“Customers have a hard time keeping track of thousands of test assets”

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Eric Taylor, VP, services, Keysight Technologies

Whenever thought leaders from the test and measurement (T&M) industry are interviewed, the discussions centre around the latest specs and capabilities of the hardware. But when Rahul Chopra, editorial director, EFY Group, got an opportunity to speak to Eric Taylor, VP, services, Keysight Technologies, the conversation focused on the importance of services and customer support in this industry.

EB: Typical purchase discussions around T&M seem to revolve around hardware and software—do services and customer support also get looked at?
When we talk to technical customers, they clearly understand that the discussion is not about corporate hygiene; this is how we do business. Even a low cost, relatively simple instrument that’s testing an electronic warfare module needs to take measurements carefully. If your measurements are important to you, then that simple piece of equipment is performing the task of taking a very complex measurement.

When we talk to our customers, we ask them how they are using the equipment, because it’s never a case of ‘one-size-fits-all’. No matter what piece of equipment you have or what you do, you are treated the same.

Let’s look at another example of what we do, which others don’t do in India. Downtime caused by moving things out of the country doesn’t work for customers. It’s difficult when you are working through a complex process and developing something, and all of a sudden you’ve got three to six weeks of downtime due to having to take instruments out for calibration.

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So, we have teams that go onsite to the customer and do the calibration there—all at one time. We do it all within one short timeframe to minimise that downtime. This helps customers achieve their goals.

EB: Do these discussions happen pre-sales or post-sales?
At both stages. As an example, we see aerospace and defence companies using our products for a very long time. When such a company develops a new system, it may get deployed somewhere in the country for decades. We have a programme in the US that we have been supporting for probably about 40 years, and this relationship has now been renewed for another ten years. So, we think about supporting test equipment for periods ranging from 30 to 50 years. We ask the customers upfront about their reason for using our equipment. Our aerospace customers have a really long-term requirement, which they tell us about upfront. We can then put in place, what we call, a standard support period plan that can back them for the next 20 years. And based on that, we can make investments today that will minimise those costs. If customers wait 19 years and then suddenly turn to us because they require support for another 10 years, that gets very difficult for us since we might have moved on in terms of technology. So having that dialogue upfront is very helpful.

EB: Is this conversation conducted by the same sales team that’s responsible for equipment sales or is it done separately?
This conversation is conducted by the same person who is selling the hardware, software and solutions, before making the sale. If it’s a complex solution, like systems calibration, test-asset optimisation or an opportunity to go onsite, then it may be passed on to one of our service sales people. So, by partnering with our customers, we can help them achieve their goals.
We’ve been having an ongoing dialogue with the same customers for 30 years now and we know each other very well. It’s a part of building great customer relationships and helping them.

EB: In terms of the Pareto principle, the majority of the revenue is post sales, right?
Yes. But, we expect the ‘pre-sales’ share to increase as things become more complex—like in the case of 5G. We are basically moving upstream and talking to the customer upfront, trying to understand what they are hoping to achieve. By doing that, we help our customers to move towards what they want to do, much more effectively.

Let’s look at the example of an automotive customer who is designing and manufacturing battery test solutions. Assume that we only talked about the basics upfront and then the company began manufacturing by using our systems. Under such circumstances, if one of those systems goes down (without us having had an upfront post-sales discussion), then the entire production line goes down, which creates difficulties for the customer and for us. So, having an upfront dialogue helps us to understand what our customers are trying to achieve. Whether it is design work or manufacturing, we provide the models accordingly. And over the years, our customers get to know the different kinds of services they will be requiring, right from R&D.

EB: Am I correct to assume that you offer your products with standard service packages and propose additional upgrade options?
Most of the time, yes. In the case of a standard set of products, at the time of sale, the sales person should be asking about how our product will be used. If the standard package meets the customer’s needs, that’s great. And we can always have that dialogue again, later. If there’s something unique right up front, then we figure out how to address this, as typically, this is a time when we can make the best, most informed decision on how to provide long term support for our customers. However, whether it is a solution or something else, we are constantly innovating and figuring out how we can help customers do a better job.

EB: Do you get asked by customers why they ought to buy additional service packages if your products work perfectly and don’t go down?
Quite a few times. Here’s what we tell them—Keysight products are complex electronic instruments that have tens of thousands of components in them. So, when you are designing a complex product, you want to be sure that our instruments are working correctly. Even if our product doesn’t have a failure issue, you will want to maintain it to make sure it works well for the job at hand.
And that allows us to have dialogues with our customers, even as the design process goes on.

