How to select the best mobile device for your organization?
So your organization decides to go mobile. In today’s world, that is not enough. With complex requirements, different solutions, and many technologies – the decision becomes more complicated than ever.The variety of devices includes cell-phones, smart-phones, handheld devices and even iPhones, in addition to the PC based devices such as laptops, tough-books and tablets. And don’t forget the new kids in town the UMPCs…
In order to succeed with a mobile solution you need a clear strategy, and one of the most important parameters in this strategy is the type of device to be deployed. So in order to answer the question: “What would be the best mobile device for your organization?” let’s define a list of different aspects which we will use to examine the many alternatives. PortabilityNot every mobile device is truly portable. Try carrying a laptop in your pocket and you’ll notice it’s not so trivial. In fact, climbing an electric pole with a laptop is similar to showing up to a board meeting with a desktop…
When you examine the different alternatives, think of the location where your field technicians will spent most of their time working with the system. Will it be in the van? Inside offices? Outside in the rain? while working in a shaft? Handheld devices are more portable than laptops, tablets etc. If the nature of the business requires maximum portability and minimum size and weight, than a handheld device would be the better option.
Real-time Updates:Some organizations dispatch the tasks on a daily basis (during the morning) while other organization would like to be more dynamic, and dispatch the tasks almost in real-time. One of the benefits of having a combined system (mobile application such as ClickMobile with an advanced back-end system such as ClickSchedule) is that it enables a wide area of improvements in terms of monitoring and better decision making based on real-time reports. With ClickMobile deployed in the field – back-end systems automatically becomes “smarter” as they are always aware of the technician’s exact status; current location, connection status, current activity, traffic status, and more. It upgrades the capabilities of those back-end systems thus increases overall productivity significantly.But one crucial factor for this kind of a real-time environment to work is being able to send and receive updates as they happen. The technicians need to be aware of every change in the schedule, every new task which is being assigned to them using drip feed. And on their end, they must be able to report their actual status as it changes. To be able to do so they need mobile software which is well designed for that, but this is not enough: the device and network should also fit this requirement.Which brings me to the next decisive point: Cell-phones, smart-phones and PDAs are designed to work in real-time. Think of your personal PDA: it never goes to sleep… even when it’s off – it still gets phone calls, emails, meeting alerts etc. On the other hand, a hibernated laptop will never beep! In fact, if it is currently in a standby mode it will never know if something in the schedule has changed…So, if your organization would like to use drip feed mode, perform real-time optimization, and would like to have accurate monitoring tools – you need the mobile device to always be connected. It can be done by configuring the laptops in a way they will never be in “standby” mode, but it’s far more natural to implement it with handheld devices.
Application Requirements:In some organizations, the mobile application is used to report working hours, location, statuses, progress and simple completion reports. For this kind of use even a simple WAP application running on a cell-phone may be enough.Some organizations require offline capabilities (because the nature of the working environment), and other organizations need a more advanced application with capabilities such as being able to view customer history, fault description, required parts, files attachments etc. Those organizations may go with handheld devices. And for many organizations even that is not enough: those organizations need to store all their assets information on multiple layers maps, as well as big number of schematics and documents, long completions reports (changing according to different job types) and massive timesheets holding complex daily activities reports. In many cases, handheld devices are just not enough for hosting all of this functionality. Sure, it may be able to run, but it won’t supply a friendly user experience which is very important for the success of the implementation.So it seems that for the means of modifying the timesheets, presenting tasks, running satellite navigators, mails etc. – handheld devices are a perfect match, but if this is just the tip of the iceberg for your organization – you may consider using heavier equipment such as UMPC, tablets or laptops.
Additional Considerations:Keyboard:An important tip here would be to think about the amount of typing required by the technicians: handheld devices, with or without a QWERTY keyboard – are not easy to type. They are enough for short mails / SMS etc. but if the field work requires long reports with lots of typing – your technicians will hate you for equipping them with this small piece of hardware. Creative ideas such as the one below will not solve the problem…
Touch screen: Some businesses will need a touch screen for the sake of signature capturing, maps redlining etc.Keep in mind that not all the handheld devices come with a touch screen (most Blackberries, Nokia, and Windows Mobile Standard devices do not have touch screen) and on the other hand tablet PCs come with a pretty good touch screen (as well as handheld devices running Windows Mobile professional). Other Accessories:Some organizations are using bar-code scanners or RFID. Bear in mind that many industry hand-held devices come built in with those types of scanners which may be very relevant to your business. Many handheld devices include phones, cameras and GPS which can make them very attractive in terms of having all the accessories in just one device.Battery Life:Even with the strongest battery – a laptop will not stand against a handheld device. Most organizations solve this issue by having a charge located in the van, but in cases where the technicians are working many hours one site – this may become an issue. Solvable, but requires some attention.
Test Software and Hardware together:Remember than usability is not only a matter of software. Some handheld devices come with smaller screens (240,240) while others do not have a keyboard.For some users (like me) a joystick is a disaster and a d-pad (directional pad) is perfect, others will want a full touch-screen while some technicians with tick fingers will not be able to use it at all…Some devices come with more hardware buttons than other and some companies (e.g. Psion Teklogix) have the ability to define custom hardware buttons per customer. And last, don’t settle with just reading the specs; from my experience, there are devices out there with great specs that simply work slower than others.Whatever you decide – you must test the devices with the mobile application in real conditions in the field. Let your technicians get a grip of what they will be using and give you’re their feedback. Remember that as always, the success of the entire project depends also on the satisfaction of the employees.
In the next post I will focus on the differences between rugged devices and simple devices in terms of usability, cost, and resistance as well as going over the many alternatives of handheld devices.