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
  • Biometrics
  • Video
  • Voice/Audio
  • SMS
  • Email
  • Augmented reality
  • Bluetooth add-on equipment
  • GPS/Maps/Tracking/Routing/Directions/Events/locations of interest/friends & family
  • 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.

All advanced militaries today 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.

Militaries utilize 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 of sensors and 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 just starting to be understood by forward thinking companies. This strategy 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 network-centric approach, combined with real-time data, analytics, AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning, enable organizations to behave and respond in ways never before possible, and at speeds never before realized. 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 across the organization (sales, marketing, supply chain, distribution, logistics, manufacturering, R&D, etc).
  3. Shared situational awareness enables collaboration, better management, planning and resource agility.
  4. Points 1-3 support an optimized and efficient workforce

In order to optimize the performance of 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.

Real-Time Mobile Infrastructure Report, Part 2

In my new report titled Real-Time Mobile Infrastructure, I ask 80 IT and business professionals involved in enterprise and consumer mobility to answer a series of questions. The results will be shared here in the following article series. This is Part 2 in the series.

Real-Time Mobile Infrastructure Report, An Introduction
Real-Time Mobile Infrastructure Report, Part 1

Question: Are your (or your clients’) mobile strategies and plans inhibited or limited because of the current IT environment, infrastructure and/or design?

Current IT environments, legacy systems and IT architectures are inhibiting mobile strategies and plans according to 78% of survey participants. This represents a major competitive obstacle as data points to increasing use of mobile devices and applications. Both the business and the IT organizations must quickly reach a consensus on how to invest and upgrade mobile infrastructures and supporting IT environments in order to remain competitive.

Question: Will the demand for mobile applications force enterprises to make major investments in their IT environment to better support real-time interactions with mobile apps?

The strong consensus (83%) is that major IT investment is needed to optimize IT environments in order to support real-time mobile applications. In our analysis, many businesses have yet to understand and accept the size and scope of the investments required.

Consumers are increasingly adopting mobile applications, and using apps as their primary interaction point with their preferred vendors. This transfer to mobile applications increases the importance of optimizing the user experience and the dependent IT systems, integration points and associated business processes.

Question: What percentage of your (or your clients’) back-office systems are NOT optimized to support mobile applications?

Over half of respondents believe that 60% or more of their IT systems are not optimized to support real-time mobility. If that is not a problem today for an enterprise, it soon will be. As the use of mobile applications and their importance in commerce increases, so also will the negative impact of not optimizing an IT environment.

Every click, swipe, "like," buy, comment, deposit, jog and search produces information that creates a unique virtual identity - something we call

Code Halo

Code Halo
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Where Are Those Smart Products?

Does anyone remember the Innovations Catalogue? My brother and I would eagerly await the delivery of the Sunday Papers and every few weeks there’d be this paean to gadget lovers everywhere, the Innovations Catalogue. It was mostly tat but the males in the house would read it avidly and buy stuff. There was the key-fob that beeped when you whistled at it (me); the micro bugging device (my brother) or the lawn shoes with 9inch nails through the soles that would aerate your lawn as you walked over it (I kid you not, my father was obsessed with his lawn and I totally get it now that I have one of my own.) I often wonder how the innovations catalogue would look like today and then a colleague shared this Internet of Things slideshare with me.  It’s the innovations catalogue for the smart product age and the smart tennis racket is going on my Christmas list.

The media is awash with smart products, from the gimmicky to the more serious offerings. Smart products will radically reshape an experience with a product or lead to a dramatic upswing in outcomes (see my post on Healthcare Hits the Melting Point to the impact from Smart Products within healthcare). A slew of newly connected gadgets controlled through mobile apps, feeding personal data into the cloud which is continuing to drive interest in these products and their apps that tie and make them personal to us. They’re mostly badged under the Internet of Things (IoT) moniker. And it’s no wonder we’re all watching as the interest in IoT plays out in our personal lives, but a closer examination of the IoT from a product perspective reveals the full extent of how a billion interconnected devices and products will change the rules of business. We set out to chart these changes in our survey we ran with help from the Economist Intelligence Unit, the research arm of the Economist magazine. Together, we surveyed over 200 product design and innovation executives across Europe and the US to chart the phenomenon of smart products. I call the respondents our smart product pioneers and their development initiatives underway may surprize you. 

A huge amount of media interest around smart things is focused on the wearables space, such as the Apple Watch and Google Glass, or broad infrastructure initiatives such as “Smart Cities.” However our pioneers are looking elsewhere. Our survey reveals that the real market for smart products (particularly over the short to medium term) is aligned more with manufacturing process improvements, product packaging innovations or reconfiguring consumer products so that they communicate and deliver to us an enriched customer experience. (See the figure below taken from a question we asked “Which categories of smart products have you/will you develop?”)

Response base: 202
Source: Cognizant/Economist Intelligence Unit, Smart Products study, Q4/2014

Roughly 58% of our survey respondents focus their organization’s smart product development on making industrial equipment smarter by gaining insights as the product embeds itself into and around a manufacturing process.  A similar number (57%) focus development on making product packaging smart, whether by highlighting the expiration status on perishable foods, or reminding a patient how and when to  consume their medication. The next significant development opportunity (40%) is on making a consumer device smart— like the dreaded smart toothbrush I posted about last week or a fitness band that tracks your personal hygiene and wellness. I believe these initiatives are set to dramatically change the dynamics between product creation and product sale because customer insight and business meaning are flowing through from a product’s data—its Code Halo. And they are triggering new revenue models as a result.

What strikes me is where smart product development is happening today. This is a business efficiency play and its steering clear of the frothy eye catching wearables space typified by the Apple Watch or Google Glass (intriguingly though, most of the 19% charted above came from European rather than US respondents to the survey…)  Smart products strategies are set to drive efficiency and innovation throughout a product’s eco-system, from its design, manufacture, sale and the after-care servicing once in the hands of a customer or installed onsite at the customer’s premises. It’s in the product data where an unprecedented level of customer insight is being found and it’s accelerating away, triggering new strategic options (for the companies we surveyed at least). Get ready for a new product model to emerge for the digital age. Watch this space.