Having discussed the initial steps of a Connected Worker journey, plus some additional processes you may wish to adopt to further that movement, my previous Blogs spoke mainly to integrating simple “off-the-shelf” solutions to enhance your worker’s day-to-day operations. However, some of the most significant benefits of the Connected Worker present themselves when we begin to wrap customized intelligence around the solutions you have in place.
In the Blog, Part 2, I gave the example of a Field Repair Engineer, starting with connected work allocation, augmenting that with wayfinding, and adding safety, smart remote assistance, automated command and control, as well as Safety Management. To deliver all these capabilities, we may require enhanced development skills and extensive operational knowledge.
This Blog will try and outline the approach to achieving a successful outcome.
Starting with the basics, I believe teamwork is the foundation for any great outcome - and delivering on the promise of the Connected Worker is no exception.
A common error in any software development is relying on the developer’s understanding of the business problem, rather than including the end-user experience as a critical component of the process. This is why agile development married with direct and relevant user feedback strategies has led to accelerated and highly effective software releases. Additionally, agile development models are well aligned to integrating multiple, differing solutions together, piece by piece to deliver a larger, fully integrated solution.
In addition to the developer and the end-user, it is essential to include all the key stakeholders in the process, such as business owners, data owners, regulatory and compliance specialists, engineering, and component specialists, just to name a few. It is also highly advisable to seek the input of experienced professionals to augment your own efficacy. Organizations, such as Charter, can bring outside experience and different perspectives to fill gaps in your own capabilities and help drive projects forward.
All of this should be coordinated and managed under the watchful eye of competent Project Management, who can ensure all of the relevant pieces are knitted together in an appropriate timeframe.
Once the right people are in place, it is possible to define the desired outcomes, prioritize the phases of the project, and to ensure strong communication throughout the life of the solution.
The first step is to determine what those desired outcomes may be, and this needs to come from all the relevant stakeholders. While the Connected Worker is often the one most directly impacted by the solutions, the operational leaders’ and business owner’s needs are equally important - reporting, safety, visibility, and efficiency can all be improved by finding solutions that benefit both those in the field, those overseeing the operation, and those in the Corporate Office.
The next step is to determine the tools that are or will be at the project’s disposal. Some elements may be in place already, others may need significant investment. Mobile devices, machinery and infrastructure, management systems, and reporting platforms, and many other components may need to be considered.
Once a plan is in place on what capabilities and tools are available at what time, a process for how these components can be integrated and delivered to the relevant stakeholder(s) can be defined. This allows for prioritization to take place, using the simple 2x2 table of complexity vs. impact, driving the development of lower cost, higher impact phases over higher cost, lower impact phases.
At this point, we need the solution integrator and/or the Application Developer to bring the various components together. Where possible, leveraging existing published and open-communications capabilities should result in the shortest path to success. Working with components and tools that use open API models, published communication specifications, and minimal custom development should accelerate the process.
There will often be requirements for some customization and development to achieve the desired outcomes, whether that be user interfaces, reporting portals, management systems, automations scripts, or any number of other specialized solutions. The key goal is to ensure the solution is scalable, supportable, and sustainable over the long term.
As has already been highlighted, the benefit of an agile development strategy is that small, but significant, steps can be taken to move forward. By developing, testing, and delivering various phases of a project, we can provide immediate, meaningful Connected Worker benefits, and continue to enhance the solution over time.
If we return to the Connected Field Engineer referenced above, we might start with providing the worker with a suitable mobile device, perhaps hardened and environmentally appropriate, and include a simple task management application to manage their day-to-day workload.
The next step might be to provide a “click-to-call” application providing simple and immediate access to centralized specialists for assistance with diagnostics and repair. These first two phases can often leverage off-the-shelf applications and require little additional development.
The next simple integration may be to add a Safety Management system, allowing the Field Engineer to report potential risks, identify unsafe areas they are entering, or find the appropriate process for handling dangerous situations or equipment.
From here, we may begin the process of adding some of the more complicated, but still, high-value solutions. For example, wayfinding. Leveraging a wayfinding solution may require some direct software development. Using APIs to integrate with mapping software, as well as the device’s own reported location, and potentially in-building location tracking infrastructure could all require extensive development efforts. The return may be significant, as we have regularly seen in transport and large-scale environments in the past. So far, the enhancements I’ve mentioned have focused on Information Technology (IT) being wrapped around Operational Technology (OT).
However, some of the most significant benefits of the Connected Worker come when we truly integrate IT and OT.
An example of IT and OT integration that may present itself is the addition of automation, which can enhance the efficiency and potentially the safety of the Connected Worker. Being able to shut down or divert systems around the Field Engineer may allow him to rapidly implement a repair or complete an inspection, all while eliminating the risk of human error and injury. Such a development implies that we have a suitable wayfinding solution in place and requires a strong understanding of the specific command-and-control systems.
As we have walked through the various steps above, we might also have been doing additional steps in parallel. Adding new sensors and components that might enhance the visibility of our infrastructure may result in enhanced operations and reporting for the future operations of the infrastructure. At the same time, gathering all the data we have from the “Connected Worker,” the various systems, and the whole environment may allow us to leverage Artificial Intelligence or other advanced systems to predict, scale, and run our environment more accurately.
As I near the end of this short series of Blogs, the last paragraph I wrote is one I want to amplify a little. I mentioned the ominous term of Artificial Intelligence. Over the last year particularly, we have seen massive steps forward in the adoption of, and resistance to, AI. I think it is essential that we leverage AI carefully and can see an extensive opportunity for its abuse in many ways. However, setting aside the legal ramifications of AI’s ability to disrupt many creative fields, it does have the ability to capture the broad capabilities of an organization’s most valuable asset - experience.
In a world where the workforce is rapidly aging, developing and maintaining skilled staff is increasingly becoming one of the biggest corporate challenges we see. AI offers a means of transferring the experience and skill of decades of work from a person to a digital system. This then becomes an opportunity to augment the “Connected Worker,” the operations leadership and the business owners with skills that would otherwise be lost as employees leave an organization.
Additionally, AI alongside machine learning and deep learning can be taught to look for inferences and relationships that the human mind is not well equipped to process. A simple example might be to link times, events, sensor data, historical data, supplier data, environmental data, and skilled expertise to discern causalities and outcomes that could predict failures, better efficiencies, and improved processes.
Such outcomes might create opportunities for your business to become a disruptor in your field, creating a truly digitized company in the ever-increasing, competitive landscape that we live in.
Gathering other opinions, ideas, and insights can be invaluable in making your Connected Worker project successful. Charter Telecom’s extensive IT experience is available to assist you in finding a path forward.
Charter, in association with our Swift Harbour software-development practice and our many partners, is well-positioned to help you become a truly digitized business. With skill in integrating hardware, infrastructure, and software with your business processes, Charter can be an invaluable partner to you and your business.
About the author
Ronnie Scott has over 35 years of broad IT experience, including programming, network architecture, as well as senior consultative roles for Financial Services, Internet Service Providers, ILEC Carrier Networks, and large enterprise customers across New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.
Ronnie is currently the CTO at Charter Telecom Inc, a Value-Added Reseller specializing in IT service delivery. As CTO, Ronnie brings his extensive technological background with a strong Business and Service Delivery lens to Enterprise IT Infrastructure solutions. bit.ly/3E9QdBk