The field worker is critical to successful field operations. This may seem obvious, but in an industry that is focused on moving toward automation and remote operations, this essential worker is not always featured prominently in future scenarios.
Today’s field work environment is still very manual, as clipboard rounds, manual valves, and unconnected systems punctuate the landscape. It could be dozens of years before all systems are fully digital and can be automated or remotely managed. Until then, the online tools we’re using in private life must also be leveraged in the field environment.
The Connected Field Worker
The effectiveness of any field worker is primarily impacted by two things:
- The need for strong collaboration with other people to leverage the strength of the greater community whether they are on site or remote
- The ability to access the right information quickly through online applications for workflow and asset management
In our personal lives, social media apps have made video calls to family members or friends common place. This same technology can use secure industrial video apps to bring experts and mentors into a plant or field site virtually. Doing this can eliminate hazardous travel requirements, or loss of productive time in the cab of a truck. The field worker’s video endpoint can be built into a hardhat, be a separate purpose-built appliance, or be a simple phone with a camera to support troubleshooting and discussions.
The second aspect of private life we can take to the industrial site is the ease and effectiveness of asynchronous messaging. Sharing photos, sound recordings, and quick questions left for a delayed reply, can multiply productivity throughout the day. This messaging capability, and the video calling mentioned earlier, can be mixed with conferencing, voice activated calls, voice to text and then be connected with still-pervasive push to talk systems in large facilities.
As the workforce becomes filled with younger workers and remote operation centers become common place, these tools will be essential to maximize personnel productivity in the field.
Secure Mobile Online Work
In the same way that banking and shopping are now possible from a tablet, managing field assets and completing workflows can be done online as well. Data that is recorded on clipboards or physical bulletin board systems can be moved online and securely accessed from anywhere on site or off site. This shift from physical records to electronic ones will make them easier and faster to update from anywhere. The result is more accurate and timely reporting, and improved effectiveness of everyone’s work.
Moving from binders, clipboards, and bulletin boards to tablets and software is a major work effort, but there are several experienced industry partners that can help build the business case and manage the transition with you.
Online Everywhere: An overview
The underlying technology that builds a foundation for the online field worker is connectivity. Since workers are mobile, this connectivity needs to be wireless. Let’s take a quick tour through the technologies required for connectivity, electronic workflows, and collaboration tools.
There are many wireless technologies present at industrial field sites today, but the two that are most important for connecting field workers are Wi-Fi and LTE/5G. It’s unlikely that one of these will displace the other since Wi-Fi is much more cost effective for localized, high bandwidth use cases and LTE/5G is much more effective at covering large open areas. Tablets and mobile video endpoints can connect to either technology.
Since both technologies act as an extension of the enterprise network, their characteristics should be consistent with the enterprise as well. Access policies, prioritization policy, and security frameworks need to map seamlessly across these wireless environments as well as existing IT and OT environments.
A good place to start the transition to online workflows is the existing ERP, asset management, project management, and control systems. Most of these already have workflow modules that can extend to field workers. Online training and online documentation tools typically require new software but there are multiple Cisco partners that make transitions more effective.
Cisco has the industry leading portfolio of collaboration tools in the Webex suite of applications and endpoints. Existing phone systems and push to talk systems can be integrated into these video and messaging platforms. For specialized industrial collaboration endpoints like hard hat systems and voice activated remote expert systems, there are multiple partners Cisco has worked with to make those elements an effective part of the system.
Connected for Safety
Another benefit to a strongly connected workforce is virtual proximity. A very interactive and digital environment increases awareness of field worker location and activity. These safety measures make it immediately obvious when something isn’t right. Having digital reporting tools instantly accessible encourages much more timely reporting of minor irregularities with photos and quick descriptions. A culture of care and safety for the employee at industrial sites becomes more accessible and actionable.
“No matter what is happening in the world, we believe it is vitally important to help support the continued operation of technical infrastructure for utilities, oil and gas, mining, and manufacturing organizations. Cisco helps provide solutions to keep critical industries up and running.”
Wes Sylvester – Vice President, Industry Solutions Group – Growth Marketing Segments & Industries at Cisco
Connecting field workers will make them more effective in two ways:
- Strong and persistent communication with experts and mentors makes it easy to leverage a large knowledge base from anywhere
- Accessible online workflow and reporting tools make workflows more efficient and provide more complete and timely reporting data
Find out more about how Cisco helps Oil & Gas operators with enabling their workforce at www.cisco.com/go/oilandgas