What's the future for managing work?
We’ve been involved in Mobile technology for over 15 years now. Just to provide some context, 15 years ago it was 2003 and the only real mobile development option was Windows Mobile. Android and iOS were still to come — and revolutionise the landscape.
10 years ago we released the first version of our flagship Mobile Workforce Management (MWM) platform — Unity — and it serves hundreds of customers and thousands of users every day. Last count we had processed hundreds of millions of jobs through Unity.
The real question today is what future Mobile Workforce Management solutions look like. The first phase of these types of solutions were directly aimed at digitisation. Many organisations had a field staff that were still using paper to complete work out in the field. Early MWM solutions were all about mobilising a workforce digitally. The second phase of products and solutions focused on the back office piece — taking some of the operational processes that occurred at the back office and supporting those processes in software. Things like capturing customer calls, scheduling jobs using drag and drop scheduling and providing tools for field teams management, such as Time and Attendance. The last few years — phase 3 — have seen the proliferation of features that focus on the customer. Think customer portals, dispatch and predictive messaging, customer satisfaction and so on. Along the way we’ve tried to lead the way with self serve analytics, drag and drop workflows, automated rule engines and automated planning — to name a few.
The next phase is a really interesting space. One of the things that we’ve discovered is that any organisation that has more than a few dozen field workers undoubtedly have other systems that support their operations. ERP providers are updating their products to provide cloud based versions and innovative licensing models that is driving adoption across the market. What does this mean for MWM providers? It means that the MWM solution is now one tool in an organisation’s software landscape. Certainly it masters the operational processes of the business but medium to large businesses’ technology landscapes are increasingly complex — and connected.
Whereupon 5 years ago an MWM solution could work in relative isolation (with some businesses happy to manually extract, for example, work orders to their finance package for billing) nowadays this just doesn’t cut it. An MWM solution is no longer an authoritative source of data. ERP might hold master records, or a finance package might be the primary source of ‘truth’. We’re not just talking about an ‘API’ here either. APIs are crucial for system to system integration. But the design and use of APIs is not obvious. We think one of the futures for MWM software is in deep integration through deep understanding. A true understanding of the requirements, goals and aspirations of a business is the only way to integrate MWM solutions that successfully impact the business. Otherwise, the technology — in fact the entire industry — is at risk of becoming commoditised technology — the Microsoft Office of field solutions.
One of the changes we see coming is increasing reliance on expertise from MWM vendors. It’s one of the reasons we focus on the operational research and ‘human ingenuity’ and expertise areas of our engineering teams. The application of MWM software features is just as important — if not more important — as the feature itself. We’ve sat in front of dozens of organisations that are switching away from a vendor because they believe a solution can’t do what they require. It turns out that it probably can — but the vendor simply doesn’t care and hasn’t educated the client on the capability of the solution. They sold their solution 3 years ago and moved on, with no ongoing investment or interest in that business in the intervening years. It’s a flawed model and one that savvy businesses are increasingly waking up to. It’s why we always set out with being a 5–10 year solution partner for a customer. It necessitates ongoing interaction, understanding — and most importantly, interest in the customer.
Another prescient requirement of MWM solutions is in supporting the operating model of an organisation — not mandating it. Some vendors are increasingly switching on to this and it’s something we’ve baked into our offerings from day 1. Technology has to be seen as an enabler for organisations and too many offerings out there constrict a business into operating the way the software mandates. Nowhere is this illustrated more than in ‘off the shelf’ scheduling software — a particular sore topic for ourselves. We’ve sat in front of dozens of organisations that explain “yes we have automated scheduling .. no it’s not used to its full potential .. well actually it’s not really been successfully deployed .. well in truth it was bought 2 years ago and turned off after 6 months .. no-one could understand what it was doing”. It’s a great example of technology losing sight of the problem it’s solving. Scheduling software might be great at delivering the most mathematically ‘optimal’ set of routes for field workers — but is that the goal of the business? Or is the goal of the business to keep its current processes, and established methods of operation, but optimise those? MWM solutions in today and tomorrow’s landscape needs to shape shift to support the organisation and codify and automate the processes and methods that business has honed and implemented.
A final prediction — this future phase has to recognise the potential for competing modules. We know that our off the shelf MWM solution Unity has some incredibly powerful analytics, reporting and MI features. But sometimes we come across customers that have chosen to integrate Tableau or PowerBI or Birst as their organisation wide analytics platform. Understanding that there are products that solve certain parts of a customer’s problem better than you can is a key take-away realisation for MWM vendors. The days of ‘one stop shops’ are over. Never has the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ been more relevant than today.
Here at Insiris, we've spent the last couple of years researching and developing a new flagship work management platform to address some of the points in this article. We can't wait to share it with the world - so stay tuned!
Part 3 of our Data Driven Work Management series
Part 2 from our series of posts extracted from our “Data Driven Work Management” Whitepaper.