For many industries, from transportation to utilities, manufacturing and more, field workers are pivotal to the success of business operations, the satisfaction of customers, and the growth of the bottom line. Field workers are now at the forefront of digital transformation where artificial intelligence (AI), smart mobile devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) and business process management (BPM) technologies have created new opportunities to better streamline and transform traditional workflows and workforce management practices.
To better understand how these technologies are being applied and the impact they are having in the enterprise, Red Hat commissioned research firm Vanson Bourne to survey 300 IT decision makers from organizations in the U.S., Europe and Asia that employ a significant field workforce. The survey examined investment trends, current and future adoption patterns, use cases and implementation challenges.
According to the results, strong technology investment is expected by respondents with an average increase of 25 percent through November 2018, reflecting the importance of technology in transforming field service operations. Top business factors identified as influencing this investment include increasing field worker productivity (46 percent), streamlining or optimizing field operations and processes (40 percent), and improving customer service (37 percent).
When we consider the current trends that are broadly driving conversations in the tech industry, AI is one of the leading topics. While still an emerging category—currently implemented by only 24 percent of respondents—we believe the technology has great potential across a variety of industries and use cases. It comes as little surprise that an additional 30 percent of respondents plan to implement AI in 2018, aligning with an average anticipated increase in investment of 26 percent for certain respondents over the same period.
The AI umbrella encompasses a number of specific technologies for those respondents that have either implemented already or plan to implement to address more specialized uses cases, including:
Predictive analytics (55 percent)
Machine learning (46 percent)
Chatbots or virtual digital assistance (45 percent)
Robotic Process Automation (44 percent)
Despite being more established technologies, mobile, BPM and IoT seem to defy their relative maturity in the market with respondents indicating double-digit growth across the board in both investment and implementations through November 2018. While 67 percent of respondents have already implemented mobile apps for field service operations, an additional 19 percent plan to implement new mobile apps, supported by a 20 percent average expected increase in investment by certain respondents. The outlook for BPM and IoT is similar. Respondents expect implementations to grow from 61 to 81 percent for BPM and from 53 to 73 percent for IoT, fueled by 20 and 24 percent average expected increase in investment by certain respondents, respectively.
However, along with the appetite for technology investment and implementation growth, respondents are keenly aware of the technical challenges their organizations face in developing and implementing applications for field workforce management. Access to timely and relevant data is critical for field workers in remote locations, harsh environments, or areas of low network connectivity, as is the ability to protect that data as it flows between the field and back-end systems. As a result, securing data access was the top challenge identified in the survey at 34 percent, followed by:
The pace of technological change (29 percent)
Integrating solutions with legacy back-end systems (28 percent)
Lack of standardization (27 percent)
The good news here is that the tech industry continues to make progress in these areas. Independent foundations continue to focus on the need for greater standardization and interoperability among IoT devices; integration technologies are becoming more agile, distributed, and lightweight; and the industry continues to focus on its approach to data security.