EB: Can you share an example of an innovative service that you have launched recently?
Sure. As you know, we’ve been doing calibration for decades. Lately, customers have been coming to us to do calibration for the entire test rack. Sometimes, that test rack may have pieces that are not from Keysight! Yet, they want us to calibrate the entire set because they do not want to have 90 per cent of their test equipment calibrated by us and 10 per cent by someone else. We now do that as part of the service we offer our customers to help them become successful. So, Keysight has to take that equipment and pull every piece out of that rack. Then box it up, ship it somewhere, calibrate it, ship it back, build it back up, and test it to make sure it’s working correctly. That process can take weeks, or even months.

So, recently, we have come out with a service product called System Cal. Basically, we work with customers to understand what they are trying to achieve with the system, such as what measurements they need to take. And if that system stays relatively static, year after year, then we can develop a test process to calibrate only those tests points that they are actually using in that system. And then we can develop a test rack that doesn’t have to move out of the customer’s site, one that doesn’t even need to be taken down. We can then calibrate onsite, in one location, for the customer—something that will only take a few hours.

EB: Any other innovative solutions that Keysight has come up with?
Keysight has recently launched Keysight Care (and we are promoting it heavily in India through sessions at the Keysight World), which does a better job in providing a committed turnaround time and committed service levels on both application support as well as post-sales support. Through this, we are trying give customers a better, higher level of committed service while also listening to them to understand their needs and priorities. From that, we build an ecosystem to help customers become successful and solve their pressing needs.
There could be two different types of customers within the same company. For the first type of customer, who wants to produce a lot of components for a specific test system, we build an uptime service that keeps equipment in the facility in a running state that does not produce false values.

The second type of customer (such as with aerospace and defence customers) has assets all over the place, which it has held on to for 30 years, yet it wants to buy more. So, our test asset optimisation process using the Test Asset Advisor helps us in understanding what these clients have. At times, they have gear that they are not using. So, you can trade that in, sell it to a broker or dispose it, as it doesn’t make sense to continue maintaining a product that is not being used. So, we help them reduce their ongoing expenses, maybe get some credit back from Keysight, and refresh their pool of assets. While doing this, we go to their site rather than boxing and shipping a lot of their assets. Through this process, we have come up with services that are best suited for our customers to achieve their goals.

EB: Nowadays, in manufacturing, a lot of machines are integrating IoT for preventive maintenance purposes. Is IoT being integrated into Keysight products to figure out calibration? Will we be seeing products that become self-managed any time soon?
We have some products that do a bit of self-calibration, but no product does full self-calibration. Most companies these days have to follow government orders that mandate that one needs to have calibration with a certificate. Without that it is not possible to do the calibration.

We do want to do something similar at Keysight, where we can certify an instrument to perform self-calibration. As of today, we are taking baby steps in that direction.
Talking of IoT, not too long ago, we released a service product called Asset Advisor. Customers have a hard time in keeping track of thousands of test assets. Only if they know where the test assets are and how much these are being used, can they do a better job at reusing an already owned asset.

Equipment from any OEM can be put into this system, which can track who in the facility has the asset, where it is, and also track its utilisation. Thus, we are helping business managers make better decisions within a limited capital budget. This is an IoT-based product.
Another thing that’s unique about this system is that it helps you look at the health and maintenance of Keysight products. Many of our products have mechanical switches or attenuators that have a certain life span. Using this system, we can track their condition. And on presenting that data to customers, they can get a better view of their assets and how many need servicing.

One would prefer to put healthy assets in the manufacturing line to meet the production goals. Getting early information about which are the faulty components can allow proactive measures to be taken before putting these in the production line.

EB: Has the organisation’s structure evolved to enable your team to address customers’ needs better?
Forty years ago, we went from being a hardware-centric organisation to a solutions-driven one. In the past, we had different divisions, based on the type of hardware that was developed – one focusing on oscilloscopes, another focused on sales, one focused on spec analysers, another on network analysers, etc. And that that’s how we made our sales presentations to customers. Back then, the customer had the time, desire and inclination to become a knowledgeable person about testing and measurement.

Nowadays, customers don’t have that desire or ability anymore. They’re moving quickly and are focused on what they are trying to achieve. So we have moved things around a bit. We still have COEs (Centres of Excellence) that are developing hardware, but now we have industry-solutions teams that go to customers, find out what they are trying to achieve through the equipment they are building, and then offer them solutions as per their needs.
That’s been a pretty significant change. Now, we have mirrored that within services too. Sometime ago, I only had a service portfolio for some of the service products. So when I went to the customer to talk about some service products, someone else also had to come along to explain the other service products.

Now I own the entire service portfolio, so when I go and talk to the customer, different people are not required. For example, when I go and visit an aerospace and defence customer, then the VP of the aerospace and defence division and I can take decisions with greater ease, as it is only the two of us who own everything for that customer.

