Zinier, a startup that wants to bring automation to the field service management (FSM) realm, has raised $22 million in a series B round of funding led by Accel, with participation from Qualcomm Ventures, Nokia-backed venture capital (VC) firm NGP Capital, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and France’s Newfund.

Founded in 2015, Zinier is one of a number of startups setting out to automate traditional industry processes — in Zinier’s case, it’s targeting FSM in the telecom and gas industries. FSM, for the uninitiated, concerns the management of service technicians and all the tasks associated with their jobs, which may include servicing equipment that’s spread across multiple sites. Traditionally, this is a complex and resource-intensive task due to the sheer number of variables involved, each of which needs to be monitored and tracked by humans.

The FSM industry was estimated to be a $2.4 billion market in 2017, and it is predicted to grow to more than $5 billion by 2023. This increase is being driven largely by the growth in connected devices across the consumer and enterprise spheres — all these devices require technological infrastructure, be it datacenters, base stations, or antennas. With the burgeoning 5G industry gaining steam, a more sophisticated approach to managing the maintenance process is required — one that leans on artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.

Zinier in action

Above: Zinier: Scheduling and dispatch

At its core, Zinier is about optimizing field service operations and maximizing equipment uptime. But digging down into the details reveals that it’s as focused on bringing a layer of intelligence to the mix as anything else — making use of field service organizations’ data to streamline things.

Preventative maintenance is one of Zinier’s prime use cases. Following an example cited by the company, let’s assume that a routine maintenance has been scheduled for a wireless antenna in Chicago, which claims harsher winters than, say, San Diego. Such environmental elements could mean more severe wear and tear, and Zinier can be used to preempt a potential failure by triggering a maintenance order ahead of schedule — but just for the Chicago-based antenna.

Similarly, Zinier’s platform can analyze historical data to predict where a fault may lie before a technician is dispatched to a maintenance job. This could help the technician determine what kind of spare parts they need to bring on their first visit, perhaps saving them from making a return call.

“Considering the massive amount of infrastructure under the purview of field service teams, automated field service has the potential to truly transform a wide range of industries,” noted Zinier cofounder and CEO Arka Dhar. “The market opportunity for platform-based, automated field service is reflected in the huge demand we’ve seen from customers in infrastructure-heavy sectors, such as telecom, energy, and financial services.”

Zinier’s platform also allows companies to connect their existing software — some customers will let their applications do what they do best, such as creating work orders, while calling on Zinier’s automated work assignment smarts to dole out jobs to technicians.

In terms of the AI fueling its technology, Zinier said it takes a “platform first” approach and develops everything entirely in-house. “Instead of writing custom code for every different AI use case, we’ve actually built our AI platform as an extensible layer,” Dhar told VentureBeat. “This provides our internal teams as well as customers the ability to easily configure the features to apply AI to various use cases.”

Automation

Today, Zinier counts roughly 70 employees globally, around half of whom are based out of Bengaluru, India, with some 15 based in San Francisco, 10 in Mexico City, and 10 in Singapore. In addition to its series B round of funding, Zinier also today revealed that it had raised $8 million in an Accel-led series A round last year. With another $22 million in the bank, the company plans to target industries beyond telecom and energy, as well as new regions.

“With this additional investment, we’re able to continue expanding the capabilities of our platform and extend the reach of intelligent field service automation to new strategic markets and geographies,” Dhar said.

It’s also worth looking at one of the company’s new investors. Chipmaker Qualcomm is setting out to be the enabler for 5G devices, so its strategic investment in Zinier makes a great deal of sense.

“We were impressed with Zinier’s novel approach to proactive field maintenance, using IoT to increase productivity through automation and intelligence,” added Varsha Tagare, Qualcomm senior director and managing director of Qualcomm Ventures in India. “Their end-to-end field service automation solution will help companies work smarter and faster while also enabling a more efficient deployment of 5G services worldwide.”

Automation is creeping into just about every industry, and it seems that field service organizations are no exception. A number of players are working to transform the FSM industry — there’s the well-funded ServiceMax, which was acquired by GE Digital a few years back for $915 million and which in turn sold a majority stake to Silver Lake in December. Salesforce also offers a product called Field Service Lightning, while Microsoft snapped up FieldOne Systems in 2015 and now offers a FSM called Dynamics 365 for Field Service. Back in 2014, Oracle acquired FSM platform TOA Technologies, and last year SAP bought AI-powered FSM company Coresystems.

The appetite for FSM solutions is evident, and Zinier thinks it has some advantages over competitors in the field — it has built its own AI-powered platform from the ground up, and it isn’t distracted by other business interests. In other words, FSM is its specialty.

“For Zinier, field service is our sole focus,” Dhar said. “The platform has allowed us to quickly build Field Service Elements, our end-to-end field service automation product. And as we continue to build our expertise in different industries, we can quickly configure specific use case solutions for customers.”

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