Five Ways Digitalization Will Optimize Your Inspection Business
Presenter: Nasrin Azari, CEO, Floodlight Software
July 15, 2020
Floodlight Software: Well, good afternoon to everyone on the call today. Thank you for joining us. We’re glad to have you for our webinar, “Five Ways Digitalization Will Optimize Your Inspections Business.”
Before we get started, I’d like to share a couple of housekeeping items with you. First off, a recorded version of this webinar will be shared with you via email. We encourage you to share the recording with your coworkers and colleagues. Secondly, our webinar today will run about 30 minutes, followed by a question and answer session. Please ask questions as they occur to you. So if you do have a question, please submit it via the questions box on your GotoWebinar console. We will address all questions during the Q&A session at the end.
Okay, with that said, I’d like to go ahead and introduce our presenter for today. Welcome, Nasrin.
Nasrin Azari is the president and CEO of Floodlight Software, a cloud-based inspections management platform. She has 14 years of experience as a CEO and more than 20 years of experience in the software industry. Nasrin is also a thought leader who currently heads up the NDE 4.0 Standards Subcommittee within the American Society of Nondestructive Testing.
She holds an MBA and an MS in computer science, both from Duke University. And she is passionate about driving digital transformation to service organizations. Okay, without further ado, Nasrin I will turn it over to you.
Nasrin Azari: Thank you, Brett. And thanks to everybody for being here today. So today I’m going to talk about digitalization or digital transformation. I’ve sort of used those two terms interchangeably and why it’s really important for your inspections business.
My personal background, as Brett mentioned, and my expertise is in software process improvements, digital transformation, and mobility. And, I really like to make businesses better at what they do. And I’ve been doing that for 14 years. So I’m very honored to be here today and excited to share some of my experiences with you and kind of start some really interesting conversation around making inspections better through digitalization.
Just to sort of set your expectations, I’m going to spend the first half of today’s presentation talking about your inspection business in general and how to think about the benefits of digitalization in a variety of different ways associated with your business. And then I’ll dig into the five specific benefit areas in the second half of the presentation.
So I’m going to start off with a definition of digitalization. And I really like this one. There are many definitions out there about digitalization and what it means. What I like about this particular definition, is that it really talks to and focuses on the business aspect of digitalization.
It’s not simply just digitizing data, although that is a part of it. Digitalization is really about creating a change within your business and making your business better through digital technologies. And there’s a lot of opportunity for that in the inspections field today. And so, that’s really what we’re going to focus on today.
So when we talk about digitalization, the first thing that we think about are the technologies, and here is a list of some of the technologies that we associate with digitalization. I’m not going to go into the specific details about any of these technologies in particular, but you’ll recognize a lot of these and I’m sure.
As you think about your business, you’re thinking about digital twins. You’re thinking about artificial intelligence and analytics and virtual reality and augmented reality. And how can you bring these technologies into your business to make it better than it is today? So, obviously there’s a lot of these technologies that are very relevant for your business.
And, I’m sure you’re thinking about many of them. And today we’re going to focus on how to use those technologies to improve your business operations and how to make your inspection business better. Because at the end of the day, that’s really, what’s important. Another thing that I wanted to talk a little bit about is the concepts of Industry 3.0 and Industry 4.0.
So these are terms that you may have heard, already, and really these represent the four industrial revolutions. The first one being hand tools to make work more efficient. The second industrial revolution revolved around electricity and using electrical powered tools. Industry 3.0 is really about digitization. So this is really eliminating paper processes and replacing analog processes with digital data. And starting to use computers and software and automation to help run your operations.
And so Industry 4.0 is the emerging industrial revolution. And this is really around taking those digital systems and instead of thinking of each digital system in a silo and operating just on its own, it’s really about the interconnectedness of digital systems, the exchange of information, and making machines and tools smarter so they can operate more autonomously.
And really that’s what industry 4.0 is all about. And I look at Industry 3.0 and Industry 4.0 both being under this digital transformation umbrella. So that’s sort of why I want to bring that into the conversation today. And now let’s move to a discussion of why it’s important to an inspection business.
