Industry 4.0 putting digital innovation in the workforce on top of the agenda, and the inescapable rise of wearables, we witness an emerging reality set to a handful of problems the businesses face today: The connected worker.
Steering digital and industrial transformation
Industries today are on a constant quest to better perform manufacturing practices while minimizing costs, increasing talent retention, providing a safe work environment, enhancing efficiency, driving strong production growth.
While technology is reshaping the way we live, it’s also radically changing the way we work. According to a survey conducted by LNS Research¹, globally 66% of industrial companies are on a journey to undertake an industrial transformation program — a concept to leverage advanced analytics and digital technologies to improve operational performance and provide sustainable growth.
Companies are focusing on digitalization on every level of operations incorporating smart infrastructure including mobile devices and software. But the most significant opportunity to add more value to the business services lies in enabling people; making them well connected, contextually informed and better engaged with the help of sensor-equipped electronics, intelligent wearables and mobile applications.
Business services and manufacturing has seen many changes in the last 10 years, but the processes are still mainly human-centric. As the technology evolves, operators and engineers are expected to do more complex tasks than ever before. However, 70–80% factory failures happen in human-centric processes and of those errors, only 30% were caused by individuals. The rest is attributable to the work structures².
Human failure is a sign that the system has vulnerabilities. As people being the key asset of the services industry, enabling a system where human error is avoidable instead of trying to make the machines smarter makes more sense in short term. Connective and augmentative technologies can empower employees to do more by creating brand new operational procedures and decrease errors to close to zero.
So, the connected worker emerges as one of the key pillars of industrial transformation.
What is a connected worker?
Although many companies have improved their environment, health and safety management subsystems, their potential for productivity growth often goes to waste due to lack of technological infrastructure to support those improvements . The operational performance often suffers from manual or paper-based procedures, and the labour intensive work. Consequently, the poor interaction between people and processes makes it difficult for the companies to keep growing.
Connected worker strategies emerge to ease this pain point.
A “connected worker” is any worker, being integrated into their work environment by connective technologies.
The connected worker strategies exist to digitally connect people into the overall operational system. With a network of digital tools, the connected worker’s tasks are monitored and supported — from simple application platforms to complex communications mechanisms.
Connected worker platforms are designed placing human in the center of all subsystems. Their objective is to support the workforce using IoT and analytics to seamlessly connect front-line industrial processes with back-end information systems and eventually improve in productivity, decision making, and safety.
Nowadays, there’s an immense increase in the data exchange processes everywhere we look and the connected worker systems are no exception. A connected worker is empowered with real-time information and can access any piece of data to better perform assigned job.
Types of connected workers
From frontliners to C-suite, the connected worker technologies are here to make everyone’s job easier:
- Operators & Field workers: From digital work instructions to quality control, connected worker systems can be supported by digital technologies through their mobile devices and smart wearables.
- Engineers: Connected engineers can have the flexibility of making agile arrangements to software and hardware through application-based platforms the connected worker systems offer.
- Executives: With the reliable real-time data generated by connected processes, executives can drive better strategy ensuring a strong decision making mechanism.
Benefits of connected workers
A recent Deloitte survey³ showed that 49% of employees waste an average of 10 minutes per hour mainly because of non-work related issues, lack of contextual information when needed or lack of devices to interact with backend systems. It’s a huge productivity loss of nearly three hours a week per worker. Connected technologies, on the other hand, harmonizing sensors, edge computation and related software offer an uninterrupted communication from the manufacturing plant to remote locations.
A solid communication also leads to data accuracy, robust error-proofing and a chance to fix issues instantly.
The connected worker ecosystem can be used for tracking movements of the workers. With the ability to record video and audio from the worker’s environment, wearables and sensor-equipped devices can also notify the system when there are threats to workers safety such as gas leak, falls or other incidents.
It can also track the progress and performance of the connected worker through planned and unplanned routes and tasks.
Another benefit of the system is that it’s inherently useful for on-demand and on-the-job guidance and remote training.
Age of the wearables: How to enable the connected worker
On one hand, there’s wearables. Wearable electronics saw an enormous increase in popularity and if you’re not wearing one today, chances are you will be wearing them in the nearest future. According to PwC⁴, 72% of employees state that they are willing to use a piece of wearable technology provided by their employer.
The improved communication and collaboration that the connected ecosystem brings is fundamentally bound to wearable technologies that are integrated with digital displays and augmented/virtual reality applications. Also with the assisted reality enabled devices, employees can perform on another level of mobility with their hands totally free utilizing a very powerful interaction tool: voice.
Realwear wearable tablets are a perfect example of voice controlled wearables being deployed in industrial setting. Thanks to its unmatched noise cancelling, voice recognition capabilities and IP rated drop/water/dust resistance, Realwear became the industry standard having been deployed in 90 countries. Realwear became the ultimate knowledge transfer tool for connected workers to reach contextual data.
In order to leverage a newly emerged wearables such as Realwear requires adoption of new software with redesigned interface to function properly with voice commands. This is totally a new area to exploit for software firms developing solutions for enterprise use.
Taskimo is a newly emerged software company focusing on developing enterprise software primarily for hands-free use. One of their recently launched products, Taskimo WORKS is a full-featured wearable workflow management platform to author, publish and follow-up digital instructions, SOPs, checklists, on-the-job training materials and user guides for the use of frontline workers. WORKS contains a complete voice input capture infrastructure embedded within the core workflow system. Users can complete a digital form-filling procedure or a QC/audit checklist entirely focusing on voice inputs.
But where to start for implementing a successful Connected Worker Program?
Moving towards a connected workspace, you’ll need to have a holistic approach that requires a proactive and coordinated action plan so you can lead the change on every level as a company.
Here are the three main technology adoption phases most companies go through:
- First phase is to replace the spreadsheets with cloud based systems and collect all your relevant data to analyse what’s blocking your productivity.
2. Second step is to identify and decide on the technologies that your company needs and your employees would be willing to use. Then a pilot run with a low-cost, small project would be ideal to address where and how they are most efficient.
3. The third phase is all about gathering insight from the second base and seeing if you can scale it up on an organizational level and engage all your workforce.
Improving the performance and reliability of your workforce will eventually boost your revenue and cost savings in the long run.
Congratulations on future-proofing your operations.
¹ LNS Research Report, 2019. Digital Readiness is the Foundation for Success.
² IHS Markit, DOE Human Performance Improvement Handbook, Noria Research
³ Deloitte, 2018. The connected worker Charging up the business services workforce
⁴ PwC, 2016. Wearables in the workplace.