In 2003, Yuval Brisker and Irad Carmi (an architect and musician, respectively) set out to solve a common problem both had faced – spending time waiting for a product or service to be delivered to their home without having any idea when that delivery would actually happen. The drive to solve this common consumer problem was the founding inspiration for TOA Technologies.
Since then, TOA’s focus has been providing software solutions that help to better manage the entire service process, connecting the information, the processes and the people involved in a product or service delivery – from the back office to the field workforce to the customer. The result is that service organizations around the world are using TOA’s patented cloud-based solution – ETAdirect – to ensure the right person arrives to the right appointment with the right knowledge and equipment on-time, every time.
MO: How have the unique combined experience and perspectives from an architect and a musician helped shape the vision and direction of TOA Technologies?
Yuval: My co-founder Irad Carmi and I set out from the beginning to create a company that not only goes about solving a very common and painful consumer problem in a very unique way, but that also takes an unconventional approach to the way we think internally about the culture of our business – which centers around invention, innovation and continuing to grow. Much of that different perspective goes back to our training: myself as an architect and Irad as a classical musician.
These backgrounds have helped us to think in an unconventional way when approaching a problem that could have otherwise be solved by an operations or logistics company. But that was not what the market needed.
What we did was to take a contrarian approach, putting ourselves in the place of the customer and looking at the experience from the customer’s point of view. We essentially re-engineered the process because we started with identifying the best outcome for the customer, and then worked into how we could achieve that while also helping the business get the best outcome.
The artist viewpoint has also influenced how we built a framework for how our company operates. We knew the best approach would be to provide guidelines and ideas, and then work collaboratively with our team to fill in the blanks. The key to success has been the ability to give direction and guardrails, creating a foundation for creativity, but then giving our people the freedom they need to innovate rather than dictating what needs to be done.
When I think about what makes us unique, it’s the combination of structure and creativity that we experienced in our artistic backgrounds and have now brought to TOA. Architecture and music are both very structural in nature, driven by an internal logic, yet at the same time creative. In architecture, you can design the most unique and creative building ever seen, but if the foundation won’t hold it, it doesn’t make sense. It is the same with music. Music has its own machinations, and the creativity has to work within a certain structure. The same is true of technology; you have to engineer a foundation that drives a creative process in a guided way, yet does not hinder it.
Irad and I both came from artistic disciplines that have the combined left-brain and right-brain thinking. There is a long learning and gestation period during which you become adept and master discipline.
Applying that to our technology and business, we have been able to both be very creative and practical at the same time. This is important because technology is a practical art. Music, while the result is very freeing, is more practical than some other art forms – like painting or sculpture. Architecture is also a very practical as an art form – after all it is art we live in. This ability to think in a dual way has made us a very strong team.
Technology is the music and architecture of our day. So extrapolating our passions of architecture and music into technology is completely logical. It’s an extension and a marriage of our talents.
MO: What are some examples of how you help bring the customer into every step of the service experience to promise the most accurate Time Of Arrival?
Yuval: Going back again to the reason we founded TOA Technologies and created our ETAdirect software, it was because we noticed, as customers ourselves, how silly it was that in this connected age when everyone has mobile devices in their hands that companies were unable to communicate on-demand and accurately with customers regarding their home appointments, giving them a sense for when an appointment would happen. The same holds true for companies providing services to business – think copier repairman.
We knew that in order to enable field employees and the back office teams that support them to communicate with customers throughout the entire appointment process, we first had to get to a place where they could use ETAdirect to make very precise predictions about when activities would happen in the field and how long they would take. After all, if you communicate to a customer that you will arrive at their home or business at 11:30 a.m., communicate to them an hour prior to remind them about their appointment, but then the field technician actually doesn’t show up until 3:30 p.m., all of that amazing communication just went down the drain.
So first and foremost, ETAdirect focuses on predicting time of arrival (that why we call ourselves TOA Technologies).
ETAdirect measures everything that happens in the field, down to the minutest details of work and travel, and creates unique performance pattern profiles for each and every person in the field – a veritable work fingerprint. Using a proprietary and patented statistical analysis engine, it predicts when things will happen and how long they will take to do in the future. Using these predictions, ETAdirect holistically manages the entire service delivery process from start to finish: from the moment an appointment or service is requested, through planning, routing and scheduling, to real-time customer communications and field management. To support a broad spectrum of fieldwork, mobile employees use the most advanced and flexible HTML5-based mobility app available to support projects as well as context-aware collaboration.
