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A question of empowerment? Enabling a field operation by empowering mobile workers

Oct 16 • Features, Software and Apps • 5740 Views • Comments Off on A question of empowerment? Enabling a field operation by empowering mobile workers

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Trimble Field Service Management’s John Cameron speaks exclusively to Field Service News ahead of the launch of Horizon, Trimble FSM’s latest cloud based field service management solution…

FSN: What do you think Mobile Worker Empowerment really means?

JS: To me empowerment is all about supporting the individual to do the best job they can. For a field service organisation this means dealing with a growing number of complex challenges around scheduling, monitoring progress and enabling the worker to resolve issues in order to meet service commitments.

We know that having the right real-time information is critical to business success – it is not just about the data that is collected but how that data is analysed and turned into business intelligence and applied that counts. Both through the companies we work with and within our own business we know that information is only useful if it helps you to make the right decision and that goes through the whole organisation.

Ensuring that mobile workers have the right support and are able themselves to make use of the real-time information goes a long way in helping them to make the right decisions while on the move and remote from office or depot locations, allowing them to resolve issues and deliver the best service they can.

FSN: Do you think offering mobile workers more control can benefit a field service organisation?

JC: Mobile workers are on the front line, they are the ones who are dealing face-to-face with customers every day. When jobs go smoothly that’s great, but it often takes a number of factors to align for that job to go smoothly and if not the worker is the one who has to deal with the repercussions and the impact on the customer’s business or home.  We know the biggest cause of customer complaint is that issues are not resolved first time, but give the workforce the means so that the person allocated the work has the right skills, tools and parts and has the right amount of time to get the work done, then these can often be set into schedules to ensure that commitments are met.

We know the biggest cause of customer complaint is that issues are not resolved first time, but give the workforce the means so that the person allocated the work has the right skills, tools and parts and has the right amount of time to get the work done

The overall goal in empowering workers has to be to enable them to do the best job possible and the benefits are widespread and include increased productivity and efficiency with greater customer satisfaction and empowering a workforce to be able to control and manage outcomes can significantly impact on their own job satisfaction and ongoing motivation.  

FSN: How can businesses approach empowerment in the field?

JC: There are a number of strategies that companies may adopt in field worker empowerment and these could include use of technology, service performance measurement or through cultural change.

Technology is a great enabler but it is also critical that the organisations make the technology work hard for them and deliver the best benefits and return on investment. Hand-in-hand with this, measuring service performance is key to a field service organisation in both managing its operation on a day to day basis and also learning from these experiences. No individual wants to be going out doing the same procedure time and time again if it is not achieving the right results; achieve the right results and then replicate it.

Cultural change is possibly the hardest element to roll out, you can’t simply expect individuals to be ‘empowered’, but rather you need to make sure that they understand the reasons why, what it involves and the benefits to them and the wider organisation. As with any change programme it is essential that the workforce is totally involved, engaged and committed. It is also imperative that the drive for any initiative comes from the top so there is complete buy-in across a business.

FSN: Does best practice exist when it comes to mobile worker empowerment?

In terms of empowering workers, the field service organisations that we see doing this well are those that look to make continual

Choosing one to three benchmark points from which to grow also keeps everyone focused on specific metrics – trying to improve everything at once is a certain step in the wrong direction.

improvements. The use of technology has a key role to play, but you can’t install the best solution and then become complacent; field service organisations are finding that work is becoming increasingly complex and critical in terms of timing, skills and consequence and the challenges even greater so the application of best practice and the continual improvement that this brings is paramount in the successful empowerment of a mobile workforce. Choosing one to three benchmark points from which to grow also keeps everyone focused on specific metrics – trying to improve everything at once is a certain step in the wrong direction. 

We have also talked about change management and engagement as key dynamics to any successful roll out and we have seen that those behaviours drive the best success.

FSN: How do you think both mobile workers and businesses can manage the challenges of empowering workers? 

JC: We recently undertook a survey and found that, when a field service business sets out to implement business change, whether it is rolling out new technology or processes or ways of working, one of the major challenges it faces is engaging the workforce.

Much of this can be attributed to the fact that a field service workforce is typically spread over a large geographical area, with workers carrying out very diverse types of work remotely and rarely spending time in the office. Providing necessary training to the workforce can be a further hurdle. For many companies this means considerable expense, as well as taking workers away from their jobs especially if the training is carried out in a classroom rather than virtually. Furthermore, ensuring the training is understood and applied on an on-going basis also poses an issue for field service managers as it can be difficult to monitor field workers to prevent lapse back to the ‘way things used to be done.’

However, these obstacles can be reduced if businesses have effective change management programmes in place to ensure employee buy-in. Involving the workforce in any change plans, from the initial planning stages to the final roll-out, is key. Consistent communication to foster a culture in which the workforce understands the changes, why they are needed, what role they will play in the transformation and how to embrace it are all essential.

FSN: When we talk about providing tools for mobile workers, it would seem that mobility would be a natural element of that – is that something you are seeing??

JC: Mobility is a key technology in empowering workers. Mobility at its core provides field-based workers with a real-time connection back to their business. With all the information they need at their fingertips, they are able to become more efficient and effective.

There is little doubt that up to the minute information before, at and after a job is vital to the success of completion and provides mobile workers the ability to plan and execute their jobs better via increased knowledge. This is eliminating time, mistakes and misunderstandings out in the field. In addition avoiding the need for paper-based knowledge transfer, which adds further demands on the mobile worker, can save hours in a mobile worker’s day. Utilising cloud-based data storage, the capturing and storing of information on the go is another feature that helps mobile workers collect data in the field that they may need at a later date or to update other business systems .

FSN: With technology playing such a big part in field service, what trends so you see emerging to further transform mobile worker empowerment?

We all consume information via mobile apps on our smartphones and tablets in our consumer lives and more and more of us are expecting

the availability of mobility applications going forward will increase, which will further enable field-based workers with the real-time knowledge needed to make better, more intelligent business decisions while in the field

to be able to do the same whilst at work. As a result, the availability of mobility applications going forward will increase, which will further enable field-based workers with the real-time knowledge needed to make better, more intelligent business decisions while in the field. Niche apps, for example, are seen to present opportunities to reach a new target audience or deepen the engagement and loyalty of users and the adoption in the business environment can only increase, along with such emerging trends as gamification of business-related apps to give greater appeal to the use of apps for everyday processes and procedures.

M2M communication is certainly transforming how companies do business. Data transmitted from devices in the field to applications in the office can lead to decisions that significantly improve the business. In field service, that data flows in from both handheld and in-vehicle data-capturing devices, as well as sensors and monitoring devices on everything from household appliances and utility meters to complex machinery in oil fields transmitting data on diagnostics, measurements, temperature and overall conditions, all of which is instrumental in preventing equipment failure, scheduling maintenance, and improving safety and energy consumption.

Additionally, I think we’ll also start to see a rise in field service businesses offering field technicians the chance to bring their own or choose their own mobility devices to adopt at work. Field service is undeniably being reshaped by the mobile revolution and with much of today’s information being shared through smartphones, in the not too distant future, I think we’ll start to see even greater sets of data being shared through wearable technology, such as watches and google glass. This technology will revolutionise the way field technicians go about their day-to-day tasks. They will be able to stay in touch in real-time and gain immediate access to what’s important the second that they need it, helping to improve productivity and customer satisfaction. 

 

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