From Field Goals to Field Service Calls, Workflow Is Changing the Game

by Larry Barrett | 7/12/13
Turning complex problems into simple solutions is the essence of workflow and business process optimization. That can apply to overseeing the distribution of natural gas and water to a city, or it can be the difference between winning or losing the Super Bowl.

In both scenarios, the people responsible for designing and executing the plan – CEOs and service technicians or head coaches and linebackers – spend an inordinate amount of time plotting and planning and simulating every possible situation that could impact, for example, the allocation of vital utilities to residents or the wins and losses accumulated throughout a football season.

Data is central to both endeavors, but it’s not a panacea. Data is the starting point – not the cure-all – and there’s too much of it these days to bite off in bits and pieces here and there in the hope that everyone in the organization can digest the big picture.

Whether it’s preparing for an impending, power-disrupting hurricane or the Pittsburgh Steelers, data must be collected, analyzed, shared and – finally – transformed into clear directives for all the various subsets of individuals on the team to execute.

However, the solution for the football team or the local utility provider – and the opportunity for the vendor or service provider – is as elusive as it is obvious.

These people are the best in the world at doing what they do, whether it’s simultaneously monitoring and distributing billions of gallons of water or cubic meters of natural gas or slinging a slippery piece of leather to a very specific location 40 yards upfield while several extraordinarily large and surprisingly fleet young men are racing after you with malice in their hearts.

They’re not data management and process optimization experts. Nor should they be. They’ve got bigger issues. This unassailable fact represents the sweet spot for companies willing and able to become world-class providers of business process optimization and workflow solutions.

Simplifying to create new opportunities, efficiencies

ServiceNow, a San Diego-based enterprise IT company, is one such company that’s filling this void. It’s now providing its software-as-a-service offering to Colorado Spring Utilities, a community-owned utility that provides electric, natural gas, water and wastewater services to the Pikes Peak region of Colorado.

Until the utility company signed on with ServiceNow, its staff of managers, engineers, service techs and analysts were using about a dozen different applications and databases to service their customers. We’re talking about everything from legacy software apps and homegrown apps to Excel spreadsheets and Lotus Notes databases.

In other words, a hodgepodge of disparate tools and data sources that were jerry-rigged together in a fashion that made it extremely challenging, inefficient and expensive to manage from a 30,000-foot perspective. Or even a 30-foot perspective. For a utility company with extensive compliance and regulatory obligations, this was especially bad news.

“(ServiceNow’s service) has allowed our organization to standardize and automate IT processes,” said Brian Bleike, Colorado Springs Utilities’ program manager of IT service management, in announcing the ServiceNow deal. “As a result, we’ve been able to meet a broad array of audit and regulatory compliance requirements.

“In addition, we have been able to increase our IT service capabilities through self-service and improve our process efficiency using automated workflows.”

Colorado Springs Utilities implemented the ServiceNow IT Service Automation Application Suite to manage incidents, changes, problems, configuration items, releases, service levels, service catalogues and assets. Using this integrated, cloud-based platform, several applications were configured to automate various business processes across the enterprise, giving the IT team the time and resources it needed to create new internal applications – including a real-time scorecard for reporting service management metrics and another that provides cost visibility and reporting to internal stakeholders.

“Now that we have standardization and automation in our processes, many tasks and requests are automatically routed and completed,” Bleike said. “This helps us achieve higher customer satisfaction levels and greater IT efficiency overall, with the additional benefit of facilitating compliance.”

Mobilizing for battle long before taking the field

Facilitating wins on the gridiron is what matters most to the University of Washington Huskies, and that’s why the coaching staff decided to upgrade and integrate its digital coaching and content management systems with new technology from Orlando, Fla.-based XOS Digital.

More than 400 professional and collegiate sports teams and organizations are currently using its XOS Thunder HD Coaching Platform and digital asset management systems to streamline and mobilize coaching workflows. The cloud-based service integrates data and video on a single platform to analyze, manage and distribute game-preparation content. It also includes telestration and voice-over options so coaches can provide interactive play diagrams, video highlights and other game-preparation materials directly to players’ iPads.

“So much happens behind the scenes during game preparation and team meetings,” said Nick Irving, the team’s associate director of video operations, in a statement. “It’s increasingly important to have the absolute best possible resources and utilize the latest technology available to maximize our training and preparation and ensure we maintain a competitive advantage.”

By automating the workflow between video editing systems, statistical and positional information, and various coaching tools, the coaching staff can easily acquire, manage, distribute, edit and display content throughout each area of its practice facility to a specific player or group of players in real time via their iPads.

Whether these fundamental workflow improvements result in more wins for the Huskies this season or better utility service to the folks in the Pikes Peak region will be determined by a variety of complex and unforeseen factors. But a very simple foundation for success has already been laid.