Technical Product Service Demands Social Networks

Technical Product Service is a fancy name for anything that requires a skilled technician or engineer to effect a product repair. In the grand old days of consumer electronics, when the Hi-Fidelity system was the center of home entertainment, skilled, lab-coated technicians would troubleshoot your amplifier, receiver, or tape deck (!) to the component level. I was one such skilled technical servicer. I have come to the conclusion, based on my past experience as a professional trainer of technical specialists, and in my current experience as an IT industry product strategy sector analyst, that the current upheaval and innovation in Social Networking may be poised to have a huge impact on the way professionals get things fixed, how they apply their trade, and how laypeople get complex issues resolved.

In those days, as fast as technology was changing in the late 1970’s, even the most advanced and innovative new technologies, such as the VCR, were based on discreet components. Even the first, very expensive CD Audio players had only a modicum of customized integrated circuitry. It was very much the case that any repair one might effect, from that time in to the mid 1980’s, was a case study of one’s education and skill as a technical journeyman.

I used to teach national service classes for thousands of consumer and commercial electronic technicians; the stakes were high, as productivity depended on fast and accurate diagnostics. This was before the advent of the internet, and collective knowledge was typically dispensed via bulletins, national convocations, and the very nascent electronic pre=PC era BBS systems. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

All of my instruction during those years always included basic tracks on electronics, as revealed by the Horowitz and Hill reference book for electronic education, “The Art of Electronics”. Many of my colleagues subtly berated me for wasting precious time in regional and national trade events, as to my covering remedial ground. I always pointed out that I was not merely reviewing the standard syllabus, but I was gathering a body of collective mythology that often permeates complicated subjects, like electronics and its applied science, troubleshooting.

What does this have to do with today’s sexy, topical issue, i.e., Social Media and Social Networking? If you will bear with me and read on for one more minute, please.
The technical product service industry is being dragged, kicking and screaming, beyond its roots of ‘head based troubleshooting’. Huh? Head-Based? You see, we are long past the days when technicians carrying complex internal mind maps of circuit theory are able to trace and test to the component level. Some of this may still be extent in older equipments, and there may some vestigial audiophile and commercial broadcast gear that requires that lost art. However, the very nature of how contemporary electronics are manufactured obviates the professionals ability to physically rework and replace components.

The advent of high density circuitry and flat pack integrated circuits crammed onto double sided circuit boards makes component level replacement and rework nigh impossible at the 1st tier of service, that is to say, service performed in the warranty chain. Perhaps rework depots address the issue of high-end module repair, but more often that not, most functional electronic assemblies and modules are recycled for their material values.

Of course, electronics is a branch of applied physics, and troubleshooting has traditionally been an exalted, skilled profession. But, it is fact that we have for the past decade (longer, actually), left the domain of skilled component level troubleshooting and have firmly entered the era of ‘managed symptomatology’.

Whaassat? What doe applied symptomatology have to do with Facebook and Social Networks?

Consumer and commercial electronic equipment has become so complex and feature laden, and at the same time less able to be reworked in the field, or by independent service organizations (ye TV repair shop of Olde), that the real challenge rests in correct configuration, reliable recognition of symptoms, and proper management of replacement assemblies when needed. The symptomatology of today’s digital television systems, (at the studio and consumer ends), is so complex from a technical services standpoint, that a technician’s basic theoretical understanding is now less crucial, whereas his or her methodology in correctly identifying symptoms and responding appropriately, is becoming all important.

So Social Networks…..

Guys like me in a previous incarnation, oscilloscope wielding, soldering irons blazing, THD analyzer reading service jocks, kept our professional magic in our heads, built upon years of training in physics sweet science, electronics. Today, you could have an army of signal corps engineers and still not get anything repaired without access to a great database of observation and distributed expertise.

Now, for some time, we have been the beneficiaries of some good forum hosting systems and super indexing technologies ala’ Google, but these have contributed little in regards to improving the lot of those who manage the distributed symptomatology for complex electronics in the warranty chain, especially for non-vertically integrated product chains (I’m talking about National Service Managers and those who they are trying to help). In other words, what might work for military depot or telecommunications central plant troubleshooting, might not be good for independent service ops for home and small business systems. We have seen this proven time and again in PC field services, where symptom based troubleshooting has been replaced by shotgun swap-outs.

In cases where near capital equipment investments have been made in home electronics (home theater, for example), service will be more dependent on making the right call by a skilled technician. We have to help these specialists climb the mountain of complex symptomatology through smarter ways of connecting experts of varying levels of skills, with distributed expertise.

Facebook like systems, (but probably not Facebook itself), will allow networks of skilled service personnel to instantly see what are the issues vexing the service network. Who is working on what? What issues are responding to which methods.

New methods, beyond long hand typed text will replace some, but not all, service recording. New semantics will be evolved for these social networks for product specific service. Some may involve rich, visual symbolic iconographies, some may use tags and coordinate systems that map key service diagrams and flow charts to spacial orientation systems (to help find internal components, a big time waster).

We are just getting started here, and some of these things were worked on years ago, in the early internet days before almost all techs had PC’s on their desk, or portable devices as poweful as a PC!

Now, most field service is as tied to mobile IT systems as newborns are tied to a mother’s breast; all concerned parties await a revolution that will deliver rich social media applications over the selfsame mobile networks that currently manage service work orders.

You can take that one to the bank.

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