With 2022 in full swing, there is optimism that the way industries work will continue to evolve post-pandemic. Organizations are shifting specifically for frontline workers and field technicians carrying out work orders, inspections, installing and repairing small to heavy equipment, and in some cases, operating machinery. Rugged mobile devices can play a key role in the digitization of frontline work.
Digital Transformation Has Moved to The Frontline
Organizations continue to integrate technology that transforms existing processes to meet service demands and customer expectations. Over the last few years, the focus has shifted from the back-end to the frontline technician. Thanks to advancements in mobile technology, frontline workers can be more efficient than ever before resulting in better communication between management, peers, and subject matter experts, higher customer satisfaction ratings, and faster ROI.
The Frontline Itself Is Evolving
The frontline landscape is changing, with new connectivity technologies such as 5G, Li-Fi, Internet of Things (IoT) deployments. This requires the frontline workforce to be more tech-savvy than ever, while also being able to interact with these technologies. Many organizations are also facing a massive wave of experienced field service technicians retiring, resulting in a younger, less-experienced workforce. These changes have three major effects on an organization’s technology spending.
With ransomware and cyberattacks proliferating against field service industries, including oil & gas, utilities, law enforcement, and healthcare, keeping devices and data secure are one of the main concerns of IT managers. When employees take their work devices home at the end of the day, security risks go up significantly.
If an employee is going to be using work devices on their home Wi-Fi networks, an encrypted Virtual Private Network (VPN) is good practice. It is also good to have a newer Wi-Fi-6 router with WPA-3 encryption, with the same on whatever work devices are using that network. Organizations can also consider deploying devices with multifactor authentication (MFA)—a security technology that requires a user to pass multiple methods of authentication to identify and verify the user prior to login or access to pieces of data.
Since field devices are often dropped, shaken, and exposed to the elements, field technicians often require more rugged computing devices than a traditional COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf-Device). There are two current trends further raising the bar.
One, digital transformation in the field, especially an increased reliance on the Cloud and Edge computing is creating a greater need for these devices to be always on, instead of merely present. And two, with these devices now being brought into the office less often, problem resolution has become more challenging.
In other words, field equipment must be able to tolerate more wear and tear than it did before. If a failure occurs, it could be days before workers are able to hand it over to IT. It would also be good if the field tech is modular, with vital parts like the battery or storage drive easily replaceable, preferably without tools, so that operation can carry on with little to no interruption.
With field equipment less likely to be returned to the office each day, sharing devices amongst employees will become less common. This means organizations need to buy more units for the same headcount so that devices can be issued individually. It also means that field service organizations might want to follow the lead of their more deskbound counterparts and start offering employees more choices when it comes to key devices, like their mobile computers. Some employees might want a larger screen with easier-to-read text and a full keyboard, while others might prefer the mobility of a one-handed device.
The Frontline Is Becoming More Remote + Connected
Some of the same pandemic measures that led to fieldwork becoming less tethered have also led to field tasks, once performed by pairs or teams, now being done by individuals. This is driving the adoption of field tech with remote cameras and communications, thereby frontline personnel can receive assistance and guidance from anywhere in the world in real-time.
Even as the pandemic subsides, some industries will continue to face labor shortages, as well as waves of retirement, so the use of remote guidance and remote monitoring of frontline workers is unlikely to significantly subside.
Additionally, multiple simultaneous incidents or emergencies are becoming harder to handle, with news about such incidents traveling faster than ever. This makes improved pre-emptive sensor monitoring necessary.
But the more sensors you deploy, the greater the likelihood of irregularities and false alarms in the data they generate, so organizations need sufficient detail and nuance in that data to know what requires immediate attention, what can wait, and what can be ignored. Edge computing provides this, as does the use of drones and robots as your first responders, which is driving another disruptive trend.