While smartphones and tablets were initially used for “office” jobs, this practice has evolved, and more and more roles are being equipped with tools to enable working on the move in industrial settings. This is not a new trend. It first started several years ago: Cofely’s maintenance operators were equipped with tablets and GRTgaz’s employees given them for uploading information, for example. And the transport sector hasn’t been left behind: SNCF, the French national railway operator, has launched a project for rolling-stock maintenance engineers, and Bombardier employees being provided with technical information on tablets, are two examples. But are these isolated examples, or a true revolution in the making?
Working outside, and invariable temperature or greasy environments: what are the possible uses in the industrial sphere?
There are many opportunities for digital tools to be useful to employees on the ground. The digitalization of technical documentation for guidance is one such example. Maintenance professions are particularly well-known for requiring large numbers of control documents and operating manuals, and to make these available on a single electronic device simplifies things.
IT tools that can be used online also allow the upload of information in real-time, and therefore better management and sharing of data. This point is all the more relevant for roles that cover a wide geographic area.
Moreover, by digitalizing professional tools, feedback is improved as a result of more “field” data. This enriches the bases for analysis and improves understanding and the process of improvement.
This is before mentioning the fact that digital tools offer the opportunity to use photos, videos, read tags or QR codes, thus increasing the wealth of information gathered. Among the examples of the uses that “multi-media” opens up are tutorials and remote help for work colleagues. The use of this functionality offered by mass-market tablets and smartphones is entirely feasible in industrial contexts, using a “toughened” mobile device, or a mass-market model with added accessories to protect it. On the other hand, serious consideration needs to be given to the level of connectivity necessary in order to deal in real-time information, especially for jobs where work is done out-of-hours (track repairs in the rail sector, for example).
Whether it’s general uses or those specific to one type of work, the potential applications are vast, but beyond this, it’s also the accrued benefits that could speed up the move to digital.
Is it about gadgets or real benefits?
Digitalization is not just a question of introducing simple gadgets into industrial jobs, nor is it an inevitable consequence of the use of smartphones and tablets in the public sphere. These initiatives are the consequence of a genuine strategic drive by companies to respond to their business challenges or even corporate fundamentals: increasing productivity, improving safety and quality, responding to compliance needs, etc.
Consider, for example, making documentation electronic, which is often one of the first steps in the move towards digital. This allows a company to optimize both production performance and the dissemination of documentation (with more rapid updating cycles), all while standardizing working practices and improving consistency and security. By virtue of the fact that documents have been made available on a mobile device, they are more accessible to employees. Aside from it being easier to have less paperwork to carry around, having access to such an application allows the information to be structured in a more user-friendly way.
Beyond these benefits, the modernization of the tool is also a reason to value employees, something all the more evident when they are involved in the project work.
A success factor: get the people on the ground to design and own the transformation
Employees in workshops, factories and on the ground must be stakeholders in the project. First, it is essential to understand how devices will be used by future users: how did they do the job before digitalization? What value will it add for them? How will they be affected by the change? In addition to end-users, it is essential to design things with the involvement of everyone in the value chain. Using the digitalization of documents as an example again, as far as their usage goes, it is the whole production chain and entire distribution list of a document that is impacted.
For transformation to succeed, you must be able to build a new digital working environment together with the employees. By including all the relevant parties from the stage where the level of opportunity is assessed, an initiative will take advantage of users’ experience respond to a genuine need, and take into account the requirements of the business. This approach will ensure a project has legitimacy, and build a strong foundation to support the change.
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