Hewlett Packard isn’t a name that jumps to the top of the list when thinking of hardware providers within the field service sector. Neither for that matter do Windows Phones in general. So when the HP Elite x3 was launched in October last year not too many folks in the market (including ourselves) paid a huge amount of attention.
However, having got a look at the device at Field Service USA, Kris Oldland, Field Service News Editor-in-Chief, realises that we may have just overlooked the very future of computing for our industry...
I’m very much a firm believer in holding my hands up when I get things wrong - and boy did I get this wrong.
When HP launched the Elite x3 I pretty much automatically dismissed it primarily on the basis that a) it wasn’t truly rugged so not a fit for heavy duty outdoor based field work and that b) it was only available running Windows 10 Mobile - which although a perfectly valid OS, the lack of Android options suggested that there would be better comparable options out there for field service organisations.
By not paying enough attention, I overlooked what could very well be the first device we see that can completely redefine computing and mobility in our sector
Big words, I know, but bear with me on this.
The thing is that whilst we talk about mobility revolutions, really and truly the smart phone or it’s big brother the tablet hasn’t (nor will it ever) fully replace the laptop. There are just always times when a field service engineer will be better off with a keyboard. Admittedly, pure play tablet manufacturers like rugged specialists Xplore do a very good job of offering bluetooth keyboards as accessories, but that just re-enforces the fact that you still largely need a keyboard for odious yet essential tasks such as updating records and filing reports.
Then there is the less frequent but still valid need for a field service engineer to use a desktop.
Again the laptop never really replaced the desktop, if an engineer needs to head back to HQ to help the team work on an important report for a client, outlining how wonderfully his company have met SLAs for example, there is a fair chance that he will do so sat in front of a desktop.
And whilst tablets are great mobile workforce devices they can’t beat a smart phone for simple things like making calls and even when it comes to FSM systems - giving an engineer a tablet means he has something else to carry, whilst his phone can just go in his pocket - when it comes to simple mobility - smart phones of course come out top.
So whilst we have had various new devices and form factors come into the market you could argue that none have really replaced each other. I’m sure that most field service engineers will have with them at least two devices at any given time and may have to use up to four devices in their workflow at some point within their working year.
Well not anymore.
Whilst the HP Elite x3 comes with an impressive set of specs that include beefy processing power and in fact a fairly robust IP67 dust and water ingress protection, it is the devices wider applications that make it so groundbreaking.
As so often in life, the devil is in the detail and the clue is in the name - specifically the x3 part.
You see the Elite x3 has a very impressive trick up it’s sleeve in that if you plug it into a dock which connects to a monitor then it literally becomes a PC. With a bluetooth keyboard and mouse you are all set to go with a full PC experience, completely powered by and therefore accessing the same data stored on your phone.
But wait there’s more...
HP have also developed what they call a LapDock for the Elite x3. This is essentially, for all intense purposes, an empty shell of a laptop. Yet when you connect the Elite x3 to the LapDock (wirelessly of course) once again the phone acts as the CPU for the laptop and again you have a seamless transition from a mobile based work flow to a laptop based workflow.
Even if a phone call comes through - you can take it without the need to exit any ‘mode’ etc and can continue working on the laptop as you speak.
For field service organisations the potential of such a system is of course deeply profound. Not only can you stop having to kit out your engineers with multiple devices (be honest how many of you still give your engineers a laptop/tablet and a phone) but also the direct result of this is that their workflow across devices reaches a whole new level of integration and for the first time, can be truly seamless.
Admittedly, HP aren’t the only ones to have explored this concept. I recall seeing Samsung suggest a similar concept for the Note series - and we may well yet see something similar for the Note 8.
But HP have certainly taken the first step in what could be a truly redefining new take on computing within the field service arena.
One thing is for sure, I won’t be dismissing any of their next few launches so easily out of hand again. And if the potential of the Elite x3 gets even close to having the disruptive effect I think it could have, I suggest you don’t either.