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IoT and Networked Field Services By @KRBenedict | @ThingsExpo [#IoT]

Today, sensors can be connected to many different pieces of equipment and are capable of bidirectional data exchanges

Articles about the IoT (Internet of Things) have moved from technical journals to our daily newspapers.  They are a popular mainstream media topic today, but where are there actual business values found as a result of the IoT?  In this article we will explore some of these topics.

In the rugged blue collar environment, vehicles, high valued equipment and other assets can be connected to the IoT to wirelessly report on their status, hours of operation, location, environment, maintenance and repair needs. This data can alert management when there is a problem, event or automatically create service tickets or send alerts when an action or decision is required.  The IoT has the ability to provide "situational awareness" across large geographic areas and thousands of assets all at the same time.  This capability helps both decision-makers and automated systems better understand how to optimize the use of experts, equipment and schedules across different geographic areas.

Today, sensors can be connected to many different pieces of equipment and are capable of bidirectional data exchanges.  That means they can both send data and receive data.  Data sent to them can include commands to perform a task.  These tasks may be to unlock a door, open a gate, increase or decrease the temperature, reposition a video camera, or to remotely operate equipment or drones.

The IoT delivers on a vision of connecting physical items to each other wirelessly through a network. These connections, and the data exchanged, can provide real-time access to information about the physical world in distant and remote locations.  This information can be analyzed and turned into actionable intelligence that can be utilized by automated systems or human decision-makers. Connected devices integrated into smart grids, fleet management systems, enterprise asset management systems, plant maintenance systems, field service automation systems, and mobile workforce management solutions, etc., can lead to many innovation and gains in efficiency and productivity that were never before possible.

GSMA predicts that there will be over 50 billion embedded mobile devices by 2025.  These predictions represent big numbers and a lot of data.  The challenge for managers today is how to turn large quantities of data into actionable intelligence.

A few of the key markets for IoT are:

  • Utilities/Smart grids
  • Fleet management/Automotive systems
  • Rental equipment
  • Heavy equipment monitoring (think tractors, bulldozers, cranes, etc.)
  • Plant maintenance
  • Facility management
  • Connected homes/Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS)
  • Healthcare - fitness, remote patient and health monitoring
  • Medical equipment monitoring
  • Vending machines
  • ATMs
  • POS systems
  • Remote asset management monitoring
  • Security systems
  • Consumer electronics (eReaders, Wireless Printers, Appliances, etc.)

In a world filled with data from the IoT, the big question is what can be done with all of this data? Where is the value?  This is where real-time analytics are required - solutions that have the capacity and capability to analyze vast amounts of data in real-time and to recommend how best to use it for optimal operational efficiency.

Data and Real-Time Decision Making
Enterprise mobility apps offer significant value on their own, but when integrated into a network with many other applications, objects with sensors and other data collection technologies, this grid or network of applications can offer exponentially greater visibility and value to an organization.   The challenge, as identified earlier, is to understand how to use this plethora of data for the purpose of real-time decision making.  Innovations within many modern military organizations offer lessons for us in the commercial space.

USAF Colonel John Boyd

USAF Colonel John Boyd is credited with the concept of the OODA loop.  The OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) is a concept originally applied to combat operations and processes related to using real-time data, and quicker decision making to out-maneuver an opponent.

According to Boyd, decision making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe, orient, decide and act.  An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this decision making cycle quicker - observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby "get inside" the opponent's decision cycle and gain the advantage.

In the business world, OODA loop is an emerging concept for making better decisions and managing more effectively.  Areas that can benefit from these concepts include; field services, project management, remote operations, geographically dispersed job sites and mobile operations.  The ability to observe and react to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent requires data collection, communication, analytics and solutions that can use the data to optimize operations. Some of the different enterprise solutions that can exploit IoT data are:

  • Field services solutions
  • Fleet management systems
  • Supply chain management systems
  • Optimized workforce scheduling solutions
  • Solutions using predictive analytics and machine learning
  • Enterprise asset management solutions
  • Plant maintenance systems
  • Facility management solutions
  • CRM solutions
  • Healthcare management systems
  • etc.

Let us walk through a field service scenario together.  Mobile apps and sensors (human and machine) supply the data that enables a field services manager to observe.  Business analytic systems can be used to help managers be oriented as to what the data means, and how it impacts the mission/project/task.  Next the manager needs to decide what actions to take, and then act.

The “loop” in OODA Loop refers to the fact that this is a continual process.  The loop or cycle never stops.  Each time you complete a cycle in the OODA loop you observe, orient, decide and act again based upon the results you see from the prior cycle.  Those involved in agile development projects will recognize this cycle.  If the results are positive, you can continue down that path and improve it. If the results are negative, you quickly adjust and cycle through the OODA Loop again.  It is a fast moving process of trial, error and adjustment until you get the results you want.

