The Mobile Mindset [PM Network]
(PM Network Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) From desktops to pockets, computer power is on the move - giving project managers more ways to sort avalanches of data efficiently and sustainably.
As anyone who's ever had to send back the wrong order at a restaurant can attest, poor communication drives all sorts of inefficiencies. The disconnect can be especially costly in the workplace. For example, if a software project team misinterprets a client's request, then spends dozens of hours building a program that doesn't meet its intended purpose, that time and money is wasted.
Mobile technology can dramatically reduce communication gaps, helping organizations run projects more sustainably and efficiently, and transforming the way they do business. These new technologies have the potential to help project managers collect data, lead teams and operate equipment at maximum efficiency, based on insights gleaned almost instantly from sources in the field.
The effects are being felt across industries and regions, from manufacturing in the United States to farming in Africa.
Still, the mobile tech currently in use only scratches the surface of what's possible, says Jose Donizeti Borges, an IT director in research and development at asset-management firm Sigga, Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He expects the next few years to yield "revolutionary products that will lead us to the next level of possibilities." As batteries become more efficient, devices consume less energy and processors improve, mobile devices will more powerful. As that happens, he expects mobile devices to boast features such as enhanced voice recognition, faster video processing, better hologram interaction and new ways to interact with ATMs and payment machines.
Here are several ways that mobile technology can and will enhance project teams' work by enabling decision-makers to act before resources are squandered.
Running a Tight Ship
Facility management is the low-hanging fruit of the mobile world, offering ample opportunities for savings. Sensors can track the performance of a building's infrastructure, saving on electricity costs or helping engineers identify faulty equipment that's operating inefficiently. Those tweaks or repairs can conserve energy- and money.
By shifting this analysis closer to real-time, customers of software firm SAP AG have consistently been able to cut energy costs by up to 8 percent per year every year since 2008, according to Jeremiah Stone, the company's Palo Alto, California, USA- based vice president of energy and sustainable operations solutions.
"The biggest thing we see with our customers over and over again is that energy is treated in a rearward-looking fashion based on utilities bilk, instead of real-time consumption or usage data," Mr. Stone says. "That data visibility is really the first step towards constructive improvement."
Sensor networks can also be applied to power grids (called smart grids) or energy-collection operations, powered from renewable sources such as wind and tidal. Instead of requiring regular site visits by engineers, companies monitor equipment performance remotely via automatic wireless transmissions and system updates. Such a setup saves electricity, because changes can be made instantly, and money, because engineers don't have to make field visits that typically drive up worker hours and fuel costs.
"The end goal is to use as few resources as possible to make those measurements and then to understand exactly what the ramifications are regarding the data you're actually receiving," says Craig Marker, PMP, online delivery manager for Redmond, Washington, USA-based Microsoft, a PMI Global Executive Council member. "Based on the data, you're able to make significant, actionable recommendations on how to make your existing infrastructure more efficient, or where there might be improvements or repairs required by equipment."
Keeping Workers Safe
Workplace accidents can be devastating- and are usually preventable. Mr. Stone says that after an incident, someone inevitably surfaces who previously noticed dangerous conditions or malfunctioning equipment that led to the accident. So SAP built a mobile app to enable workers to report safety or quality concerns as soon as they spot them. "People are the best sensor network you can imagine, if you give them the ability to respond and to channel their feedback appropriately," he says.
The application uses GPS location services to pinpoint a worker's location, and allows the person to photograph the trouble spot and add notes. The report is then sent to the client company's safety and quality team.
Mr. Stone envisions expanding the technology beyond organizational boundaries to encompass community- safety concerns. Residents could use mobile apps to report a downed power line to authorities, for example. Some communities are already experimenting with this idea. An alderman in Chicago, Illinois, USA launched an app to collect constituent concerns ranging from noise violations to burnt-out traffic lights.
Wiring the Developing World
More than 6 billion mobile-phone subscriptions are in use worldwide, of which about 5 billion are in developing countries, according to the World Bank. In many of these countries, wireless networks aren't replacing outmoded wired infrastructures - they're the first communications infrastructure of any kind.
While people in these areas may still be adjusting to the power of a phone call, they're also primed to take full advantage of advanced wireless technology. Mr. Marker says the possibilities for sustainability mobile tools in emerging markets are endless, from soil sensors that help farmers know when to irrigate fields to medical tools that make remote diagnoses easier. These countries will, in some cases, be more likely than their developed-world counterparts to adopt cutting-edge technology, because authorities don't have to weigh start-up costs against the diminishing returns of an existing network, he adds.
Tracking Smarter Data
Mobile tech gives decision-makers access to information when they need it, and the increase in data quality and overall efficiency has been dramatic, says Mr. Borges. When better data-gathering and dataprocessing capabilities are combined with mobile technology to transmit critical information swiftly from sensor to database, all of the elements are in place for project managers to tweak their processes on the fly.
"When you start to bring these technologies together, you really move into a place where there's much more adaptive and efficient management of production and resources, and we cut out a lot of the slack," says Mr. Stone. "This could be another wave of industrial revolution."
As organizations learn to rely on data insights more fully, more projects will emerge to drive the efficiency of data collection, transfer and analysis, Mr. Stone says.
"You can even externalize the data flow beyond the four walls of your company and start to share data between suppliers and partners," he says. "We're very, very optimistic about the potential to make productivity gains across entire value networks, not just within an individual company. Once you have this in place in a systematized fashion, then your gains become permanent.
"The mobile tech currently in use only scratches the surface of what's possible. Revolutionary products will lead us to the next level of possibilities."
-Jose Donizeti Borges, Sigga, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
'The end goal ss to use as few resources as possible to make [performance] measurements and thei to understand exactly what the ramifications are regarding the data you're actually receiving."
-Craig Marker, PMP, Microsoft. Redmond, Washington, USA
(c) 2013 Project Management Institute
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