Bring Your Own Device: the field service software paradigm of the future

Go back a few years, and one of the biggest issues in field service management was around hardware. Specifically, the kind of device that field service management engineers should be equipped with in order to work effectively with a business’s choice of mobile field service software.

But turn the clock forward to today, and a lot of the heat has gone out of the debate. Or at least, out of that particular debate. Instead, there’s a more pragmatic view being taken: a view that there is no universal ‘one size fits all’ device that is exactly optimal for every business and every field service management engineer.

Yet if that particular debate has moved on, another has arisen in its place. And potentially, a debate that’s even more heated. Specifically, why bother worrying about—or specifying—mobile devices at all? Why not simply allow field service management engineers to use the device that they like best—namely their own personal choice of mobile device?

Termed ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD), it’s a policy that is fast-gaining serious support among businesses. According to a global survey of CIOs by analyst firm Gartner Group, for instance, nearly 40% of enterprise organisations said that they expected to stop providing mobile devices to their employees by 2016, relying on a BYOD policy instead.

Of course, that’s still a minority of respondents—albeit a large minority. Moreover, it’s a fair bet that most of those respondent organisations were talking generally across their entire workforces, and not specifically in terms of a BYOD policy relating to field service management devices and field service management engineers.

All of which begs an obvious question: while BYOD might be right for organisations generally, is it the right thing to do in the context of field service management engineers wanting to connect with mobile field service software?

Form factor

To some, the suggestion will sound foolhardy or downright ridiculous. What about security, they ask? What about specifications? What about the costs of supporting all those mobile device formats—such Windows, Apple’s iOS, Android, and Linux?

We’ll touch upon each of those concerns. But let’s start with specification. According to a survey contained in a recent White Paper published by IBM, 82% of respondents expect smartphones to play a “critical role” in business productivity over the next two years.

To those of us with memories long enough to recall field service management engineers lugging bulk laptops (and sometimes printers) with them everywhere, the suggestion seems laughable.

But hang on. The latest hi-spec smartphones are continuing the trend begun by Apple’s early iPhones: ever-larger screens, with Internet connectivity and browser display considered just as important as telephone functionality. Moreover, most web browsers now come ready-optimised for mobile devices of that size and format.

And for a field service management engineer, that smartphone form factor may well be perfectly adequate.

Just consider the use cases. What—and where—is the next job that they should go to? A smartphone-sized device can handle that. Basic activity recording: the time the job started, and the time it was completed? Yes, that’s not a problem, either. Browsing spare part availability back on the enterprise server? Likewise. Browsing detailed repair instructions, and maybe watching a ‘how to’ video? Again, likewise.

Even invoicing presents few problems—especially not in the B2B world. Forget printing out an invoice: just send a PDF of the invoice to the customer’s e-mail address.

And if a smartphone really, really, really isn’t big enough? Try an iOS, Android or Windows tablet—seven inches, eight inches, or even ten inches.

Securing your data

But what about security? Even if all these tasks can be sensibly carried out on a smartphone or tablet computer, how can it possibly make sense to connect uncontrolled and potentially unknown devices to a corporate network?

Well, yes. Security is indeed a concern. But chiefly back on the enterprise server, it turns out, where it can be properly managed. In short, the risk relating to the device itself is fairly minimal.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Consider popular websites such as YouTube, eBay, or Amazon.com, which most of us routinely access from mobile devices, using web browsers and—for transactions—built-in encryption. And if we’re happy to access popular sites such as these from our mobile devices, then why should we be any less happy to access our company’s mobile field service software?

Of course, this requires mobile field service software that has been properly developed from a security point of view. And mobile field service software that is properly secured on the corporate server.

But the overall moral is clear: buy the right mobile field service software, and then manage it properly, and device-associated risk from a BYOD policy is minimal.

Which operating system?

Finally, let’s turn to the challenges of supporting multiple device operating systems. And certainly, there’s plenty of choice: Windows, Apple’s iOS, Android, and Linux, not to mention ‘flavours’ of some of those, such as the increasingly-popular Chromebooks, which use Google’s Linux-derived Chrome operating system.

But is this diversity necessarily a problem for a company adopting a BYOD policy? Probably not, because provided that it is running mobile field service software from a mainstream vendor that is capable of supporting such operating systems, then the problem belongs to the software developer, not the end-user field service company.

Certainly, here at Datawright, we strive to develop mobile field service software that is truly ‘device agnostic’, capable of interacting seamlessly with major mobile operating systems.

That way, simply put, supporting BYOD becomes our challenge, rather than your challenge.

Productive workforce

Roll it all together, and what have we got? A view of BYOD that is rather less daunting, hopefully. And certainly one that is also more firmly grounded in reality, rather than in fears and prejudice.

Does BYOD actually save much money? Given the much lower cost of mobile devices these days, probably not. But in any case, that’s not really the logic behind BYOD.

Instead, the goal is satisfied and content field service management engineers, working productively and at peak efficiency, using a device that they are both pleased with and familiar with—their own.

Which has to be a goal worth striving for.

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Datawright has won the 2017 Software Innovation Solution of the Year Award for an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) project delivered to long-term customer, Arlington Automotive (NE). The award forms part of the European IT & Software Excellence Awards, now in their 9th year and established to recognise best practice in customer solutions and service excellence.

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