Fooling around at the less glamorous end of mobility
What is sexy?
Mobile workshop We spent some time last week discussing requirements for mobile devices and got quite a bit of feedback on how to select and deploy the right kit for professional users.
This culminated in a poll towards the end of the week in which we learned, perhaps not surprisingly, that while many with smaller installations offer their users quite a bit of freedom, things need to be more controlled when you get beyond a user base of about 10.
At this point, the usual practice seems to be to define a series of standard devices which are used for business purposes. These may then be used to offer users choice in a more controlled manner (more common for mid-sized installations) or allocated to specific job roles and issued very prescriptively (the approach favoured for larger scale deployments).
We'll issue a report with some of the specific numbers included at some point soon, but in the meantime we want to turn our attention to the less glamorous end of mobility – using mobile technology to introduce efficiencies into more "blue collar" areas such as field service management and logistics.
We know from the survey we conducted earlier in the month that quite a few of you are active in this area, but the big question we have is whether you should think of this as separate to dealing with the needs of the professional white collar contingent.
Should you, for example, be looking to put separate solutions or infrastructure in place for mobile email on the one hand and access to your SAP system or similar on the other, or is it sensible to look for a platform and management framework that can deal with both?
At a higher level, we could even ask whether any of the mobile stuff should be separate to your existing middleware, security, and management framework anyway, and if not, in which areas is it particularly important to be properly integrated or coordinated.
So, if you have grappled with these or related questions before, we'd be really interested in hearing about your thoughts and experience, and particularly any advice you have for others trying to make decisions in this area. You can give us your feedback as a comment below. ®
American Blue Collar Mobile Technology
In the Colonies, most Blue Collar workers already have - and USE - advanced mobile communications devices.
Nextel, now together with Sprint (with Nextel in the driver's seat, by the way) built an empire out of providing hand-held technology to the vast number of "independent" blue collar types - the building tradesmen, small businesses, mobile technicians,etc. - through the use of their "Push To Talk" devices. Everyone I know that is in a Trade has a Nextel device. You can't work in the Trades without one - you are immediately cut out of 90% of your potential market by not being available via "chirping".
Nextel built upon this base by providing value-added services like voice response travel routing, GPS maps, on-line directories of services and providers that allowed the blue collar worker to leverage the communications device into a Business Intelligence tool.
However, most IT departments don't think in these terms, probably because most IT technicians and managers have never worked in the Trades and have no clue as to what is useful and what is not. The most "backward" blue collar workers are those tied to a large corporation - and even they usually have a personal Nextel phone that they use without corporate sponsorship to, as Larry the Cable Guy says "get 'er DONE!".
The bottom line here is that the needs of white collar and blue collar workers is very different. The issues we've discussed in the previous polls don't really apply to a work force that is focused on serially performing specific tasks that, for the most part, are outside of the measurements that IT typically is concerned with. (IT cares about the RESULT of completing these tasks and the resources, but the tools and skills are not something that are typically measured by ERP: they are below the level of granularity that measurements are taken at.)
Putting it another way: text messaging, web browsing and email are all LUXURIES that only become "important" at the level of management or teen-age indulgence. Physical workers don't have the time - or need - for these services: they need INSTANT voice confirmations, good directions, and the ability to communicate with management, family and friends to provide status updates. The tools are available to them, but, unlike their white collar brethren, they're usually too busy getting their immediate task accomplished to worry about the latest iTunes download. (Indeed, in a kind of reverse-status situation, the default "chirp" tone Nextel provides is retained by 99% of the DirectConnect users - lets folks at the green grocer's know that they're important enough to be instantly available!)
I may be wrong in this, but I've been observing this behavior over the past 8 years in my associates and neighbors that are in the "blue collar" workforce. I'll listen humbly to anyone who has better observations to report...
Prevalence of need requires universality of provision
I'm not sure that whether or not a member of staff is "blue collar" is the determining factor in the provision of mobile infrastructure.
A workforce that has a high proportion of its staff in mobile roles, whether "blue collar" or not, should be making every effort to ensure all applications are accessible through well-constructed interfaces (web services, APIs, etc). This will enable applications to be constructed and delivered to a variety of mobile devices.
If there is a difference between mobile blue collar workers and mobile white collar workers, it is that white collar workers tend to be in positions that enable them to demand a degree of flexibility from the IT department in terms of the kit provided to them, and the functions available on that kit. I hate to say it, but I think companies tend to treat the blue collar workforce as more disposable - any increased tendency to walk because they don't like the device they use all day is not an issue since they can be replaced. This is not so much the case with a white collar worker threatening a company with reduced motivation.
There is more often a dictated hardware and software standard for blue collar workers for whom "line of business" applications are the crucial application on the device. There is likely to be only one user interface for that application, hence one device to run it on. For white collar workers, the phone & email functions tend to be more important and these can be delivered on a variety of devices meaning that user choice comes more strongly into play.