Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Enabling mobile field service applications


By Dale Troppito and Dawna Paton

As we discussed in our last column, there's no standard, off-the-shelf, ROI (Return On Investment) calculator that works for a generic mobile solution. Each mobile solution delivers benefits that are highly dependent on the type and configuration of the system and the industry that's using it. Our mission for the next several columns will be to inventory the value drivers for leading enterprise mobile solutions. This column will deal with mobile field service applications. Enterprises are finding handhelds to be an effective tool for connecting the field service force to corporate headquarters. Let's drill down to find out why this is so.

Defining the field force

Many enterprises require field forces to implement tasks that absolutely require their physical presence at the work site, customer site, or point of incident. There are numerous examples of field service functions, but there are four top categories.

Field data collection

Many enterprises need to send staff out to the field for the sole purpose of retrieving data, usually tied to a particular timeframe. For example, utility companies need to capture data readings from electric meters. Retail manufacturers need to monitor how well their retail distribution channel is moving product off the shelves and complying with brand and promotional marketing programs.

Site inspections

There's a huge class of mobile solutions that require an enterprise to send out a field inspector to view and assess a site. Buildings must be inspected for safety or code compliance. Construction firms need to send their project managers out to the field to inspect the progress of a building under construction.

Site inspections always require the inspector to collect data concerning the site and note outstanding issues. Corporate headquarters needs to have this data in hand on a near real-time basis to assure that management has an accurate handle on all its field activities and projects.

Incident reporting

It's often difficult for an enterprise to accurately assess an incident remotely; sometimes they just have to have a staff member on the scene to make an assessment firsthand. Local town governments often equip dog officers, emergency medical services, etc. with handhelds for on-scene data collection. And it's become common practice for police departments to equip their officers with handhelds to capture data literally at the scene of the crime or infringement.