By Neil Anderson, managing director of Qcom, specialist technical services company working as an outsource partner to many CET companies.
The effective rollout and installation of equipment can be amongst the most important ‘moments of truth’ for any technology manufacturer, systems integrator or reseller.
A smooth and timely transition from the initial order to successful operation should set the right tone for a long and profitable customer relationship. Any delays or mistake risks setting things off on the wrong foot, creating discontent among end-users, hampering future sales growth or, worse still, leading to the cancellation of existing orders.
Rollouts vary significantly in scale and complexity. They can range from a single site with one or two units to a nationwide project with thousands, and from the technical delivery of standalone or plug-and-play products to the full-service installation, connection and configuration of networked kiosk and digital signage technologies.
But the same considerations should apply in every case: comprehensive end-to-end planning; proper resourcing and expertise; and the appropriate balance of in-house and outsourced delivery.
The rollout process
The majority of rollout and installation projects can be broken down into five stages:
- Inventory and logistics
For all but the smallest rollouts, the installation team will typically be required to receive, handle and schedule the onwards dispatch products to each installation site.
Many technology rollouts require off-site assembly or sub-assembly support, which can include hardware assembly or software configuration. Test procedures will identify any issues or faulty mechanics, significantly reducing the risk of any problems or complications during each on-site installation.
- Site surveys
Installation locations usually differ greatly in size and layout, as well as in practical arrangements for parking, access and opening hours. Advance site surveys should check not just these physical factors, but also power, connectivity and any other issues specific to the equipment. By investing properly in the site survey process, the project team can plan not only the most efficient installation schedules, but also be confident in their reliable delivery.
Once the kiosks or signage units have been manoeuvred into place, most will be physically secured before connecting to power. A network connection will normally be established, allowing firmware to be updated, software installed and configured, and a connection to cloud applications established. All installations will require testing, and many will include basic operator training for onsite users or representatives. Remember also that processes will need to be detailed if there is to be any decommissioning and removal of existing equipment, whether it is your own or a competitor model.
New technology and new users inevitably mean teething problems. Technical support is often neglected in the planning of rollout projects, but experience shows it really can make the difference between ‘adequate’ and ‘excellent’. A telephone helpdesk can provide an efficient and highly effective customer advice and ‘snagging’ service on new technology. Field engineering support may also be required to implement everything from swap-out replacements to comprehensive programmes of preventative maintenance or aftermarket warranty support.
Resources and capabilities
As this end-to-end model suggests, installation projects have special requirements that are very different to the core competencies of most CET manufacturers, system integrators and resellers. Implementing successful rollout projects requires distinct resourcing and capabilities in four key areas.
One of the biggest ways CET companies often underestimate the challenge of rollout projects is by failing to consider the amount (and therefore the cost) of specialist infrastructure it requires.
On the logistics side, storage facilities with dedicated staging areas will allow products to be assessed, stored or worked on as soon as they arrive. Dedicated sub-assembly and test facilities are typically required and specific handling equipment might include specialist vehicles rigged with strapping points and padding to keep delicate technology secure. Depending on product size and location factors, specialist handling technology from power pushers to scissor lifts or stair robots might also be required.
Helpdesk and technical support provision at any scale will almost certainly require specialist call management and service software.
- Technical capability
Regardless of planning and infrastructure, the overall quality of the project delivery is dictated by the quality of each individual installation. And this ultimately rests in the hands of the engineers and support teams who carry them out.
Technical excellence and engineering capability are fundamental to effective rollout and delivery. A service that is efficient as well as effective needs a range of technical capabilities, from technician drivers capable of managing technical deliveries and simple swap-outs, workshop technicians able to complete sub-assembly operations and pre-install testing, through to top tier engineers who can install and configure leading-edge technologies while operating alone in the field.
This requires the right recruitment strategy, training and retention strategies. Remember also that you will need field capability in each of the areas covered by the rollout project.
- Service culture
Of course, at heart, this is all about customer experience. Installations are a critical customer touchpoint – often the first time that hundreds or thousands of end-users will have encountered and engaged with the manufacturer and its products.
This makes service excellence every bit as important as technical excellence. It means recruiting and training people for service skills as well as technical ability. It also means putting in place processes and a culture that supports a seamless and frictionless customer experience, from early customer enquiries to rapid and effective after-market care.
We mustn’t forget that a great product or workshop development engineer doesn’t necessarily make a great field engineer.
Perhaps the most fundamental challenge of rollout and installation projects are their inherent variability. Peaks and troughs in demand can be difficult to predict in all areas of technical services and support, but for installation they can be all but impossible to forecast.
This in turn makes it difficult to reliably judge the right level of resourcing for rollout and installation. Too few resources and customer experience drops during periods of peak demand; too many and profitability is threatened during the troughs.
In-house or outsourced?
It is this inherent variability that makes installation one of the most outsourced of the technical service functions. While it may be viable to keep low volume installation or technical delivery projects fully in-house, the demands of higher volume and more complex rollouts mean they can represent an unwelcome cost and distraction to a great many integrators, resellers and technology manufacturers.
Of course, outsourcing need not be an all or nothing decision. Simple projects may require outsourced support in just one or two aspects of the process. Sometimes companies find themselves able to implement a rollout in some territories but not in others. In these instances, a hybrid solution is typically implemented.
But as rollout projects grow further in size and complexity, the specialist capability of a pure play technical services company can provide an attractive end-to-end solution for effective and reliable rollout, installation and support.
Because installation is such a pivotal moment in the customer journey, it is important to find an installation partner that can offer service as well as technical excellence. Beyond the infrastructure, engineering and logistics capabilities, look in particular for a service culture that encourages a right-first-time attention to detail, and a proactive approach to problem solving and managing the challenges that will inevitably arise through the course of a large technology rollout.
Most importantly of all, whether working with an in-house team or an outsource partner, make sure that everyone involved in the rollout process understands that they really do have ‘your brand in their hands’ – and just what that means for the long-term success of this exciting new customer relationship.