Public Safety organizations, utilities, government agencies, and even the National Guard all have something in common with the travel industry this week: All are diligently working around the clock to help people safely recover from the Blizzard of 2016. And all are leveraging mobile devices in some capacity to dispatch crews, manage logistics, and maintain constant communications channels between dispersed stakeholders.
These mobile device systems are designed for day-in and day-out productivity improvements, typically with Computer Aided Dispatch, on-line records and the like. But during the Mid-Atlantic Blizzard of 2016, each these systems are undergoing a trial-by-fire (or technically, ice). Tens of thousands of homes without power, cable, or phone; the coordination and prioritization of street clearing based on availability of over-worked crews; the re-positioning of aircraft – and travelers; and even the evacuation of some flooded barrier islands all have an additional urgency that add stress to mobile operations. This is a good time to assess how well mobile systems are serving the needs of the crews (in service to the community). At the end of the day, there will likely be room for improvement in mobile technology utilization.
The similarities these industries share in their mobile strategies aren’t exclusive to emergency response, though. They’re all striving for greater use and acceptance of mobile devices on a daily basis, and both are optimizing their mobile solutions to encourage end-users to follow through on important actions from the field – whether that’s a travel booking or a field service ticket closeout.
So, then, why aren’t all Americans who research travel options on mobile devices completing their purchase on that same mobile device? And why aren’t all field service technicians who have been issued rugged tablets using them to enter pertinent data into the system in real-time from the field? What is discouraging them from completing their respective “transactions” right then and there? Why do they continue to delay and prefer on waiting to get back to a desktop? The first assumption must be that there’s an ease-of-use issue.
Have you ever used a website or app and wondered if the developer ever used it themselves? I know I have. I remember one time, when trying to book a hotel room, the mobile app gave me the option to select low floor or high floor preferences – but not unclick them. While the goal may have been to streamline my hotel room booking on the mobile device, I was unable to complete the purchase based on my preferences on my mobile device. Not only was I disappointed in the app, but with the hotel brand too. At the end of the day, the field users are the ones who decide if the full mobile solution is workable, if it works logically, and if it makes their jobs easier or harder. Perhaps there’s too much data input required for easy entry on the smartphone keyboard, or the data form structure isn’t conducive to easy viewing on a 5” screen. The mobile device you choose can make or break your mobility strategy. That’s why it’s so important for field service organizations to invest in the right rugged tablet solution to lay a solid mobile technology foundation.
However, I’m more inclined to believe that a lot of the mobile device disconnect in field service sectors is the result of one-sided mobility “deployments” that aren’t proactively refined after they’re rolled out.
As I noted a few weeks back, rugged tablets are a “necessary, but not sufficient” component of smart and successful mobility strategies. And, as many field service technicians have discovered, simply having a rugged tablet at their disposal doesn’t mean they have an effective rugged mobile computing solution. At least not at first.
In fact, a couple of years ago, one of our utility customers had field tested rugged tablets extensively against other mobile PC form factors. Feedback from the field supervisors suggested that rugged tablets were the preferred platform for their crews. After deploying the tablets to the rest of the workforce, though, they hit some unexpected bumps in road. Many guys weren’t keen on the rugged tablets because they were lacking keyboards. The customer chose initially to omit this easily added option because the tablets were primarily being used for maintenance workflows. They figured it was easy enough to complete checklists using the digital pen and touch capabilities – and they were right. For many of their asset management, GIS mapping, and work order tasks, it was easy.
The rugged tablet quickly improved operational accountability and reporting by extending the customer’s Esri geospatial information system (GIS) into the field. Field service techs were retrieving maintenance dispatch guidance, inspection checklists, and the asset locations on the rugged tablet without hesitation or complaint. Their supervisors were using the tablets in the office and the field with ease.
But they recognized early on that there was still a disconnect with their mobile “solution” that needed to be addressed. Many techs were pulling pieces of paper out of their shirt pocket to handwrite detailed inspection notes and then waiting until they returned to the office to document their insights via desktop PCs. They were not using the tablets to input the data in real-time and they were certainly not using their mobile tools to see each job through to completion from the field. Nor were they using the tablets during classroom training sessions or for other workflows where significant data entry was required. They felt they couldn’t be productive without a keyboard in those settings because that’s what they were accustomed to outside of paper-based systems.
At first, supervisors assumed it was just old habit or hesitancy to change. Despite gentle encouragement to use the rugged tablets, adoption rates decreased. Yet instead of teaching their employees how they can emulate their paper and desktop data entry methods on the tablet, they admittedly doubted their decision to mobilize workflows at all. If they couldn’t achieve 100 percent adoption of the mobile device for all workflows, was the investment worth it?
All the while, the risks started racking up: What was happening between the time field service technicians “wrote down” the data in the field and logged into desktop? Would errors ensue in the later “translation” of that data? Was data being lost when papers were damaged or dropped? Were there distractions preventing eventual desktop entry? And the list goes on.
Eventually, they were concerned that the rugged tablets were becoming more of a barrier to mobile efficiencies than an enabler. Even though it’s a known fact that non-rugged mobile devices have an annual TCO that’s over twice that of a rugged tablet, they questioned the validity of their rugged tablet/software solution and the conversion capabilities of their mobile workflows. In reality, the obstacle to widespread adoption wasn’t a lack of mobile technology capabilities. It was a lack of early modifications to the mobility solution and a lack of training that prevented end-users from comfortably tapping into the mobile technologies. Once they introduced a companion keyboard option for training scenarios and invested time and resources into training all employees on how to utilize the various tablet features and software, widespread acceptance of the tablet-based solution resumed.
So whether you’re trying to drive more accurate data capture – or more real-time inspection insights – from the field, the best way to convert your mobile workers into devout mobile device users is to capitalize on some of less obvious TCO benefits of your rugged tablet investments:
- By choosing the right rugged mobile device, you also gain access to the right software, accessories, tools, etc. You can solidify your end-to-end mobile solution easily.
- By choosing the right rugged mobility partner, you gain access to the industry experts, engineers, and strategic integrators that will not only help you architect the best mobile solution for your business, but train your employees on how to utilize the solution in their best interest.
- By recognizing that the right rugged tablet for your competitor may not be right for you. The best rugged tablet solutions offer a level of customization and adaptation that can only be achieved by opening a dialogue with end-users from day one. That feedback will give you actionable guidance on how to improve workflow conversion rates and solidify a positive ROI.