Customers Have A Hard Time In Keeping Track Of Thousands Of Test Assets

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Whenever we’ve spoken to thought-leaders from test & measurement (T&M) industry, our discussion has centres around the latest specs and capabilities of the hardware. But, when Rahul Chopra got an opportunity to speak to Eric Taylor, VP Services, Keysight Technologies, our first ever discussion around the importance of services and customer support occurred.


Q. Typical purchase discussions around T&M seem to revolve around hardware and software—do ‘Services’ and ‘Customer Support’ also get looked at?

A. When I talk to a technical customer, they clearly understand that this is not a hygiene thing; this is how do I do business. Even a low-cost, relatively simplistic test instrument that’s testing an electronic warfare module needs to do measurement carefully. If your measurements are important to you, then that simple piece of equipment is in the path of doing a very complex measurement.

When we talk to our customers, we ask them how are they using the equipment. It’s not a “one-size-fits-all”. No matter what piece of equipment you have and no matter what you are doing, you are treated the same.

Here’s taking another example of what we do which others don’t do in India. Downtime with respect to moving things out of the country doesn’t work for customers. It’s difficult when you are working through a complex process and developing something and all of a sudden you’ve got 3-6 weeks of downtime due to taking things out for calibration.

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So, we have teams that will go on-site to the customer, do the calibration there – all at one time. We do it all in one short timeframe to minimise that downtime. This helps customers achieve their goals.

Q. Do these discussions happen pre-sales or post-sales?

A. Both. As an example, we see aerospace defence companies using our products for a very long time. When an aerospace defence company develops a new system, that system may be deployed somewhere in the country for tens of years. We have a program in the U.S. which we are supporting that is probably about 40 years old and has been renewed for another 10 years. So, we think about supporting the test equipment for 30 to 50 years. We ask the customer upfront about their purpose for using our equipment. The aerospace people have a really long need that they can tell us up front. We can put in place, what we call, a standard support period plan that can support them for the next 20 years. And from that, we can make investments today that will minimise that cost. If they wait until 19 years and suddenly require support for another 10 years, then that’s very difficult for us since we might have moved on in terms of technology. So, having that dialogue upfront is very helpful.

Q. Is the dialogue done by the same sales team which does the equipment sales also or is it separately done?

A. Before the sales, the dialogue is conducted by the same person who is selling the hardware, software and solutions. If it’s a complex solution, like system calibration or test-asset optimisation or an opportunity to go onsite, then it may be passed on to one of our service salespeople. So, by partnering with our customers, we can help them achieve their goals.

We’ve been having dialogues with the same customers for 30 years now and we know each other very well. It’s a part of building great customer relationships and helping them.

Q. In terms of the Pareto principle, the majority of the revenue is post sales?

A. Yes. But, we expect the ‘pre-sales’ share to increase as things become more complex—like in the case of 5G. We are basically moving upstream and doing more dialogues with the customer up front, trying to understand what they are trying to achieve. By doing that, we allow our customers to have much better and seamless integration with what they want to do.

Let’s take an example of an automotive customer who is designing and manufacturing battery test solutions. If we only talk about it upfront, of only the basics and then you do start doing manufacturing by using our systems, and if one of those systems goes down (without having upfront post-sales discussions), then the entire production line goes down which creates difficulties for the customer and for us. So, having an upfront dialogue helps us to understand what they are trying to achieve. Whether it is design work or manufacturing, we provide the models accordingly. And over the years they get to know the kind of different services they would be requiring, right from R&D.

Q. Am I correct to assume that you offer your products with standard service packages and propose additional upgrade options?

A. Most of the times, yes. Let’s take the example of a standard set of products at the time of sale. The salesperson should be asking about what is being done with the product. If the standard package meets their needs, great. And we can always have that dialogue later. If there’s something unique right up front, then we figure it out as that typically is a time when we can make the best, informed decision on how to make that support happen. However, be it a solution or something else, we are constantly innovating and figuring out how we can help customers do better jobs.

Q. Do you get asked by customers—that if your products work perfectly and don’t go down, why should I buy additional service packages?

A. Quite a few times. Here’s what we explain–our products are complex electronic instruments that have tens and thousands of components in there. So, while you’re designing a complex product, you want to make sure that our instruments are working correctly. Even if the product doesn’t have a failure issue, you do want to maintain that product to make sure that it is working correctly for what you are doing. And that allows us to have dialogues as the designing goes along.

Q. Can you share an example of an innovative service launched recently?

A. Sure, as you know we’ve done calibration for tens and tens of years. Lately, customers have been coming to us to do calibration for the entire test rack. Sometimes, that test rack may have pieces that are not of Keysight! They want us to calibrate the entire thing because they do not want to do 90% with us and 10% somewhere else. We now do that as part of our solution for customers to help them become successful. So, Keysight has to take that equipment and pull every piece out of that rack. Then box it up, ship it somewhere, calibrate it, ship it back, build it back up, test it to make sure it’s working correctly. That can take weeks, even months to do that process.

