Technology in the Internet age can now deliver supplier intimacy on a global scale, without the need for physical presence. It is the “end of distance” and the beginning of a whole new approach to addressing the inherent wastes and latencies that geographic barriers represent for global businesses.
I have had the opportunity to work with several organizations as they wrestled with the challenges of time and distance implementing process improvements and elimination of wastes. Project teams would wait for team meetings to exchange ideas, suppliers would be surprised by recent design changes from the customer, and management would wait for their periodic in-person meeting to redirect a team or project. I often refer to these delays and wasted time as the products of “human latency.” The natural tendency is to batch ideas until the team gets together or until the supplier is in town or until the next time an in-person meeting is “absolutely necessary.”
For many companies, the communications revolution has provided the ability to embrace a methodology for moving ideas in a “unit of one” despite the geographic distances that organizations are facing. Visual communication technologies are transforming many key business processes in the manufacturing environment. Supply chains are compressed, customers are being brought directly into your organizations, field maintenance teams are getting the expert support they need when and where they need it. These technologies are removing the human latency that has challenged global processes. Technology and enhanced collaboration are allowing organizations to follow Dr. Shingo’s mantra: identify waste in your systems and remove the waste to uncover new capabilities.
The growth of IP networks worldwide has facilitated the integration of video into work processes with significant productivity increases. For example, Volkswagen of Mexico Dealership Association connected the dealerships into a center of expertise where training was delivered over video to each of the dealerships, eliminating the need for the dealership technicians to travel to the training center for four days of training. Additionally, the video solution allowed more frequent training sessions on technical updates that came up between the main scheduled training events.
In a second step, Volkswagen has combined data and video delivered to and from the same repair event, enabling new levels of performance. It used to be that complex repairs required the dealership to hold the car for three to five days until a more highly skilled technician could work on the car or for a less skilled technician to work through the troubleshooting process. Using the IP networks, the data from the dealership’s engine analyzer was transmitted to the center of expertise at the same time a video session was initiated with the technician working on the car. A mobile camera used at the dealerships allowed the engineers at the center to coach the dealership’s technician through the intricate troubleshooting process while being able to see real-time data coming from the engine analyzer. This real-time access to a few experts hundreds of miles away, collaborating and coaching technicians in over 200 dealerships, has allowed VW to improve turn-around on repairs from several days to one, a 300 percent improvement in repair time. First- time resolution rates improved through the quick access to remote experts. Customer satisfaction has increased significantly as a result of the repair time improvement performance.
In the oil & gas exploration industry, visual communications is used to integrate a large collaborative supply chain. Over 160 different companies participate in a data and visual communications network maintained by service provider OilCamp. This network supports operations on the offshore oil rigs connecting them to onshore facilities and then on to the scores of suppliers that support this extensive operation. If the maintenance crew on a rig needs support for a critical repair or preventative maintenance task, they have immediate access to experts onshore. These experts can be engineers at an equipment supplier or members of their own engineering staff. The onshore experts can see exactly what is going on and immediately understand the context for the problem at hand. In another situation, geologists and other consultants can be linked in visually to help in the analysis of data and samples from the drilling activities. The video link between the offshore rig and on shore facilities is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing the ability for around the clock collaboration.