Friday, March 27, 2015

Networked Field Services and Real-Time Decision Making

Investment in space travel has provided many direct and indirect benefits to society.  For example, weather forecasting technology, solar energy, scratch resistant lenses, water purification systems, enriched baby food and air quality monitoring have all made advancements because of investments in space travel research.  Likewise, the military has made huge investments related to the implementation of Network-Centric Warfare technologies and mobile data collection strategies that are now providing benefit and revolutionizing the way commercial field services organizations operate.

One of the most important capabilities that mobile solutions offer organizations today is the ability to provide better visibility, in near real time, into the activities and events taking place in the field – let’s call it situational awareness.  Historically, it has been difficult to ensure that quality and service standards and processes are followed on remote jobsites and in mobile environments.  The lack of real time visibility often means critical operational decisions and optimized scheduling choices are delayed which results in the inefficient utilization of resources and assets.

Better communication and visibility about the work completed or not completed on remote jobsites can ensure that proper policies and operational and safety processes are followed and assistance is provided when needed.  Receiving, processing and sharing sensor (M2M) data from equipment, digital images, streaming video and real time mobile app updates with management and other process experts can often resolve challenging issues quickly and efficiently.

Today mobile applications support mobile data collection, real time database queries, alerts, mobile business processes, work order dispatch, location tracking, optimized scheduling, customer updates and alerts in most areas of the world.  Situational awareness is a new capability for most organizations.  It virtually enables managers and experts from anywhere in the world to be “digitally present” on remote jobsites.  Being “digitally present” is accomplished today using a variety of tools available on most smartphones. These tools include:
  • Phone
  • Photos
  • Video
  • Voice/Audio
  • SMS
  • Email
  • Augmented reality
  • Bluetooth add-on equipment
  • GPS/Maps/Tracking
  • Custom mobile apps
Most organizations have yet to understand and exploit these capabilities to maximize efficiency and optimize returns. Each of these tools can and do play an important role in a networked field services operation.

The New Networked Organization

The most advanced militaries are developing and implementing strategies based on the concept of Network-Centric Warfare.  These strategies, methodologies and concepts have direct relevance to commercial enterprises and field services organizations today under the name Network-Centric Operations or Networked Field Services.

The military uses rugged handhelds, radios, laptop computers, satellites, radio scanners, drones (UAVs), human resources, video surveillance, aerial surveillance, infrared cameras, remote sensors of all kinds and many other embedded mobile devices to create a web or grid of data collection points that are all wirelessly networked together.

Collected data is securely and wirelessly sent to a central server where it forms a real time and unified view of operations that can be used for analysis, forecasting, resource allocation, planning and real time decision making.  This networked approach enables users to see where their assets are located, where they are needed and how best to manage them at all times to successfully and efficiently accomplish the mission.

Network-Centric Warfare, goes by the name Network-Centric Operations in commercial environments and is a relatively new military doctrine.  It seeks to translate an information advantage (real-time data collected in the field) into a competitive advantage by using it for real-time decision-making.   This networking, combined with real-time data, analytics, AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning, enable organizations to behave and respond in ways never before possible.  This strategy is based on the following four beliefs:
  1. A robustly networked workforce improves data sharing.
  2. Data sharing enhances the quality of information and supports situational awareness.
  3. Shared situational awareness enables collaboration, and management and resource agility.
  4. Points 1-3 support an optimized and efficient workforce
In order to optimize the performance of a military operation or a field services organization, it is critical to know, in real time, the location of all resources, the status of each job, the assets and equipment needed, and the time each job will require. When effectively coordinated and managed, human resources, equipment, assets and mobile inventories can be shared between multiple projects, and the right experts with the right levels of experience can be used on the right projects at the right time.  The bottom line is that a leaner, more efficient organization can be put in the field that can accomplish more work with fewer resources and generate a higher return on investment.

Kevin Benedict
Writer, Speaker, Senior Analyst
Digital Transformation, EBA, Center for the Future of Work Cognizant
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.