Automating push-to-talk for better, safer frontline collaboration: the future is now

Instant Connect Software LLC

Tuesday, 01 February, 2022


Automating push-to-talk for better, safer frontline collaboration: the future is now

Q&A with the CEO of Instant Connect Software regarding the future of PTT.

Traditional two-way push-to-talk for deskless/frontline workers is entering a new era of performance and innovation for organisations worldwide. Mining, energy, utilities, first responders, sports/event management, logistics, aviation, rail, military/defence: whatever the operation, decision-makers are empowering their frontline teams with a new wave of 'dynamic frontline communications' that combine the best of traditional push-to-talk with new automated capabilities.

Automation is changing how frontline teams collaborate and stay safe. Forrest Claypool, CEO of Instant Connect Software LLC, recently sat down to discuss the upside for today’s fast-moving enterprises.

Why so much buzz about these new automated push-to-talk capabilities?

FC: It’s about the new level of teamwork and worker safety now available. Frontline workers tend to work in teams sharing common tasks, missions and deliverables, whether it’s to execute a scheduled task or respond to an emergency. Dynamic frontline communications software intuitively understands this and automatically creates “dynamic talk groups” connecting the workers essential to the mission. Traditional push-to-talk is congested with chatter as people vie for attention and communications are blasted to everyone. Dynamic frontline communications, on the other hand, tailors talk channels to specific teams based on their roles and tasks, excluding anyone who isn’t needed. No clutter or distraction that can lead to mistakes or delays. The improvements in productivity and accelerated situational awareness are quantifiable. And these dynamic talk groups can instantly connect teams across any device or network — radio, mobile, IP and even telephony — so workers can freely share voice and data without technology or terrain getting in the way. No frontline workers left behind by gaps in communication. Everyone who needs to be is connected and collaborating.

How do you define a dynamic talk group?

A dynamic talk group is a team of frontline workers automatically assembled in a voice channel pursuant to the business rules set by the enterprise. The software automatically assembles these dynamic talk groups oriented around the people and workflows required to complete the mission, then disassembles them when the job is done. To assemble these voice channels, the software self-discovers and authenticates users, transparently adding them to the talk group based on role, task, mission, workflow, and other business rules that you set. There’s no need to manually configure teams or worry someone is left out. Conversely, there’s no worry that non-essential workers are needlessly tied up on the same channel, creating unnecessary distraction.

The software does it transparently?

Yes. By eliminating manual steps, the software takes the guesswork out of managing push-to-talk. It transparently orchestrates the talk groups. Even better, workers can be connected in multiple talk groups simultaneously so there are no gaps when an employee needs to communicate across multiple teams. A worker can jump between multiple voice channels with the push of a button. This increases situational awareness, improves incident response and contributes to worker safety.

The software supports both voice and data. By data, do you mean IoT?

The duties of a frontline team — whether they’re responding to an equipment issue on an oil pipeline or executing an unscheduled event in a mine — are increasingly triggered by IoT systems and sensors that send alerts saying, “something needs attention here!” Dynamic frontline communications software automatically assembles dynamic talk groups based on those IoT triggers, instantly connecting teams of frontline workers to go address the issue. The delays and errors associated with manual steps are eliminated, maximising situational awareness and incident response. The software instantly connects the right workers based on the IoT alert, gives them the voice channels and data they need to respond expediently, and sends them on their way.

IoT-triggered workflows — what’s an example?

Let’s say an IoT sensor in a utility plant identifies a possible security breach — a door is opened that shouldn’t have been. The IoT sensor alerts the dynamic frontline communications software, automatically triggering the creation of a dynamic talk group linking key security and operations personnel, and giving them the information and location they need to instantly address the situation. Team members are instantly connected in a dedicated voice channel with supporting data and even instructions as to next steps. The issue is resolved rapidly with everyone working on the same page and with the same level of information. And they don’t have to get off their existing channels to respond to the incoming call, a limitation of conventional push-to-talk. Instead, they can collaborate in the new talk group while staying on multiple existing channels at the same time. This multi-channel support is the natural evolution of frontline communications, adaptable to virtually any industry, any use case.

There’s a lot of talk about geofencing. Can you explain?

A geofence is a virtual boundary that can be configured to trigger voice communications between personnel entering or leaving the virtual geo-boundary. It can be a seaport, a sports stadium, a mining operation, a warehouse, or any mission-critical geographical area with defined boundaries set by the enterprise. Dynamic frontline communications can automatically trigger dynamic talk groups based on users entering or exiting the virtual geo-boundary.

Example of a geofence using dynamic frontline communications?

Here’s one — aircraft turnarounds at an airport. An arriving airplane approaches a gate and enters a virtual geofence, triggering the software to automatically assemble a dynamic talk group. The talk group connects maintenance, fuel, cleaning, and other ground crews working in concert to service the aircraft. Doesn’t matter if these are different vendors or legal entities — everyone is connected to execute the common mission. Aircraft turnaround is accelerated. When the aircraft pulls away from the gate, the team is disconnected and the ground crews are free to continue their individual routines. This assumes the dynamic frontline communications software is integrated into the airline’s scheduling system. Other examples might be using geofences to automate the assembly of warehouse teams responsible for unloading trucks that arrive at distribution centres. Or using geofences to automate the inclusion of third-party vendors hired to scrub a mining facility or oil refinery. This is push-to-talk elevated by workflow automation.

Everyone can be connected regardless of device?

Virtually any and all handheld devices and computers can be connected within the push-to-talk environment — smart phones, tablets, radios, laptops, desktop systems, IP phones, office phones, handheld computers with barcode readers, etc. All traffic is flowed onto the IP network, allowing any subscriber to use any device he/she wants. Whether a device is company-owned or BYOD, it doesn’t matter. The software can scale to support thousands of users without disrupting the way they like to work. LTE, radio, Wi-Fi, IP, MANET, PSTN, and 5G are all supported. Next-gen push-to-talk helps modernise and extend radio infrastructure — protecting and enhancing the enterprise’s radio investment.

So what stage of adoption are we in? What are you seeing?

Enterprises worldwide are actively embracing dynamic talk groups, workflow automation, geofencing and other interoperable communications capabilities. Executives are putting resources into dynamic frontline communications because it’s a nice balance between the proven benefits of push-to-talk and the inevitable need to embrace the future. Gartner Research predicts that up to 70% of mobile investments in the next five years will be for frontline workers. We agree.

Instant Connect is a 2021 Gartner Cool Vendor in Frontline Worker Technologies. For further information: www.instantconnect.io

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