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What is in a name? Part 2: The hallmarks of field service

Feb 23 • Features, Hardware • 4452 Views • No Comments on What is in a name? Part 2: The hallmarks of field service

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Motion Computing’s Ian Davies returns to the question of what defines field service…

We have previously discussed the emerging differences between enterprise mobility and field service.  The underlying current of that discussion was which fish would eat the other.

In the cold light of day, it is clear that (from a market and technology perspective at least) field service management will live ‘within’ enterprise mobility.  But this overlooks a critical point of distinction – what does a field service definition of enterprise mobility look like?  What are the actual, tangible hallmarks of an FS deployment and what does this mean for selecting the right technology?

Don’t even look at the technology look in the mirror… if you are wearing a hard hat chances are you are field service

Firstly, don’t even look at the technology.  Look in the mirror.  If you are wearing a hard hat, chances are you are field service and much of the discussion around enterprise mobility may not apply to a great extent.

Of course, the same reason you are wearing such a fetching headpiece – safety – does need to be reflected in the choice of mobile technology.    This may mean the right IP ratings for ruggedness, the right protection of critical information or the right certifications for specific environments such as explosive atmospheres.

There are other clear hallmarks of a field service deployment, driven by the needs of the mobile worker.  Whilst these can be broadly grouped into connectivity, computing power and security, it is worth bearing in mind what each of these labels mean to the different vertical markets within field service.

Connectivity

Productivity in the field depends on being connected to other people and resources – be they colleagues at head office, other mobile technicians and engineers or databases thousands of miles away.  When a signal connection drops for a consumer on the high street it is an annoyance.  When a signal drops for an engineer on an oil rig, it can paralyse the operation of the whole drilling platform.

Elsewhere, many public safety and utility businesses operate within dense metropolitan areas where network saturation can impact wireless performance – especially 4G.

Not all enterprise-focused mobile devices are compatible with the latest 4G wireless technology, which means signal availability and data speeds can be unpredictable.

One of the arguments recently put forward has been to view the level of ruggedisation that a tablet needs not as a consequence of the environment in which it operates, but as a result of how critical the process enabled by the technology is, to the business.  The same goes for connectivity – if the connection to the back office or elsewhere is paramount to enabling a given task, it must be backed up with redundancy and alternative options.

Computing power

Software applications for use in the field grow ever more sophisticated, incorporating more and more data and handling increasingly complex processes.  At the same time the need for power efficiency (and the subsequent impact on battery life) remains top of the list of concerns for most deployments.

Despite the fact field service is – by definition – away from the traditional desk environment, data processing needs remain the same.

For example, the latest 5th Gen Intel® Core™ processors (Broadwell) including the i7 vPro™ chipset, provide the power to quickly move through computation-intensive applications, while increasing overall power efficiency. However, again applying the idea that the process, not the environment is the defining aspect of selection, it is important that such technology is paired with the ability to hot-swap the battery in the field.

Despite the fact field service is – by definition – away from the traditional desk environment, data processing needs remain the same. Devices must offer the same processing capabilities on devices such as tablets as they do on a desktop or laptop.

Security

From a security perspective, the net result of a more connected mobile workforce with access to increasingly sensitive information is greater vulnerability.  Stories of lost laptops still make the headlines and more endpoint devices offer more openings to malicious attacks on a corporate network.  Part of the answer here lies in greater training and better procedures for field service personnel.

The needs of the specific industry must also be taken into account (an aspect as equally applicable to hardware as software) if the field service personnel equipped with this technology are to achieve the productivity savings that drive so many field service and enterprise mobility deployments alike.

 However, technology can also help – multi-factor authentication capabilities through a combination of password, fingerprint scanner and smart card readers for environments such as healthcare, public safety and manufacturing – are important considerations.  Likewise encryption is a vital component of an increased security profile, with remote management capabilities and kill switches necessary in some cases.

Of course, these three areas are neither exhaustive, nor the exclusive preserve of field service.  But they do give serious points for consideration to those procuring technology such as notebooks or tablet PCs for use out in the field.

The needs of the specific industry must also be taken into account (an aspect as equally applicable to hardware as software) if the field service personnel equipped with this technology are to achieve the productivity savings that drive so many field service and enterprise mobility deployments alike.

Key to these savings are the peripherals that will augment a tablet PC and enable it to fit into the workflows of field service personnel.  Vehicle mounts are a great example, as well as carry cases and charging docks.

These are not just additions that are “nice to have” – they form the bedrock of the tablet fitting in to the jobs being undertaken in the field and improving productivity.  They are also, like hard hats, a great indication that the field service teams have the right kit to get the job done.

 

 

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