A good friend of mine is a civil engineer. He works on many tidal flat and water way projects. He was telling me about driving 2 hours north of Seattle to collect data from one water level sensor. The data collection took one minute. He then drove 2 hours back to Seattle. For this one data collection activity, the cost was 4 hours of time from a senior engineer, fuel and lost opportunity costs.
I shared with my engineering friend that there are M2M communication systems that utilize embedded wireless chips that could simply message him the data from the water level sensor using wireless technology. He thought that would have been a brilliant idea! Although a brilliant idea, it would have costs far more to set-up (mobilize the object) with a M2M system than it cost him to drive there and collect it for one sensor. However, if he had 1,000 sensors that needed monitoring, the costs savings could have been enormous. M2M systems need volume to generate a good ROI, but if there is volume there can be great strategic advantages and ROIs to be had. Think about the endless possibilities! What do you need to collect data on in the field? What systems, equipment or sensors can you collect data on automatically and have wirelessly messaged to you?
In my mobile strategies workshops, I talk about the concept of “mobilized objects.” These objects can be all kinds of things you may not have considered mobilizing in the past. Mobility is more than communicating on a smartphone with your mobile workforce. It can be any data collected remotely and wirelessly sent back to a central management system. Let me list a few “objects” that you may want to mobilize and collect data on in the field:
- People – Attendance//Qualifications/Experience/KPIs
- Job Status/Schedules
- Equipment transportation
- Location and availability of vendors and subcontractors
- Job site access
- Job site security
- Inspections and Permits
All of these items may need to be monitored and data collected on them. This data can be communicated by a human, or in many cases a remote sensor could collect it automatically.
A field service manager that wants visibility to his/her operations for optimal planning and scheduling purposes may appreciate the ability to look down at their iPad and see the location of all of their people, the status of the jobs each are working on, the qualification each have, the parts and equipment each need to complete the job efficiently and the availability of any sub-contractors or permits needed. All of this data flowing in from the field can help a manager plan and optimize the productivity of his/her workforce.
Bar code labels and scanners can update information about parts, inventories and equipment checked in or checked out from the warehouse. GPS tracking systems can update fleet and workforce management systems as to the location of vehicles, equipment, trailers and people. Work Order Management systems can track the job status and schedules of service technicians and other mobile workers in the field.
M2M (machine-to-machine) communication systems can enable companies to monitor remote sensors across large geographical areas efficiently. These are used extensively by large fleet managers to monitor vehicles, fuel consumption, location and engine performance. Utilities monitor their smart grids and their electrical distribution systems. Irrigation systems, canal systems, pipelines, remote security systems, and thousands of other remote systems also need monitoring. An M2M system can provide automated data collection, and real-time alerts and notifications.
Mobilizing your workforce may be the first step, but step 2 is mobilizing your objects. If you missed my interview with SAP’s Sanjay Poonen, SAP is also focused on M2M today.
Mobility and M2M are ways of collecting data and sharing data to help people and machines make better decisions. All enterprises should be taking some time to understand the sources of all the data they need in order to conduct business in the most efficient and productive manner possible. Where does the data originate, and how can you make the data collection process easier, faster and more efficient? After considering the source and collection of the data, ponder how if can be integrated with your back-end systems, analyzed and the results shared with the right people at the right time in the field via mobile devices.
This unified 360 degree view of the world can provide your management team with a “Network Centric Operational” environment. Where everything is networked together to provide real-time visibility and situational awareness. This is how you can efficiently manage the real-time enterprise.
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