Every organisation has remote workers; field-based employees or contractors who receive paper job instructions from central locations. This usually involves completing paper forms by hand and either posting or delivering them back to base. It will usually be entered into the same back-office system that originally produced the paper form. However, the technology exists to automate this process across the enterprise. Some organisations are already reaping rewards from implementing workforce automation across multi-functional areas. They have also learnt valuable lessons about how not to do it.
What to consider when implementing mobile solutions:
- Avoid ‘boiling the ocean’, i.e. trying to mobilise every group of workers at once;
- Many organisations do not know where to start, so select one field-force to begin with;
- Avoid business process re-engineering;
- Choose technologies that support enterprise rollout;
- Massive paybacks await organisations that mobilise intelligently.
The ten steps below are a recommended blueprint for the implementation of mobile working.
1. Identify the drivers for workforce automation
There are many reasons for workforce automation. These include improving the efficiency of mobile workers by allowing them to pick up jobs remotely, automatically capturing job information and passing it directly into back-office systems without manual intervention, making stock picking and control more efficient, reducing fuel costs by up to 25 per cent, and better safety for lone workers.
2. Identify the remote worker groups
Gather accurate information on each type of field-based workers, their locations and numbers. Within social housing, these are likely to include groups for repairs, maintenance, servicing, surveying, and inspections.
3. Choose the obvious group
Having identified the different groups of workers, select the group that offers the greatest likely payback for the pilot project, such as a particularly geographically-diverse group or areas where SLAs are being missed.
4. Work out the return on investment
Prepare a ROI-based business case for the chosen area, using figures from the finance department for hourly worker costs, average job revenues, average job costs, vehicle operating costs, data-entry costs for paper-based forms, and telephone, postage and stationery costs. Line managers should provide information on the time spent by workers at depots, completing jobs and paper forms, and returning the forms. The cost of the mobile solution should obviously be included in the ROI calculations.
5. Get management buy-in
Board-level support is important because mobilisation changes working practices and usually affects how workers are deployed. It also affects salaries and remuneration, has up-front capital costs, and depends on the cooperation of multiple divisions or groups.
6. Workforce consultation
Engagement and consultation with the stakeholders and workforce who will actually be using the system is vital, including the involvement of unions and workers’ co-operatives early in the process. The proposed solutions should broadly reflect current working procedures to ensure familiarity and reduce the workers’ resistance to change.
7. Choose a solution
The mobile solution should be:
- Fast and simple to deploy;
- Easy to adapt by customers;
- Simple and intuitive for workers to use;
- Able to integrate with multiple back-office solutions;
- Able to replicate current forms of all sizes on a PDA;
- Flexible to accommodate additional business areas;
- Able to work with or without a signal, and use air-time efficiently.
Most organisations have several back-office systems; the mobile solution must be capable of two-way integration with these via simple, well-documented processes. Many projects fail to deliver the planned benefits due to the selection of a mobile solution from a single back-office system supplier; the application will often be proprietary and capable of only being linked to that supplier’s system. The inevitable consequence is that, unless tackled, organisations end up with several ‘hard-wired’ solutions, each requiring maintenance and often co-existing on a PDA device with limited processing power.
9. Implement solution
The easiest way to introduce mobilisation is to ensure that replicated forms on PDAs are as easy as possible for workers to use. Where possible, all data-entry choices should be drop-down lists or tick boxes, with data supplied to the device from the back-office system; data-entry by the worker should be an exception. Effective training is essential.
10. Continuous business improvement
After the system has been live for a couple of months, compare actual and predicted ROIs, and analyse major discrepancies before mobilising other areas. Furthermore, regularly look at improving business processes – change mobile forms to reflect the way workers operate most efficiently, test the processes and then roll it out again as part of an ongoing process.
John Stabler is managing director of 1st Touch Ltd.