Honeywell has teamed up with Microsoft to create a deeper partnership between its Forge industrial IoT software and Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Field Service product. The partnership also includes ties to Microsoft Azure Cloud. The deal is similar to the one Honeywell signed with SAP at the start of the pandemic, which made it easier to bring outside IT data into Honeywell’s Forge software.
With the Microsoft partnership, Honeywell now has the previously missing pieces needed to get data from IT and operational technology sources, analyze that data, generate an insight that will get sent to an employee for action, and track that action. Last week, I wrote about a similar effort from ServiceNow to tie the insights from connected devices to employee action. Getting workers into the loop is essential for any digital transformation, but these deals have me wondering what it means for the workforce as a whole.
A few years back, people responsible for managing factory workers told me that the rise of industrial automation and predictive maintenance meant workers responsible for machines needed to be better trained and better able to make decisions, because their jobs were in transition. Instead of monitoring a machine, they had to determine what to do if they received an alert about said machine. But partnerships like the Honeywell-Microsoft deal and platforms like ServiceNow’s new Connected Operations allow business managers to assign a specific task for any potential alert.
It also lets a manager see the results of an assigned task. They are able to see how long it took, and how well a fix worked. This is great data to have, and creating a process is the only way businesses can scale. However, I still wonder what it means for the worker on the factory floor who finds their former expertise in monitoring a machine automated away via software and then find software governing their decisions and process to fix any problems that arise.
Que Dallara, president and CEO of Honeywell Connected Enterprise, expects workers to be freed up to handle other tasks. Honeywell and Microsoft are starting their partnership in the building maintenance sector, so the HVAC professionals and facilities managers will have to spend less time “turning a wrench” and more time covering essentials, such as workplace safety during the pandemic. In the workplace of the future, Dallara says humans will continue to be in the loop on many things, although some tasks will become automated.
For example, she expects that when the analytics software flags a problem in HVAC, other software will be able make any necessary adjustments to keep the workplace at a comfortable temperature without involving a human. In other, non-HVAC cases, when the software flags a problem it will likely alert a human and start tracking the process through the Field Services management software, or it might create an action in the IT system, such as automatically ordering a necessary part.
So, it sounds like future workers will have to consume a lot more information than workers today, while many of their day-to-day tasks will be both generated and overseen by software. And when it comes to those workers with relevant experience currently in the field, the ability to track their work and measure its success will help software learn the “hidden knowledge” that employees often develop over years of working at a particular job. While, yes, it sounds a bit like today’s workers are training their AI replacements, we’ll have to wait and see just how well this actually works in practice — and at scale.