The Worker of the Future: Working with One Foot in the Virtual World
The Australian workplace is in a state of evolution—from a physical space that workers occupy, to a way of working and interacting in which we are constantly connected. This is mainly because technology is becoming affordable and cost effective, and businesses are investing in enterprise level solutions that are changing the way we work, transforming both day to day activities and long-term asset management strategies.
With the creation of the digital worker, working will progress beyond apps and mobility solutions. Workplaces are transforming into an immersive experience; where the virtual digital world overlays our workplaces; where real-time data about our customers assets is always at our fingertips and computer algorithms and employees work in harmony.
The New Age of Data Exchange
Commonly used devices which collect and share information about how they are being used, and data from the environment they are being used in have already changed the way we work. We have sensors in everything! Phones, vehicles, watches – all constantly collating and computing – and the Internet of Things (IoT) is described as the common platform and language that connects them all.
Wearable technology is often claimed to be one of the greatest applications of the Internet of Things, and the popularity of Smartwatchs and activity trackers backs this up. Wearable technology is changing our behaviour and raising awareness of health and fitness habits through tracking/capturing personal activity and health data. This data can also be used to monitor workers heath, levels of heat stress or fatigue, and guide individuals to make informed decisions about their fitness for work.
Advances in wearable technology are accelerating the convergence of the digital and physical worlds and bringing people as assets into the Internet of Things.In the workplace, the use of phone or tablet GPS data or wearable Radio Frequency Identification enables location based safe work initiatives to reduce the risk of injury or damage from vehicle movement to people, assets or property. We can virtually encapsulate our workforce to prevent workers from inadvertently entering areas they are not permitted to enter, or a hazardous location, even creating dynamic zoning around moving assets such as heavy machinery.
Our workers knowledge is enhanced by technology
Other technological advancements are revolutionising daily activities for our workers. Workers now use Semi Autonomous vehicles to collect data on linear assets, our operators logging data directly via the cars controls.
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV, or drones) is becoming common place in Australia. In its simplest form capitalising on the hands free vantage point offered by cameras that move above the ground, removing our workers from immediate hazards and removing unnecessary risk (such as working from heights or confined spaces). Drones are being used for collection of geospatial data, using more advanced collection technology we can produce high resolution 2D and 3D representations of assets to aid asset management, undertake inspections and inform design or planning activities. Our people can see and interact with digital twins of the assets they work on in 3D allowing virtual access to complex assets or to deliver high risk tasks with reduced risk to workers safety by either removing a risk completely or minimising the task frequency or duration. Digital Twin technology is moving beyond manufacturing/construction and into the world of Internet of Things, where twins are merging with artificial intelligence and data analytics.
Now 3D Models are becoming the norm, technologies which were forged for the gamers’ bedrooms are now permeating the workplace. We are using Virtual and Augmented Reality gamification in a variety of large complex systems to enhance how our employees engage with each other and our customers – site inductions/orientations, training and competency verification, near miss simulation, perform virtual job prestarts, even full training simulations. These simulations build people’s understanding and resilience by implementing a real-life scenario through a platform in virtual reality. Research has proven that an immersive experience is stored as a memory, and as such is much more powerful than standard training or inductions when tested against in a real-life scenario.
Data aggregation and predictive techniques – the real game changer
With such a variety of information being collected, workers are increasingly empowered to make real time decisions – by overlaying real time data with advanced logistics management it changes work order prioritisation and allows workers to be flexible in the prioritisation of emergent work. As a business, we are effectively now information brokers and we empower our people with optimised technology and optimised data reliability. We can now inexpensively retrofit asset condition monitoring sensors to legacy equipment making this technology infinitely accessible, we can even customise capture of mobile plant engine performance metrics to stream this information to a live dashboard, putting it in the hands of everyone who needs it, in real time.
We use Augmented Reality overlay digital information onto the real world – through drawings, phones and mixed reality headsets or glasses. We have developed Artificial Intelligence to build Computer Vision capabilities using algorithms for real time identification of objects and features – allowing autonomous inspection or identification of assets or defects. This futuristic mixed reality platforms utilising mobile computing and machine learning is changing the user experience for workers.
Our workers value helping our customers learn more about their assets and challenging traditional maintenance regimes through Internet of Things technology. By deeply understanding asset performance we can influence long term maintenance planning, and move away from routine inspections and run to failure type asset management strategies. Implementing combinations of these various asset monitoring systems allows us to transition to predictive condition based maintenance practices.
The Digital Worker – The future is here
In this increasingly digital world, the real value of employees in the future is not around “knowing” things – computer artificial intelligence and machine learning will know more, and faster than ever before. It’s how we approach and solve problems, that critical thinking, along with soft skills and emotional intelligence that’s becoming increasingly valuable, to the extent that the World Economic Forum identified critical thinking/creative problem solving the number 1 skill for the future
Our leaders need to be able to manage the old and simultaneously reach for the new, and on a business level we need to ensure that we’re equipping our workforce with the skills and capability to navigate the future.