Workforce Management Advances Are Changing The Way Companies Manage Mobile Workers

Innovative digital solutions improve disposition efficiency and optimize work routines in the field.

Innovative workforce management (WFM) solutions are becoming increasingly powerful tools in the digital era for asset operators and maintenance providers such as telcos and utilities, or anyone with a large mobile workforce. Recently, WFM has advanced with regard to digital and analytical tools that automate once manual, static processes. Both automatic disposition and support to the mobile field staff have benefited greatly from digital technologies. Most companies, however, are far from leveraging the full potential of big data, machine-learning capabilities, and smart algorithms to optimize their workforce, boost efficiency, and satisfy customers. For example, most automatic disposition uses static, instead of real-time, data.

In the past, WFM solutions were focused on providing management with a high level of information and control, and gaining efficiency through increased utilization only. Today, WFM takes a more holistic, 360-degree approach—putting improved quality, customer benefit, further operational improvements, and employee satisfaction at the forefront. Innovative WFM systems can fundamentally change the daily work of dispatchers and mobile workers, and achieve significant quality and efficiency improvements. For example, WFM enables technicians to start their workday directly from home, and managers to plan routes for time-and distance-optimization. And the route maps automatically learn and improve over time. In addition, mobile workers can keep their customers updated through push notifications before and after appointments, just as parcel-delivery services do.

Innovative WFM systems can fundamentally change the daily work of dispatchers and mobile workers, and achieve significant quality and efficiency improvements

WFM 4.0 Toolkit

Below are selected examples of innovative solutions in the WFM 4.0 toolkit.

Automatic disposition of work orders: Once a static tool calculating optimized routes, WFM software now analyzes real-time data and learns to improve algorithms over time. This approach helps to more accurately forecast required labor time per client and expected travel times between sites. Scheduled routes are optimized on the fly and automatically adjusted due to travel disruptions or cases of illness. This is by far the most powerful lever in the WFM 4.0 toolkit.

Integrating and supervising subcontractors: Modern WFM solutions are designed to integrate external service providers in their planning, disposition, and reporting processes. This allows utility companies to inform, manage, and steer subcontractors as if they were employees.

Mobile devices: Mobile apps provide technicians with tailored information on assignments, maps, routes, and calendars, along with detailed information on individual orders (required tools or asset manuals for example).

Augmented reality (AR) and smart clothing: With special glasses, workers can “look through walls” to identify covered assets or underground grid lines faster. With smart clothing, workers can detect hazard warnings such as high voltages or gas leaks.

Automated asset detection: By scanning QR codes or RFID tags fixed to the respective asset, field workers can access an asset’s operational data. This allows for rapid equipment identifications and health assessments in support of maintenance, repair, and overhaul decisions.

Agile Implementation Brings Quick ROI

The development of a custom WFM solution is likely to take up to four years, but might fail to meet expectations if implemented in traditional waterfall fashion. Adopting an agile approach, however, the entire process including scoping, design, vendor selection, and implementation can be shortened to two years. Applying elements of SCRUM, the definition of requirements and implementation proceed in parallel while internal stakeholders are engaged early in the recurring cycles of test-build-run to ensure continuous guidance and user acceptance.

The upgrade to an innovative WFM system can pay off quickly. Introducing a high-performance solution requires a total investment of approximately EUR 3MM to 4MM, depending on the chosen scope and number of users. But, a recent deployment we helped to implement saw an ROI of 45% in roughly three years.

A version of this article appeared in Employee Benefit News on October 12, 2017.