“Mobile is becoming not only the new digital hub, but also the bridge to the physical world. That’s why mobile will affect more than just your digital operations- it will transform your entire business.”
Thomas Husson, Vice President & Principal Analyst, Forrester Research
Frontline workers have been using handheld mobile devices long before they were introduced as tools for operational improvement and better process management. At the frontline, devices like barcode scanners, signature pads and data-entry/order-processing tablets have been in use as tools needed to complete a specific task. As Forrester correctly forecasted in 2014, as Industry 4.0 gains momentum, coupled with the effects of the pandemic, mobile devices are gaining more importance on the frontline across all business segments. This goes beyond task completion and toward a holistic device-based collaboration, which transforms the fundamental way in which work is done.
CIO.com explains how the modern worker is more mobile than ever before, and that the mobile applications and devices in use have the ability to not only improve efficiency, quality and collaboration for the frontline, but will completely transform the way in which the business operates, leading to richer customer experiences and better business outcomes. An interesting Gartner statistic presented in the post is that the frontline will grow from 10% of all enterprise mobile investment in 2019 to 40% by 2024.
The CIO.com post emphasizes that the reasons behind modern frontline workforce mobility are attributed to first, the ease with which mobile devices can be configured and obtained, even within complex and difficult work environments. Secondly, the availability of cheaper hardware, coupled with the rise of applications which allow the modification of backend processes to include and optimize better and more mobile-friendly workflows, act as a catalyst toward a more mobile frontline.
The pandemic has also had a major impact on the push toward a mobile frontline, where either the unavailability of external help or restricted movement of available experts forced frontline workers to operate and even repair equipment; feats which would not have been possible without mobile applications which allowed for close collaboration between the experts and the frontline workforce. Devices with modern IoT capabilities allowed workers to perform maintenance using AR, video conferencing, and specification downloads, all on their mobile devices.
Mobile capabilities create a modern workforce within both the Services and Manufacturing businesses.
Let’s consider the hospital industry. Traditionally, all hospitals operated largely using paper-based forms. Staff at all customer-facing junctures filled forms manually, with patients having to wait and then sign a mass of documents. Visits, prescriptions, diagnosis, aftercare and billing all required reams of paperwork.
The right mobile application not only automates information from a patient’s history with a quick QR scan, but allows for all of the patient history, right up to the current appointment, be populated instantly for reference. At the time of admission, the patient or attendant need only place a digital signature via the application and proceed to the next stage.
For a patient, such an experience means time saved and dedicated to their care, while for staff, this means high quality and convenient service, where filling in forms and waiting in lines are eliminated. For the frontline hospital worker, mobile translates to efficiency, faster turnarounds, compliant record keeping and more time for patient care, which has both monetary and humanitarian benefits.
With Industry 4.0 automating and digitizing highly complex manufacturing processes, and the advent of the ‘knowledge worker’ paradigm, it’s possible that factories will soon be ‘lights out’ types of operations, where workers will only overlook and supervise operations while applying their knowledge to drive higher yield and better process performance.
In reality, there is a continuum for this transformation and it varies based on the industry. Semiconductor, for example, remains a highly automated operation and this has been the case for decades. Automated processes don’t necessarily mean efficient and Industry 4.0- compliant ones, but that is something we will address in a future post.
Most manufacturing processes have some type of automation deployed which allows for certain repetitive tasks to be performed by a machine instead of a worker, allowing the worker to perform other more complex physical and cognitive tasks. Mobile technology and applications, when deployed in processes which are just starting to transition towards a more digitized manufacturing process, can do wonders.
Let’s consider a tomato sauce manufacturing operation. While the product (sauce) might seem like a simple enough product to manufacture, when produced on a large scale and with stringent regulatory guidelines, it can be as complicated a process as any. Let’s break it down into parts for better understanding. We’ll show how mobile may transform the current worker into the modern frontline worker, who is efficient, diligent and multi-faceted in terms of their own and acquired capabilities by virtue of mobile tools.
Right from the time raw material is delivered, whether it’s tomatoes, or supporting ingredients which constitute the recipe, the ideal mobile application allows mobile capabilities from the start of the process. Workers can reserve and align loading decks and transport/delivery, so that the right material gets delivered at the right spot, enabling faster incoming inspection and release of material to production or storage, as applicable. Quality checks too are digitized through the application, where inputs pertaining to requisite quality parameters may be recorded, and through integration, the feedback registered in both the in-house ERP and the supplier’s CRM applications.
As the goods move out of storage and toward processing, the mobile application guides the worker on the recipe to be executed for that particular batch of ingredients, providing them detailed digital work instructions and SOPs for batch execution. These instructions and SOPs may be standard or modified by supervisors on the go, depending on how flexible and collaborative the deployed application is. Once the process executes in-process quality parameters and feedback on recipe and taste-test related data may be fed directly through the mobile application and into the broader enterprise applications like an MES.
When the sauce is ready to ship, the bottled, labeled and packaged product comes off the production line. Workers in dispatch get the delivery and pick-up schedules on their hand-held devices, allowing them to place pallets on dispatch bays well in advance, so that the product can be shipped on time.
With a mobile workforce, the sauce plant not only attains a more predictable and better controlled process, it can actually experience a business transformation, where the modern workforce not only executes assigned tasks, but is able to collaborate with the broader supply chain players to drive better results.
Any manufacturing process can benefit from the deployment of mobile technology, allowing the frontline workforce to be more modern and efficient. What matters most is the technology implemented for a mobile workforce. This is where Webalo comes in.
Webalo is a holistic platform for digitizing and mobilizing the frontline workforce and gaining insight of tasks and events through analytics and process visualization. From the elimination of paper from the processes to the automation of workflows and the digitization of SOPs and work instructions, Webalo provides a platform that covers each and every aspect of a frontline worker’s activities to allow better collaboration and optimization for supervisors and managers. Webalo’s people-centric approach, coupled with an agile, adaptable technology platform, create the infrastructure for end to end process and information workflows.
The right partner can make all the difference when modernizing the frontline workforce through adoption of mobile platforms. Choose a partner capable of not only integrating with existing IT applications, but one which eliminates data silos, automates process flow, allows data recording/reporting/review via mobile and as a result, creates a better, stronger, more empowered frontline workforce.