Distributed field service teams need operational support. Workstream collaboration tools offer a powerful, integrated digital solution.
Workstream collaboration has caught the attention of CIOs across industries. Unfortunately, many of the existing tools on the market fall short of supporting the needs of the employees who can benefit from collaboration solutions most — distributed field service teams. If the correct tools are implemented, workstream collaboration could be the key to success for these frontline workers.
Many industries are operational — meaning they function around immediate, physical actions, and are based in coordinated activity much more than the typical office-bound enterprise. Industries like shipping, public safety, manufacturing, and construction are made up of field service teams whose workers are dispersed in a variety of locations. These operational teams face major real-time challenges and need a tool that can offer much more than social enterprise and chat platforms can. Only workstream collaboration tools that are capable of integrating with their operational requirements can effectively support their processes — and potentially transform them.
Collaboration Challenges in the Field
For distributed field service teams, collaboration isn’t optional. Being able to communicate and coordinate actions is the only way they can achieve their objectives quickly, safely, and efficiently. When these teams become disconnected, the consequences might be lost customers, profits, or even lives. With such high stakes, the right digital tools are essential to providing game-changing capabilities for these operational teams.
The challenges faced by operational field service teams include:
Geographically dispersed teams
Remote or distributed work is often built into the job for field service workers. From utility workers to border patrol, individuals or small groups may work at great distances from central command — but must still be able to coordinate their actions with the larger team. The stakes are especially high for individuals entering hazardous areas, such as an oil field or a first response situation, where they may need others to remotely provide contextual data.
Some industries may also need to coordinate across distributed facilities, as is common in manufacturing. When a factory is dealing with downtime or manufacturing failures, every minute lost is costly. But the experts who can fix the issue might be a plane ride away, especially if the failure involves highly specialized or legacy equipment. Planning a rapid response will require a unified workspace that incorporates all relevant details, coupled with the ability to easily communicate despite being miles apart. Whether addressing an issue which deals with protecting lives or ensuring productivity, the ability to connect remotely is critical.
Integrating new technologies
Many industries are beginning to deploy Internet of Things (IoT) devices and increase their use of photos, videos, and new forms of data, even while continuing to use legacy equipment. Low-power sensors and surveillance cameras have great potential to expand the types of data and metrics available to distributed teams. Suppliers can gain granular insight into shipments, while security teams can deploy additional “eyes and ears” across their domain.
But despite huge advances in data collection capabilities, integrating and utilizing all of this collected data presents an enormous challenge. What data is critical in the moment and what data should be stored for later? How can the right real-time data be made available in a way that genuinely supports decision-making? For instance, imagine that sensors in a truck reveal that a sensitive shipment is overheating. Will that information then make it into a manager’s hands quickly enough to give the driver directions to address the issue? IoT devices are the competitive, forward-thinking choice — but in the short term, they can raise more questions than they answer — and they require actionable alerts for companies to truly take advantage.
For many industries, hazardous, urgent, and highly variable conditions are part of the job. Put simply, actions can have huge consequences for these teams. When dealing with dangerous conditions, workers need to be able to make fast yet informed decisions. For instance, for public safety teams, an active shooter would be best addressed by individuals working in different areas — but with the same common operational picture, or real-time overview of the entire situation.
Other types of distributed teams face less urgent but equally serious danger on a daily basis. Mining and oil field companies deal with heavy equipment and unpredictable conditions every day and need reliable ways to inform and enforce strict safety protocols. While this is clearly a continual challenge for such industries, meaningful collaboration is the first way to ensure that operations remain both secure and productive.
Why Distributed Teams Need Workstream Collaboration
Workstream collaboration (WSC) is a promising answer for distributed field service teams facing any number of the above challenges. The concept of workstream collaboration is all about bringing together workflow, team communication, and digital data into one unified tool, customized to suit unique operational processes. WSC can offer support around critical core functions, including the following:
- Remote, Contextual Communication: WSC is focused on providing communication channels for distributed teams — as long as the workers have an appropriate device, they can access the necessary information. Chats might be one-to-one or one-to-many, and are built around text, photo, video, voice, or key documents. Those discussions are persistent and searchable for later reference. WSC channels can also include embedded, automated bots that enable additional functions (like alerts around key events). Critically, these channels should be built around particular processes, projects, and tasks, so that conversations happen in-context and are linked to operations. For remote, informed decision-making, WSC tools provide an intuitive digital solution.
- Data Integration: The “contextual” part of workstream collaboration refers to the fact that these tools are, by definition, equipped to handle data. With the right API integrations, data from multiple types of IoT devices and legacy systems can be securely incorporated — and used to inform the workflow design of these tools. Data can trigger alerts or automate tasks. WSC tools can be built to use and handle IoT arrays that might otherwise be overwhelming, further aided by the use of search and data processing bots.
- Notifications and Alerts: For teams operating within urgent and even dangerous conditions, effective and actionable alerts are a must. Workstream collaboration is all about fostering discussion and delivering data, and the crux of those functions is real-time notification. With smart notification bots, teams can ensure the right information reaches the right people — according to factors like role, group, location, or status — at the right time. As an added bonus, teams can also avoid the hazards of alert fatigue with more pinpointed, meaningful notifications. When alert systems are well-designed, teams gain visibility into changing conditions and receive immediate push notifications for relevant problems or hazards.
Workstream Innovations for Operational Teams
Operational teams often struggle with an array of challenges, including remote workers, hazardous conditions, and managing large volumes of structured or unstructured data. Without the right tools and capabilities, these conditions create an overall lack of visibility. Margins for success and profit are often slim in these industries, and situational awareness can make the difference between failure and success. Field service teams don’t have time to switch back and forth between disparate systems or fill in gaps in workflow to suit a rapidly changing environment. To make the best decisions, operational teams need all the right information right now.
Workstream collaboration tools offer the integrated, centralized solution that field service teams need to ensure everyone is on the same page — working from real-time information about current conditions. With these capabilities in place, operational teams may even discover new capabilities within their workflow that could help boost efficiency and profits. And armed with a workstream collaboration tool like Coolfire that’s built for operational teams, additional features like geospatial map capabilities and task-based communication channels further enhance field service processes.