There's a famously popular business school case study on optimisation…a cement manufacturing and distribution company operating in a densely-populated and traffic-snarled Mexico City, where getting cement to building sites at the right time on the right day - and sometimes at short notice - had been an almost impossible ask. According to the CEO, trucks used to line up outside plants to get cement and it wasn't unusual for them to wait for several days to pick up an order.
Back in the days before the term "digital transformation" was even sprung upon an unsuspecting and somewhat dubious audience, this company used the comparatively limited technological capabilities of the day to enable a complete rethink and a new approach to the problem of how to get cement to customers when and where they needed it.
Times have changed in some ways. But many organisations today still aren't sure how well they've optimised their provision of service to customers in the field. Too often, it's because they simply completely lack visibility of what's going on beyond "These ten jobs are assigned to Frank, these fifteen to Michelle, and these three to Chris".
Service delivered in the field is often operated on the equivalent of a paper pad or a whiteboard. Erstwhile recorded with pen and paper, service queues and job bookings may have progressed only to their digital equivalent - e.g. a spreadsheet of jobs and their assignment and status. And while Excel is a great tool for analysis and insights, it's not the ideal for tracking service job assignments and their status. How does the worker out on the road record that they've completed the job…and what happens if they were able to get half the job done, but need to return later?
Someone back at base still has to manually scribble on the pad or whiteboard, or manually update the Excel spreadsheet based on emails, phone calls or a paper record of yesterday's jobs.