Closed-Loop SLM: A life preserver for those drowning in data

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WBR’s Field Service East was another busy event for CaseBank, where we delivered a keynote presentation, Too Much Information—Finding the Fault in an Ocean of Data. Our involvement in the interactive round tables, in addition to speaking, provided us multiple opportunities to share the insights we’ve gained from 15 years of developing troubleshooting and fault isolation solutions. Diagnosing problems on complex equipment has call centers and field technicians drowning in an ocean of data. We believe manufacturers can solve this problem by following an approach called Closed-Loop Service Lifecycle Management (SLM).

As the name suggests, a Closed-Loop SLM system ties together each step of the service cycle—including recording the symptoms, diagnosing the problem, identifying the solution, delivering work instructions and reporting back to Engineering for trend analysis and corrective action. A diagnostic reasoning system that accelerates troubleshooting, collects first-hand performance and service information, and provides high quality feedback to Engineering effectively completes the SLM cycle.

Product complexity is constantly increasing, with more electronics and software controlling highly sophisticated processes. This has led to an exponential growth in diagnostic/error codes, failure modes and product and service updates, which explains the increasing difficulty of troubleshooting complex products. As a proof point, manufacturers often tell us that 80% of their equipment fault codes are ambiguous (i.e. they don’t isolate the fault) and that diagnosing the problem now consumes 40-50% of downtime.  As diagnosing failure modes becomes more difficult, it is significantly harder for the OEM to determine what is happening in the field. Manufacturers implemented more electronics and software as a way to monitor performance metrics and predict which parts are most likely to fail.  However, that approach has not made it any easier to optimize field service operations. It’s now clear that, when it comes to call centers and field service, more data doesn’t necessarily provide better insight.

We’re also learning that the traditional tools used for diagnosis and repair, product support portals based on document/content management systems (CMS), do not work. CMS-based solutions are inadequate and, in many cases, actually delay repairs and disrupt the collection and distribution of field experience.  The current approach—searching a pool of technical documents looking for similar symptoms and error codes, while making a repair—is proving ineffective and time-consuming. Organizations have begun to realize the limitations of CMS portals and are actively seeking better solutions.

The key to solving these issues is to incorporate previous field experience into the troubleshooting and corrective action processes. Closed-Loop SLM deploys a diagnostic reasoning engine on top of a database of known equipment issues, faults and symptoms, so that call centers and field technicians can quickly determine if the equipment symptoms look similar to previous maintenance events, and can proceed to ask a series of questions to determine the actual fault and the parts and procedures needed to complete the repair. By replacing search techniques with diagnostic reasoning, the logic that controls the reasoning and troubleshooting process can be modified to properly balance equipment downtime, service and parts cost, warranty exposure, etc.

A Closed-Loop SLM approach to diagnostic reasoning also provides instant, high-quality feedback to Engineering so that as repairs are performed they receive accurate reports on failure modes and frequencies, complete with detailed differentiating symptoms. Effectively, a system like this becomes the “eyes and ears” of Engineering in the field delivering failure reports, trend analysis and feeding corrective action system, which has tremendous value to OEMs.

Closed-Loop SLM improves cost, performance and uptime. It is evident that, as equipment becomes more complex, the value of a Closed-Loop SLM system is increasing. The benefits radiate throughout an organization including call centers, field service, technical support, and engineering and tech pubs. Troubleshooting methods need to accommodate the complexity of equipment as well as the complexity of organizations. Closed-Loop SLM, based on intelligent diagnostic reasoning software, is enabling organizations to do so.

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