And here I’m just going to sort of lay the groundwork on the way that I look at the inspection business. And obviously this is a very simplified perspective, a high-level view, but, I’m looking at an inspection company as being in this ecosystem. That includes industrial assets includes the owners and operators of those assets and the users of those assets. And you’ve got your asset owner-operator that is responsible for an industrial asset. They need to operate that asset, perform maintenance, perform repairs and construction, and all of those activities around the building, creating, operating, and providing access to this asset. And then you’ve got a market out there that’s that needs to use this, that could be individuals that could be businesses. It could be an operation that basically needs to use the assets that are being provided by the asset owners. And so that’s that side of the value chain.
And the reason that we exist as inspection companies is to support that business and o the asset owner-operator, hires, and inspection company. And I, I am portraying this entire system as if the inspection company is a third-party organization that services the asset owner-operators, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case.
Most of the benefits and dynamics that we’re discussing today also applied to internal testing inspection groups. And I know that some of you belong to those types of groups as well. And so the inspection company or the organization performs inspection, work on the industrial assets and then provides inspection results and reports it for you.
Certifications, things like that back to the asset owner-operator. And this, again, it’s a very high level, but it really sort of depicts that, that value chain of entities that are involved in this whole process. And the next thing I want to dive into a little bit is, is a high-level perspective of what inspection business does overall.
And, you know, like any other business and inspection organization needs to develop and maintain a value proposition that’s needed by its customers. And then it needs to provide that value in a profitable way. And so how can digital transformation help an inspection company get through its operations in a more effective way?
So the first stage that I look at when I, when I think of an inspection company or organization is to get work. So that really represents your sales process, where you prove that you can meet or exceed the customer’s needs and that you can do the job better than any of the other available options they might have.
References from previous customers, you might have previous experience with a customer that you’re selling to. You might be able to show a history of success and all these relationships are important on your track record is, is critical. Pricing is also a big factor, especially in today’s competitive market.
And so being able to operate with efficiency and being able to stay profitable is really crucial in this business. You want to be able to propose work, too. Your customer in a way that you are in the mix. You know, you’re not pricing it too high to price you out of competition, but you also need to remain profitable.
So there’s, there’s a lot of dynamics that are involved there. And we’ll talk about some ways that digitalization can help you do that in an effective manner.
The second part of an inspection business’s job is basically the performing works. This is the bulk of it, really. This is where the rubber meets the road. Not only must you get the job done well and do good work, provide accurate and thorough data collection and interpretation, but you also must maintain safety for yourself, for others, for the environment. And here again, you have to stay profitable in order to stay in business and continue doing and continue doing work and the family at the end of the day, after you’ve completed your job.
At various touchpoints, while you’re operating, you provide results to your customer and, presenting results to your customer in the way that they want to see those results is going to ensure that they’re happy with your operations and ensuring that you’ll be considered for follow on work the next time they need a project or work to be done.
But are there opportunities for you to exceed your customer’s expectations? Are there opportunities for you to generate so much confidence that when it comes to seeking another project, your customer will engage you without even looking at other options? So there’s definitely opportunities all the way through your lifecycle from end to end where you can use digitalization to effectively help improve your business in all areas.
So now let’s take a look at some of your biggest challenges. I sort of grouped them into four areas. The first thing is safety. Safety is crucial. It’s crucial for keeping your employees and the environment safe and your business operating effectively.
And, the second area is efficiency. A lot of times when we think about digitalization, we definitely think about becoming more efficient as an organization. Effectiveness, making sure that you’re doing your job correctly and with, you know, as much, accuracy as possible is really important in an inspection business, crucially important to an inspection business, and then of course providing value to your customer.
And so let’s look at the different ways where we can address some of the challenges in the market. You know, particularly thinking about digitalization and digital tools that can help us improve these areas. So for example, on the safety front, having fewer individuals on-site by taking advantage of using drones or robots to help collect data in areas that might be dangerous for humans to perform themselves. The biggest example I can think of is a drone operator taking pictures on a bridge to do a visual inspection versus sending an inspector up there with a harness and, you know, hoping that everything’s under control and that he doesn’t get hurt while he’s up there.
