by: Nisha Sharma and Masoud Loghmani
Integrating context-aware services with collaboration tools can improve the way companies share ideas, resolve issues and provide excellent customer service.
Context-aware services—which use data from mobile, social, Web and physical environments—are changing the way consumers interact with businesses. However, many enterprises have yet to take advantage of these services to improve critical functions such as field service.
Integrating context-aware services with collaboration tools can help organizations improve the way they share ideas, resolve issues and provide excellent customer service, bridging internal and external operations through contextual, data-driven actions.
The ability to aggregate historical and real-time data from multiple sources and integrate that information into enterprise collaboration tools can help businesses make better decisions at the point of action, effectively turning field service workers into knowledge workers. This lets enterprises find new and improved ways to optimize sales calls, equipment repair jobs and other in-the-field interactions with customers.
While some organizations already equip field personnel with mobile devices and apps to help them stay connected with the home office while out on sales or service calls, many face significant cultural and technical challenges when optimizing mobile and social platforms to deploy context-aware collaboration across the enterprise. Many companies have implemented internal social and collaboration tools, but find that unless these tools are integrated into daily business workflows, their value for knowledge sharing is limited.
Integrating context-aware and social collaboration tools into a workforce management solution can generate both near- and long-term benefits. Some potential benefits include the following:
Making the most of each working minute: The objective of a field service organization should be to spend more time actually doing work and to minimize the amount of time spent preparing for it. By using the right tools, field workers can be armed with recommendations specific to the task at hand, using, for example, the job’s parameters to find the best way to load equipment onto a truck to save time unloading it.
Another example: If a customer site has a security desk that needs to be cleared before entry is permitted, the system can automatically send the technician’s picture in advance to help streamline check-in upon arrival. In addition, by knowing in advance what equipment is to be serviced during a job, downloads of relevant documents, such as technical manuals or call histories, can be sent to the assigned worker automatically.
Better incident resolution: If an issue arises in the field, context-aware collaboration systems can automatically identify the best resources to address it. Activity feeds on internal social platforms or ones that have been integrated into mobile workforce solutions can adapt recommendations for resolving incidents based on context, switching from one step of a job to the next automatically—and at the pace of the technician on-site.
This can help technicians quickly find all the information they need, including answers to questions in real time, without being overwhelmed by information. Problems can then be resolved more quickly on site, leading to enhanced customer satisfaction since the issues were dealt with as efficiently as possible.
Continuous improvement: By integrating field services into the enterprise knowledge center through context-aware collaboration, organizations can lay the groundwork for a continuous feedback loop. Continuous improvement can be applied to both individual workers and their teams.
For example, if the system recognizes that certain colleagues are collaborating frequently, that strong working relationship can be maximized by pairing them on future projects. The more data that’s collected on interactions from field workers, the better the insights that can be developed about the most effective processes, including any that should be adapted.
The benefits of the continuous improvement enabled by context-aware collaboration mean that companies can constantly squeeze more revenue from projects—all while creating happier customers and employees. This can be done without increasing costs, and it creates ever-growing pressure on the competition.
How to Get Started
The key to a more successful context-aware collaboration initiative, as with most other enterprise IT projects, is to avoid big-bang approaches that maximize disruption based on the assumed needs of the target users. Instead, begin with a small pilot project that can help you understand what will provide the most value and that can be championed as a success story for broader deployment.
After you identify a pilot project, consider these four building blocks, and remember to involve field workers in identifying, defining and designing collaboration technologies throughout the process.
1. Understand the contexts and actions. Identify areas in the workflow in which having a technology recommending or performing an action to a field worker could benefit them. Next, identify the data that needs to be collected to make that happen, as well as relevant contexts such as location, historical records and current performance data. Consider any context that might improve the process, without limiting your thinking to more traditional inputs, and then look to source it creatively.
2. Assess existing workflows. Once you’ve identified a workflow that could benefit from context-aware collaboration tools, do an audit of the processes involved in it. The audit must be both bottom-up and top-down to be successful.
It is very important to treat field workers as knowledge workers because they have an intimate understanding of what happens on the job site. This lets them give you important insights about how a process works now and how it could be done better in the future.
4. Scale smartly. Once one pilot has been conducted successfully, you can begin to scale one workflow at a time. Use internal communications tools to market your successes early and often to make sure that demand exists for the project from across the business. That should reduce employee perceptions that change is being foisted on them.
In a workforce management solution, whatever is being implemented should be aligned with existing processes. These include task assignments, street-level routing, up-sell opportunities and schedule optimization.
Context-based collaboration for workforce management requires a broader and more dynamic view of the possibilities for adding value to the business. Added value can include time savings and empowering field teams with relevant information that lets them to do their jobs more effectively. These services demand different skills and stronger links in the enterprise than many IT leaders have used so far.
By marrying social collaboration with context-aware workflows and treating every worker as a knowledge worker, organizations can find new ways to improve efficiencies and deliver high-quality service that wins customer loyalty and provides a strong foundation for growth.
About the Author
Nisha Sharma is managing director at Accenture Mobility, part of Accenture Digital, and Masoud Loghmani is director of open innovation and strategy at Accenture Technology Labs.
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