Recently we have come out with a service product called System Cal. Basically, we work with a customer and understand what they are trying to achieve with the system, what measurements are you making. And if that system stays relatively static, year after year, then we can develop a test process to do calibration of only those tests points that they are actually using in that system. And then we can develop a test rack that doesn’t have to move out of the customer’s site, doesn’t even need to be taken down. We calibrate on-site, in one location for the customer which will only take a few hours.

Q. Any other innovative solutions that Keysight has come up with?

A. Keysight has recently launched Keysight Care (and we are promoting it heavily in India through sessions at the Keysight World) which does a better job in providing a committed turnaround time and committed service levels on both application support as well as post-sales support. Through this, we are trying give customers a better, higher level of committed service while also listening to them to understand their needs and priorities. From that, we build an ecosystem to help customers become successful and solve their pressing needs.

There could be 2 different types of customers within the same company. For the first one who wants to produce a lot of components for a specific test system, we build an uptime service that keeps your equipment in the facility in uptime running state that does not produce false values.

Then, the other set of customers (such as aerospace and defence customers) have assets all over the place which they have held on to for 30 years, yet they buy more. So, our Test Asset Optimisation process using Test Asset Advisor helps in understanding what you have. At times, they have gear that they are not using. So, you can trade that in or sell it to a broker or dispose it as it doesn’t make sense to keep continuing to maintain a product which they are not using. So, we help them reduce their ongoing expenses, maybe get some credit back from Keysight and refresh their pool of assets. While doing to that, we come on to their site rather than boxing and shipping a lot of their assets. Through this, we come up with services that are best suited for our customers to achieve their goals.

Q. Now-a-days, in manufacturing, a lot of machines are integrating IoT for preventive maintenance to figure out where things are going wrong. Is IoT being integrated into Keysight products to figure out calibration? Will we be seeing products that become self-managed any time soon?

A. We have some products that do some bit of self-calibration. But in terms of full calibration, no. Most companies these days have to follow government orders that say that one needs to have calibration with a certificate. Without that it is not possible to do the calibration.

We at Keysight also want to do something similar where we can certify an instrument for doing self-calibration. As of today, we are taking baby-steps in that direction.

Talking of IoT, not too long ago, we released a service product called Asset Advisor. Customers have a hard time in keeping track of thousands of test assets. Only if they knew where the test assets were and how much they were being used, then they can do a better job at reusing an already owned asset.

Equipment from any OEM can be put into this system. This system can track who in your facility has the asset, where it is and also track its utilisation. Thus, we are helping business managers make better decisions within a limited capital budget. It’s an IoT-based product.

Another thing that’s unique about this system is that it helps you look at the health and maintenance of Keysight products. Many of our products have mechanical switches or attenuators that have a certain lifespan. Through this system, we can track how far they have reached in their life. On presenting that data to the customer, the customer can get a better view of their assets and how many need servicing.

One would prefer to put healthy assets in the production line to meet the production goal. Getting an early information about which are faulty components can allow one to take proactive measures before putting it in the production line.

Q. Have there been demands on the organisation structure to evolve to enable your team to be able to align with customers’ needs better?

A. 40 years ago, we went from being a hardware-centric organisation to a solution-centric organisation. In the past, we had different divisions based on the type of hardware that was developed – one focussing on oscilloscopes, focussed on sales, one focussed on spec analysers, one on network analysers, one on voltmeters etc. And then we presented that to customers. Back then the customer had the time, desire and inclination to become a knowledgeable person about test.

Nowadays, customers don’t have that desire or ability anymore. They’re moving quickly and are focused on what they are trying to achieve. So, we switched that up. We still have COEs (Centres Of Excellence) that are developing those things but now we have got industry-solution teams that take all the complex and individual stuff and goes to the customer in order to know what they are trying to achieve in order to build the equipment as per their needs using various components.

That’s been a pretty significant change. Now, we have mirrored that within services. A while ago, I only had a service portfolio for some of the service products. So when I went to the customer talk about some service products, then someone else also had to come to explain about other service products.

Now I own the entire service portfolio, so when I go and talk to the customer, different people are not required. For example, when I go and visit the aerospace & defence customer, then the aerospace & defence VP and I can take decisions with greater ease, as it is only the two us who own everything for that customer.

Q. How easy is it to get trained personnel from universities to work for your teams? Or do you have to train them?

A. In most cases, we train people ourselves—as there’s a need for a lot of on-the-job training, since their work is specific to our products and solutions. We get a fair amount of people who have earlier been in the industry somewhere else, whether it be from aerospace and defence, army, navy. On finding our working style interesting, they end up working for us. It’s nice that they have some base upon which we can build on further through training.

