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Context-Aware Collaboration

Learn how context-aware collaboration is turning field service workers into knowledge workers

Overview

Context-aware services, which use data from mobile, social, Web and physical environments, are changing how consumers interact with businesses. Gartner estimates that by 2015, 40 percent of global smartphone users will opt into context services, allowing providers to track their activities in exchange for a more tailored user experience.

Many enterprises, however, have yet to use these services to improve internal operations, such as field service, and other elements of their workforce management solutions. Integrating context-aware services with modern collaboration capabilities can help organizations improve the way they share ideas, resolve issues and improve customer service.

Background

Context-based services have existed in a variety of forms for many years, from transmitter tags for marathon runners to the recommendation engines companies such as Amazon and Netflix use. Logistics companies such as UPS and FedEx use contextual data (specifically, geo-location and traffic conditions) to determine optimal delivery routes. Other organizations equip field personnel with mobile devices and apps that help them stay connected with the home office while on sales or service calls.

However, these interactions—downloading a document, calling a co-worker, posting a question in a virtual chat room—are largely informal and ad hoc, reducing their efficiency. Many of these in-the-moment interactions are not connected to the context of the worker’s task at hand nor are they captured and preserved to change or improve future processes.

Analysis

Integrating context-aware computing and social collaboration tools within a workforce management solution can generate both near- and long-term benefits for the field force and the business.

Most managers, when estimating job duration, include a fair amount of padding around the onsite work to account for travel, prep and cleanup. Organizations have taken some inefficiency out of this task by deploying navigation systems or apps, for example, to make it easier for drivers to reach the customer site. But context-aware systems can further reduce activities that most organizations don’t consider “idle” time but are nevertheless inefficient.

Knowing which equipment is being serviced and where, for example, can trigger an automatic download of relevant documents to the assigned worker: marketing presentations for an account manager, technical manuals and call histories for a service technician, etc. A technician can receive recommendations on the best way to load his equipment in the truck, based on the parameters of the job, to save time unloading it—similar to the way postal carriers pre-sort mail for delivery.

Recommendations

The key to a more successful context-aware collaboration initiative, as with most other enterprise IT projects, is to avoid “big-bang” approaches that maximize disruption based on the assumed needs of the target users.

Instead, begin with a smaller pilot project that can help you understand what will provide the most value, and that can be championed as a success story for broader deployment. How do you identify the right pilot project? Look for high-profile workflows that are most common, have a significant impact on the business, and stand to benefit the most from context-aware collaboration.

Don’t, however, pick an overly complex workflow; it’s important to establish a solid first example that delivers a measurable return to ensure broader adoption.

 

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Industry & topics highlighted

Mobility