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We think that providing a mobile solution to our field staff will help them in some way. Whether it be for them to become more efficient or to communicate better, we have the idea that adding a tablet to their toolbox is a good thing. It certainly can be, but how does this new tool fit into their daily pattern of work?

Is the intent to change their workflow as well, or must they continue doing things the same way? Are we trying to stuff all the functionality a user can get from their desktop into a mobile app on a 5.5-inch screen? Is it possible to facilitate the tablet being the “go to,” technology vs. the yellow legal pad?

What Does Failure Look Like?

TRM RulesManager Studio, an Eclipse-based development environment, connects to the underlying Maximo (or MAS Manage) instance. The Developer can take several paths to construct business rules impacting the User experience. One of those paths is to open the App Developer perspective where the creation of rules is largely a drag-and-drop affair.

The following few bullets are paraphrased comments from real people who have experienced the manifestation of the risk involved in deploying Mobile applications.

A workforce that is set in its ways and simply wants to carry around paper

  • Mobile apps sit around unused
  • They could save a boat load of time and miscommunication, but they just don’t

The perception that Mobile is more of a novelty or buzzword – just an add-on to make more money

Organizations try to squeeze in “the paper way” into the Mobile applications rather than try to adopt a more efficient process to meet defined business goals.

  • They talk about how cool Mobile could be, but do not have goals, therefore cannot explain what they want

Their lack of use is not because the technology doesn’t work or problems with the apps themselves.

  • Rather, it’s just that folks are given the choice and they simply don’t use them… no “real” reasons.

But Maybe There Is Hope…

Mobile was positive because the office clerks no longer needed to enter data since the mechanics enter it themselves in the mobile app.

However, the mechanics still document materials, etc. on the printed work order and then enter on tablets later since they share tablets…so for them not so positive impact but they’ve gotten used to it and don’t complain.

The client was already using mobile apps when we took over and we added/migrated more. The mobile apps have been a positive impact since the end user enters the data into the system immediately while they are out in the field.

They don’t need to carry hardcopy work orders/inspection forms, then enter data when they get back to the office.

 

Data Flow

This may seem simplistic, but it is an important visual to ponder.

People in the field need data physically in a place to get work done. The back end provides that data and needs data back from the field about the activities.

The question is the degree of this data interchange truly needed at those physical locations?

For example: Why push O&M manuals as attachments, when the device has Internet access? (That vast library of information is good, but does the field need it?)

This is a critical first step: Defining (and agreeing) on what information needs to flow back and forth. The answer is not, “Everything!”

It might even point to the need for some process improvement to occur before deploying a solution!

Examples Are Everywhere! 

You need to ponder how mobile devices are commonly used by others before you can start considering them for yourselves.

  • Use cases in the field are different than sitting at your desk.
  • You need to walk in another’s shoes for several days.
  • No one has a wrench in one hand and a tablet in the other!
  • Who needs a menu? Scan the QR code.
  • On a laptop via a browser at a coffee shop is “mobile.”

For example…

  • Baggage loaders scan bags as they conveyer into plane. Scan, check, reset, scan… mobile phone size/format
    • Stop right here. What do they need to know? The scan was accepted… that’s all. Then, what is the next flight? That’s it.
  • Delivery drivers scan packages before they throw them on your doorstep. Scan, check, toss… mobile phone size/format
  • Big-box store employees scanning food temperatures and entering values in the Mobile application during daily rounds
  • Construction and insurance claim estimators. More sophisticated/more real estate mobile apps. Tablets.
  • Home appliance repair service folks. Work order, client information, invoicing source, payment, manuals.
  • Some POS devices/apps could be considered… pictures of the food, totals for the customer, handover for tip/signature, and payment.
  • Lubrication and PM/Inspection mobile apps on tablets talking back to a CMMS

Questions to Ask the Workforce

What are some of the questions you need to ask the people in the field who would be using the mobile apps? How do you capture this valuable information and then translate it into decision-making points?

