Don’t just provide field workers with a better hammer, give them an opportunity to innovate.
By Damien Moriarty
Technology trends have moved us towards an intelligent distributed system. The Internet of Things has taken us past the concept of remote sensors merely collecting data and introduced us to the use of intelligent gateways that interpret a range of thresholds and correlate various data streams into actionable intelligence. Cloud architectures have moved from a central monolith to a distributed event driven system offering better management, redundancy, change management and faster implementation of changes as the business environment evolves. Despite this, organizations still centralize the use and management of most IT systems. So how can we help our field force, an intelligent distributed system, to learn and evolve?
Learning Comes From Ownership and Experimentation
Centralization of IT decisions can remove the sense of ownership that motivates field service groups from improving process and system efficiency. When this is married with a high level of control, the field workers are left with nothing more than a finite tool that offers no more opportunities for improvement than a hammer. With smartphone technology being pervasive, versatile and highly capable, this approach removes a major source of innovation in the organization. Your field workers know this and take it personally if they are restricted from innovating. Ownership and innovation becomes overhead and resentment eroding not only the future potential of a new system, but its current capabilities as the system is worked around rather than used effectively.
Field workers are the best source of information on their processes, usage context and priorities. Historically, they have been treated as stakeholders, but by taking a more collaborative role, field workers can become an innovation center for the organization. Necessity is the mother of invention and while IT groups may be motivated to remove paper and reduce costs, it is the field service group and its workers who have the greatest motivation for improved business performance. This motivation often leads to outside the box thinking that results in innovative solutions. If their goals are aligned to the overall organization goals, this will provide effective solutions that have a vast impact on the organization’s bottom line. If they aren’t, you have problems that IT policy won’t fix.
Okay, My CIO Just Fainted
This doesn’t need to be open game on information systems—it is possible to adhere to corporate standards and best practices while supporting innovation using both technology and process. The most common issue is data governance, ensuring critical business data availability, usability, integrity and security is managed. The definition of clear standards for business systems, including data integration requirements to key systems of record, allow local decisions to meet corporate standards. This enables what Gartner calls a pace-layered application strategy where applications that differentiate the organization in the market (Systems of Differentiation) and applications that facilitate new business opportunities (Systems of Innovation) can be managed by the local business unit. Systems of record, such as large CRM/ERP systems, still meet record keeping and management requirements for the organization and retain their “single point of truth” status. In addition to this, IT can provide guidance in defining a clearer total cost of ownership as part of the business case by advising on other issues such as maintenance, support and costing expected changes as processes evolve.
The strength of this approach is true ownership of the solution. Rather than inventing new spreadsheets or paper to work around the system, business units feel empowered and will continue to develop the solution to reduce overhead, improve customer satisfaction and increase planned maintenance completion. This will improve employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and the perception of the IT group within the organization. This is the foundation of IT groups being more connected to the businesses they serve, but it requires both parties to re-think what the relationship can be.
Collaborate and Educate
The traditional IT role was predicated on providing expert knowledge on all things IT. As consumer technology evolves, the disparity of IT knowledge between IT and non-IT workers has greatly diminished. Many make the mistake of thinking this only applies to younger generations that have grown up in a digital age. This presents opportunities for ideas that challenge core assumptions and ideas that are built on technology and vast experience.
What non-IT workers generally lack is experience of how horribly wrong things can go when vast amounts of information is gathered on single points of failure or insecure networks. This is a collaboration opportunity for the IT group.
Non-IT workers are more technology savvy than ever. Opportunities exist if you can engage with these workers.
While IT is accustomed to providing full solutions, the reality is that these building blocks are what create opportunities for innovation and they need to be highly accessible. Remember, you are competing with consumer IT solutions with an order and delivery process that is often less than a minute. If you become a trusted provider of business results, you will have visibility of how business users and field workers are innovating on these building blocks. If these solutions are made available to a group of field workers, it can trigger other ideas that extend the solution even further. The use of these solutions will indicate what is effective and what isn’t, and can then provide validated learning of business needs into future IT projects.
We have the choice of helping our field workers grow by creating ownership of the solution and results, or hurting their chance for growth by removing this ownership and allowing them to devolve to simply punching the clock. The choice is ours. UP
Damien Moriarty is a Solution Consultant at Retriever Communications where he guides field service organizations on how to achieve fast results and set a path for innovation. Moriarty has over a decade’s experience in enterprise mobile applications and a passion for technology and its ability to improve business performance.