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Combining digital technologies with strategy for success

Fingerspitzengefühl is a German word used to describe an ability to maintain attention to detail in an ever-changing operational and tactical environment by maintaining real-time situational awareness. The term is synonymous with the English expression of "keeping one's finger on the pulse." The problem with traditional fingerspitzengefühl, in addition to pronouncing it, is it is hard to scale. Today, however, in a world of sensors, GPS and mobile devices, having real-time situational awareness is far easier than ever before. In fact, today the challenge is not how to do it (answer: sensors), but what to do with all the information.

There are many dimensions of data that are available for work outside the four walls, which is mobile, remote and dynamic.  We all know about 3 dimensional (longitude, latitude and altitude), but there are many more.  We contrive:

  • Time
  • Start and stop tasks times
  • Travel times
  • Traffic conditions
  • Available workforces and associated costs
  • Available equipment
  • Activities
  • Events
  • Business process steps
  • Expenses
  • Security steps
  • Transactions
  • Compliance tasks
  • Performances against KPIs (key performance indicators)
  • Actors (customers, partners, suppliers, contractors, employees, etc.)
  • Relationships
  • Contract/Agreements
  • Supplies, materials and equipment tracking
  • Etc.

All of these data points can be bundled together as Performance Impact Variables (PIVs).  PIVs are the data points that can be used as inputs to algorithms that can be used by AI systems to optimize and manage the performance of the business in real-time.

All of this data can be used as overlays to simple GPS coordinates on a map.  Each of these additional layers of information exponentially increases the complexity, decision-making options and possible combinations.  This enormous volume of data quickly overwhelms humans.  That is why non-humans (AI/software robots) can be used to such great effect to maintain productive situational awareness and strategic advantages in complex environments demanding real-time decision-making and action.

During the period between WWI and WWII, Western countries all developed new tanks and military aircraft to support their infantry.  The Germans, however, went three steps farther by developing strategic advantages in:

  1. Radios and frequencies for communicating between forces (tanks, infantry and aircraft) in real-time
  2. Strategies for coordinated actions between the three groups
  3. Mission oriented command structures - Commanders define the mission "intent", but the details of how to accomplish them were left to frontline officers.

In today's world, companies seeking strategic advantages in field services operations can learn from these three additions.

The modern equivalent of "radios and communication networks" is OILS (optimized information logistics systems) that sense, collect, securely and wirelessly transmit data, analyze and report on it, and support artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.

The modern equivalent of "strategies for coordinated action" is the ability to collect and analyze vast quantities of real-time data to automatically and dynamically manage and adjust (using AI and software robots) a whole series of activities and events such as: schedules, tasks, jobs, orders, transactions, etc.

The modern equivalent of "mission oriented command structures" is an algorithm.  Once the algorithm is developed, it can operate without human intervention.

When massive amounts of real-time data are automatically collected and analyzed, they can feed algorithms and AI systems to optimize real-time activities and events.  The speed at which data can be processed through OILS and AI systems today far exceeds human decision-making capabilities - so automation that works in digital-time is required.  This is where AI excels.  AI can analyze all the inbound data in nanoseconds and instantly adjust and optimize operations.

AI does not just impact field services.  It impacts many business processes by supporting:

  1. New ways of selling
  2. New business models
  3. New ways of managing
  4. New business processes
  5. New ways of collaborating
  6. New ways of making decisions
  7. New ways of engaging customers
  8. New ways of working with products
  9. New marketing and growth strategies

My mantra is, "Digital technologies without digital strategies are wasted."  Having digital technologies without a digital strategy is like having tanks, mobile infantry and aircraft, but no coherent plan for combined action.  In a recent report, 40 Months of Hyper-Digital Transformation, digital laggards were found not to receive as good of return on investments (ROIs) on their digital investments as digital leaders do.  The difference I believe is in their digital strategies, or lack thereof.

In the book, Stray Voltage, War in the Information Age, author Wayne Michael Hall defines two more PIVs - cyberspace and cerebral.  "Information superiority is firmly connected to making decisions that are superior to an adversary's and combines information technology and intellectual power to create conditions with which to make better decisions...human beings will need to improve their thinking capabilities to cope with the increasing complexities of the world...people will depend more on visualization to help understand complexity quickly. Visualization will fuse data and information and display the result in a multimedia format.  Visualization will allow the integration of data, information and knowledge from all sources and will allow for the integration of numerous contributors."  Visualization, although helpful to humans, is far less relevant once algorithm-consuming AI systems take over.

Sensors, already powerful, are being developed with more capabilities to sense more things every month.  Each year when I attend GSMA's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I am astonished to see what additional capabilities sensors have added.  Here are some examples:

  • Sensors able to identify and classify vegetation - natural and artificial
  • Sensors able to identify and pinpoint distressed crops
  • Sensors that can identify soil moisture content
  • Sensors that can detect heat sources and leaks
  • Sensors that can detect movements and changes in defined objects
  • Sensors that can detect the chemical make-up of make-up

Each of these sensors and their real-time data collection capabilities adds to decision-making complexity, but they can also be the very PIVs that give you the competitive advantage you need to win.

Watch my latest video on digital technology trends:

Download the full report with charts and data sources here.

Follow Kevin Benedict on Twitter @krbenedict

More Stories By Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict is an opinionated Senior Analyst at Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work, SAP Mentor Alumnus, speaker, writer, and mobile and digital strategies expert. He is a popular keynote speaker, and in the past three years he has shared his insights into mobile and digital strategies with companies in 17 different countries. He has over 30 years of experience working with enterprise applications, and he is a veteran mobile industry executive. He wrote the Forward to SAP Press' bestselling book on enterprise mobility titled Mobilizing Your Enterprise with SAP, and he has written over 3,000 articles.

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