Another way we bring the customer into the service loop is through partnerships with CRM vendors that connect the field workforce to the customer service reps (CSRs) in the call center. Here is one of my favorite examples: What if I am a new mom, and I just put my baby down for a nap, but I am also expecting a repairman at the house? Based on my past personal preferences noted in the service company’s CRM and the connection of that CRM with the mobile field service app he is using, that repair man knows he is supposed to ring the doorbell upon arrival. But the baby is finally sleeping! I don’t have the repairman’s number, so I can’t warn him not to make noise. So I call the call center. With a direct connection to the field employee, the CSR can reach out directly and immediately to the repairman to let him know to text me instead when he arrives, so I can let him in. Baby stays sleeping thanks to open communication between the customer, the company and field service technician – based on a lastminute audible no less!
This makes a lot of sense when we are talking about consumers in their homes, waiting for service. It may not be immediately clear why communicating accurate appointment information is so critical for businesses in which there is generally someone onsite and available to give access to a mobile employee. However, it can make all the difference. What if a copier repairman is dispatched to fix a machine, but the only person who can give him access is the office manager. Typically, office managers are very busy running errands and travelling around the office. So the odds the office manager will be waiting near the copier at the exact time the repairman shows up are not great – unless the office manager knew in advance when the repairman was due to arrive and could plan her day so she could be there to meet him.
MO: What would you say to a company who is still on the fence when it comes to embracing cloud services?
Yuval: The question is no longer “why cloud,” it is “why not?” Cloud solutions are a mirror of the state of technology in general – leveraging the Internet, mobile devices and desktop access, high speed connectivity and the social/collaboration revolution all happening in concert. Cloud is no longer the vestige of adventurous CIOs, it is a part of everyone’s life every day. The cloud is not an isolated, highly specialized technology platform. It is a democratized and abundantly available part of our day to day lives.
Moreover, the rapid adoption of the cloud speaks for itself. The demand for cloud-based service solutions hasn’t merely evolved. It has positively exploded. For example, more than 90,000 people attended Dreamforce 2012, salesforce.com’s user conference, in San Francisco last year. By far the world’s largest cloud-computing event, the show drew nearly twice as many attendees as the year prior.
That tremendous turnout demonstrates a deep hunger in businesses of every size, in every industry, for cloud-based solutions for mission-critical applications. In fact, cloud-based software has completely transformed software procurement for most organizations. Installed legacy software required high licensing fees, ongoing maintenance fees and regular upgrade fees. With SaaS (software as a service), purchasing can be done piecemeal, in bite-sized digestible chunks that represent little or no risk for the purchasing organization. And as a bonus, upgrades and maintenance come at no extra cost.
Having a cloud-based software solution is like having a new BMW in your garage every few months, but at the low cost and low maintenance requirements of a compact car. Companies who embrace the cloud always get access to the latest and greatest features and functions of a particular application, yet never have to pay for or endure costly and time-consuming upgrades.
Clearly, we’re all now living in a world of cloud-based services. Companies need to move fast to keep up with changes in technology, devices, infrastructure and customer expectations. When one company adopts an effective cloud-based solution, competitors follow their lead or get left in the dust. Speed is a business imperative, and the move to the cloud is both a reality and a serious results enabler.
Companies are also expecting an immediate return on investment now, which further supports the shift to the cloud. Because cloud-based solutions require no capital outlay for on-site servers, they get up and running much faster than installed legacy software, and at much lower expense. Rapid, trouble-free implementations are especially critical in field service management, and cloud-based solutions offer the opportunity to be up and running quickly. No company can afford to wait a year or two for deployment.
MO: What are some emerging trends that you’re excited about?
Yuval: First, there has been a renewed focus on customer service and the customer experience, which have been elevated globally to strategies that drive competitive differentiation for businesses in many industries – from cable and telecoms to utilities, to retail, right down to the plumber and window installer.
We are also seeing the next wave of user experience emerge for enterprise software and mobile applications. This new push is all focused on personalization. We are excited about the fact that mobile employees will be able to personalize business tools the same way someone personalizes their own Facebook or Google page. This is really amazing because software companies are developing ways to enable this even within the guidelines of corporate structure and a need to remain focused on key business drivers. We see this as being particularly impactful for the field service management industry because corporations who give employees the opportunity to personalize their digital workspace – particularly their mobile workspace – will be more readily able to deliver that personal level of customer service to their own customers.
Finally, we are really excited about the way organizations are not just collecting more information from more places – much in the way we help our customers collect customer data from the field, which has not really been done before – but making that information actionable by applying analytics to this data
to answer critical, timely questions and giving it to the people who really need it. I call this trend the
democratization of information. This approach will help organizations make truly informed decisions
that impact profitability, efficiency and service delivery – and it becomes even more powerful when you
integrate social collaboration into the mix.
Why have you made it a point to incorporate social tools in all aspects of the solutions you provide?
As we have been discussing, transparent communication between companies and their customers
is really at the heart of our founding vision for TOA Technologies. Since open communication by its
very nature is social, it is only natural that we have built social collaboration tools into our ETAdirect
software. If ETAdirect does not enable social collaboration – among peers working in the field, among
back office staff managing field activities and between these two groups – then we are not fulfilling our
mission to help our customers engage with their customers on a deeper level.
