Strategically embracing digital technologies has proven instrumental as manufacturers strive to navigate the ongoing pandemic-influenced operating environment. The most obvious impact of the pandemic has been around addressing worker safety and changed availability. This understandably places a burden on manufacturers to deploy an array of new processes and strategies to ensure ideal environments.

Of course, worker availability continues to create challenging situations. Consider, for instance, when employees on a shift suffer an outbreak, it can result in asking people to quickly transition to handle different tasks – often tasks they are not trained to handle.  

Embracing the connected worker platform

When looking at the need to get people competent in tasks are not necessarily skilled to do, one of the obvious benefits of having a library of digital standard operating procedures is the job becomes a training opportunity. “The ability to have libraries of standard operating procedures, which are basically step-by-step instructions guiding people on how to execute work is crucial,” says Parsable CEO Lawrence Whittle. “They also dictate validation, so it's not just a work instruction, it is validation workers are actually executing the jobs correctly. It's about enabling people to be more skilled and actually use the term connected worker platform is enabling us to have workers that are almost Swiss Army knives, capable of doing multiple tasks with true flexibility.”

Secondly, something that often occurs throughout the holiday season – and could possibly continue throughout the ongoing wave – is a tremendous amount of temporary labor, especially in distribution centers. These are environments with sophisticated automation, so it's no longer just having someone moving boxes around, there are very defined skills. “Companies don't really have time to go into classrooms to train them on how to operate safely in a distribution center,” he says. “The viability of digital work instructions put in the hands of a temporary worker there is a double benefit of quick competency and an insurance policy that they're operating safely.”

According to Whittle, one of the benefits of having frontline people connected is to address the lag that typically occurs between data and action. “If you've got a line stoppage within a manufacturing site, you can create an issue for instance to send an action needed email. Within a connected worker environment, the issue to action lag is eliminated because you have real-time updates identifying when there's an issue (machine stoppage, a spillage or quality inspection failure),” he says. “The fact that people are doing that digitally means that immediately there's visibility at a supervisor level. The visibility of this dark data is really very acute as people ramp up connected worker programs.”

Understanding best practices

Enable availability. Success often follows when organizations democratize the availability of digital. “If you can find a lowest common denominator for every single employee, you raise the competency of the whole company,” he says. “This happens by identifying use cases with literally anyone, so you don't discriminate between skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled. You actually have everyone doing some level of digital engagement.”

Embrace visibility. Look for use cases where the value of the data being available fast is a critical component. “It's around, selecting use cases where you know there's value, but actually the real value is the ability to get visibility of the data to enable quick decision making,” he says. 

Facilitate buy-in. It is key to identify and empower a champion. “That's not an IT person, and not necessarily a senior person. It's someone that is tech-savvy who can lead from the front,” he says. “That really creates an atmosphere of moving forward.”

Encourage collaboration. “There’s also great value in integrated collaboration, which means you could be executing work with maybe finding an anomaly, you can actually chat real-time with a subject matter expert,” he says. “This is about driving a collaborative environment, so you make sure that you extract the organization digitally, to be able to share vital information.”

Road ahead

According to Whittle, the pandemic has highlighted the lack of agility of the frontline. “Things such as supply chain disruptions because you're waiting for parts to come from far away when you don't have local support,” he says. “Or workforce capacity resulting in the inability to run machines as efficiently.”

Whittle predicts an official end of the paper in action to realize that accelerating digital is one very important way to drive agility. “The quicker you can get every worker visibly competent, irrespective of their tenure, or that skill, you just raise the competency of the business,” he says. “There's sort of a tidal wave of people required to operate digitally, with more agility through digital.”

He also anticipates an acceleration in retirement, especially in manufacturing. And, one of the ways to attract a new generation of people is by giving them a digital platform, such as the connected worker platform. “The next generation needs to understand that the perception of manufacturing being dirty noisy and repetitive is actually far from the truth,” he says. “It is increasingly a digital, technology-enabled environment which can be an attractive workplace.”