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Reinventing Communications: The Next Step


Photo of production workers in a factory
Image: WavebreakMediaMicro -
Let’s continue our examination of enterprise communications requirements based on usage profiles. In my first post in this series, I looked at the usage profile for field sales and services roles and found that communications for that group is best provided by mobile devices and function-specific business applications.
Now, let’s look at the production usage profile. Workers in this category represent 49% of all jobs in the U.S., based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course, that will vary by enterprise and vertical industry, but will likely be a large portion of most enterprises’ workforces.
Who Fits in the Production Usage Profile?
Production workers are those who engage in the stream of activities that produces an organization's products or services. The key aspect of the production usage profile is that employees in this category do their work according to specific procedures and standards to ensure a uniform product or service. In many sectors, procedures and standards are necessary to assure product quality, provide for worker safety, and comply with applicable industry, local, state, or federal regulations.
Many of these roles have physical aspects, such as assembly, crafting, inventory handling, labs and quality testing, food preparation, farming, fishing, product delivery, facilities maintenance, housekeeping, etc. Other roles deliver services, such as providing healthcare and personal care to customers and citizens. Still others manage production tools or facilities, such as networks, servers, and software.
Some job titles in this group are quickly identifiable. These include machine operator, assembly worker, warehouse staff, driver, bank teller, public librarian, food preparer, facility maintenance, home care worker, police patrol, firefighter, road maintainer, etc. Others, such as inpatient nursing, teacher or instructor, performing artist, or IT server support, are a bit more surprising. While these latter titles seem like they would be in a collaboration or information-processing usage profile, careful review shows that they, too, are following very well-defined processes to produce the enterprises’ goods or services.
How Is Production Usage Profile Work Performed?
Many production worker activities require task-specific application software, such as production software in manufacturing, route management software in transportation, electronic health record (EHR) software in healthcare, or food service order processing software for food production. In most cases, the communication activities of the production worker usage profile are textual or numeric, both for speed and accuracy, and are an integrated capability within the production application software.
How Do Production Usage Profile Workers Communicate in Their Workflows?
The two key factors in production worker communications are software applications and location-specific technologies.
Application software now governs almost all production work. Also, almost all of this application software includes the key communication functions needed for the specific production process. Yet, the application software is not generic, rather it is tailored to the process or workflow. For example:
  • Inpatient healthcare professionals conduct their work using EHR software from companies such as Cerner and Epic. This software documents each care step to confirm adherence to the treatment regimen. Most EHR software now includes text-based communications so shift teams can keep each other apprised on patient status; the workers use terminals at bedsides or nursing stations or mobile devices for this purpose.
  • Educational instructors work within learning management systems from companies such as Canvas and Blackboard. The LMS is a comprehensive set of tools ranging from virtual classrooms in real-time and non-real-time modes, content management services for the course materials and student submissions, and group chat features for communication with the instructor and among the enrollees or subgroups.
  • Manufacturing and warehouse workers use enterprise resource planning systems from companies such as SAP and Oracle, as well as more specific software that assists in managing production equipment, warehouse inventories, and transportation subsystems. All of these provide communication between the production steps as well as methods for escalating exceptions for remediation.
These illustrate that communication within these production processes is well-defined and is built into the context of the workflows. A common mistake of unified communication and collaboration vendors is to assume that their PBX telephones, workgroup messaging systems, and other generic tools will be useful to the workers in this usage profile. They’re inevitably disappointed when they find how difficult it is to adapt the generic tools to the specific production process and, therefore, discover that their offering is inefficient and not competitive with the finely tuned, purpose-built application software packages. Some industry vendors have targeted communication tools specifically for frontline workers in this usage profile, but the success of these efforts is still in question. (If you’re interested in a communications and collaboration strategy for frontline workers, attend this Wednesday’s Enterprise Connect Virtual session presented by my colleague, Phil Edholm.)
Location-specific communications is the second key aspect of the production usage profile. When production workers require communication beyond the application software, they will reach for location-specific communication tools. In many cases these will be radio-based, from a warehouse or while working in or near a vehicle such as a delivery truck, maintenance vehicle, or fire engine, just to name a few. In other cases, the communication will be application-based, with an increasing number of apps on smartphones or tablets that can convert a request or action into a text message or voice call on the cellular or Wi-Fi device.
It is also important to notice that an increasing portion of this location-specific communication is performed on purpose-built devices such as the many forms of Android-based and Windows-based ruggedized tablets that are customized to the job. Such devices might include a bar code scanner, speech recognition, headsets, and perhaps even hand grips or forearm straps for easy use.
In some cases, the communication device may actually be a PBX-based (or UCaaS-based) telephone, but that will likely be at the workstation and not at all associated with the individual production worker employee. In some cases, the phone may have a wireless connection or a portable handset, but in many cases the wireless coverage is not sufficient to assure instant connectivity so a wired connection is mandatory.
Of course, the production usage profile employee will also use generic communication tools such as a video system for meetings and training or a desk telephone for access to human resources, payroll, benefits, and other enterprise resources. These communication tools are almost always shared resources located in a break room or classroom that is separate from the production spaces or locations. Since this type of communication service is common to all usage profiles, we will come back to this when we get to my last usage profile — universal.
What Is the Optimal Communications Support for Production Users?
Clearly, this group, comprising almost 50% of a typical enterprise’s workforce, is best served by integrating communications directly into their production application software and production situation. Fortunately, this is increasingly possible, practical, and affordable by using the tools available from communication platform-as-a-service providers, especially the tools known as connectors to or between the application software packages.
In addition to that, follow the rapidly evolving wireless communication products and services. For example, a satellite connection to a Wi-Fi hot spot on a production-related vehicle can provide at least text-based communication to smartphones and tablets in almost any field location. We are also seeing rapid progress from the Internet of Things that provides automated communication as well as the ability to provide interpersonal communication via Bluetooth in most facilities.
The point here is that the telecommunication department will want to partner actively with the production departments to find, select, deploy, and support these new communication methods and devices. Application of the production usage profile is also a guide to rightsizing the enterprise PBX so as not to over-invest in endpoints that are no longer needed in the evolving workflows and methods. We wish you success in applying these ideas in your enterprise.

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This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.