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‘Ruggedized’ data devices at $250: reinventing the business case for mobile field force


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Using mobile technology to increase the productivity of the world’s billion field force workers has long made sense, and it has long since been regarded as a key application for mobile networks. But many projects have historically foundered on cost. Deployments that have been signed off have required a significant investment in business process reinvention to make the case viable, limiting the number of mobile field force projects that get approval.

However, the price of devices, software, and mobile broadband are all falling and this is creating ample opportunities to harness mobile‑enabled devices to increase field force worker productivity.

For carriers, greater mobile field force use would increase data traffic and revenues. Field force systems integrators should identify which consumer‑targeted smartphones and tablets being launched, or already being sold, could be readily re‑purposed for field force usage. For software developers, one approach would be to create standard, off‑the‑shelf field‑force solutions and apps that customers can use: for example an app that takes a picture of a defective water heater part, automatically assigns it a trouble ticket, and geo‑tags it to the customer’s address and links to its file. Software publishers should also identify the contexts in which field‑force software could be used in a bring‑your‑own‑device context.

Enterprises evaluating the rising applicability of mobile field force should be risk‑aware: as with all technology deployments, security is paramount. To mitigate risk, enterprises should consider using a ‘sand box’ approach, whereby consumer data is kept separate from enterprise data, and incorporating remote‑kill functionality that can instruct a stolen device to wipe its enterprise contents. Most smartphones and tablets have integrated cameras, and in some contexts these may need to be disabled during working hours or in certain locations, to lessen the possibility of intellectual property being compromised.

While encouraging use of corporate‑issued field force devices for personal applications, companies should pass on mobile data costs resulting from usage of non‑work related applications. While the price per gigabyte over cellular mobile is falling, it is still between $5 and $10 in many markets. This may be acceptable for work usage, but is not justifiable for watching video or sending photos of friends and family.

Employers should also consider all approaches for encouraging workers to protect, and not punish, their devices. One option may be to have a scheme for selling devices to employees after a couple of years’ usage – this may well encourage better treatment, if the price is right.

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