What’s the Right Mobile Device for Your Field Service Organization?
Guest author: Kerry Doyle
The consumerization of IT in the field service industry offers key benefits that increasing numbers of companies are accessing. There’s little doubt as to the effectiveness of using smart devices for field service operations. However, a number of considerations regarding durability and efficiency need to be assessed for choosing the right mobile hardware. As the trend continues toward employing versatile, and increasingly powerful smartphones and tablets, some suggest there’s been a move away from a reliance on more rugged devices.
Still, it’s necessary to evaluate the requirements of personnel in the field and the capabilities provided by a range of smart devices. The questions pertain to feasibility: Notebook? Smartphone? Rugged PDA? Tablet? Some combination of both?
For example, a field service worker might deploy a smartphone for assignments, status updates and scheduling. Then use a more rugged PDA, laptop or notebook for field-based tasks, such as GPS mapping, parts ordering, documentation, invoicing and more.
Such mixed-use scenarios are partly due to the range of capabilities mobile workers can handle in the field as well as the increased power and versatility of consumer-grade smart devices. Another aspect that influences device choice is industry. Maintenance, manufacturing, utilities, construction or other heavy industries might require the combination of vehicle-mounted hardware, such as a laptop, and a personal smartphone.
On the other hand, field service personnel in areas as diverse as insurance, customer service or home healthcare can rely primarily on a consumer-style smartphone to perform the majority of their tasks. Such hardware enables easy access to knowledge bases, content management systems, documents and collaboration capabilities.
Mobile network expansion, new audio and video technologies, cloud services, the ubiquity of WiFi connectivity and improved battery capacity are all key enablers for more effective mobile-based field service. But it’s important to consider other capabilities of mobile connectivity as well:
- Portability: Mobile applications and software components enable a range of devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops) to be customized to specific company or industry requirements. While there are certain attractions to the ergonomic aspects and ease of touchscreen platforms, a key question to ask is: Do you need a device to withstand harsh working conditions? Field technicians may require hardware that’s both compact and nearly indestructible, offering easy access. A number of specialized hardware manufacturers offer diverse selections.
- HTML5: An increase in smartphone and consumer tablet use across all verticals means that inter-communication between devices is essential. Platform-agnostic HTML5 represents the cornerstone of the Open Web Platform and incorporates standard Web technologies (HTML, Java, CSS). This write-once-run-anywhere approach to mobile development creates cross-platform mobile applications that work on multiple devices.
- Online/Offline: Certain industries, such as healthcare or heavy
machinery environments, present limitations regarding online connectivity. For that reason, online /offline synching capability enables technicians to record data offline, then synch and update records upon reconnection.
- Security: Lost or stolen mobile devices present security concerns, as do cloud-based solutions and data relay via wireless networks. The capability to perform remote wipes of data ensures that information remains protected. Companies also need to be concerned with securing data transfers and having adequate encryption controls in place.
- Support: The swift innovation trends related to mobility translate to newer, sophisticated devices and capabilities being constantly introduced. Device proliferation and tracking represents one level of support issues. It’s important to keep in mind that a company’s IT Help Desk should be involved in supporting a mobile device strategy. Without such support, technicians can encounter issues they may be incapable of resolving.
Kerry Doyle is a freelance journalist covering business and technology issues.