Oil Workers With Computer, Industry Today

June 11, 2019

By: Travis Parigi, CEO of LiquidFrameworks

With the challenges inherent in today’s modern environment, it’s important for operations leaders to look for opportunities to utilize new technologies and to optimize resource utilization. These new technologies allow for tracking and managing operations at unprecedented levels and in new environments, but also bring a plethora of choices around new or improving technologies such as smartphones, GPS, RFID, On-Demand/Cloud Computing, barcodes, scanners, and the latest generation of tablet computers.

When facing change, many questions arise for operations management, such as…

  • What data is the most valuable?
  • What are the proper approaches and technologies to utilize?
  • Which deliver the most “bang” for the buck?
  • How can different solutions and the resulting flood of data be integrated into an overall operations flow?
  • How do you accommodate for different personnel skill sets and ensure adoption by field personnel?

Let’s start by talking through a few things you should think of when considering new electronic solutions or field service providers to optimize your field operations.

1. Electronic Operations, aka “Paperless Ops”

The most obvious opportunity for improvement is the implementation of an electronic platform for field operations, or at a minimum, the adoption of individual elements of such a solution. This approach is sometimes called going paperless. At its most basic level, this method was first introduced as a simple scanned copy of paper items such as service tickets or delivery receipts with identical electronic copies. Later this became slightly more sophisticated as the documents were captured as structured data that could be represented on devices and later reported. Both of these approaches, while valuable, represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the value that a comprehensive field operations solution can provide. Let’s examine some elements of a complete mobile field operations solution.

  • Fully Electronic/Error Reduction
    It’s estimated that every time a piece of paper documentation is generated by field operators and sent to the back office, a minimum of $10 in costs is also generated to process that paper. Problems with legibility, re-entering the data into electronic systems, errors that are introduced into the system, and difficulty in integrating this paper with customers all add delays and costs. A structured data representation that allows for field-generated data to be fed into back-office systems and presented to the customer gives modern solutions optimal speed and leverage.
  • Configure vs. Capture/Validation/Rules
    Solutions that simply capture documentation, such as those involving scanners or simple pick lists, fail on several levels. These solutions have no internal logic or error prevention, and simply reproduce the problems of paper in an electronic format. It’s important that your field operations solution perform validation of data entered, preventing invalid configurations and improper data entry. Artificial intelligence elements such as rules and knowledgebase are extremely valuable additions. Examples in this category are solutions that can automatically configure themselves based upon job conditions or assigned equipment or that have configuration engines that step users through job setup.
  • Customization
    Obviously, it’s also important that any platform be adapted to be flexible enough to capture the elements of a particular operations flow, organization, or government/customer requirement. From changing the location and appearance of screen elements to the attachment of different required data entry points, the solution should be configurable to both your company and industry.
  • Data Availability
    The solution must satisfy customer demands for process, including, if necessary, customer signature, emails, and approvals. The data captured in the solution should be available to other back-office systems and email.

2. Proper Modeling of the Process

Perhaps the most important factor in improving operations involves structuring the electronic data into its proper elements and dealing with this data in a manner that allows for efficient scheduling, fulfillment, and analysis. First generation field operations solutions took individual elements of the process such as field tickets or dispatch orders and made them electronic. While valuable, this approach doesn’t capture the relationships between resources that allow for optimal planning and utilization. For example, dispatching a piece of technical equipment without the system attaching all the required personnel and consumables associated with it limits the value. An optimal solution not only is aware of these associated items but also knows their locations, readiness level, and suitable and available replacements. When all of these elements are in place, operations managers can not only plan immediate operations but can begin planning future consumable, maintenance, personnel, and other resource requirements.

