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Avishek Chatterjee explores the benefit and progression of connected enterprises and connected workers in Australia and New Zealand

What do the terms connected worker and connected enterprises mean?

For a long time, an organisation’s IT function focused on enterprise applications within the corporate world. But businesses are now aware that frontline workers lack the relevant digital tools and adequate connectivity with their digital and physical surroundings. 

A connected worker has the tools and ability to increase the safety and productivity of frontline workers. Along with the ability to link day-to-day tasks to larger business objectives and goals, helping increase productivity, such tools also help create awareness for plant-workers of their surroundings. Even seemingly insignificant changes can cause severe injuries or fatalities, highlighting the need for workers to be aware of and be connected to their surroundings. 

In the past 10-15 years, different products, tools, and IT systems generated an enormous amount of data. But most of these are not connected in a way that provides seamless access between different systems or an integrated overview of the digital landscape of an organisation. A connected enterprise system can offer a comprehensive picture of the end-to-end process and seamlessly integrates and connects with all systems. 



What are the main benefits of connected workers and connected enterprises?

Connecting as many enterprise systems as possible gives better control over day-to-day operations to create optimal performance. Tweaking these operations in small ways, such as a specific production area, can have significant impacts. 

Another critical area is maintenance — one of the most significant areas of concern within the E&R industry. If the entire system can be connected, offering a real-time overview will give an organisation a better understanding of the required maintenance levels. By not over -or under-maintaining systems, an organisation can reduce waiting times for servicing and delivering parts, thereby increasing overall productivity and the bottom line.

It also enables a more robust health and safety approach with a better ability to implement changes and systems that will offer tangible improvements. It can improve the working environment and reduce an organisation’s risk of accidents and subsequent liabilities.


What is the 2030 vision for a day-in-the-life of a connected frontline worker might look like?

On arrival at the plant, previously, workers would collect paperwork for their assigned tasks, including task number, location, and job instructions. A worker would then head to the site and often spend time waiting to start the required task or find that new parts need ordering. They would communicate throughout the day via walkie-talkie and often had to talk to several individuals to find the location for the next task. 

We envision that by 2030, the entire process will be digital and replaced by a mobile device. After arriving at a plant, the employee would get a mobile device that summarises all required information for the day. The device will identify why a job might not be ready to start, such as prerequisites not completed or required parts not assembled at a job site. The employee can place an order for the materials or components needed from the device and start work on ready tasks, reducing waiting times and speeding up the overall repair and maintenance process.

Instructions for the required operations will be available via augmented reality videos, and the employee will be able to view the location for the next task via Google Street View on the tablet and follow live directions. 


What are some of the technologies that support this approach? 

There has been a significant change in the availability and capability of technologies in the past three years. The increasing adoption of mobile devices has been one of the most significant changes. 

The use of augmented and virtual reality has improved the ability to map out plants, offering greater insight accurately. Most of these technologies had not been significantly developed three to four years ago and still have a long way to go in terms of implementation and unlocking the value of their true potential. 

There is still significant investment into developing technologies that will be more suitable and effective in the longer term. 



What are the main challenges for the C-suite when implementing these changes and technologies?

One of the main challenges is identifying the critical business areas that will benefit from these technologies. Sourcing new technologies and the process of implementing these, including training employees to use them, can be costly. Therefore, a robust understanding of the challenges and the benefits to the business and its bottom line are needed. 

Other vital questions and challenges will be around retaining and capturing the knowledge of ageing employees within the business, how new software would get integrated with existing systems in the cloud and understanding the associated security risks. 

However, over the past couple of years, we have seen that E&R organisations do not have a choice and must take steps to transform or risk getting left behind quickly digitally.