In one of his recent blog posts, “Who Needs Service Manuals?,” product strategist Joe Barkai wrote “…the fundamental challenge facing tech pubs authors hasn’t changed: how to produce relevant and effective information that helps service technicians deliver effective, efficient and safe maintenance and repairs.”
Barkai notes that it’s important to enable service technicians to access corporate or “tribal” knowledge; after all, service techs often turn to their peers, not technical documentation, for guidance about diagnosing and repairing equipment. This is especially true when it comes to handling unusual or non-routine break-fix situations, i.e., the “long-tail” of equipment repairs.
However, Barkai’s blog suggests—and history has shown—that knowledge management (KM) systems won’t solve this problem. Similarly, content management (CM) systems and web portals aren’t sufficient either. The problem is that search terms used to look for answers are either too general (giving too many hits) or too specific (overlooking relevant information that uses different terminology). Furthermore, the amount of information in a KM/CM portal grows rapidly and soon becomes unwieldy, especially when authors worry about removing content because it might be useful in the future—even when it’s out of date. Another drawback for KM/CM portal is that best practices and service procedures that have been discovered (and used) in the field are not quickly published because they haven’t been formally documented and approved.
Both cases result in wasted time and higher costs, as service/ support personnel fail to notice important clues and end up with the wrong diagnosis, the wrong procedures and the wrong repair. Likewise, for long-tail problems fault isolation manuals (FIMs) and corrective actions become quickly out-of-date because the authors can’t keep up with the flow of information from engineering, field technicians and the call center. In each of these cases support personnel conclude that the KM/CM portal and FIM are unreliable, so technicians turn instead to their personal network of peers and subject matter experts (SMEs) for advice and tribal knowledge.
To solve this problem CaseBank provides guidance to those who need it by capturing experience from those who have it. CaseBank replaces the search function of KM/CM portals, FIMs and troubleshooting guides (TSG) with a database of failure modes (symptoms and solutions) and a diagnostic reasoning engine that dynamically evaluates each symptom of each problem to provide an optimized troubleshooting process that minimizes diagnosis and repair time. It doesn’t necessarily replace the KM/CM portal, it simply makes it a lot more useful. Unlike a FIM or TSG, which typically include graphical decision trees or step-by-step processes, this database can include an unlimited number of failure modes so new problems, symptoms and product configurations can be easily added. Choosing the correct search terminology becomes irrelevant because all possible failure modes are continuously evaluated, which prevents technicians from getting “locked-in” to a certain assumption or branch of a decision tree. Finally, the database allows engineers to evaluate the usage patterns, symptoms and failure modes seen in the field, to detect emerging problems and plan corrective actions.
If a diagnosis is not quickly identified, CaseBank can trigger an escalation process to engage SMEs; but unlike a FIM or KM/CM portal, CaseBank captures important information and field experience to improve the database for future users and for engineering. In this way CaseBank’s solution gains the trust of service and support personnel so that it becomes the system of first choice rather than last chance.
CaseBank is delivering the next generation of diagnostics and fault isolation solutions to make service technicians more effective and provide real-time feedback to engineers. By providing accurate information about equipment problems in the field manufacturers can quickly deliver corrective actions to reduce costs and improve quality. A database approach to fault isolation relieves a lot of pressure for the tech pubs staff because instead of revising the FIM or updating the KM/CM portal they can focus on communicating the right parts, procedures and other important documentation, all of which is accessed via hyperlinks in the database.
Barkai states, “The key to delivering useful service information is giving the service technician fresh information that represents the most recent cumulative knowledge of the organization.” CaseBank customers have improved service and support by eliminating the FIM, in favor of a dynamic fault isolation database, which provides a steady supply of “fresh information.”