Five Modern Capabilities That Optimize Field Operations
Field operations are behind when it comes to utilizing digital tools for the workforce. However, updated technology empowers managers to track and oversee operations at unparalleled levels in new environments. These updates can also provide an abundance of choices related to improved technologies like using smartphones, GPS, RFID, on-demand/cloud computing, barcodes, scanners, and the latest generation of tablet computers. The modern capabilities of technologies can ultimately help both management and workers optimize operations while in the field.
Nonetheless, the constant change of technology brings with it the rise of questions for operations management, such as:
- What is the most valuable data?
- What is the appropriate approach to utilizing technology?
- Which will deliver the biggest “bang” for your buck?
- How do you integrate different solutions and data into an operations flow?
- How do you entertain various personnel skill sets and ensure adoption by field personnel?
First, it’s important to identify critical considerations when assessing new electronic solutions or field service providers to optimize field operations.
The most apparent opportunity to update implementation is through shifting to an electronic platform for operations or adoption of solution elements. This approach is coined as going paperless. This method initially just scanned identical electronic copies of paper items such as service tickets or delivery receipts. Overtime data has advanced to capture documents to be represented and reported on devices. Both of those methods are valuable but only represent a fraction of the value that comprehensive field operation solutions provide. Elements of a complete mobile field operations solution include:
Fully Electronic/ Error Reduction
Every time a field operator produces a piece of paper documentation and sends it back to the office, at least $10 in processing costs are generated. Problems related to legibility, re-entering data into electronic systems, errors in the system and issues integrating paper with customers all contribute to added delays and costs. Modern solutions promise optimal speed and leverage through structured data representation. This allows field-generated data to be efficiently and effectively fed into back-office systems and presented to customers.
Configure vs. Capture/Validation/Rules
Solutions, such as scanners or pick lists, only capture documentation and often fail on several levels. Lack of internal logic and error prevention reproduces paper problems in an electronic format. It’s crucial for field operation solutions to properly validate data and prevent invalid configurations and data entry. AI functions, such as rules and knowledge base are invaluable. This is exemplified by solutions that either use configuration engines to take users through job set up steps or automatically configure based on job conditions or equipment.
It is also key for all platforms to flexibly capture elements of an operations flow, organization, or government/customer requirement. For example, when altering the location and appearance of screen elements to attached data entry points, the solution should be configurable to both your company and industry.
A solution must satisfy customer process demands, including customer signature, emails, and approvals. Data captured through the solution should then be available to your back-office systems and email.
Properly Modeling the Process
Possibly one of the most important factors in improving operations includes structuring electronic data into elements to ensure efficient scheduling, fulfillment, and analysis. First-generation field operations solutions made individual process elements such as field tickets or dispatch orders electronic. This approach is valuable but falls short in capturing the relationship between resources that allow for optimal planning and utilization.
For example, the value becomes limited when the technical equipment is dispatched without the system attaching associated personnel and consumables. An ideal solution is not only aware of these associated items, but also recognizes locations, readiness level, and suitable, available replacements. Once these elements are in place, operations managers can then plan immediate operations and begin to prepare future consumable, maintenance, personnel, and other resource requirements.
All platforms must pave the path for best practices to be overlaid on the solution while also remaining flexible enough for operations to continue remotely. Tools and technology that simplify workflow are essential.
Full access to data by field personnel allows operations to be executed even if the back office is unavailable. Access to the master data and configuration specifications enables single-entry without costly “fix-up” by personnel. Updated, accurate pricing also allows for improved customer coordination and minimized approval delays.
Rules engines meaningfully supplement individual worker knowledge and enforce standards. This capability automatically recaptures previously lost or unbilled items, prevents unsafe configurations and allows personnel with less experience to perform complex operations. Rules engines also secure corporate knowledge as a key backup function for senior personnel.
Field workers and back-office personnel should work together. Whether you are enriching tickets with notes or requesting back-office involvement, collaboration capabilities of mobile field operations platforms are essential.
A solution must provide mechanisms to standardize workflow such as a customer approval process or uniformity of ordering equipment.
Solutions should integrate opportunities with electronic systems. An Open API makes it simple to seamlessly consolidate with existing systems.
Additional Documents and Forms
Companies often have additional documentation specific to their industry or organization, some of which include Job Safety Assessments and logs. Although electronic solutions do not come “out of the box” with the exact document, customization easily captures this information.
Even the best communication environments experience problems ranging from equipment failure to shielding and capacity issues. These bumps in the roadblock require communication from outside sources. These scenarios require autonomous solutions that flexibly reestablish communication and transfer data.
Solutions should provide technology integration points like GPS or RFID.
Reference documentation, such as videos, procedures, and manuals, prove useful in field environments.
Leverage Existing Assets
Mobile field operations solutions should easily integrate with established IT systems, such as accounting and payroll.
Effective analysis is key to optimize field operations and is part of a mobile field operations solution. The ability to measure production details and to generate custom reports is vital to company success.
Demands of on-field personnel and floods of data lead many organizations not to capture the full extent of what happens during operations. For instance, a performed service is captured, but the detailed start/stop times, consumable usage, ancillary equipment, and personnel involved are not.
All solutions should have robust reporting mechanisms that feature a full security model with proper access. The capability to create custom reports is indispensable.
Availability and Distribution
Reporting should be available to proper personnel. Web-based reporting solutions provide wide distribution capabilities for users at numerous locations on various devices. Email integration is a fundamental capability for the dissemination of reports, whether that is executed through an incoming-data based alert system or a scheduled distribution list.
Involve the Customer
Customer involvement is commonly overlooked when advancing operations and resource utilization. Customers are most involved at the beginning (ordering) and end (invoice approval) of the process, but true value comes in keeping them invested throughout the process.
Appropriate oversight capability in internal operations can effectively speed approvals and increase customer comfort and satisfaction.
Mechanisms that grant customers the ability to interact with the field operations solution, whether that be through notification emails or electronic approvals, can also significantly speed up the process.
Clearly there are many considerations to think through when evaluating field operations improvements. As a business leader, recognizing the impact technology will have on your field operations is your cue to initiate digital transformation as soon as possible to secure a competitive edge.