Teams at the edge don’t need more data. They need actionable intelligence, delivered in a way that suits their operational constraints.
In the age of big data, it’s easy to imagine that “more data” is always better. Indeed, many companies have invested in generating and gathering as much data as possible to stay competitive. But there’s an important difference between having a lot of data and actually trying to use data to inform decisions. For employees at the edge, working off only the necessary information is critical — while dealing with too much data can counterintuitively hinder their efforts.
In fact, employees working in the field don’t want “data” at all. Workers at the edge want actionable information — instructions and directives which need no further explanation or analysis. That applies to field employees across industries — first responders, utility crews, truck drivers, security staff, and more. When implementing IT systems for these teams, organizations have to make sure they’re not overwhelming employees with data that they don’t need.
How Employees At the Edge Work
Workers in the field tend to operate under specific and challenging pressures. For one, the operational domain is often highly constrained. Such teams typically have a specific operational area, along with limitations on tools and time. Everyone from first responders to truck drivers is used to working with whatever resources they have available to face the challenges that are directly in front of them.
At the same time, decision-making cycles in these settings tend to be shorter. Situations change rapidly, and problems may arise that require immediate attention. High operational costs may be at stake with every minute that passes. Teams don’t have the luxury of crowding around a screen to make decisions together — often they are working from disparate locations and rely on communication tools to stay on the same page.
Another obstacle for these employees is that resources are far more limited in the field. When trying to make optimal decisions, these employees could theoretically be more effective if they could run current data through an analytics program. But typically the nature of their work in the field means that they have to draw on prior knowledge, current assessments, and a few back-of-the-envelope calculations.
For organizations that want to support these employees in achieving their objectives, their support must take a particular form. Essentially, these workers need effective information systems that can take them as close to an optimal decision as possible. That doesn’t mean more data — that means data that’s delivered in a digestible, actionable form. While tech tools won’t replace employee know-how and operational autonomy, they can provide the support that is so often needed.
The Burden of Too Much Data
Many organizations have begun to focus on how to deliver the right data to workers at the edge — faster and more efficiently. This is a positive step toward improving situational awareness and decision-making. However, if teams receive excessive or unorganized data, the decision-making process may slow down or stall out.
In an attempt to combat this, some organizations have adopted new software or dashboards with alert systems to help employees prioritize data. While these are good steps to take towards more effective data delivery, there are also a few key pitfalls to consider. When too much data is placed on a dashboard, it is still just that: too much data.
Software that translates data into alerts that are sent to all users can lead to alert fatigue. When there is a high volume of urgent alerts, continuous pings may have the opposite effect as employees become desensitized and tune them out. This can be a real danger, especially in situations where lives are on the line. It’s critical that organizations employ genuinely effective data solutions that cut through the noise rather than simply add to it.
Replacing Data With Action
To empower employees to make faster, more accurate decisions, organizations need to deliver data as actionable information. The last thing you want to do is turn on the proverbial information firehose and leave your employees drowning in data. While this may seem like a challenge, the good news is that there are software applications built for this exact purpose. Choosing the right software can help you deliver actionable intelligence to your field workers, who rely on situational awareness to execute their tasks. The best solutions integrate data from different sources, locate the nearest resources, and prioritize information to help employees stay engaged.
For example, the right application should enable greater communication by generating a common operational picture (COP). A COP will surface the information most relevant to current team operations and ensures that team members are on the same page. An effective application should also integrate and handle data in real-time, as teams need to work off the most recent information to make good decisions. Finally, applications should have the flexibility necessary to send the appropriate information to only the relevant parties — whether that’s workers at the edge or corporate executives.