The Under-Tapped Aftermarket: Service Lifecycle Management Is Tapping Right at Your Door

(Originally published in the December 2005 issue of Line56.com)

By Debbie Geiger

The concept of service lifecycle management, or SLM, has been around for some time now; however, the tools to actually make it happen are still relatively new. Not only that, they are continually evolving, and building upon themselves to provide users with more power and flexibility to manage their services operations. The upside of this growth in empowerment is that if your organization has already implemented SLM, then it is already on the fast track toward being able to effectively manage its total base of capital equipment, mission-critical assets, and human capital. The downside, however, is that if you have not already embraced the concept, you may be wasting precious time.

SLM Stands Out Amidst a Jumble of Acronym Soup
While we have seen a great deal of growth in the acceptance of service lifecycle management over the past year or so, we still believe the market to be grossly under-tapped with respect to its widespread availability. For example, there are many vendors that claim to offer complete suites of customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and asset management (AM) functionality; but few, if any, can fully deliver on their claim. However, we believe, that through the use of a credible, comprehensive and modular model that effectively integrates state-of-the-art technologies to support the most critical business applications, there is an SLM solution that can deliver what it takes to effectively run a services organization.

In an age where CRM, SCM, ERP, AM and all the other acronym-based solutions simply cannot cut it in and of themselves, only SLM addresses each of the factors that are important to organizations for whom downtime is not an option, and resource utilization directly impacts financial performance. This is what SLM is designed to do, and an SLM solution is what the most progressive types of services organizations are using to differentiate themselves from the also-rans.

However, there are still presently many alternative definitions of service lifecycle management being tossed about in the marketplace - and not all of them reflect the full value proposition. From a practical operating standpoint, we believe there is really only one all-encompassing definition that addresses every critical aspect required in managing the business; a definition that is both universal, as well as customizable to each individual user's business environment.

We define service lifecycle management as "a solution that supports the complete service lifecycle, from lead generation and project quotation, to service and billing, through asset retirement". We further define SLM to encompass the integration and optimization of critical business processes including the contact center, field service, depot repair, logistics, professional services, and sales and marketing. We believe a comprehensive SLM suite also extends into portal, business intelligence, dynamic scheduling, and mobile solutions; and must be applicable to services providers supporting customers in all vertical segments, and in all geographies.

SLM Is Tapping Right at the Aftermarket's Front Door
In recent months we have seen SLM tapping even more loudly at the aftermarket's front door - and the welcome it has been receiving keeps getting stronger and stronger. In fact, in a very short time from now, the under-tapped aftermarket is likely to find itself relying much more heavily on SLM than on any of the other heavily promoted, acronym-based disciplines of the recent past.

The main reason for this is actually quite simple - the market is looking for proven solutions, based on practical business operations functionality, and powered by the latest technologies, to maximize their respective bottom lines. The primary drivers behind the growing acceptance of SLM are also fairly universal - and quite compelling - as business managers across-the-board are essentially looking for the same things. Things like the ability to:

  • Streamline and automate their business processes;
  • Compress the contract-to-cash cycle;
  • Identify incremental sales opportunities and improve revenue recovery;
  • Collapse non-value-added workflows;
  • Enhance resource utilization and reduce downtime;
  • Coordinate the efforts of their sales, marketing and service organizations;
  • Improve compliance with Service Level Agreements (SLAs), contracts and warranties; and
  • Synchronize every customer touch point for increased customer satisfaction.
While other disciplines like CRM, ERP, SCM, or AM may only address one, two or more of these drivers, only service lifecycle management addresses them all - and this is critical, as no organizations in today's business economy have either the time, resources or money that would allow them to build an effective service delivery model, piece by piece, on a non-interrelated basis, and hope to have it function as an all-encompassing solution. Only SLM affords them this opportunity.

SLM Opens Its Doors to Complementary Technologies
SLM represents a comprehensive and effective solution for its users because it also opens its doors to other complementary technologies that make it even more powerful. For example, coupled with device relationship management (DRM) technology, an SLM solution can proactively monitor an organization's deployed assets in the field to detect operational performance issues, and provide its service personnel with real-time diagnostic data, as well as the ability to use it on the fly. The inherent capabilities of SLM ensure that the right person will always be at the right place at the right time, with all of the customer-and product-specific information and parts they require to resolve any open customer support issues. DRM alone cannot totally support the customer; however, SLM empowered by DRM can provide a total solution.

Similarly, mobile communications technology - as prevalent as it is in today's services segment - does not independently provide a total solution; it merely facilitates the ability of the organization to do so. That is why it is so important that whatever SLM solution is ultimately implemented, your organization makes sure that it leverages the most appropriate mobile technology into its field personnel's ability to benefit from real-time, anywhere functionality.

Another key opportunity afforded through the use of service lifecycle management is the empowerment of the user to perform some of the tasks itself. An SLM solution that does not afford the user the capability to perform at least some aspects of even the most basic tasks may run the risk of not being fully accepted - or utilized - within the organization. It was not that long ago that the historical service management system (SMS) market ventured into the formerly uncharted web-based, do-it-yourself, or DIY, market; but, that was long before the Internet had become so ubiquitous and services organizations had become so dependent on the use of the web for virtually everything from communications, to data and information transfer, to self-help and troubleshooting.

All of these technologies - as well as those that are still emerging - must not only be embraced, but incorporated into SLM functionality in order for it to provide a total solution. What has worked in the past, based on the technologies of the past, can no longer be expected to work effectively in the future. That is why only a technology-based SLM solution can be truly counted on to provide services organizations with what they need to both get the job done, while satisfying customers and strengthening their bottom lines.

SLM Is an Agile and Adaptive Tool
Service lifecycle management is not a static discipline, nor is it one that once you've adopted it, you can run with it, as is, forever. It is, however, an agile tool; one that can evolve with the market, the user, the technology, and the specific needs of the customer. Choosing the right SLM solution to get started is critical; but so is the need to choose the right vendor, as well as the appropriate complementary technologies to make it all work. It is not just another acronym - like CRM - to simply be tossed around interchangeably with customer service or satisfaction, asset or supply chain management, or any of the other acronyms we read about daily in business journals.

SLM is almost a living, breathing entity that helps poorly run businesses run better, marginal businesses run more profitably, and well-run businesses excel in their markets as acknowledged leaders in customer satisfaction and profitability. The concept itself is sound, the technology is readily available, the need is irrefutable, and all you need to move forward is the recognition that there is an SLM solution out there that meets your organization's specific - and often, unique - needs. By choosing the right solution, fully supported by the right vendor, and empowered by technology, your organization will certainly have a better chance of thriving in an increasingly complex and customer-focused business environment.


Debbie Geiger is Vice President, Marketing, at Astea International, global leader in service management software that addresses the unique needs of companies who manage capital equipment, mission critical assets and human capital. Debbie can be reached at dgeiger@astea.com.


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