So there are definitely areas where you can use technology to protect your team and protect the environment. Another area that I like to look at is job safety assessments and making sure that they get performed effectively. One of the things that I promote heavily when we talk about digital solutions and especially, especially digital mobile solutions, is your ability to create a process and control your workforce from end to end. And being able to ensure that they’re actually performing job safety assessments throughout the processes is part of what you can do with a digital solution.
Efficiency, as I mentioned, you know being able to perform your work with tools more quickly and, you know, even, or being able to perform more work with fewer resources, you know, as we get all get crunched on the, on the pricing and costing front, it’s important to really maintain and grow our efficiency.
As we adopt new technologies, in terms of effectiveness, problem detection is the name of the game in inspections and making sure that you’re doing the best job possible. And if you can take advantage of technologies, such as artificial intelligence to help augment, human capabilities and provide better, more effective results.
That’s going to be really good for your business and for your customers. Being able to use sensors on equipment to capture more frequent data points or a higher quantity of data points is going to enable you to provide more value to your customers as well. And then finally, on the value front, just, you know, collect the collection of data, having more data to enable you to analyze, allowing you to provide some recommendations and forward-looking recommendations to your customers will and dear yourself to them and, you know, make them look at you as their trusted advisor and come back to you when they want pro when they want additional work done.
That’s a critical aspect of your business and I’ll probably keep coming back to that. So that’s that piece of it, in terms of providing value to your customers.
So now let’s move into the five specific benefit areas where we feel digital elevation can affect your business. The first area is, and these are all really important to an inspection business, the first one is the management of your inspectors and making sure that they’re utilized as well as can be. Second is data capture and data management. There’s a lot of data that’s collected in an inspection process and, being able to improve the efficiency of data, capture the effectiveness of data capture, being able to manage that data, provide analytics, et cetera. That’s a critical part of your business. And you know, I keep talking about profitability and maintaining a profitable business. That’s obviously crucial for you to stay in business. And part of what enables you to do that is effective job cost costing. So being able to calculate your job costs effectively and accurately allows you to maintain profitability as a business.
So that’s really important, reporting to customers, I think. That is one of the things we hear all the time is how crucial it is that end customers receive reports and receive information in a way that makes sense to them in a way that’s actionable on their front. And so that’s going to be a really important part of your business.
And then finally billing. You know you take advantage of digital technologies to enable you to bill faster so that you can close the loop, the quote to cash loop, and, and shorten that timeline as much as possible.
So we’re going to talk about each of these in a little bit more detail. So let’s start with inspector management and utilization. You know, I’ve been helping customers with mobile workforce for a long time. And one of the things we hear, regardless of whether those field technicians are inspectors or. Or whatever their expertise is, they really, really enjoy doing the work in the field that they were trained to do.
So your inspectors are gonna really enjoy doing the testing work that they do. They’re going to enjoy the inspections and the analysis work that they do, the work that they were trained to do, what they want. The thing they’re going to hate about their job is the administrative tasks that they have to perform.
The keeping track of where they are and what time is it and how much time have they spent at a particular site or performing a particular task? So, as much as you can automate timestamping and geolocation stamping in an application that your technicians are using in the field, if you can require that data is only entered once, not in multiple applications, for example, to just minimizing those administrative tasks that are overhead, and they’re not really taking advantage of, of your technicians in terms of how they were trained.
Combining human expertise with assistive technologies, like AI is a great way to enhance their effectiveness, using augmented reality. So fieldwork is, is often physically challenging and many inspectors who have been in the business for many years tire of that effort, they retire while they’re still retaining a significant amount of knowledge around data analysis.
And wouldn’t it be great if you could set up an augmented reality environment where you could have an expert behind the scenes, coaching, and monitoring and helping out a, you know, a newer technician, that’s just getting started in the business. Who’s actually in the field and maybe has a little bit more energy for that type of work. Digital technologies can also help you become more effective and efficient in your scheduling operations.
And then one of the other things I think is really important is consistent work processes and best practices of being able to monitor your workforce and tracking, the work that they do and, and the effectiveness and efficiency of the work they do help you to generate a consistent work process for each of your customers and then best practices for you to share with your newer technicians that you bring on board as you grow your company.
