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Is This The Most Boring Branch Of Enterprise Mobility?

Within the enterprise mobile sphere, there was one thing I almost used to dread writing about because it seemed so deadly dull. At least that’s what I used to think.

Ask a man on the street what the mobile enterprise means to them, and you’ll probably get one of two replies: 1) “Mobile wha?” 2) “BYOD.”

Why BYOD? Well, Bring Your Own Device is the one thing that potentially touches all of us workers, not just IT folks and developers.

No wonder BYOD’s gone totally mainstream – so much that some wiseguy pundits are declaring BYOD to be soooo over, and that we need to boldly go beyond it.

So if BYOD is hot because it’s all about me, what’s obscure and therefore all about meh? Traditionally, that would be industrial mobility, or the practice of mobilizing field service workers.

Mobilizing field workers has been a thriving field for decades, with companies equipping their delivery drivers, repair technicians, surveyors etc. with mobile devices. The problem is that it’s we’ve become accustomed to seeing these guys carrying around mobile devices. Hence, no longer novel.

That's out in public. Inside most companies, field service only involves a tiny fraction of workers. Hence, obscure.

Also, the mobile devices used by field service have traditionally been homely, ruggedized gear running some green screen Linux-based UI, or, if you’re “lucky,” Windows Mobile or CE. Hence, meh.



Big Turnaround

If you’d asked me even nine months ago, I would’ve wholeheartedly, 100% echoed the sentiments above. Mobilizing knowledge workers and salesfolks – that’s where it’s at!

My attitude adjustment began last November, when I attended the Enterprise Mobility Exchange in Las Vegas. At that conference, which despite its name is all about field service, I learned about Coca-Cola Bottling, which was swapping out ruggedized devices for iPads and encouraging their new owners, delivery drivers, to install and play Angry Birds and other games.

Why? Because drivers would start to get emotionally attached to their iPads and take care of them like their own property. Indeed, Coca-Cola found that the breakage rates for the iPads were lower than its pricier, heavily-armored counterparts.

Then I learned about Aviva, the world’s 6th largest insurance company, deploying BlackBerry PlayBooks to its risk inspectors that it hopes will save gobs of time and money by making its inspectors 2-3 times more productive.

And then I listened to Syclo Mobile’s CEO Rich Padula keynote speech at the company’s (now an SAP subsidiary) user conference last week. You can catch the reply of this and other speeches, including Syclo’s platform roadmap, here, and download the presentations here.

The pre-eminent provider of field service apps, Syclo has been around since the late 1990s. So not only did it survive the era when ruggedized WinMo devices were the only game in town, but it thrived, with 600 customers as proof.

Here were some of the fascinating customer stories Padula shared:

The MGM Grand Hotels wanted to make its room maintenance people more efficient. So as part of a Syclo mobile asset management solution, it stuck “little barcodes around the door frame of each room,” said Padula, which the repairmen could scan as they went in rather than type it. 

Results were great for the first several weeks. But the maintenance department forgot to tell housekeeping. So the Monday after that, the techs discovered that the maids had scrubbed all of the barcodes off. Moral of this story: you need “good interdepartmental communication,” Padula said.

Mobilizing can shorten processes dramatically. What’s so exciting about that? Well, that can save a ton of time and money.



Mobile work orders help HP’s repairpeople save an average of 45 minutes a day. For a full-time worker making $30 an hour, that adds up to $5,600 in savings a year. The cost of managing a work order at healthcare vendor Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, fell by half, to $4.50 from $9.

Finally, Syclo, if you can believe it, tried to out-innovate Apple. Back in 2004, it introduced a Siri-like voice control feature for an inventory management app. Yes, eight years ago. The feature allowed users to enter data and move through screens by speaking into its device, rather than using a stylus or (gloved) hand.

The voice technology was adopted in some big warehouses, according to Padula, but ultimately failed because workers in maintenance storerooms wouldn’t use it. “We never got the adoption we wanted,” he said.

Padula wasn’t clear why voice control failed, but I wonder if the reason was similar at all to why voice-controlled car computers are not a reality yet.

All in all, you could say that my attitude towards field service mobility is 180 degrees different than it was less than a year ago. There are great stories to be told. Do you have any to share? Please do so in the comments below.