because the analytics software is looking for it every single day and running diagnostics, that’s going to save time. And then you add up all those hours and you’ve come out with to determine the savings that can be driven.
And while some operations leaders may feel worried about their technicians having less work to do, the key thing to remember is that the tasks remaining are all higher value. Further, those technicians now have a consistent ability to propose ROI-justified pull-through work.
The typical pull-through on a service agreement is at least 3:1 through the issues identified during a standard quarterly PM contract. With analytics software identifying and prioritizing issues every day, pull through work is naturally higher. And we’re even seeing some organizations that are actually subsidizing this digital transformation—they’re willing to actually eat a little extra costs because they know they’re going to get more pull-through work out of it and they see it as a strategic priority to chase the carrot and not get hit by the stick.
Retaining talent and training your staff
The last way that analytics-based service can transform your business is in engaging your human resources. Across the facilities industry, many experienced technicians are retiring and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and keep talent. There’s a shortage of skilled mechanical and controls technicians, which means the challenge of maintaining service delivery at a high level is on the minds of many service leaders.
Analytics can help ease this challenge in three ways. First, as we’ve discussed above, the software can transform service workflows and help teams do more with less people. Analytics helps focus technician efforts on the most important problems, based on how much the problem is affecting indoor air quality, equipment health or energy consumption. Next, there is a big role to play for analytics to coach technicians on how to fix the problems found—the job is only done when the data says it’s done.
Finally, new entrants to the job market are demanding more from their employers. They want to work with cutting edge technology. They want to be able to work from home. Many of them want to be able to travel less and spend more time with their friends and families. Organizations going after the carrot will grab up these top recruits and will have the technology-driven projects and processes to keep them engaged and growing in their careers.
Go deeper: Not all analytics software is created equal
In conclusion, a shift to analytics-driven service workflows is helping the leading service companies transform their businesses in many ways. They’re providing better equipment service and better customer experiences, earning higher revenues and margins, and creating better career opportunities for their employees.
However, like with most types of technology, all analytics software is not created equal. Higher quality analytics amplify all the benefits we’ve talked about in this piece. In short, service businesses need analytics software that doesn’t just provide fault detection, but goes the full distance to fault detection and diagnostics. We’ve detailed the nuances to understand in our latest whitepaper, the Building Analytics Comparison Guide.Back to blog