So moving on to data capture and management. I think that we’ve talked about drones and robots. Not only are those going to be more efficient manners of collecting data, but also providing a safer environment for you, for your company and for your resources, replacing paper. So, so replacing paper with digital data storage, that’s sort of a step one digital transformation exercise that I encourage all of you to look into because it’s relatively straightforward and it’s really, really important.
And it is really a step one that, that sets the stage for a lot of the future benefits that you’ll, you’ll see. Data security is important, short and longterm analytics is critical. And so, you know, sometimes we’ll talk to folks that are really not ready to dig into analytics at this point. What I would say is that where you want to start is just with collecting data.
So you may not use that data today, but collect the data because. Down the road. I mean, if any of you ever, ever look at research papers or research, that’s done a lot of times research today is based on data that was collected 10, 20 years ago. And they’re looking at this old data. And finding new ways to analyze it and come up with, with, you know, sort of new conclusions.
And so think of it that way, that, that step one is setting yourself up to collect data. And then step two is figuring out how to analyze it and make the data work for you in a variety of different ways. So job cost calculations. This part is all about understanding your current profitability, profitability, and areas that you may need to fix in order to improve.
So your profitability affects your ability to close new projects and perform new work. So if you’re guessing at your costs, then you’re, then you risk bidding too high or too low and you know, missing out on, on good opportunities for your business. So, being able to digitize and collect accurate job costs and knowing what your margins are, allows you to create more profitable work proposals and create more accurate job cost calculations that will enable you to retain profitability, which is obviously crucial for maintaining your business operations.
On this, this item of reporting to customers, this is all about providing as much value to your customer as possible and exceeding their expectations. So that they’ll want to rehire you for additional projects. So for example, if today you perform an inspection project that lasts say three weeks, and then at the end of that three weeks, you provided a report detailing results to your customer and I’m really happy to receive the report.
Well, how do you think that they would react if they were able to see progress reports along the way? And if you’re able to capture the data real-time and present that data even if it’s preliminary, having them be able to see your progress as you progress through your inspection process can be very reassuring for a customer. Another thing that’s really interesting to me is this concept of being able to provide a service to your customer that’s more ongoing. So in addition to being, you know, performing inspections, you know, once or twice a year, maybe you can, collect and track data. That’s coming from sensors on their, their equipment and being able to analyze that on a regular basis.
So you’re providing more real-time, forward-looking proactive information for them. So there’s a lot of ways that you can increase the value that you. Provide to your customers, through your reporting, do your reporting capabilities. And then finally, on the billing front, the purpose of improving your billing process, really it’s all about the entire business process from quote to cash.
And the idea here is improving your cash flow, ensuring that you get paid timely and completely for all the work that you do. So similar to the job cost calculations, you know, being able to bill more effectively is really all about getting all of your data into a digital system. You know, what another thing this does for you is it increases your flexibility, your ability to support additional requests from your customers when you’re in the middle of a job, being able to, you know, we all know that that.
Jobs often change right in the middle. You know, we have a lot of customers that talk to us about change requests, and if you’ve got a flexible billing mechanism, you can handle those change requests. Pretty easily. And you can, you can go with the flow and nothing’s better than an ability to say yes to a customer when they’re asking you to do additional work.
Right? So, so the, you know, the idea of digitizing your process so that you can make your billing, more effective. You’re maintaining complete digital records. You’ve got everything in a single source of record that allows you to build. Easily and quickly and completely, there’s not, you know, not any questioning about the work you’ve done and it allows you to some flexibility in varying your offerings and you can, you can, supply more value to your customers that way.
So that’s, so that’s really all I had to share with you today. I know it was sort of a quick walkthrough of a lot of, of ideas around digitalization and how it can help your business. At the end of the day, it’s all about providing better results more quickly and more cost-effectively than you were able to do before.
I like this summary of the benefits. It kind of hits all the five areas that we talked about. So with digitalization, you should expect to have a more efficient team, more knowledge, more ongoing knowledge that helps you become smarter and your own business and helps your customers become smarter.
