The integration of AI outside of the office and in the real-world is reshaping how enterprises operate and compete. Just as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has revolutionized back office workflows, Field Process Automation (FPA) is now bringing similar advancements to field operations, automating and optimizing processes in real-time where data is collected and actions are executed.
What is Field Process Automation?
Field Process Automation (FPA) is the innovative application of automation beyond office environments and into remote areas, transforming industries such as agriculture, energy, construction, and logistics. By harnessing the power of autonomous vehicles, drones, and smart sensors, FPA brings greater efficiency, accuracy, and safety to tasks traditionally performed manually in the field. It allows workers to focus on higher-value tasks while automation handles repetitive processes, leading to increased productivity, reduced operational costs, and safer working environments. With real-time data collection, analysis, and faster decision-making, FPA paves the way for a new era of collaboration between humans and machines, driving progress and shaping a future where technology transforms industries.
Harnessing the transformative power of AI, field teams can now predict equipment failures before they happen, optimize routes on the fly, and receive instantaneous reports from field data.
- Predictive Maintenance: Analyze sensor data, anticipates equipment issues, and enables proactive maintenance, minimizing downtime.
- Route Optimization: Map out the most efficient routes for field workers, slashing travel time and boosting productivity.
- Real-Time Data Insights: Data is no longer processed and analyzed in the office. Devices collect, process and make decisions on field data in real-time, providing immediate insights and faster issue resolution.
- Automated Scheduling: Assign tasks based on priority, skillset, and availability, streamlining field operations and maximizing efficiency.
- Enhanced Data Capture and Analysis: Minimize subjective decision-making and human error based on manual data entry. AI automates data capture and analysis from diverse sources, ensuring compliance and fueling informed decisions.
In the digital age, where efficiency and agility are paramount, FPA stands out as a trend to watch. By moving decision-making to the edge, closer to where data is collected and actions take place, modern enterprises can experience a multitude of benefits:
- Reduced Latency: Enabling Immediate Action and Improved Field Operations: Edge AI enables instantaneous decision-making, crucial for time-sensitive field operations.
- Increased Efficiency: Streamlining Processes and Maximizing Field Worker Productivity: FPA streamlines processes, reduces manual work, and minimizes errors, leading to improved operational efficiency and faster task completion. By automating repetitive tasks, workers can focus on higher-value activities, boosting overall productivity.
- Cost Optimization: FPA helps businesses reduce operational costs by optimizing resource allocation and minimizing wastage. By utilizing real-time data from autonomous vehicles, drones, and smart sensors, companies gain insights that enable better decision-making and resource management, resulting in cost savings.
- Improved Safety: With the integration of FPA, worker safety is prioritized. Automating dangerous or physically demanding tasks reduces the risk of accidents and injuries. The use of autonomous vehicles and drones allows for remote monitoring and inspection, keeping workers out of harm's way.
- Accurate Data Collection: FPA allows for precise data collection in real-time. This data-driven approach enables better analysis, forecasting, and decision-making, leading to improved operational strategies and more informed business decisions.
- Competitive Advantage: Embracing FPA gives businesses a competitive edge. By harnessing the power of automation and technology, companies gain agility, innovation, and the ability to adapt to changing market dynamics quickly. This positions them as industry leaders, attracting new customers and driving growth.
Embracing field process automation is a journey, not a one-off implementation. Enterprises should approach this transformation strategically. A crawl, walk, run approach is recommended, especially for programs that have not yet undergone digital transformation.
"Digital transformation, whether through accelerated implementation of new initiatives or the innovative use of existing technology, has enabled service organizations to provide business continuity to customers while containing operating costs and mitigating risks associated with deploying employees to the field." -Field Service Digital
Implementing a Pilot Program: Testing and Refining Your AI-Powered Field Automation Initiatives
To embark on this journey, consider the following steps:
- Identify opportunities for automation: Evaluate your current field processes to identify areas where automation could improve efficiency and reduce costs.
- Build vs. Buy technology: Selecting the Right Technology: Finding the Perfect Fit for Your Unique Needs. There are a variety of field automation tools and solutions available. Choose a solution that is compatible with your existing systems and meets your specific needs.
- Implement a focused pilot program: Start by implementing a pilot program in a limited area to test the technology and identify any potential challenges. This allows for testing, learning, and refining the approach before a full-scale rollout.
- Prioritize User Training and Support: Ensuring employees are well-trained and supported is crucial for the successful adoption of AI technologies.
- Continuously Monitor and Adapt: Regularly assess the performance and impact of AI-driven systems. Be prepared to adapt and evolve your strategy based on feedback and results.
Field Process Automation: Case Study in Energy Sector
Federal and state regulations require electric utilities to manage vegetation around their power transmission facilities to ensure reliable electricity delivery and safety. This involves creating and implementing long-range vegetation management plans for utility rights of way. These plans typically cover high-voltage transmission lines and, in some cases, lower voltage lines that are critical to the power grid.
Utilities are held accountable by regulatory bodies and may face significant fines for failing to maintain vegetation growth in and near rights of ways. They monitor and report on various aspects such as staffing levels, acres treated, danger tree removal, herbicide use, and complaint handling.
Today most major utility companies rely on arborists walking right-of-ways driven by information provided on a paper map. If a hazard is identified, the arborist will write on a map the location and information regarding the tree (diameter, species, hazard identification and risk category). That information for each hazard is manually input into the enterprise database at the end of the day.
Step 1: Standardize and digitize data collection (bring digital transformation to the field)
Structure un-structured data to replace manual processes and touch points. In the case above, we created a simple mobile application to pull in corridor maps, take images of hazards, input hazard specific information like GIS coordinates, species, customer information etc.
Step 2: Share real-time insights
Apply business rules to enhance data quality and transparency between field & HQ for actionable decision making. After the information above has been collected, a report is automatically generated and sent back to the customer’s system of record and updated in that system where business rules, defined by the customer, will define the process it takes next based on the state, status of the asset.
Step 3: Enable intelligent automation
Deploy deep tech to field devices to create Field Process Automation (FPA). For this program, we incorporated AI objective detection models to identify the hazard, LiDAR to automatically measure the hazard. The next step is to incorporate AI classification, so nearly every data point that was previously collected manually or input manually can be automatically collected by the device.
The result is a flexible process to:
- Standardize data capture across every field worker and asset
- Improve data quality with AI and other deep tech functions
- Speed time to decision by making specific information immediately accessible
- Lower operational costs of manual data collection & data storage costs by reducing raw data uploaded or move to directly to cold storage
Field Process Automation: A new era of collaboration between humans and machines
Field process automation is more than just a technological upgrade; it's a strategic enabler for enterprises. By automating tasks and leveraging machines in the field like autonomous vehicles, drones, and smart sensors, organizations can enhance decision-making, reduce operational costs, and focus resources on innovation and growth. And as AI and other forms of deep tech advance, their role in transforming field services will become increasingly critical in achieving operational excellence and competitive differentiation.