Today’s workforce is undergoing a drastic change. Equipment is more complicated than ever, making training workers on specific pieces of equipment increasingly expensive and less effective.
The result is a more generalized level of knowledge in the field. Those that do have specialized knowledge are often in high demand and can’t be in multiple places at once, meaning that broken equipment may sit for days waiting for an experienced technician to become available to repair it. Further complicating things, critical equipment is often in remote areas, resulting in travel time for these experienced technicians, causing additional downtime and lost revenues. Combine that with the fact that seasoned “experts” are retiring at increasing rates while being replaced with more temporary and often less specialized technicians, and the field service industry is facing a significant challenge.
But as equipment becomes more complicated, technology advancements have evolved to help solve these problems. The penetration of advanced mobile data networks and devices is allowing the field service industry to revolutionize how it communicates to resolve issues. It is now possible for those with specific knowledge to become centralized, thus leveraging their extensive subject matter expertise and disseminating it to a more generalized and increasingly mobile workforce. This helps encourage senior employees to remain with a company longer knowing they can now support less specialized colleagues from afar, and allows organizations to retain their expert knowledge longer as a result.
Following are four major advancements in technology that are truly making the next generation of the mobile workforce possible.
1. Collaboration Tools
More jobsites are leveraging the power of the cloud to collaborate. With the cloud, field workers have instant access to information – such as documents, project plans or designs – and can make updates in real-time. Managers and other parties are kept up-to-date on work progress while field workers can retrieve information or resolve issues quickly. Even better, video collaboration tools can further enhance time-to-resolution when problems arise; they allow experts to remotely see what a field worker sees and guide them through a problem’s resolution. Doing so simulates the effectiveness of having the expert looking over the remote worker’s shoulder, guiding him or her on what to do step-by-step.
2. Real-time data
The internet of things (IoT) is rapidly maturing and being adopted by industries. Companies such as Google and Qualcomm are building technologies that enable industrial systems to report real-time data into the cloud that are controlled remotely by other systems. This ability to receive real-time data can dramatically change how a field worker operates by allowing him to be better educated about the systems and equipment being worked on. For example, a worker could receive specific information about a system such as an engine’s temperature, pressure data or maintenance history all while out in the field. With this level of information, a worker is extremely well-informed and can make effective decisions and operating procedures.
3. Artificial Intelligence
With so much data becoming available, one could argue that it will be nearly impossible for a human to consume it all and easily recognize a course of action without significant experience and expertise. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. Intelligent systems can be trained to recognize large amounts of input data and synthesize actionable information, intelligence and instructions for a field worker to then take action on. In this way, tomorrow’s mobile workforce can be more generalized and allow specific instructions to be delivered via AI. More specifically, AI can be leveraged to understand workflows and guide branched instructions or procedures so that if a certain repair step is taken, the system would automatically know what it should deliver as the next instruction to the technician.
4. Augmented Reality
Augmented reality (AR) can enhance each of the aforementioned technologies and is changing the construction industry by leaps and bounds, particularly concerning the mobile/remote workforce. Collaboration tools can be enhanced with the use of augmented reality, allowing experts to not only see what a worker sees, but also to augment and annotate what a worker sees and collaborate in 3-D in real-time. Data can be retrieved from IoT devices in real-time and displayed on top of the devices themselves, providing a virtual dashboard over the device. Returning to the earlier example of accessing an engine’s temperature or pressure levels, AR could enable this data to be displayed visually as a technician is looking at the engine in the real world. This data can then be fed into an AI system and then, through the power of augmented reality, these instructions can be overlaid on the real world, giving precise, intuitive guidance to a field worker. As this data and instructions are available on-demand and simple to follow, workers will require less training to perform their tasks, helping to solve the skills gap. Clearer, more intuitive instructions mean fewer errors, resulting in increased productivity and a better bottom line.
It’s an exciting time to be in the industrial workforce. Technology is finally making inroads into this long-ignored industry, and it will be exciting to see what a massive impact it will have in taking the remote workforce to the next level.