Obviously maintaining that higher profitability level, providing more value to your customers, and then minimizing that administrative overhead and allowing yourself better cash. So all that stuff is really important. And for those of you that look at this and think of this as overwhelming, keep in mind that digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight, but if you want to stay relevant in the industry, it will apply to you.
The nice thing is that you can digitize digitalize your business and phases, and you’ll certainly see benefits at each step of the process. I’ll also say that digitalization never looks exactly the same for two different companies. So although it’s helpful to look at other companies that are maybe in your industry that are already going through this process and starting to incorporate emerging technologies. You really know your business best and you’re in the best position to evaluate your options and decide what kind of what’s the next best step for your business. But I do appreciate you being here today and one of the best places to start is learning more about, about, about the options that are available to you and these webinars are a great place to start.
So thank you for joining me. I hope you learned something from the presentation today, and I’m also happy to chat with you further one-on-one if you’d like, and my contact information is listed here as well. And that’s all I had.
Floodlight Software: Great. Thank you, Nasrin, great insight, and thoughtful information. We do have some questions, so let’s, answer some of these. Now, if we don’t get to your question, we will follow up with the person who asks it directly via email.
Okay, Nasrin here’s the first question. Is it expensive and time-consuming to digitalize and an inspection business?
Nasrin: So, certainly there are upfront costs in digitalization, but honestly the ROI that you’ll see is really fast. And again, as I mentioned just a minute ago, you’ll typically take your business, digital, and phases. So you’re not going to do it all at once. And at every step of the way, you’ll see benefits. So you should definitely see an ROI.
I would say even in a conservative way that you should see benefits within six months, if not before. And so, you know, there is some upfront effort. The one thing that I will say that’s really important is to have everybody in line and everybody on board with the project. So going digital is an effort kind of across your business and making sure that everybody’s on the same page helps it go smoothly and that’s going to help keep the costs down and keep you on track and get the highest benefit possible.
Floodlight Software: Okay, great, next question. Does digitalization always require internal business process change?
Nasrin: Really good question there. I mean, in a lot of ways, digitalization enhances your existing processes, but there’s definitely operate our opportunity for you to improve your processes and, and, and make changes. So I would go into the effort with the expectation that your business processes will change and look at it as a process change opportunity for the better and look for areas where you’re not quite as efficient as you’d like to be. And it’s an opportunity for you to make your business better.
Floodlight Software: Okay. Great, next question. We have tried to go digital, but I have to create custom reports for each one of our customers. Does your platform
help with those?
Nasrin: Okay, good question. You know, we hear that from a lot of our customers, this idea that every single one of your customers has a different format that they want to see results in. And so we definitely understand that that’s a really big challenge. Floodlight Software does a really great job of handling custom forms. We actually have a webinar coming up and in about a month, about four weeks, that’s very specifically about our product Floodlight Software and how it can help through a digitalization process.
Floodlight Software: Ok, one more question. How will a digital process help my technicians be more efficient?
Nasrin: Well, there’s, there’s a lot of ways. So I think one of the main things that I touched on earlier is reducing that administrative overhead. So, you know, enabling giving them the digital tools that they need, allows them to enter data once into a single platform. So that they don’t have to enter data multiple times, get them off of paper. So, anytime that you can automate, data collection or part of the process, such as automatic time-stamping, collecting of data through, you know, from existing toolsets, having a direct interface where you can collect. Information directly from your toolsets versus having to manually type it in, there are all sorts of areas to improve the effectiveness of the technician in the field from reducing eliminating or reducing the administrative overhead to sort of augmenting their work in the field through, automating data input to providing artificial intelligence, to remote technician support or remote expert support. I think that’s all we have time for.
Floodlight Software: Right. Well, thank you for answering and that’s it for the questions. We really appreciate all of you being here. Don’t forget that we will have a followup webinar that Nasrin mentioned on July 8th. That will focus on the Floodlight Software inspection management platform, and we’ll also have the product demo. So look for registration information about that webinar in your email box. We will also send you the recording as we mentioned, so you can share it with your colleagues.
So thanks again everyone and have a fabulous rest of your day.
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