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Network-Centric Mobile Field Force Automation

Using Geospatial Information, Business Intelligence and Mobile Software Applications

Data Center Automation on Ulitzer

Mobile handheld computers and Smart phones, business intelligence software, work order management and GPS technologies have been around for quite a while now.  As stand alone applications each offers limited value, but when integrated together these technologies offer immense value to the business user.  Let me first introduce some concepts and then tie it all together.

USAF Colonel John Boyd is credited with the concept of the OODA loop.  The OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) is a concept originally applied to the combat operation processes often at the strategic level. It is now also often applied to understand commercial operations and learning processes.  It has become an important concept in both business and military strategy. According to Boyd, decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby "get inside" the opponent's decision cycle and gain the advantage.

In the business world, OODA is a key concept for managing mobile workforces, mobile assets and mobile operations.  The ability to observe and react to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent - takes automation, wireless networks, mobile technologies and business intelligence solutions.  The field operations manager needs to know what is going on in the field and how to react to it quickly to provide the most efficient and profitable services.

The next concept we need to explore is network-centric warfare or operations.  Network-centric warfare, now commonly called network-centric operations, is a relatively new military doctrine or theory of war pioneered by the US Department of Defence.  It seeks to translate an information advantage, enabled in part by information technologies into a competitive warfighting advantage through the robust networking of well informed geographically dispersed forces.   This networking, combined with changes in technology, organization, processes, and people enable organizations to behave and respond in ways never before possible.  Specifically, this theory contains the following four tenets in its hypotheses:

  • A robustly networked force improves information sharing;
  • Information sharing enhances the quality of information and shared situational awareness;
  • Shared situational awareness enables collaboration and self-synchronization, and enhances sustainability and speed of command; and
  • These, in turn, dramatically increase mission effectiveness.

Let's now aggregate these concepts together and reflect on what they can mean to field force automation and managing the mobile workforce.  The OODA loop is a concept that describes how to make good decisions faster to achieve a competitive advantage.  Network-centric warfare, or network-centric operations seeks to translate an information advantage, enabled in part by information technologies into a competitive warfighting advantage through the robust networking of well informed geographically dispersed forces.  Both of these concepts are dependent on the ability to observe, and to observe quickly.  To receive information from the field quickly so it can be used in good decision making that will provide an advantage for your business.  Getting information quickly from the field to headquarters, analyzed and back into the field for action is the key.

In a world where nearly 40% of the workforce is mobile, companies must learn and implement these concepts in order to successfully manage mobile operations and services.  To be successful implementing the OODA loop and Network-centric operations concepts into your services business requires the following information, wireless mobile technologies, processes and systems:

  1. Wireless networking technologies
  2. Mobile computing solutions
  3. Real time knowledge of the location of your mobile workforce and mobile assets
  4. Real time knowledge of the capabilities and expertise of your mobile workforce
  5. Real time status and progress updates of the tasks, work assignments and schedules of the mobile workforce
  6. Real time knowledge of the location of all of your inventory, equipment, tools and other assets required to complete specific tasks
  7. GPS tracking devices on mobile assets, equipment and your mobile workforce
  8. Barcode labels and barcode scanners to associate inventory, tools and equipment to specific locations or vehicles
  9. GIS solution to view the locations of your mobile workforce and mobile assets on a map
  10. Human capital management application that will tell you the expertise and experience of each member of your mobile workforce
  11. Real-time inventory system that can identify the current location of all products, parts, tools, vehicles and equipment
  12. Work Order Management system that assigns, schedules and dispatches specific assignment to specific members of your mobile workforce
  13. Business intelligence software applications

All of the items listed above help provide the real time visibility into your field operations that is required in order  to make good business decisions that maximize profits.

There remains a problem with this system.  Humans quickly become overwhelmed by large volumes of data.  Complexity can become an inhibitor to the practice of OODA.  It is not enough to have real-time visibility into massive volumes of data, one must be able to orient, or understand what the data means and how it will impact your ability to fulfill your assignment.  Business intelligence software applications fit in here.  Let's consider the following scenario:

  1. A customer requests a service call to repair a diesel tractor.
  2. The information is entered into the work order management system.
  3. The business intelligence component immediately searches for the nearest available and qualified diesel mechanic on staff
  4. The business intelligence application immediately reviews the qualified mechanic's current schedule and compares it to other qualified mechanic's schedules
  5. The business intelligence application also searches for the nearest location where there is an inventory of parts for that particular make and model of the tractor
  6. The business intelligence application can also look for the nearest inventory of tools and repair equipment that may be necessary to complete the job
  7. The business intelligence application can also search on and report the current account status for the customer and any relevant warranty or service contracts

All of the above steps can be performed in seconds, and a complete picture can be provided to the field services technician and the field operations manager.  This information can help all parties quickly coordinate efforts, provide the services efficiently and make a customer happy.

None of these technologies or systems are particularly unique or new, rather it is the idea of integrating them all together with OODA and Network-centric operational concepts for a common purpose that provides unique value.

More Stories By Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict is an opinionated futurist, Principal Analyst at the Center for Digital Intelligence™, C4DIGI.com, emerging technologies analyst, and digital transformation and business strategy consultant. In the past 8 years he has taught workshops for large enterprises and government agencies in 18 different countries, and is a keynote speaker at conferences worldwide. He spent nearly 5 years working as a Senior Analyst at Cognizant (CTSH), and 2 years serving in Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work where he wrote many reports, hundreds of articles, interviewed technology experts, and produced videos on the future of digital technologies and their impact on industries. He has written articles published in The Guardian, wrote the Forward to SAP Press' book titled "Mobilizing Your Enterprise with SAP", published over 3,000 articles and was featured as thought leader and digital strategist in the Department of Defense's IQT intelligence journal. Kevin lectures and leads workshops, teaches and consults with companies and government agencies around the world to help develop digital transformation and business strategies. Visit his website at C4DIGI.com.

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