Think about it: if your field workers are expected to maintain an “immediate response” posture at all times, and you require them to always be connected, then you need to ensure they have mobile devices equipped with radio systems designed for places were wireless signals may be weak or unpredictable – not a consumer device that assumes that the wireless access point is behind a sofa or that a cellular tower is just outside the coffee shop where they may be taking a break.
And if your field force needs to work outdoors to quickly respond to major weather events, they need devices that run the software that supports your SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) to minimize safety risks. Their handheld mobile computers and tablets must also feature screens that are just as viewable in bright sunshine as they are at night, aren’t fazed by rain or very high temperatures and could survive a drop while climbing up a ladder.
Of course, utilities and energy companies know better than anyone that customers expect – really, they require – on-time service. Usually when they call, it’s because they need their power, water or gas back on, or shut off, immediately. For that reason alone, your workers need enterprise-grade handhelds or tablets configured with geographic information system (GIS) technologies in order to run dispatch apps and quickly locate infrastructure assets. (More to come on the importance of GIS-enabled mobile devices in an upcoming blog post.) It is also another reason why they need the most reliable and durable tablet or handheld on the market, regardless of the cost. (There are many, which we’ll talk about in the coming weeks.)
Remember, a mobile device that fails for any reason costs you a lot more than the upfront price of the device – there is the upset customer, idled field worker, IT costs to re-provision a new device (and un-provision the old one) and much more. Which is why you really need to be weighing the “total benefits of ownership” when comparing your mobile computing device options.
If your field workers use wrenches and other tools, climb poles and crawl into small spaces, then they need rugged mobile devices that will survive being dropped – and having tools dropped on them.
If your field workers need their handhelds or tablets to interact with the equipment they are servicing – whether that be via USB connections, serial ports, reading barcodes or NFC tags – then they need devices that come with the proper input/output (I/O) ports or scanning systems. (And not just a check-box port; they need a true serial port – or a built-in 1D/2D barcode reader instead of just a camera.)
Don’t just assume that because a highly-valuable piece of software can run on a lower-priced consumer device that the software provider is recommending that device for your particular use cases or operating environments. They are ensuring compatibility, but it is up to you to determine which mobile computing platform is ultimately best for your operations.
So, as I’ve recommended for years, be sure to first pick the software that best matches your workflow. (Don’t change how you do things to fit the software; that’s backwards.) Then, once you’ve selected the right software, you can start considering which hardware devices might serve your needs. By following this process, you’ll be able to answer one of the most fundamental questions when evaluating the viability of different mobility solutions for your enterprise applications: “Can the hardware run the software I need/want?” Further, “Can the device be configured with all of the specialized capabilities and features my workers need to fully utilize the software application and be efficient and effective in every likely situation in the field?”
Remember: the value of your field service operations is defined by your ability to prevent and fix customer problems. Being on site at the right time with the right capabilities and the right people is the holy grail. No disappointed customer is going to say, “My equipment is down for an extra day because your tablet failed, but that’s OK because you saved a lot of money on it.”
Tune back into Your Edge in the coming weeks for more insights from Bob on how to properly calculate the “total benefit of ownership” when evaluating the different mobility solutions available to you today.
In the meantime, download “The Future of Field Operations: A Look at the Energy and Utilities Sector Through 2025” report to see how your organization’s technology goals and challenges compare to others in the industry.