May 1, 2018

There’s a concept in the military called situational awareness: recognizing the critical information in your surroundings – team, terrain, assets, opportunities, and threats – in order to take decisive, informed action in potentially volatile conditions. It seems like a simple concept, but this ability to act requires more than just training.

Athletes have highly attuned situational awareness, too. In team sports, you have to understand where everyone is around you. When you see the whole field, you can make on-the-go decisions as the game ebbs and flows about whether to run, pass, or take a shot on goal. When applied in the business world, understanding the bigger picture can yield transformative operational efficiencies by connecting the right people in the right place with the right information in real time.

Business Transformation

Can the same concept bring transformation to the business world? Most businesses have all the information they need to be successful. It’s not about identifying missing pieces or adding new systems to open the flow of information, it’s about leveraging your existing assets (personnel, locations, inventory, delivery routes, tasks, sensors, events, etc.) and connecting those data points – the dots – in a new way.

Toyota pioneered a similar real-time situational awareness philosophy in their operations, called Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing. When they looked at their bigger picture, they realized they were wasting time and money stockpiling parts for every stage of the vehicle assembly process. They began to supply the right parts to the right place only when the process required them. Toyota saw huge cost savings by eliminating a lot of “just-in-case” inventory and benefited from increased efficiency because the workforce was given more hands-on control over parts needs for their stage of the manufacturing process.

Are Your Dots Connected?

So, how do you know if your dots are connected? Pain points are largely business and industry-specific, but here are some sample questions to consider:

  • Do you have delivery trucks returning with extra inventory that is wasted or incurs offloading costs?
  • Do mid-level managers manually review reports before they can assign tasks to their team members?
  • Do you send employees out to complete tasks one at a time?
  • Do you have a mobile interface for employees at the edge of your business? If so, how does it streamline your processes?

The seemingly obvious solution these days is to digitize your information for easy transfer and sharing. But just because it’s virtual, doesn’t make it more efficient. I’ve seen businesses create mobile dashboards that are clogged with digital versions of reports and paperwork. Even though the data may be more accessible, the sorting is still manual, time-consuming and bottlenecked by an information analyst before reaching the right people.

Connecting the Dots

The key issue is how you break down your information and connect (or re-connect) those dots. Technology is your vehicle, not your solution. With the right data in front of the right person in real time, new workflows and efficiencies emerge.

  • Begin by evaluating your “dots.”  No one understands your business better than you. Shift your mindset to see the whole field, the bigger picture. Where is everybody? What needs to be done? Who is nearby that can help? How is the information shared? The goal is to better use current resources to complete the tasks at hand.
  • Break down information into actionable itemsMap out the assignments associated with your data, whether it’s a customer reservation, a report from a truck sensor, an inventory list, etc., so the closest qualified individual can act accordingly.
  • Make interactions direct and efficient. Remove artificial checkpoints in your communication systems so managers and workflows are not bogged down by busy work. Activity is not a replacement for progress. Maintain management oversight within the system, but also allow others to directly access the appropriate information and tasks for their role. Managers become free to focus on the bigger picture issues of customer experience, employee development and revenue goals.
  • Activate your workforce. Data is not just for the analysts; it’s for your frontline employees, too. Empower the individual with information to encourage more independence. Context-sensitive action leads to more personal, agile, customer-driven decisions.

Situational Awareness in Action

Let’s look at this situational awareness in action using an example from fast-growing business segment — the upscale restaurant chain.

Restaurants in this category pride themselves on fast, fresh ingredients but must manage this across thousands of locations throughout the country. Most have their own internal fleet of trucks that drive all night to ensure the freshest ingredients are delivered each morning. All store deliveries are expertly pre-planned with precision, often manually. However, the process breaks down if and when a store needs to change its pattern of ordering.

So, what happens when one restaurant experiences significant increases in demand? It could be a large last-minute catering order. It could be a new sandwich gaining unexpected popularity. All of a sudden, the restaurant may run out of their best seller by mid-afternoon. Now, if customers can’t order the most in-demand items on the menu, they’ll begin to go elsewhere. This is a problem, especially when the competing restaurant just a mile away may be offering equally delicious options. Lacking the ability to “see the whole field,” now leads to wasted food, lower customer satisfaction, and potentially lost customers.

How do you solve this?

Consider how a mobile-based situational awareness platform that helps connect the dots in real time could completely transform your workflow. We know that the restaurants’ delivery trucks all carry extra inventory. So, what if the drivers were also able to connect directly with the stores within a certain geographic radius? They digitally publish a list of what they have in the truck so stores can request a “top off” if they’re running low on an item. The truck driver would also know that if he doesn’t have what the store needs, he can pick it up nearby without rerouting drastically. Suddenly, that restaurant manager has access to “Just-In-Time” inventory that may be on a truck just a couple miles away. The truck offloads excess inventory rather than carrying it back to the distribution facility. Problem solved. Profitable client. Happy customer.

With greater situational awareness at every touchpoint, connecting the dots can happen organically. The restaurant gets what it needs, and the trucks return with less wasted food. There’s an operations solution to be found in connecting the right people in the right place with existing information at any instance.

Start Small

The workflow changes your business makes don’t need to be groundbreaking. Start small, plot out your dots as action items, and experiment with innovative ways to connect them to your workforce. Many seemingly minor efficiency enhancements can add up and make a large impact. With a new situational awareness, your team of empowered individuals will be scoring more goals together in no time … and in real time.

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