These changes are the natural evolution of the workplace in the digital era. But the opportunities presented by AI and analytics are much broader than that. At a time when many companies are feeling financially strapped, these technologies present paradigm shifts in helping employees become more productive and driving companies to become more operationally efficient.
For instance, with handheld apps specialized for your use cases, you can gain productivity by minimizing handoffs — when a service worker in the field collects data that later needs to be inputted into a system. Understandably, companies don’t want their highly paid technicians to spend their time doing data entry, but handing it off to an administrative worker isn’t efficient, and it increases the possibility of error — and it’s another opportunity for the virus to spread. When combined with optical character recognition software and computer vision, your apps can automatically extract information, such as meter readings or measurements, right from photos and videos, so the field user doesn’t have to enter data by hand at all.
Let’s return to inspections and verifications of equipment. AI can play an enormous role here through pixel-by-pixel comparisons of photos, useful for visual verifications — the same principles behind facial recognition. A technician can take photos in the field after a job is done, and then AI-supported analytics can verify that these installations and routine maintenance have been completed properly. Positions and measurements are automatically recorded and validated through machine learning that has been trained on the specifications. That training is based on the knowledge of your human technicians, who look at photos and approve those where the work has been done properly and reject those that are improper, so that the algorithm can then take over and replicate the results with new photos from the field. Work in the field can finally focus on execution, leaving data collection and verification to technology only.
The same framework can be applied on a larger scale. You can validate utility lines just through video recording how they appear as you drive by in a car. On the back end, AI that’s been trained to recognize how a utility pole should look can determine whether human intervention is needed for repairs or maintenance. Typically, many workers fan out to do inspections of only a fraction of the poles in a given area. Now, AI is used to dramatically increase how many poles are scrutinized and flag potential problem areas for human workers to address. The “miss” rate is not eliminated entirely through technology, but, dramatically more poles can be inspected, with far fewer people.
Computer vision has broad use cases. In hospitals, it can capture inventory levels in supply closets just with an image: amounts are tallied and compared against set thresholds. In operating rooms, the technology can easily track and account for the equipment used and even compare the type listed on a bag of blood with that of the patient.
Remote monitoring can also eliminate the need for having people walking around to check on your assets. Security cameras can also be equipped to remotely detect when your assets may be overheating, for example. If you know what the regular temperature of that equipment should be, then Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, or even thermal imagery, can be used to determine when that equipment has surpassed certain thresholds. Human interventions would be needed under only certain conditions instead of potentially at any time.
AI can be coupled with IoT sensors on your asset to provide data on how it is functioning, letting you know when it is close to failing or when something is potentially wrong, without the need for periodic inspections. Data on vibrations, pressure, viscosity or other factors can be continually monitored, and, if a reading goes above or below a set threshold, a technician can be notified. This can help you move more toward predictive maintenance rather than preventive maintenance and extend the life of your assets.