Q. Is there any tie-up with any university globally where they train as per your requirements?

A. There are some of those. It’s not a university but more of a technical school. And we nurture those relationships in a number of places around the globe. Many times, they are near the larger hubs, since they need to hire people on a regular basis. Sometimes, people from the university come as interns. If they perform well, then we make them an offer. If not, then we keep on working with their school.

Q. Some players have come out with test and measurement as a service. So, does Keysight have a roadmap to go from product sales to service? If it happens, what will be the plan for that?

A. We are a bit slower than some of the other business models. But we are working on that. As previously mentioned, the Asset Advisor software is a service. We see that it will continue to move down in that direction.

We are working with customers that are present in testing areas whether it is EMC or digital testing. And for that, we continue to have dialogues on a continuous basis.

We are probably the most trusted partner that our customers have in the testing area. As a result of dialogues, our customers continue to come to us for moving on to the next step. Once we do that, they want to go even further. Such deep relationships help us to move down that path.

Because of this hybrid model, a large part of that business would be mine. At the same time, I’m doing it for the customer in the 5G, aerospace & defence or automotive market, allowing us to deeply partner with industry solution team within Keysight that has responsibility for hardware. This increases the revenue of our customers and provides them profit.

Q. With respect to support and services, does the team at Keysight India play a global role or a small, focussed role?

A. Most of our services are different. It means that our customers want to be supported locally and do not prefer their services to be shipped. Whether its America or Europe, we have set up different hubs where we have a deep level of knowledge and expertise in testing abilities. That cannot be afforded for every country. So, we decide what markets we need to serve and India is one of those. Our hub here, isn’t large and doesn’t serve outside India. But it’s a geography we know we need to support to be able to become successful. We have 40 people in India providing services, we’ve got service centers in different locations and have onsite teams. So, we have made a pretty significant investment in India.

Q. Given your familiarity with India, what’s your take on how Indian eco-system compares with rest of the world?

A. It’s interesting because there are some differences with India in terms of being able to easily move stuff in and out. And there are other countries like that whom we serve such as Israel, Russia or Brazil. And because of that, those countries have a slightly different ecosystem. What I see here in India is very amazing. It is relatively self-contained. There is interaction and big companies come here. But there is a lot more going on in India because there is the expectation that people have to start from almost nothing and take it all the way through. You get help from others but at the same time (in some other places) you get sub-components to one country and it’s moving around. There is a more holistic ecosystem here that I see.

Q. With respect to Services and Customer Support—do customers from India behave differently?

A. There are 2 different types of customers generally when it comes to services. We see a procurement-kind of customer and a technical-kind of customer. That’s typical around the world. It really depends on the type of customer who leads the discussion regarding services. That’s consistent around the world.

What I see in India specifically is that because of the difficulty of moving things in and out of the country, there is a need to do more services in India. By doing that, you are actually helping your customers to be successful. Take for example 5G. The test systems are not cheap. Indian customers who buy an expensive system and use it to achieve their goals, don’t want to lose it for 4-6 weeks while it gets sent out of the country for maintenance, whether that’s repair or calibration.

Keysight on the other hand, is making specific investments in India to support our 5G customers. That is where the demanding nature of customers is in order to become successful. So, we sit down with our customers and listen and understand what they are trying to achieve. And accordingly, we take steps to help them achieve their business goals.

Q. How’s India doing for you from your business unit perspective and what else is required to expand that setup?

A. Things are going quite well for us in India because of the deep relationships. If you look at the number of other people from other countries making investments here, then the entire ecosystem is growing and doing well. With their growth, we are also getting the opportunity to grow.

There are two ways in which we make investments. First, we make investments before a trend happens. Second, after witnessing enough growth, you invest behind that growth to continue support it. It is nice to see both of that happening in India.

Now, we are moving towards solutions and systems and we are seeing that evolution taking place in India. People are making specific investments in India around aerospace & defence, 5G (both at chip-level and phones), as well as in the automotive and electric vehicle. So, instead of selling to individual pieces of hardware, we are now selling full systems to the customers. These systems are complex and new. So, if proactive investment is not made beforehand, then we’ll sell those stuff without supporting the customers. In those areas, we are making a proactive investment where we are trying to stay ahead and support our customers so they don’t see a gap between when they bought and started using our product and when it needs servicing.

We have just made a significant investment that will be happening here around 5G, which will hopefully be rolled out by the end of this year.

On the other side, we are continuously growing our onsite business, hiring more onsite technicians and growing new services like System Cal or Test Asset Optimisation. Based upon this, we make decisions on how much of that growth has been sustained and what investments we need to make to in order continue help our customers to be successful.

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