The OODA loop is particularly useful in environments that are chaotic and unpredictable.  In these working environments, decision making is often very difficult and without the appropriate training, or automated systems - indecision, inaction, inefficiency or even chaos may occurs.  The OODA Loop is a decision making process that is well suited for helping people make decisions and acting in situations where there is no readily available contingency plan.

The military has effectively implemented the OODA Loop decision making process for use in many different areas including air combat, tank warfare, maneuver warfare strategies and daily in Special Forces operations.  Today, predictive analytics and process automation systems are utilizing OODA Loops with machine learning to cycle through it even quicker.

In a world where nearly 40 percent of the workforce is mobile, companies must learn and implement these concepts in order to successfully manage mobile and remote operations and services.  To be successful implementing and integrating the OODA loop and Network-Centric Operational concepts into your field services operations requires the following:

  1. Data collection systems, sensors (IoT) and processes
  2. Real time knowledge of the location of your mobile workforce, assets and inventories
  3. Real time knowledge of the capabilities and expertise of your mobile workforce
  4. Real time status and progress updates of the tasks, work assignments and schedules of the mobile workforce
  5. Real time knowledge of the location of all inventory, equipment, tools and other assets required to complete specific tasks
  6. Work order management system that assigns, schedules and dispatches specific assignments to specific members of your mobile workforce
  7. Business analytics

All of the items listed above help provide the real time visibility into your field operations that is required in a Networked Field Services organization practicing OODA Loop strategies and processes.

One of the remaining challenges, however, with the systems listed above is that humans quickly become overwhelmed by large volumes of data.  Complexity can become an inhibitor to the practice of OODA.  It is not enough to have real time visibility into massive volumes of data, one must be able to orient, or understand what the data means and how it will impact the mission.  Data analytics solutions fit in here.  Let's consider the following scenario in a Networked Field Service environment:

  1. A high value farm tractor with an engine sensor wirelessly notifies a contracted service organization that maintenance is needed.
  2. The information is instantly integrated into the work order management system.
  3. The business intelligence feature analyzes the scheduling requirements related to the maintenance code that was received.
  4. Automated processes (software robots) quickly search for maintenance updates or alerts from the tractor’s manufacturer that might be related to the received code.
  5. Automated processes (software robots) search for the nearest available and qualified diesel mechanic
  6. Automated processes (software robots) review all qualified mechanics' schedules and compares them for the purpose of optimizing all schedules.
  7. The business intelligence feature searches for the nearest location where there is an inventory of parts for that particular make and model of tractor.
  8. The business intelligence feature looks for the nearest inventory of tools and repair equipment that may be necessary to complete the job.
  9. The business intelligence feature searches for and reports on the current account status for the customer and any relevant warranty or service contract details.
  10. All of this data is unified and wirelessly sent to the service technician’s smartphone.

All of the above steps can be performed in seconds, and a complete picture can be provided to the field services technician and the field operations manager.  This information can help all parties quickly coordinate efforts so they can provide the services efficiently and make the customer happy./p>

None of these technologies or systems is particularly unique or new.  Rather it is the idea of integrating them all together with Networked Field Services concepts in a manner that provides unique value.

In summary, Networked Field Services concepts seek to translate an information advantage, enabled in part by mobile and M2M technologies into a competitive advantage through the robust networking of well informed geographically dispersed forces.   This networked organization, using the OODA loop decision making cycle, has the tools necessary to make good and quick decisions in chaotic and unpredictable environments.  Both of these concepts, Networked Field Services and OODA loop, are dependent on the ability to observe, and to observe quickly, events unfolding in the field.

Observation of remote operations and jobsites requires mobile data collection systems and systems to unify the data, analyze and present it.  Receiving information quickly from the field and analyzing it so good, real time decisions can be made is the key to success in field


Kevin Benedict
Writer, Speaker, Senior Analyst
Digital Transformation, EBA, Center for the Future of Work Cognizant
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

More Stories By Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict is an opinionated futurist, Principal Analyst at the Center for Digital Intelligence™, C4DIGI.com, emerging technologies analyst, and digital transformation and business strategy consultant. In the past 8 years he has taught workshops for large enterprises and government agencies in 18 different countries, and is a keynote speaker at conferences worldwide. He spent nearly 5 years working as a Senior Analyst at Cognizant (CTSH), and 2 years serving in Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work where he wrote many reports, hundreds of articles, interviewed technology experts, and produced videos on the future of digital technologies and their impact on industries. He has written articles published in The Guardian, wrote the Forward to SAP Press' book titled "Mobilizing Your Enterprise with SAP", published over 3,000 articles and was featured as thought leader and digital strategist in the Department of Defense's IQT intelligence journal. Kevin lectures and leads workshops, teaches and consults with companies and government agencies around the world to help develop digital transformation and business strategies. Visit his website at C4DIGI.com.

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