However, we also felt it was very important to go beyond simply integrating or embedding existing
social technologies like Twitter and Facebook into ETAdirect to provide additional functionality to
its users. Rather, we developed social collaboration tools within the ETAdirect environment that are
specifically tailored to the needs of our users. We had to give our users something extra – contextawareness – otherwise the habit would be to revert back to simply calling or texting. So for users of
TOA’s system, they can access a social chat window that is a new communication channel between
the field employee and co-workers, but this tool goes a step further because it enables these folks by
providing information on who has the knowledge to help, who has the equipment and the best way to
arrange an exchange, or even just who is close enough to be able to help solve a particular problem. It
also allows these users to share job details and even transfer responsibility of those jobs. So it is a social
collaboration tool built to work with our technology in a smarter way because of the available context,
but also in an actionable way.
Beyond this very specific example of why TOA has made it a point to incorporate social collaboration
tools into all of our solutions, there is a bigger reason we and many other technology companies are
moving in this direction – the consumerization of IT. You or I as we sit in our homes waiting for service
– are frequent users of social collaboration tools. Thus, we expect that the businesses we engage
with will not only be able to communicate with us via these social channels, but also be using social
collaboration to improve the way they deliver products and services to us. The same holds true for
the mobile employees using TOA’ solution every day. They have access to incredibly powerful mobile
devices and applications in their personal lives, and they expect the same level of sophistication in
their professional lives. They think, “If I am going to use this piece of smart equipment with a powerful
app on it, why can’t I also use this same environment to collaborate with others as I go about my work
day?” First, it is simply more challenging to do their jobs these days without the ability to collaborate in
this way – no one can store every relevant piece of knowledge in their brain. Why shouldn’t the mobile
workers powering our nation outside the standard “four walls” have the same access to the massive,
digital and social knowledge base as those of us sitting at a desk? Ultimately, it comes down to the fact
that offering the latest social collaboration functionality in your software product is simply table stakes
at this point, otherwise you – and the people using your software – look like dinosaurs to the very savvy
customers you are serving.
Can you elaborate on how the convergence of mobile, social and cloud continues to present new
opportunities for you to grow and keep the momentum going?
To deliver the best solution to its customers, TOA believes in improving continuously and leading the
technology revolution. Since its inception and throughout its growth, TOA has been at the forefront of
several key technology trends, including: a commitment to the cloud, a belief in the social enterprise, a
focus on user-friendly and widely accessible mobile applications and empowering the use of real-time
data to drive actionable business intelligence. Today, the convergence of these trends – however you
term them as a group (analyst firm Gartner calls them, collectively, the Nexus of Forces) – is nearing
its apex. This is mostly due to the fact that these technologies have finally reached the appropriate
level of sophistication, adoption among the masses (consumers are now using cloud services regularly
and everything they do is social in nature) and developers have found ways to execute on seamless
integration of these advantages into the products and services they are developing.
Another factor is speed; cheap and powerful mobile devices, social capabilities and cloud computing,
suddenly make it feasible for all organizations, but especially mobile service organizations, of any
size to quickly and easily take advantage of a technology like TOA’s that improves communications,
efficiencies and service. In the past, this type of buying power for technology was limited to only the
largest enterprises. However, by leveraging this convergence of trends, TOA has opportunities to grow
by making its sophisticated solution available to any service organization with people doing work in
the field – regardless of size or complexity of the organization, from the local lawn service to the global
One really important piece of this convergence of trends, which is really just starting to develop as
an idea across the entire technology industry, is the notion of using real-time, actionable business
intelligence based on contextually-aware information to make better business decisions. In cases where
organizations have lots of data and can apply very nuanced analysis, big data is becoming the buzzword.
However, the really important takeaway is that no matter how much data there is, organizations that
know how to analyze it to answer the right questions and provide this critical knowledge to decisionmakers in the moment – not 24 hours after the fact – will win.
This is where TOA has an opportunity to provide value – and through that value grow – by helping
organizations not just collect more data about what is actually happening out there in the field, but
use that intelligence to impact the metrics of the business in the moment. For organizations with field
teams, knowing what is happening in real-time and having access to analytics that break down the data
are key. TOA measures everything that happens in the field – drive time, service level agreements,
time it takes to perform a given job, etc. – so that it can provide its customers with the most up-todate information immediately. And, through its foundational analytics tools, TOA helps businesses
use this data to make better decisions about field operations. The result is increased efficiency for
businesses, greater satisfaction for employees and an elevated customer experience all thanks to the
new capabilities available when mobile, social, cloud and contextually-aware computing capabilities
converge and are applied for better field service management.
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