Aug 08 2014

Advanced Devices Drive Productivity in the Field

Service workers require business-grade capabilities to get the job done.

If clipboards and pens are the hardware of the traditional field workforce, then state-of the-art mobile devices and peripherals are the new world order. These come in several form factors, from those designed for the average mobile employee to those capable of functioning in harsh environments.

More field service organizations are providing their employees with tablets rather than handheld devices because they like the larger screen real estate for working with complex applications and viewing maps. But field service personnel aren’t that different from other employees today — many supplement larger devices with their smartphones.

A VDC Research survey from 2013 finds that by 2017, four out of five field service workers across all industries will use either a tablet or a smartphone for offsite work. Not all field service jobs require a ruggedized device. But in the energy space, perhaps more than others, it’s a good idea to equip users with devices that can withstand harsher conditions regardless of their job. Some situations may just require that cases be rugged, while others may demand that devices themselves be able to withstand exposure to dust, liquids and other elements.

The devices available for field service work today have business-grade capabilities and can connect to a number of peripherals, including monitors, printers and external drives. The mobile hardware being deployed in the field includes:

iPads and other tablets: Apple iPad devices and other manufacturers’ tablets are widely used in the field, primarily in less harsh environments. For example, utility service workers armed with tablets can check meters to gauge electricity consumption. Using Apple’s AirPrint utility, workers can use their iPads or iPhones to print from their mobile printer without installing drivers or downloading software.

Rugged notebooks and tablets: For employees who require a more ruggedized form factor, Panasonic offers the Toughbook in a range of screen sizes. The firm also offers its Toughpad ruggedized tablet. Several other vendors also manufacture rugged devices, and some models are available with touch screens.

Phablets: These devices combine the functionality of tablets and phones in a larger form factor than a smartphone. This design gives users the larger screen size and signature-capture capabilities of a tablet with the voice capabilities of a smartphone, in a single device.

Smartphones: Field service personnel using their own iPhones or Android devices take advantage of mobile field service software optimized for these devices. This practice has more companies in the energy industry purchasing device-agnostic packaged apps and designing homegrown mobile apps to run on multiple mobile operating systems.

Mobile printers: Printers, like computing devices, can now go wherever field service techs go. Mobile computers speed and streamline processes by allowing workers to send files to their offices or update a database rather than travel there to hand off paperwork or key it in themselves. Similarly, mobile printers eliminate the need for field service workers to go to a physical location to retrieve paperwork they need for the day.

Service workers can use mobile handheld printers to print their work orders, schedules, maps, instrumentation diagrams, schematics of substations or large resource-extraction equipment, installation information and labels for marking equipment at different sites. And if they can process payments using their mobile devices, they can print receipts or invoices for later payment. Mobile printers are also available as add-ons to mobile devices, and some don’t use ink or toner that might melt or freeze in extreme conditions.

Want to learn more? Check out CDW’s white paper, “Mobility Fuels Productivity in Field Service Operations.”


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