Working in the Field: Then and Now

During the past two decades, Peggy Menconi has seen significant changes in the field force arena. Topping that list are the roles and responsibilities of the people working in the field. Menconi, an analyst at AMR Research in Boston, began her career as a field service technician in the Navy. When she started out, field engineers were often referred to as dragon slayers--the only people with the know-how to solve the horrific problems associated with business technology solutions. Disk drives were the size of an office desk and had to be field stripped to be repaired. Now, disk drives are no bigger than a notebook, and the major problems that crippled companies 20 years ago are disposable.

As Menconi explains, a large part of today's field engineers' job is customer relationships. Field engineers are no longer required to be technical wizards, but more importantly, to know how to nurture the relationship with the customer. This changing job description has been a direct result of technological advancements. Menconi recalls a time when the field service world communicated with pagers and handwritten messages--a massive paper trail. Then came the era of the homegrown system, with which organizations could document anything from phone conversations to spare parts.

It was those inflexible systems that inspired Menconi to become an analyst. Companies were willing to spend a million dollars to implement new systems fast--the homegrown applications had become an impediment to competition in the service environment. "Homegrown systems," she says, "are tailored to exactly what the companies want them to do, which is great." Yet, as the industry became more customer-centric, these companies had to figure out how to make their systems offer more applications for the customer. One critical step in the exponential technological boom, says Menconi, was Web self-service. "Putting the customer on your field service team has dramatically changed what's happening with field service. It is no longer acceptable to say, 'these are the three flavors of service we have, now pick one.'" She realized that analyzing applications and providing end users with insights would be a good career move.

Helpful to this transition was Menconi's experience in field service, call centers and other aspects of customer management. "I could see that if I were to combine that with knowledge of the software community, then I'd be in a good position to consult with clients. Instead of helping one company solve problems, I'd be in a position to help lots of companies solve problems." Menconi clearly has a love for her job that others may only dream of.

She points out that in terms of discrimination in the workplace, things have improved considerably since she started her career. The new era of centrally available information eliminates the withholding of information from others, as does the rapid growth of the industry--companies can't afford not to have everyone contribute. Her philosophy: "People are people. Everyone wants to feel that they've done a good job at the end of the day, that their contributions matter--whether it's the person at the desk downstairs when you come in the door, or someone who's doing the cleaning or the most senior research analyst around. As long as you keep that in mind, it's much easier to get around some of the other issues. It's person to person, not necessarily male to female."

In the future, Menconi sees the role of the analyst expanding to adapt to the increasingly complex technological world. "Part of the analyst's role is to take complex ideas and boil them down to simple understanding. Our clients don't have time to learn packages and sort out the market and figure out who the winners and losers are going to be or what the new trends are. One element of the job is to learn everything you possibly can. Another element is to communicate that efficiently and simply. That won't change in an environment that becomes more and more complex."

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