Disruption in Mobile Field Services – a flexible, modular approach.

Introduction

Mobile field operations are undergoing massive digital transformation. Organisations are now looking at mobile as a strategic competitive weapon for their business and, in the case of field workforce management, the shift from the field using traditional mobile handheld devices to modern smartphones and mobile tablets has unearthed unprecedented opportunities to drive productivity and improved customer service.  

There are, however, decisions to be made about the choice of mobile device and operating system, as well as the applications and platform technologies that enable building, deploying, and securing those applications and their data. Making the right choices ensures a smoother adoption of mobility in the enterprise while also reducing risk. Another critical consideration, is choosing components that interact and integrate well with each other, while providing for an easy upgrade path that future-proofs your investment.

The Field Service Worker

Field workforce management solutions involve performing tasks on mobile devices that typically require a combination of workflow, asset, and time management. Often these use cases involve remote workers that execute their work orders in many different locations and sometimes in challenging areas of low or no network connectivity, for example delivery services, utility meter/infrastructure installation, or in the more rugged environments of rail track maintenance and construction sites. But the ‘field’ can simply be thought of as not tethered to a desk. The field worker can also be within the business premises or campus, for example at a manufacturing site, where components need to be picked from an assembly line, scanned and packed.

Such solutions need a combination of agile, flexible software to support the ever-changing requirements of the field workers, as well as flexible, ruggedised, future-proof handheld hardware with superior barcode scanning capability.

Verticals

Some of the verticals and use cases where field service operations are critical to business success are the following:

The current pain points with Enterprise Mobility

We have learned, from many years of experience implementing solutions for field services that while the platforms and the software are incredibly agile, modular, and flexible the same cannot be said of the hardware devices. Most ruggedised devices are “brick” style, running Windows CE with a physical QWERTY keyboards. The more advanced implementations of these devices use a custom made “sled” device running older versions Android.

Typically these devices have a large number of drawbacks:

  1. They are expensive to procure and maintain.
  2. End users are not using the most advanced smartphone hardware, which impacts the application functionality available for them to complete tasks.
  3. Upgrading or fixing problems with the devices requires the entire device to be upgraded.
  4. They have a poor user experience, which challenges adoption and results in poor employee satisfaction and productivity.
  5. There are challenges in the ongoing support of the operating systems.
  6. Maintenance and upgrade of the application functionality is slow, often expensive and difficult to roll out.
  7. They tend to have slow or camera based barcode scanning capability which do not support industrialised scanning.

We believe there is a much better way to implement enterprise mobility for field workers.

Red Hat Mobile & Cognex

We’ve recently partnered with Cognex, a leader in machine vision technology and industrial barcode readers. Together we’ve put together what we believe to be a solution to these pain points and it’s something being perceived as quite disruptive for field services.

Cognex recently launched a new device, called the Cognex MX-1000. What struck us at Red Hat when we saw it, is that it brings a uniquely modular approach to ruggedised mobile devices. This was something we hadn’t seen before. Customers are no longer tied to a specific device’s hardware or operating system. The Cognex modular design encompasses a ruggedised casing and a powerful scan component, connecting to the resident smartphone.

The casing can house any commodity smartphone hardware, meaning a customer can source their own smart devices and upgrade them according to the manufacturer’s or operator’s recommended cycle. As new smartphone features become available, it is simple and low cost for enterprises to swap in the latest, ensuring they are always benefiting from the latest in cutting edge smartphone technology.

Cognex MX-1000 with and without Optional Pistol Grip

The reason we particularly liked the Cognex hardware was that it perfectly complements and integrates with the Red Hat Mobile Application Platform (RHMAP). The Red Hat platform allows organisations to rapidly build custom mobile applications, from the simplest data collection app to the most complex workflow with integration to enterprise systems and allows the citizen developer to use drag & drop tools to compose applications which all seamlessly work with the Cognex devices out of the box.

Red Hat Mobile Application Platform Diagram

Much like the Cognex device, the mobile platform embraces a modular or microservices-based architecture meaning that features of mobile applications can be upgraded easily and quickly with minimum risk.

The philosophy underpinning the Cognex MX-1000, which is to provide a superior, modular, and upgradable set of hardware for field services at a low  total cost of ownership (TCO), mirrors the philosophy on which the Red Hat Mobile Application Platform is built. Together the Red Hat platform and Cognex hardware give customers a future-proof, agile solution to implement mobility in their organisations, allowing them to quickly respond to market changes at a much lower TCO than traditional approaches, while at the same time giving their employees effective tools to increase productivity and embrace the changing digital world of work.

Red Hat, working with our Solution Providers, Global & Regional System Integrator partners have a vast amount of experience implementing field worker solutions for organisations.To find out more, please contact us.

 

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