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Beverley Wise, director UK & Ireland at TomTom Telematics, considers how connected technologies can increase productivity during an age of languid economic growth.

UK worker productivity fell again in the final quarter of last year – and the Office for National Statistics has pointed out that sustained stagnation has seen it lower over the past decade than at any other time during the 20th century.

productivity puzzle

This ‘productivity puzzle’ isn’t all doom and gloom of course. Expert observers suggest that at a time of ongoing economic uncertainty, many firms have opted to employ labour, rather than commit to significant investments. Consequently, the employment rate – in stark contrast to GDP growth – is now at its highest level since records began.

But while recruiters can be heard exclaiming “crisis, what crisis?” businesses are left having to find a way to boost output and bolster their competitiveness.

Taking the dilemma down to brass tacks, the options are simple – either we work more, or we work more efficiently. And at a time when the business marketplace is awash with innovative technologies, the more apposite solution would certainly seem to point to adopting systems that tighten processes and facilitate the latter option – more efficient working.

And at a time when the business marketplace is awash with innovative technologies, the more apposite solution would certainly seem to point to adopting systems that tighten processes and facilitate the latter option – more efficient working.

The connected workflow revolution

As things stand, only 41 per cent of businesses regard themselves as early adopters of technology innovations, according to TomTom Telematics research. A reticence to dip into the company coffers to invest in emerging solutions was found to be all the more prevalent among SMEs, with these businesses 10 per cent less likely to be early adopters than larger organisations.

Complacency poses a significant danger to business and the onus is consequently on the 59 per cent to capitalise on the considerable opportunities, not to mention the returns on investment, technologies can deliver.

According to the latest study from TomTom Telematics, a majority of decision makers for SMEs that operate vehicles said they still use manual processes – fully in or in part – to undertake everyday tasks, such as expense management (69 per cent), customer updates (69 per cent) and quoting and invoicing (64 per cent).

Furthermore, 78 per cent believed they could get more jobs done if they digitised more of their workflow.

Enter stage left, the development of connected tech. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and developments in open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) in recent times is particularly noteworthy, having triggered new ways of working that can dramatically streamline business operations. For companies that rely on mobile workers, whether field service engineers, mobile sales reps or delivery personal, these developments are helping bring the field and office metaphorically closer together than ever before.

Many of these solutions are not only affordable, but they are also readily available, off-the-shelf, for swift deployment by both SMEs and large corporate organisations alike.

Action stations: Dynamic operations

What is the advent of connectivity delivering in practical terms?

Improved business planning, scheduling, responsiveness and customer service can all be seen being enjoyed by the trailblazers of this landmark ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – or ‘Service 4.0’ as some have dubbed the disruptive tech transformation, as it’s applied to the value chain.

Putting the open telematics platform under the microscope we see a wealth of data intelligence on the activities of workers out on the road being processed digitally and being accessed in field or back office using a single device or interface.

Respondents to the TomTom Telematics study expressed frustration regarding both internal communication and team management. Fifty-seven per cent said an inability of their field teams to follow the assigned schedule has a negative impact on their business and 55 per cent admitted to having an issue regarding miscommunication with their field teams.

Field workers, however, no longer have to be dispatched to jobs using traditional mobile communications or, for that matter, directly from the office. Jobs or orders can instead be sent with automatic routing information, directly to their in-cab terminals. When schedules change, workers can be automatically notified via their terminals, with navigation instructions revised accordingly.

Moreover, with telematics and routing and scheduling solutions, managers can improve the visibility of their daily workflow at the touch of a button. Jobs can be dynamically scheduled, and flexibly adapted, to take account of real time business considerations.

Automated two-way communication between the customer and back office, meanwhile, means customers can be kept up to date with automatic email or text notifications making them aware of ETAs and any changes to schedules as they happen, and information from the customer can also be relayed into ERP, CRM or accounting software suites.

Productivity gains in the spotlight

The productivity benefits are clear.

Kitchen components provider TKC, for example, has enjoyed an upturn in productivity with an integrated cloud-based solution that combines TomTom Telematics’ WEBFLEET fleet management system and delivery management and routing optimisation software from Maxoptra.

The company’s drivers are handling around 27 per cent more jobs each day by being able to allocate drivers to the nearest job, react to order changes and customer requests as they happen and, where possible, avoid traffic congestion.

The system automatically generates ETAs for each delivery, emailing and texting customers to let them know when their components will be arriving.  Updated as the day’s schedule unfolds, this helps to reduce the number of failed deliveries and has significantly improved customer service levels.

Tablet-style driver terminals are being used by TKC drivers to capture photos and ‘sign on glass’ customer signatures to provide electronic proof of delivery via the Maxoptra Driver App.

What’s more, TKC can now automatically download driving time data remotely using a tachograph manager tool, saving on paperwork, time and effort.

Elsewhere, concrete company Wright Mix has also seen its productivity boosted by more than 25 per cent after switching to a paperless system for ordering and job scheduling, underpinned by telematics and routing and scheduling software. This digital system replaced Wright Mix’s previous manual booking and scheduling system, which relied on paper-based records and communication via phone.

For drinking water appliance specialist Zip Water UK, a ‘WEBFLEET Logbook’ app on its drivers’ smartphones is helping to keep accurate journey logs, saving them time in having to complete manual mileage sheets at the end of each day. The drivers simply validate their journey information and select whether the trips they have made are for business or private purposes.

A glance to the horizon

The benchmarks for business efficiency and the customer experience are sure to be gradually rebooted as Service 4.0 continues to take hold.

Connected business and IoT applications have expanded rapidly in recent years and they are already helping a broad spectrum of businesses boost operations, cut costs and improve their service delivery.

The risk, and fear, of being left behind may prove the catalyst business needs to plug into this transformational ecosystem sooner rather than later – and by harnessing its power, help them to provide the solution, from the bottom up, to the productivity puzzle that has long confounded the economic gurus.

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