3. Flexibility with Standardization

Any adopted platform must allow for best practices to be overlaid on the solution, yet be flexible enough to allow operations to continue in remote environments. Field personnel must have full access to the data which allows them to perform operations even if the back office is unavailable. Tools and technology that streamline workflow are important enablers. Let’s examine some of these:

Tools

  • Data
    Field personnel must have full access to the data which allows them to perform operations even if the back office is unavailable. Whether adding line items to a field ticket or requesting spares, access to the master data and appropriate configuration specifications allows for single-entry without later costly “fix up” from other personnel. Current and accurate pricing information also allows for better coordination with your customers and minimizes approval delays.
  • Rules Engine
    A rules engine that supplements individual worker knowledge and enforces standards is an extremely valuable capability. Items that have been previously lost or unbilled can be automatically captured, and unsafe configurations can be prevented. This capability can also allow personnel with lower experience levels to configure complex operations. Corporate knowledge captured in the rules engine provides an important backup capability to senior personnel.
  • Collaboration
    The ability to collaborate with other field workers and back office personnel is an important element. From enriching tickets with additional notes to requesting back office involvement, the collaboration capabilities of a mobile field operations platform are a significant benefit.
  • Workflow
    The solution should provide mechanisms to enforce standardized workflow such as a customer approval process.
  • Integration
    The solution should provide integration opportunities with other electronic systems. An Open API makes it easier to seamlessly integrate with your existing systems.
  • Additional Documents and Forms
    Many times a company has additional documentation specific to their industry or organization such as Job Safety Assessments, logs, etc. While an electronic solution may not come “out of the box” with the exact document, it should be easily customized to provide for the capture of this information.

Technology

  • Smart Client
    Even in the best communication environments, problems such as equipment failure, shielding, and capacity issues can prevent a field solution from outside communications. It’s important that any solution be autonomous in these situations and yet flexible enough to reestablish communications and transfer data.
  • GPS/RFID
    A solution should provide integration points for technology such as GPS or RFID.
  • Attachments
    Video capture, procedures, manuals, and other reference documentation are often useful in the field environment.
  • Leverage Existing Assets
    A mobile field operations solution should be able to easily integrate with your existing accounting, payroll, and other IT systems.

4. Effective Analysis

Effective analysis is a key component to optimizing your field operations and is now available as part of a mobile field operations solution. The ability to measure production details, as well as to create and generate custom reports is vital to a company’s success.

  • Measuring
    Due to the demands made on-field personnel and the flood of data coming in, many organizations don’t capture the full extent of what’s happening during operations. For example, they capture that a service was performed, but not the detailed start/stop times, consumable usage, ancillary equipment, personnel involved, etc.
  • Report Generation
    Any solution should have a robust reporting mechanism with a full-featured security model that allows proper access. The ability to create your own custom reports is also a valuable feature.
  • Availability and Distribution
    Reporting should be available to the proper personnel. A web-based reporting solution provides wide distribution capabilities for users at distributed geographical sites and on a variety of devices. Email integration is also a valuable capability for the dissemination of reports, whether it is an alert system based on incoming data or a regularly scheduled distribution list.

5. Involving Your Customer

One often overlooked opportunity for improving operations and increasing resource utilization is optimizing customer involvement. Customers are traditionally involved at the beginning (ordering) and the end (invoice approval) of the process, but having the ability to keep them involved throughout the process can prove quite valuable.

  • Tracking
    Providing oversight capability into your internal operations (at the level deemed appropriate) can dramatically speed approvals and raise customer comfort and satisfaction levels.
  • Approval
    Providing mechanisms for customers to interact with your field operations solution, from notification emails to electronic approvals, can speed up the process dramatically.

There are clearly lots of things to consider when you’re thinking about improvements to your field operations. Technology can, and will, have a great impact on field operations, and business leaders need to start the digital transformation as soon as possible to keep up with the competition.

Travis Parigi Liquid Frameworks, Industry Today
Travis Parigi

About Travis Parigi:
Travis Parigi is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at LiquidFrameworks. Travis focuses on growing LiquidFrameworks’s software platform and evangelizing its benefits to customers. He plays an active role in the technology, architecture and overall product vision of the company. Prior to LiquidFrameworks, Travis was a founding member and served as a Senior Engagement Manager for Emerging, Inc., an e-Business professional services firm funded by Austin Ventures and Benchmark Capital with offices across the US. Contact: tparigi@liquidframeworks.com.

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