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What is the Future of Operations & Control Centers?

The pandemic has tested the productivity, efficiency and infrastructure systems to support critical operations and customer-experience continuity across industries and has opened the door accelerating AI and ML initiatives, updating infrastructure to support a distributed workforce and seeking ways to bring essential teams together.

Operations and control centers are the brain of companies with critical operations for providing critical support across business functions to support their customers when they most need it. Airline, utility, logistics and cable companies are among private-sector organizations that rely on their operations and control centers to continuously monitor what is happening across their critical operations, make quick decisions and communicate these decisions across their organization to support customer-experience activities.

At times, operations and controls centers are also referred to as command and control centers – which are often portrayed as futuristic, high-tech, rooms where intense critical decisions are made. What we typically don’t see in the movies is the activity taking place at high-powered workstations, positioned closely together, to allow employees to focus on their activities, collaborate with colleagues and simultaneously reference the big picture displayed on multiple video walls and video boards throughout the operations and control center.

What makes these high-tech workplaces unique is the integration of highly redundant infrastructure, technology, communication systems, security and audio/visual systems, along with the people who work within them. Even though workflow processes have evolved as many companies augmented their workforce through global-sourcing partnerships while integrating AI, the people working within an operations and control center are critical to the 24/7/365 operations for these companies.

During the pandemic, these systems and processes have been tested – not only as it relates to internal processes of organizations but also on the productivity, security and protection of their employees’ health. As the stay-at-home mandates began, some companies had to evaluate how to maintain proper social distancing in locations not designed for that level of separation.

Many companies faced challenges getting critical information to their employees in a timely manner as people within company functions, such as customer service, who normally conduct their work in call centers, started working from home. Working from home and thinning out the workforce in other essential areas created challenges, including longer call times, call capacity decreases and security concerns. Call-center employees and managers started to find that outside the typical workplace environment, the capacity of calls an individual could complete decreased from previously established standards. The Harvard Business Review illustrates this challenge in its article “Supporting Customer Service Through the Coronavirus Crisis.”

“Another big contributor is the fact that reps – most working from home for the first time – now find themselves without the infrastructure (like a reliable phone connection) or support (peers and managers available to lend a hand) they once enjoyed in the contact center,” notes the article, written by Matthew Dixon, Ted McKenna and Gerardo de la O this spring.

Initially, longer call times, combined with fewer nearby resources available, led to increasing employee hours, longer caller wait times and diminished overall productivity in many cases. The pandemic also presented more security concerns, whether through technology security at the corporate level or with fraudulent claims aimed at capitalizing on the status of the pandemic concerns.

As time has elapsed, many companies and employees have revamped their workflows, approach to challenge resolution and training to navigate the stay-at-home governance to stay as productive and responsive as possible. Whether it’s as simple as how they respond to a particular event or problem, or completely restructuring their workflow to be better suited to their new environment, the opportunities to innovate have been substantial and will impact the post-pandemic operations and control center staffing, infrastructure and business function adjacency workflows and capabilities.

As companies evaluate how they return to the workplace, operations and control center operators are presented with a set of new challenges still to be evaluated. Over the years, many across the industry have been working to condense real estate square footage as a method of real estate portfolio optimization and to increase collaboration. However, with social distancing requirements in place, companies are re-evaluating their operations and control center density along with their workflow processes to optimize how their people go about their day in a safe and productive manner. Details such as what employees face as they arrive in the parking lot, traverse the lobby to elevators, up to their floor and then to their workspaces impact their productivity mindset from a timing and safety perspective.

Additionally, operations and control center operators have to determine how they can effectively expand their employees’ capability to work remotely or closer to home through assessments of the company’s real estate to create critical human redundancy and efficiencies. With social-distancing requirements in place, traditional collaboration methods are being revamped and re-organized, while the space that often was set aside for collaboration is being reviewed as an option to achieve the social distancing requirements. Conference rooms and open collaboration areas are being reworked to allow for different work uses, employees are being shifted to alternate desk locations, alternate hours are being worked to achieve a full workforce where real estate is at a premium. At the end of the day, each company’s solutions and processes will be different, and each will be forced to review everything about how they modify their approach to operations and control center design and workflow strategies on a case-by-case basis.

As with many operations and control centers, the resiliency of their real estate infrastructure is of utmost importance to business continuity. Whether that is through generator systems, Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems and/or redundant utility electrical systems to their real estate spaces, having employees working off-site negates some of that inherent resiliency provided in the operations and control center through power and technology pathway systems as described above, since employees don’t have their own generators, UPS systems or redundant phone services at home.

Operations executives now must evaluate how they can create strategies to keep their operations and control center employees safe for business continuity when the next power outage, supply chain disruption or maintenance-related delayed flight occurs. Will the future hold that companies need to expand their footprint to house the full amount of employees needed and thus increase the size of their resilient infrastructure systems like generators and UPSs? Or will the need for full power and technology resiliency diminish or alter to a point so that workflow can be triaged so only those within the operations and control centers require that resiliency, while those working remotely can effectively work without those resilient systems in place?

The answer for what the future holds will evolve and perhaps some of the fundamentals of command and control center precepts will surface in the private sector. The companies that are innovative, forward-thinking and open to changes are the ones that will be most successful in serving the needs of their customers and employees.

Continue the conversation about the future of operations and control center infrastructure strategies with Jason Schutz at jschutz@esdglobal.com.

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