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How Knowledge Supercharges Our Field Service Operations

September 25, 2013 No Comments

By Kevin Chasey, Senior Vice President, North America, Tokyo Electron America

When it comes to our field service operations, we’ve learned that knowledge is power. This is especially important when products become more complex and information becomes more difficult to find.

Our primary business is centered on the development, manufacture and sale of semiconductor production equipment (SPE), flat panel display (FPD), and photovoltaic cell (PV) production equipment. In an effort to support a diverse customer base, our 12,000+ employees (research & development, manufacturing, sales and service) are strategically located all over the world. However, this abundance of siloed information and resources posed quite a challenge for Tokyo Electron America (TEA), in which my division is the North American sales and field engineering arm of Tokyo Electron Limited. With 500+ field service engineers, we maintain a tremendous array of highly configurable and complex manufacturing equipment.  In order to address complex customer cases, the TEA field engineers traditionally needed to manually identify, normalize and extract their necessary knowledge through decentralized and disparate systems, comprised of information housed in various formats with individual specifications. This led to lengthy data retrieval times, and inefficient dissemination of important product knowledge throughout the team.  In fact, we estimated that during a peak month, duplicate and lost knowledge was costing the company over $80,000, which does not include comparable impacts on field service engineer’s satisfaction levels.

Each of our 6+ SPE product lines is manufactured in separate factories in Japan and the US – with each serving an industry niche. This led to nuanced and localized practices in each product’s engineering, manufacturing and service information infrastructure.  As a result, our team employed a variety of small-scale solutions that could negotiate the various and localized character of primary information sources.  Compounding the complexity was the multi-lingual nature of the information and the highly granular, layered permission systems governing access to information.  Whenever there was a push for a unified solution, it quickly faded when no solution seemed available within our budget, organizational and geographical constraints.

Like any world-class service organization, our management team was highly aware of service performance and challenges in meeting contracted service levels.  One challenge that continually rose to the surface was worst-case-scenario events occurring on advanced technology, first-of-kind tools where normal engineering or service information was not readily available. Even in these scenarios, our service team was amazingly able to achieve 95 percent compliance to service levels – but we wanted to do better.

Over several months, the management team isolated actions and parameters contributing to the 5 percent of events that exceeded time limits. Upon analysis, it was apparent that if knowledge retrieval could be improved, these worst-case-scenario events could be shortened by as much as 33 percent.

However, while the problem was plain to see, the solution was not simple. The information important in these scenarios was patchy and disparate. Additionally, the amount of new knowledge concerning these target tools dramatically increased daily.  In one month alone, we had nearly 200 different, complex documents produced for only one product.  The requirement for 200 field service engineers to read and then file such a large number of documents contributed to the costs of maintaining high service levels. We needed to better structure our organizational assets to enhance performance and competitiveness.

The problem of the rapidly accumulating data was just the tip of the iceberg. The larger problem was identifying, normalizing and aggregating the multitude of primary and secondary knowledge sources that were highly local to return meaningful results.  TEA’s digital knowledge consisted of equipment manuals, manufacturing, engineering and service information authored in a variety of formats and built to an assortment of specifications. Even when one of our engineers knew where to look for information, retrieving that information in a timely manner was a formidable challenge.  In practice, groups would often assign a single field engineer with a talent for finding information as the ‘documentation’ person who would find technical information since it required deep skills and a fair share of heuristics.

It became apparent that our service team needed a powerful knowledge management solution that would find technical information where it resided and federate it quickly and in a logical fashion. We needed a solution to speed the identification and retrieval of critical engineering and service information from a growing and highly decentralized global knowledge infrastructure.  The first attempt at implementing Thunderstone, a Google-like enterprise search tool, proved more difficult than initially imagined.  We learned that the science behind this search engine technology looks really easy, but if you try to develop the capabilities on your own, it’s very difficult. We had one bright software engineer tasked with mak­ing this work, and it was a constant struggle and steep learning curve.

Our initial enterprise search solution was eventually shelved because of its inability to successfully index all of the knowledge repositories and applica­tions.  Additionally, the “commodity” search solution was not able to negotiate and respect the multiple layers of permissions set by role and user level. As a result, search results were unsecure, incomplete and took an unacceptable amount of time to return results.

The team went back to the drawing board to find the next level of search solution – a comprehensive and advanced information access solution that could extract and interpret the taxonomies and logic built into the various repositories and applications. After an intense selection process that involved several deep and detailed proof of concepts, the team unanimously selected Coveo.

By architecting a heterogeneous solution around Coveo’s unified indexing technology, the team brought online a knowledge system that was both quickly adopted by end users and immediately improved targeted goals. Aside from the results, the thing that most im­pressed our selection team was the ease by which the Coveo team assembled a personalized proof of concept with the challenging specifications we provided. Having failed once before, we had a good idea of the results we wanted to see what would be a challenge for this search tool.

As soon as we interacted with the Coveo solution, there was little doubt as to the enormous power it would serve. The Coveo professional services team configured the installation based on TEA requirements and we completed a full roll­out of the solution in August 2012. In response to our team’s feedback, the pace was accelerated and configured regularly in real time, and the implementation went off without a hitch.

For TEA, the impact of rolling up technical information from various, highly localized sources into a single, unified search has been about adoption. Our field service engineers can be short on tolerance for breaking-in and utilizing new systems, but the Coveo solu­tion was met with resounding end-user success. The solution is simple, but casts a wide net and provides an intuitive interface to dive deep into issues while pulling consolidated, correlated knowledge from a variety of sources.  Our searches can get very granular – down to the tool serial num­ber, while aggregating the system history.

With Coveo, TEA’s engineers have a consolidated, unified view of knowledge comprised across the company’s complex product lines. Using a single Insight Console, the field services team is able to gain a 360-degree view of all relevant customer, product and service knowledge. This allows them to reduce repair times and improve customer retention—effectively generating a higher return on existing knowledge.  Upon analysis, we’ve concluded that this knowledge retrieval improves time-to-repair incidents by 28 percent and enables the achievement of 98% compliance for service level agreements, which is still improving.

In a complex industry, we’ve found that harnessing our collective knowledge is the best way to reduce time-to-repair, improve efficiencies and deliver higher quality service. If your organization is facing a knowledge gap or wanting to stimulate innovation, we encourage you to invest in a search-powered knowledge management system.


Kevin Chasey serves as senior vice president of field service and support for Tokyo Electron America. In this role, he also manages environmental health and services, materials, service marketing, training, and documentation.

Following a tour duty in the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force, Chasey joined the semiconductor industry at Varian’s Ion Implant Factory in Gloucester, Massachusetts. After various roles in service management, he switched to a sales position with Tokyo Electron Limited (TEL). Initially supporting a global account on the East Coast, his role quickly expanded to include management of sales and service in the eastern U.S. Kevin’s next assignment was to transfer to TEL’s U.S. headquarters to lead the Etch Systems Business Unit, followed by a role as the leader of a service consolidation initiative for the 500 field engineers in the U.S. He previously served as president of the Austin Chapter for Association for Services Management International (AFSMI) and as a founding advisory board member for Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA).


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