IT meets the cable guy

McKinsey spotlights best practices and technologies for aligning field services worker with core business goals

With airlines in the midst of their worst summer (performance-wise) in decades, it seems unimaginable that anyone would recommend that other industries adopt their business practices – especially overbooking. Yet that's exactly what McKinsey has done in a new research report, "Improving Field Service Productivity."

If you work in IT and have anything to do with systems that support remote personnel, read on. Because McKinsey is saying that IT can take a lead in making field service much more productive than it is.

The central thesis of the research is that field service staff (cable and telecom truck-roll guys, couriers, and so on) are "invisible" employees, and that management gets only post-facto, rearview-mirror reports and metrics about how they use their time. If management could get more transparent, real-time information about their activities, however, and combine it with statistical analysis on service demand, productivity could go through the roof, increasing utilization by 30 to 80 percent, according to the report.

Translation: The field service guys are spending too much time sitting (or driving) around and chasing canceled appointments. If they were scheduled better, IT would be the hero. The field service guys, of course, will not necessarily like this. You'd be cutting into their "banana time" (longish lunches and coffee breaks; early quitting or late start times) and making their treadmill spin faster.

But if your company doesn't do this, your competitors will, and the technologies involved are not rocket science. They include, according to McKinsey, intelligent real-time routing software (UPS, for example, has a system that minimizes left turns to save time and fuel), autodial call-ahead software to reconfirm appointments, wireless handhelds to reduce paperwork, and GPS to track wandering workers.

These technologies can enable key changes in long-standing business processes: empowering dispatch centers to adapt to changes more quickly, rethinking booking policies (such as overbooking) to better utilize capacity, and leveraging more sophisticated models (including, say, the impact of weather) to predict customer behavior (it's nice outside, so more customers decide to blow off appointments).

The point of all this is that there's still plenty of low-hanging fruit in terms of creatively using IT to improve the business. (Just don't watch "The Cable Guy" before you volunteer for this particular project.)

CIO talking heads dept.

Now that I'm officially addicted to HBO's "Entourage" (via Netflix), I can't resist posting a link to one of my own videos, in hopes that someone in Hollywood will see it and I'll get picked up. It's a session I did recently at the Churchill Club with the CIOs of McKesson, Google, Hasbro, and Levi Strauss – talking about their priorities and how they view everything from Web 2.0 to globalization to the iPhone.

I think a CIO reality TV show could be a big hit on HBO – don't you?

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