A productivity fillip for mobile operations

Service maintenance

As businesses strive to optimise productivity and excellence in service delivery, Beverley Wise, Director UK & Ireland at TomTom Telematics, examines the important role of connected technology.

Productivity is a cause of real concern for UK business – from micro enterprises and SMEs through to blue chip corporates.

According to latest government figures, growth in economic output per hour of work fell to a two-year low in the third quarter of last year.

The chief economic adviser to the EY Item Club, Howard Archer, said a combination of “under-investment and an inefficient allocation of resources” may have contributed to this drop in output.

The slump, set against a backdrop of economic uncertainty triggered in no small part by Brexit, has certainly brought the need to improve productivity into sharper focus.

For business operations dependent upon field workers, productivity-boosting initiatives and technology solutions that can help raise the bar in workflow efficiencies may present an effective antidote – along with significant return on investment (ROI) opportunities.

Innovations in connected workflow

The UK currently appears to be lagging behind other advanced economies when it comes to investment in automation. According to the International Federation of Robotics’ ‘robot density’ measure, for example, which ranks levels of manufacturing automation, the UK is the only G7 country below the global average.

TomTom Telematics’ own research found that just 41 per cent of businesses regard themselves as early adopters of technology innovations. The reluctance to invest in emerging solutions was all the more prevalent among SMEs, with these businesses 10 per cent less likely to be early adopters than their larger competitors.

Businesses of all sizes however, even those with limited resources, can ill-afford to be complacent in the face of disruptive trends.  Technological development is evolving at an exponential rate and those that grasp the nettle, and utilise technology to transform their operations, can give themselves a considerable competitive advantage.

Today’s modern workplace is presented with a wealth of opportunities to leverage ‘connectivity’, with solutions that are both affordable and readily available. Furthermore, it can be argued that this connectivity revolution has helped level the playing field for SMEs, creating a more equitable business environment in which advanced workflow management tech is no longer the sole preserve of large companies with buying power muscle.

Whether a business operates with field service engineers, mobile sales reps or delivery personal, telematics systems can underpin streamlined workflow by enabling data to be processed digitally, from the field to the back office, using a single device or interface.

This can mean detailed insights into the activities of workers out on the road being made readily available; and data from the customer being relayed digitally, at the touch of a button, into office systems, such as ERP, CRM or accounting software suites.

With such systems in place, businesses can ultimately benefit fromimproved planning, scheduling, responsiveness and customer service.

Dynamic business

By automating and streamlining key business processes, SMEs can more efficiently deal with many of the resourcing, operational and administrative demands they invariably face – and, in doing so, they can help negate the negative impact that these will often have on productivity.

By utilising telematics and routing and scheduling solutions, for example, managers can improve visibility of their daily workflow. Jobs can be dynamically scheduled, and flexibly adapted, to take account of real time business considerations.

If a field worker, for example, is called to an urgent job on the same street that a regular visit is planned for later in the week, it might make sense to complete both jobs at once, reducing the number of wasted employee hours.

When delays occur, or traffic congestion threatens the timely completion of jobs, schedules can be more easily adapted, and jobs reallocated, on the fly.

Field workers no longer have to be dispatched to jobs from the office, or by using traditional mobile communications. Jobs or orders can instead be sent with automatic routing information, directly to their in-cab terminals. When schedules change, workers can be automatically notified via their terminals, with navigation instructions revised accordingly.

All the while, customers can also be kept up to date with automatic email or text notifications making them aware of ETAs and any changes to schedules as they happen.

Keeping mobile workers mobile

More than a quarter of mobile workers surveyed by TomTom Telematics have said that they’re regularly unable to complete daily job schedules, with traffic-related delays cited as the biggest contributory factor.

TomTom research has also quantified the total cost of traffic congestion to UK businesses as standing at more than £900 million a yearin lost productivity.

Smart navigation and routing can have an important role to play here, automatically relaying up-to-date traffic information to drivers in-cab devices en-route to and from customer sites, helping them avoid congestion – and helping businesses avoid this substantial cost burden.

Such smart routing will not only factor in congestion, but also traffic lights, roundabouts and other obstacles, resulting in marked reductions in journey times.

Furthermore, advanced business tech can also help companies optimise productivity by reducing vehicle off-road time. Even a small improvement in this area can have a big impact, helping businesses hit deadlines, meet customer expectations and save money.

Driver behaviour monitoring and feedback tools have a track record of helping reduce accident rates and vehicle maintenance costs by improving employees’ performance behind the wheel. Telematics systems can also monitor engine diagnostics codes to warn drivers and managers when mechanical problems may be developing.

By introducing such powerful and practical connected tech solutions, organisations can unlock the door to a wide range of process efficiencies and, in doing so, overcome some of the key operational challenges faced by both them and their mobile workers.

1In the three months to September 2018economic output per hour of work was 0.2%, down from 1.6% in the second quarter, Office for National Statistics.