A version of this article was originally published in Forbes.
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As industrial companies grow, so too do the number of administrative layers between management and frontline workers. This is further compounded when company growth is fueled by acquisitions or global expansion. As a result, collaboration and process execution oversight from the top floor to the shop floor often ends up being disjointed, inconsistent and poorly documented.
In today’s hyper-competitive manufacturing and field service environments, the pressure to reduce costs, optimize operations, improve flexibility and manage complexity has reached unprecedented heights. Worker efficiency modeling and optimization is a big opportunity area, but it’s incredibly difficult to operationalize. That’s why it’s more critical than ever for management to have an accurate, real-time pulse of what’s happening on the factory floor or in the field – and be able to adjust quickly.
For management, gaining access and visibility into real-time work execution is a crucial first step. But the real value lies in surfacing data-backed insights across the enterprise – on inefficiencies, bottlenecks and potentially hazardous situations – that management can address and quickly feed back into the work processes performed by the frontlines, at scale. When management and workers are aligned, the result is a much more efficient operation running at peak productivity, quality and safety.
We’ll explore five ways that industrial workers, managers and executives can leverage technology to optimize the value chain and drive continuous improvement across the enterprise.
While it may not be practical for operations managers to constantly monitor in-flight work, it’s also not practical to go through unstructured sources – often logged on paper and stowed in binders or filing cabinets – to find out if frontline work is done accurately and completely. Connected worker technology can be used to digitize paper-based procedures, convert them into structured work processes, and display summary data in real-time dashboards that can be used to spot-check work and look for patterns worth further investigation. This analysis can be done from any location via desktop or mobile devices, and without the use of paper. LEARN MORE
Visibility is great, but not enough; operations managers need to be able to react in real time to unproductive or unsafe processes that may result in expensive machine failures or contaminated products making their way to market. With connected worker technology, real-time alerting provides the assurance that workers are adhering to the company’s intentions, procedures and contractual SLAs. Human-led work processes can now be instrumented like machine-led processes so the appropriate people can be alerted when a critical reading is out of tolerance or a procedure is taking too long. It also can track where work steps are completed too quickly, an indicator that critical steps might have been skipped.
If SLAs are missed, it is far better to know this right at the point of failure so the company can proactively communicate a resolution to a customer. LEARN MORE
In dynamic and fast-moving industrial environments, issues that are outside the norm constantly arise. Equipment breaks, orders change, supplies get interrupted. The key to getting operations back online quickly is having a game plan in place should a problem come up.
Today, connected worker technology allows management to be alerted of the issue the moment it happens, and oversee the resolution of that issue digitally and remotely, if needed. Informed by the right data, procedures can be immediately updated so injuries and quality impacts are avoided.
Connected worker technology also offers the benefit of either serving as a ticketing system for issues, or connecting into enterprise systems to drive maintenance or clean-up requests. In either scenario, instant notification, access to complex procedures, step-by-step instructions for remediation, and remote approval and signoff will significantly reduce the time and risk associated with resolving problems. LEARN MORE
In most companies, someone at the head office – generally someone who was once on the floor or in the field – writes the procedures or designs the processes. Unfortunately, these procedures and processes often quickly become out-of-date. New equipment replaces old, standards get updated, shortcuts are found, or regional legislation require new or adapted procedures.
The problem is that in most work environments, there is no easy way for frontline workers to suggest process improvements to management and specialists – and for those suggestions to become reality. At the same time, management needs a better way to quickly communicate with workers to provide timely on-the-job feedback or recognition for work well done.
Connected worker technology can now enable faster, more direct peer-to-peer and worker-to-manager collaboration, in addition to on-the-spot training as processes are updated or improved. By digitally monitoring process feedback in real-time, management can see whether continuous improvement is actually happening. LEARN MORE
Most industrial companies have defined or are defining “standard work” so they can increase productivity, quality and safety enterprise-wide. The issue is that, if they do not have a practice of obtaining data from their operations in near real-time, it can take weeks, months or even years to uncover insights that impact the business – positively or negatively.
In a connected worker environment, data can be captured and analyzed right away. Management can compare one line or factory with another, or one work team with another. What’s more, important details of each process – not just the beginning and end of a procedure, but the execution of key steps within each one – can be easily measured.
Armed with this new visibility, operations managers and leadership can quickly see what’s working and what’s not. Anomalies quickly surface and root causes can be identified. Great ideas can be propagated across the company, and execution challenges can be reduced or eliminated. LEARN MORE
By adopting a digital, connected worker approach to industrial operations, companies can leverage the best that their frontline teams have to offer and ensure they are doing their best, most meaningful work, and get consistent, clear feedback as to whether they are working effectively to plan. Organizations can drive continuous and dynamic improvements in productivity, quality and safety, based on data – together.
In the bigger picture, the data and insights on industrial workers that companies capture today via connected worker platforms can inform their broader digital transformation strategies, and become the foundation for their factory of the future initiatives. LEARN MORE
As industrial companies grow, so too do the number of administrative layers between management and frontline workers. Here are five ways to leverage technology to optimize visibility and collaboration, from the top floor to the shop floor. (5-min. read)