Blog | Future of field operations industry lies on ‘on-demand economy’

Tan Aik Jin

The field operations industry is facing rapid change and innovation. As e-commerce continues to expand, the industry must continue to invest in modernizing its offerings.

Globally, e-commerce retail sales are expected to reach $4.48 trillion by 2021, while global business-to-business e-commerce sales are estimated at $10.6 trillion in 2018, according to Zebra’s “Future of Field Operations Vision Study”.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the e-commerce market clocked in a total of $840 million in annual sales revenue in 2018, posing 22 percent year-on-year growth according to We are Social’s Global Digital Report 2019.

With rising demand for e-commerce and the country’s strong economic growth, top conglomerates have ventured into the logistics sector to help address the growing requirement for last-mile delivery services, warehouse operations and distribution according to the study conducted by Santos Knight Frank.

According to the Business Insider, the increasing role of technology in the world today has generated the “on-demand economy” defined as “the economic activity created by technology companies that fulfill consumer demand via the immediate provisioning of goods and services.”

The “on-demand economy” has presented businesses with unique challenges. Yet when left unattended, it could result in confusion, overworked employees and unsatisfied customers.

To solve the ever-growing challenges faced by the industry, organizations are looking to invest in disruptive technologies and enterprise mobile devices.

The rise of e-commerce and on-demand economy

According to the We are Social study, up to 70 percent of Filipinos made online purchases in 2018. As a result, the majority of large-scale brick-and-mortar companies in the Philippines are increasing their online presence through partnerships with e-commerce platforms to cater to the evolving preferences of Filipino customers.

In fact, according to Zebra’s “Future of Field Operations Vision Study”, 66 percent of the surveyed organizations said that e-commerce is driving the need for faster field operations because e-commerce has gotten consumers to become accustomed to getting what they want when they want it.

What was once seen as an industry full of manual laborers with clipboards is fast becoming one based around technology.

Based on Zebra’s “Future of Field Operations Vision Study” that was conducted over 2,000 mobility decision makers globally, its findings revealed that mobile technology is replacing paper in the field in Asia Pacific, with 58 percent of the surveyed organizations set to expand mobile technology to enterprise-wide usage – a number that is set to rise to 97 percent by 2023.

Further, while 74 percent of organizations rely on paper-based systems for over one-fifth of their field operations today, almost 35 percent of organizations are expected to become less reliant on paperwork by 2023.

From 2018 to 2023, the use of handheld mobile computers with built-in barcode scanners is also forecasted to grow by 41 percent, whereas mobile printers and rugged tablets are set to grow by 60 percent and 57 percent respectively.

That said, field operations transcend beyond the purpose of supporting e-commerce. In the increasingly connected world that we are in today, organizations have endless possibilities for transforming field operations with new mobility and edge tech driven workflows.

For instance, field workers can leverage on their ruggedized tablets or mobile computers to read detailed equipment schematics, delivery orders or task checklists to keep workflows moving in a wide range of environmental work conditions. Receipts can also be printed out via mobile printers for on-site services rendered, as a form of payment record for consumers.

And these are just some of the many examples of how having the right mobile solutions can help enhance efficiency for the organizations’ front-line workers who have roles out in the field. Achieving better field operations performance is just a matter of selecting the best combinations of mobile technology and software applications.

Disruptive technologies

Meanwhile, organizations can also allocate work to their nearest available field worker to shorten the wait time of consumers, and the availability of mobile devices enables customers to track the real-time location of their goods deliveries or services, thereby contributing to an overall better consumer experience. In fact, 77 percent of the Asia Pacific companies surveyed unanimously agreed that mobile devices can increase employee productivity and efficiency.

Alongside mobile enterprise technology, other more disruptive technologies are expected to impact the field operations industry.

The biggest industry disruptors are set to be droids and drones, with senior decision-makers listing them as the biggest game changers. There are examples of this technology in action already at play: companies have begun testing drone delivery while many are looking into driverless delivery vehicles, augmented reality and robotics.

Cutting-edge concepts such as droids and drones essentially bypass traditional means of delivery on the ground, allowing for greater flexibility in the choice of route, facilitating faster delivery for time-sensitive orders and even meeting the customers’ growing need for immediacy. Customers who may have suffered due to their rural or inaccessible location will be more connected.

Clearly, the field operations industry is undergoing massive changes. As the on-demand economy continues to expand beyond imagination, it is only through harnessing innovative technologies that organizations can lessen the burden on field operations workers while ensuring maximum profit, and most importantly, satisfying their customers. 

The author is the Asia Pacific vertical solutions lead got manufacturing, and transportation, and logistics at Zebra Technologies

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