Many industries have a large deskless workforce, deployed across countries and even continents to perform a diverse set of tasks. This poses several challenges – how can organisations ensure that:
• frontline workers, regardless of their location, are following the same standards of operational execution and compliance;
• data is accurately captured in the field and optimally used by the head office to continuously measure and improve standards;
• workers in the field are provided with an engaging and rewarding employee experience?
Let’s look at how Field Force Automation (FFA) can help organisations to resolve these challenges and ensure the greater efficiency, compliance, productivity and employee engagement in the field and improved communication between head office (HO) and the operational frontline. But first,
What is Field Force Automation?
Field Force Automation is the bi-directional flow of information between the head office and field via mobile technology – mobile devices, wearables, IoT sensors etc. The data is instantly recorded in the back-end, eliminating the time spent on manual data entry and the risk of errors associated with it.
Implementing software to manage certain aspects of frontline operations (e.g. inventory management, time tracking etc.) does not necessarily constitute field force automation. To reap the benefits of FFA, organisations need to implement a system which enables the frontline workforce to capture and share data in real-time and the head office to easily process and provide feedback on that data in real-time. This is the difference between:
An environmental officer performing an inspection at a manufacturing facility, recording the outcomes on an Excel sheet and then needing to transfer the data manually into another system of record
The environmental officer using a mobile application to record data, including images and videos, audio notes etc. and send it to the head office in real time where it can instantly be analysed and turned into actionable feedback such as a corrective action plan.
In a nutshell, FFA establishes continuous feddback loops between the field and HO. This means that once an organisation has these FFA foundations in place, there are many other optimizing capabilities which can be layered on top. Here are some examples:
1. Data-driven efficiency
The essential questions that every worker in the field faces are:
- Where to go?
- What is the most time- and cost-efficient way to get there?
- What are the required actions at each location?
The abundance of data captured in the field with the help of analytics, can provide insight into the highest priority/ opportunity locations. Consumer goods companies, for example, can use sell in and sell out data to direct field sales reps to the stores which represent the highest incremental turnover opportunities.
Route optimisation can help field workers to navigate their territory in the most efficient way, reducing the time and costs of travelling. This can enable field sales reps to do more store calls in less time and improve product presence, or a field service engineer to visit more locations and resolve more issues within a day.
At the head office, managers and operational directors gain greater visibility over performance in the field which helps to eliminate inefficiencies and reward top performance. By using geolocation, for example, the manager of a field merchandizing team, can see that a merchandiser has only visited one of four scheduled locations for the day and spent twice as much time as required at it. The manager can then deep dive on the root cause and work with the merchandiser to resolve it.
Now that field workers know what the top priority locations are and what the optimal route to them is, how can FFA help guide them through the tasks and sustain the highest executional standards?
2. Better informed decisions for improved operational execution and compliance
By facilitating the capture and sharing of data, FFA helps to improve communication and collaboration between head office and the frontline. Operational leaders can use the data captured in the field to continuously review the effectiveness and efficiency of frontline operations and improve standard operating procedures and best practices.
The Store Operations Director for a large supermarket chain, for example, can update the food recall standard operating procedure and communicate it with store associates across all outlets by sharing a step-by-step video which they can access on their mobile devices at the point of action. This helps to ensure that all workers in the field are following the same best practices and are aware of the latest procedural updates, driving operational compliance.
3. Improved knowledge preservation and easier onboarding
Providing workers with mobile technology which enables the instant sharing of insight at the operational frontline also allows organisations to create a knowledge repository of field workers’ expertise. This can help to reduce onboarding times and provide relevant information at the point of action. For example, a plumber working for a utilities company can create and share a video on how to fix a common issue. Another plumber can then use the video when faced with the same issue and directly implement the best practice. This way, when frontline workers leave the workforce, their expertise is preserved and can be used by newcomers in the organisation.
4. Employee engagement and happiness
As a recent study by The Economist shows, employees who use mobile and social technologies as part of their work are 16% more productive and 18% more creative than those who do not . Field force automation can help frontline workers to execute tasks, communicate and collaborate with greater effectiveness and efficiency, saving them time and providing them with a more frictionless and satisfying employee experience.
As part of FFA, organisations can also gamify the execution of frontline operations to improve onboarding and engagement in the field. Introducing an interactive leaderboard and awarding workers points for taking the correct actions in the field can help incentivise best practices and create friendly competition among workers.
A retailer, for example, can motivate store associates to reduce out of stocks by rewarding the outlet with the highest OSA score with a team meal out. The more data store associates capture on product availability and implemented fixes, the better their team’s chance of winning and they can track their progress in real-time on the leaderboard.
Drive productivity and operational standards in the field