March 2, 2018

By Claire Thorstensen

What do the Pony Express, Mary Kay consultants, and Willy Loman have in common?

They’re all examples of mobile workers.

While the definition of a mobile workforce has changed over time – and continues to do so – one thing has remained consistent: It’s hard to keep track of your employees in today’s manufacturing sector. When they’re spread over a large area and constantly moving, it’s challenging to know if they’re working at their maximum productivity.

With mobile workers in the supply chain, day-to-day activities may reveal information about what they can realistically do in a given day based on their territory, where they have to drive, how long they should stay at one location, what activities they perform on site, and more.

When a manufacturing company has access to a mobile worker’s daily and weekly activities, they can improve scheduling strategies, boost efficiency, reduce the amount of time spent on the road, streamline territory design, and allow for more stops and deliveries. There are two challenges standing in the way of those goals; however, measuring this data is hard to do, and even if a business has a way to measure and obtain it, the data alone is not enough.

The Challenges of Total Visibility

It’s no secret that gaining visibility into a manufacturing workforce remains an obstacle for many companies. Some try to determine their employees’ comings and goings based on sheer instinct – which isn’t the smartest way to improve processes.

Others attempt to use the technology they have on hand to piece disparate data pieces together. Running reports in sales order management systems or customer relationship management (CRM) software can reveal data like how many sales calls a rep made in a given time period and how many miles a delivery driver covered, which can be compared with written orders, closed deals, or the performance of another mobile employee.

This lengthy process can yield a partial picture of an employee’s activities, but even after spending hours or days trying to put all the data together, you still end up with an incomplete view. Simply having access to various data points doesn’t ensure a way to quantify what it all means or context around the data.

Companies don’t need another spreadsheet of dozens of data points that must be cobbled together; they require tools that can provide data with a purpose, pointing leadership toward actionable insights that can improve productivity and efficiency.

The Benefits of Mobile Workforce Management Solutions in the Manufacturing Sector

New technology options like mobile workforce management apps get manufacturing companies to those actionable insights. Using a mobile system to track worker activities and analyze data provide the opportunity to compare against business and industry trends instead of computing these points manually.

Mobile workforce tracking can facilitate a number of productivity improvements. A transportation and logistics company may schedule a certain stop on a route for an hour and a half. The data would reveal if it only took the driver an hour to unload the order. Finding these “fudge factors” across every driver’s route allows the company to schedule more realistically, potentially adding an extra stop each day.

Companies can easily determine worker productivity by ensuring drivers enter data categorizing each stop based on what product or service was presented/delivered, what next steps are and more. This adds extra context, allowing companies to dig even deeper in data by subdividing visit frequency by activities completed during each stop, to quantify how time is spent on site and on trips.

Managers can view all the locations mobile employees visited, how long they spent at each stop, and how these individuals compare to averages within the company and within the industry. For example, if a driver spent three hours at a stop for which the company normally budgets an hour and a half, that may mean the customer now requires more time than before – perhaps due to a change in the customer’s staff – and companies will know to account for that in the future.

These analytics and insights aren’t just helpful for a company; they can also help employees. Sometimes employees in the world of manufacturing don’t have a say over how their territory is structured, or are given a schedule of stops that is unreasonable based on drive time, traffic, average time spent with some customers and more. When these metrics are presented to company leadership, they can adjust schedules or territories to ensure they are fair.

What to Look For

Not all mobile workforce management solutions are created equal. For a business to maximize its return on investment, consider a tool that:

  • Provides context around data points by benchmarking them based on each account, in addition to other businesses in the same industry.
  • Distinguishes between driving time, stop time and time spent with customers, and provides locations of stops in an easy-to-view map, to quantify a mobile employee’s activities while on the clock.
  • Analyzes historical data for each stop to learn how many times the customer has been visited in the past month; six months or year; how long a driver generally spends there; and what activities are performed while with the customer.
  • Integrates into sales management platforms and CRMs to relay the data captured on the mobile tracking solution, allowing other systems to perform better through access to even more data.
  • Allows for simple implementation, with only an app to download and set up, rather than a system that requires vehicle installation.
  • Streamlines the act of categorizing employee activities by allowing employees to enter all info into one system instead of three or four, additionally speeding up time required to enter data with pre-set options and questions triggered by previous responses using “if this, then that” logic.

Meeting Challenges Head On

All companies in the manufacturing industry, no matter their size, struggle with achieving total visibility into their mobile workforces – and even if they find a way to pull data from a variety of sources to figure out what their mobile employees do on a given day, that data is hard to accurately quantify.

With mobile workforce management solutions, companies have the ability to not just measure data (including some they haven’t even considered measuring), but also gain insights that have a direct impact on the bottom line, meaning problems can be fixed quickly, productivity can be improved, and actions can be quantified.

Changes based on actionable data mean better mobile workforce management, more efficient delivery routes and happier customers, which translates into cost savings and improved revenue and productivity – ensuring a more successful mobile workforce.

Claire Thorstensen is Director of Product Management at Runzheimer, a mobile workforce software company. Claire can be reached at

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