EB: How easy is it to get trained personnel from universities to work for your teams? Or do you have to train them?
In most cases, we train people ourselves. There’s a need for a lot of on-the-job training, since the work is specific to our products and solutions. We get a fair number of people who have earlier experience, either in aerospace and defence, the Army or the Navy. On finding our working style interesting, they end up working for us. It’s nice that they have some base upon which we can build on further, through training.

EB: Are there tie-ups with any universities globally by which new recruits can be trained as per your requirements?
There are some of those, though not at universities but at technical schools. And we nurture those relationships in a number of places around the globe. These are often near the larger hubs, since they need to hire people on a regular basis. Sometimes, people from the institutes come as interns. If they perform well, then we make them an offer. If not, then we keep on working with their school.

EB: Some players now offer test and measurement as a service. So, does Keysight have a roadmap to go from product sales to service?
We have been a bit slower in adopting some of the other business models. But we are working on that. As previously mentioned, the Asset Advisor software is a service. We see it continuing to evolve in that direction.

We are working with customers in the EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) or digital testing space. And for that, we continue to have a dialogue on a continuous basis.
We are probably the most trusted partner that our customers have, in the testing area. As a result of ongoing dialogues, our customers continue to come to us for moving on to the next step. Once we do that, they want to go even further. Such deep relationships help us to move down that path.

Because of this hybrid model, I oversee a large part of that business.
At the same time, I’m servicing customers in the 5G, aerospace and defence as well as automotive markets, allowing us to deeply partner with industry solutions teams within Keysight, which own the responsibility for hardware. This increases the revenue of our customers and earns them profits.

EB: With respect to support and services, does the team at Keysight India play a global role?
Most of the services we offer in India are different from what’s offered globally. It means that our customers want to be supported locally and would prefer that their test equipment was not shipped out to be serviced elsewhere. Whether its America or Europe, we have set up different hubs where we have a deep level of knowledge and expertise in testing. We cannot afford to do that for every country. So, we decide what markets we need to serve and India is one of those. Our hub here isn’t large and doesn’t serve areas outside India. But it’s a geography we know we need to support to be able to become successful. We have 40 people in India providing services. We’ve got service centres in different locations and have onsite teams. So, we have made a pretty significant investment in India.

EB: Given your familiarity with India, what’s your take on how the Indian ecosystem compares with the rest of the world?
It’s interesting because there are some differences with India, in terms of being able to easily move stuff in and out. There are other countries like that, such as Israel, Russia and Brazil. And because of that, those countries have a slightly different ecosystem. What I see here in India is very amazing. It is a relatively self-contained ecosystem—there is a lot more going on in India because there is the expectation that people have to start from almost nothing and take it all the way through. But you get help from others; so I notice that there is a more holistic ecosystem here.

EB: With respect to services and customer support—do customers from India behave differently?
There are two types of customers, generally, when it comes to services. We see a procurement kind of customer and a technical kind of customer. That’s typical around the world. It really depends on the type of customer who leads the discussion regarding services. That’s consistent around the world.

What I see in India, specifically, is that because of the difficulty of moving things in and out of the country, there is a need to offer more services here. By doing that, you are actually helping your customers to succeed. Take for example 5G. The test systems are not cheap. Indian customers who buy an expensive system and use it to achieve their goals, don’t want to lose it for four to six weeks while it gets sent out of the country for maintenance, whether that’s repair or calibration.

Keysight, on the other hand, is making specific investments in India to support our 5G customers. So, we sit down with our customers and listen to them, in order to understand what they are trying to achieve. And accordingly, we take steps to help them achieve their business goals.

EB: How’s Keysight’s India bussiness doing and what else is required to expand this setup?
Things are going quite well for us in India because of the deep relationships we’ve built. If you look at the number of people from other countries making investments here, then the entire ecosystem is growing and doing well. With their growth, we are also getting the opportunity to grow.

There are two ways in which we make investments. First, we make investments before a trend happens. Second, after witnessing enough growth, you invest to support it. It is nice to see both of that happening in India.

Now, we are moving towards solutions and systems, and we are seeing that evolution taking place in India. People are making specific investments in India around aerospace and defence, 5G (both at the chip-level and phones), as well as in the automotive sector, including electric vehicles. So, instead of selling individual pieces of hardware, we are now selling full systems to the customers. These systems are complex and new, and if proactive investment is not made beforehand, we’ll have to sell such systems without support. So we are making a proactive investment in those areas where we are trying to stay ahead and support our customers, so that they don’t see any gap between when they buy and start using our product, and when it needs servicing.

We have just made a significant investment in the country around 5G, which will hopefully be rolled out by the end of this year.
On the other side, we are continuously growing our onsite business, hiring more onsite technicians and growing new services like System Cal or Test Asset Optimisation. Based upon this, we make decisions on how much of that growth has been sustained and what investments we need to make in order to continue helping our customers to be successful.

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