  1. While you are out working, what minimal information do you need to know that tells you what should be working on now and later in the day?
    1. Examples: Location, Asset, Task list, etc.
  2. What minimal information do you need to enter (or actions to take) while out working?
    1. Examples: Materials used, time recording, work order status changes, etc.
  3. How exactly do you use the mobile device? Does it just sit in the truck in-between jobs, or is it on you and used/referenced during the job?
  4. Does bright sunlight or hot/cold impact your use of the device?
    1. Gloves? Dirty hands? Risk of dropping?
  5. How often would the device being “off-line” have an impact on you, not being able to access information until you were back in range?
  6. Do you use the device to take pictures? Voice text entry? Bar/QR code scanning? Surfing the internet? “Do you now, or would, surfing the internet for information be of value?” (Maybe the mobile app needs to be very simple to process work, leaving the “research” aspect to the internet.?)

Note that most questions have nothing to do with the specific features/functionality of mobile apps.

Given the failures listed in the first few slides, are there more questions to ask?

  • “Honestly, would you use mobile apps vs. paper?”
  • “Where/how do you enter your time that you get paid from now?”
  • “Is keeping a device charged a difficulty?”

What Should a Pilot (POC) Look Like?

Don’t overthink it, but don’t just throw tablets at people either. It will and should cost you money to set up and facilitate the POC.

  • Determine initial data sets/scope that the POC will focus upon. What is deemed the minimum amount of data needed in the field and what is the minimum needed from the field by the back office.
  • Choose several different mobile devices, small and large format, Android, and iOS. Your corporate mobile standard might not suit the field.
    • Is your company Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), or is the Company going to provide them?
  • Choose a focused set (or single) of mobile apps for a specific group of field workers
    • Narrow down all the options you have with Maximo/MAS Mobile solutions
  • Provide some initial orientation to the select workforce on the device/apps
  • Make sure they understand the scope of the pilot and what you expect from them
  • Consider the difference between a centralized docking/storage approach and workers taking the devices home or left somewhere for sync, recharging, security, etc.
  • Survey the workforce regularly during the pilot period. Care enough to capture all their input (issues, goodness, enhancement suggestions, etc.) for review later. Ask the same questions multiple times during the POC, not just a single survey event at the end. Ask “why” and get explanations, not just ranking on scales of 1-5.
  • Have them try everything the mobile app and/or device provides, then give an estimate as to how much of the functionality they actually used.
    • Example: How many times during the POC were you disconnected from the network, yet were able to operate the apps because they supported that situation?
  • Enter Cases/Tickets to the supporting Vendor for all issues… no matter how small!
  • Run the POC for a very specific period, then take everything away!
    • Why? You do not want to continue to support the use of this temporary environment.
    • Then form a real deployment project!

Technical Thoughts

As with any technology, there are always several “platforms” to choose from. In the past, these platforms were mostly proprietary, locking you into a path. These days, the technologies you have available are largely “open,” giving you the option to move from one to another without much upheaval.

  • Most mobile solutions can be managed via Mobile Device Management (MDM) software these days
  • Most mobile solutions are using REST API for connections to/from server
  • Most start with a download from a Play store
  • Android and iOS generally have the same functionality. Windows can be tricky. Other than corporate preference, there is no real difference.
  • “Mobile” could just be via a browser – Is disconnected mode really needed?
  • Most mobile apps are expected to be used OOB. App changes are a development effort.
  • Devices are ubiquitous – Laptops, tablets, phones, handsfree (RealWear)
  • Use of hand scanners (bar/QR code, RFID) should be considered vs. device cameras due to lighting and distance

References

https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/the-psychological-toll-of-the-smartphone

Use of smart mobile devices can have detrimental impacts on our staff, even if the device is intended to be used for “work only.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5403814/

Powerful augmentation tools, but seem to impact humans’ abilities to remember, think, pay attention, and manage emotions

https://www.ibm.com/topics/mobile-device-management

Mobile Device Management

 

Wrap Up

Let’s go back to the title and answer the question:

Does the mobile solution impact the workflow or does the workflow impact the solution?

Seems like the answer is both.

A mobile solution can bring efficiencies to your organization, yet it must accommodate the nuances needed to truly support those who use it.

You must put some thought into deploying mobile solutions.

 

John Q. Todd, Sr. Business Consultant / Product Researcher at TRM. Reach out to us at AskTRM@trmnet.com if you have any questions or would like to discuss deploying MAS 8 or Maximo AAM for condition-based maintenance/monitoring.

 

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