As I’ve mentioned before, utilities employ one of the most active mobile workforces today. So then why, in speaking with utility executives, am I hearing that this so called mobile workforce is still one of the most tethered workforces today?
Sure, utility workers – the majority of whom spend their time in the field, hence their “mobile” status – are often given some kind of device to support their work managing power plants, pipelines, wind turbines or just service call after service call for residential and commercial installations and outages. But, notice I didn’t say “mobile” device. That’s because, while many of the devices may be handheld, they can only support a few limited workflows or only allow data capture – but not sharing – from those rural, remote or just typically offline job sites. Or, the reason could be even more burdensome …they are given portable devices that were never meant to be nimble like these utility workers have to be.
What many IT decision-makers don’t realize is that when they hand a worker keys to a vehicle with a Toughbook or other bulky computing device mounted to the console as their primary field computer, they’ve immediately restricted that worker’s data sharing capabilities to their vehicle and eliminated the possibility of any real-time situational analysis or collaboration. When a pipeline inspector has to walk an additional mile(or ten) from his vehicle to identify the cause of a leak and then walk that distance back to the truck to share the data he captured on his device (assuming he could comfortably carry it out of the vehicle), then wait for the rest of the team to receive, review and recommend repair actions; then walk a mile back to the leak site to complete the repair…. well, you get the picture. That’s a lot of downtime clocked just to save a few bucks – if that – by going with a “lower cost” computing solution that will never fully extend utility applications beyond the vehicle. They’ve never walked a full day in a field tech’s shoes.
In other words, utilities need to realize that simply making an “office” setup portable, does not make it mobile . A mobile workforce needs to be able to access and complete every critical workflow whether on wheels or foot.
This year, most of our utility clients are starting to demand that computing devices introduced into the field be capable of supporting applications in the vehicle, in the office, as well as in the mobile environment. That means that IT – and the utility worker – requires a rugged form factor that
- Offers processing power, real-time communications and overall performance on par with traditional computing systems
- Is easy to carry – by hand, on foot – out of the vehicle
- Supports safe in-vehicle vehicle docking solutions and office desk docking solutions
- Features keyboard connectivity, serial, USB and Ethernet ports for connecting to test equipment, and additional accessories such as video cameras, high-speed wireless connectivity, RFID scanners, etc.
- Supports existing software and back-office systems (CAD, auditing, billing, etc.)
- Doesn’t take a “sick day” from a few bumps, bruises or spills or perform only in fair weather. Utility workers often find themselves busiest during extreme weather events that include rain, winds, snow and 100+ degree heat.
That is not a Toughbook. Nor an iPad. Those devices have another purpose in another market segment. But they are just not built to support the strenuous applications of the utility business. On the other hand, a more rugged tablet form factor such as the one Motion offers will check all of the above boxes and some.
This year at DistribuTECH, really consider which platforms align with your evolving mobility needs and don’t require too much compromise. And remember that spending a dollar or two more a day over three years on a mobile solution that can extend all mission-critical workflows to all worksites is going to save you tens of dollars a day in the long run in costs otherwise lost on asset downtime, expanded labor support or additional IT investments needed to fix incompatibilities of the “wrong” device. At Motion, we believe that it’s worth much more than that to have the right device deployed with the mission critical field force. A mobile tablet that is tough inside and outside the vehicle buys you invaluable increases in productivity, operational efficiency and investment security for existing software applications and back-office systems. Just something to keep top of mind…