William Hou learned the value of variety early in his career. Shifting from engineering to a marketing position at General Electric's aerospace division, he relished the challenge of tailoring solutions for customers' diverse needs. Today, as director of product marketing for Siebel Systems' field service products, Hou still delights in studying the many paths businesses may take as they pursue their goals.
"The most exciting piece is looking at all the different service delivery models," he says. A large part of Hou's job is to ensure that the Siebel field service product line offers enough features and flexibility to enhance the way his customers do business, no matter how they choose to do it.
Hou came by his knowledge of field service processes the old-fashioned way. At GE, he moved from aerospace to a series of positions with GE Medical Systems' global service business. For a decade, Hou ran service operations, launched new service offerings and helped expand the company through acquisitions. Because he's dealt with the nuts and bolts of service operations, Hou says he brings a lot of real-life practicality to his job at Siebel -- a crucial asset for a company that delivers technology solutions.
For example, Hou knows firsthand that the industry has no room for one-size-fits-all applications. "I think it is hard for software companies to understand that businesses do not have cookie-cutter practices," he observes. "Every company would love to say, ‘We have an established process,' but in reality, there are always slight variations." Technology tools must accommodate variations within a single service group as well as among separate service organizations.
One assignment that demanded a great deal of flexibility from Hou was his term as program manager for GE Medical's service team in China. As the person responsible for establishing the service business in that region, Hou had to build his organization from scratch. His customer base was scattered across a vast geographic area served by a limited transportation network, making the effective deployment of resources a tricky issue. Training field engineers and teaching them to communicate effectively with customers were also major challenges.
"That's when I really learned how service delivery is done, because we didn't have anything to start with. I had to learn in excruciating detail what is a good practice -- to be able to deliver service to customers who are in remote locations when you don't have a large support infrastructure," Hou says.
In a country where a well-qualified engineer might earn only $1,000 a year, customers clearly could not afford GE's standard, full-service contract with a $100,000 annual price tag. The solution was to offer a package that focused more on the delivery of technical information and spare parts and put less emphasis on the actual labor associated with service, Hou says.
Overseeing product development and marketing of Siebel's field service products, Hou draws upon experience and also talks with customers and prospects about their service models. "Wireless technology is a key example," Hou explains. "Everybody, to some degree, should move to more of a wireless platform. But wireless can also be very complicated when companies don't exactly know what they want to achieve from incorporating the technology into their service delivery process."
Wireless technology could also help companies become more flexible as they embrace the concept of proactive service. When a company uses a wireless link to remotely monitor a piece of equipment, it can schedule service based on the item's activity. For example, a company servicing a soft drink vending machine might monitor the weather and refill the machine more often during hot weather when more people buy sodas.
"The previous paradigms -- where every Tuesday and Friday I replenish the vending machines -- don't work in this new environment," Hou says. "It's a lot more dynamic now. You need information faster, and that information will result in decisions on the deployment of labor and other resources and on how you want to deliver service to those particular assets. That's what we're building into our product. It's those types of models that are going to differentiate the premier service providers in the future."