In this exclusive interview with Motion Computing's UK Supremo Ian Davies about his time in the industry, the changes he has seen and what he thinks the future holds for mobile computing...
FSN: What was the first piece of technology that made a huge impression on you?
ID: Probably the first piece of technology, aside from the ubiquitous mobile phone or laptop that made an impression on me, was a touch screen device made by one of my previous employers that combined the Palm Pilot with a barcode scanner, essentially the pre-cursor to the rugged PDA that we know today. I used to have it synchronised with my email, diary and address book on my PC, but as part of my job as a pre-sales consultant I could run Field Service or Retail supply chain ‘Apps’, although I guess they weren’t known as ‘Apps’ in those days. My wife-to-be and I were in the wedding list service department of a well-known department store.
I’ll never forget the contrasting looks I got from my wife and the sales assistant as we were handed such a device and I was asked if I knew how to work it. At which point, with a cheesy grin I got my device out of my pocket. Mine happened to be ‘marketing’ issue version that was made from clear plastic rather than the industrial grey, so it looked a bit flash too. My fiancé was sighing in despair at my geekyness and the sales assistant was astonished that I knew how to use it, let alone owned one!
FSN: Do you think that the consumerisation of mobile devices has led to a major shift in the design of field service hardware?
ID: Undoubtedly there is far greater awareness of options such as tablets due to the consumer units now available - especially in businesses where there was a reliance on handhelds or laptops in the field. Likewise, from a design perspective there is an increased demand for usability and the goal is to deliver a consumer grade experience whilst out in the field - a serious point given the potential increase in productivity.
FSN: What are your thoughts on the BYOD trend in field service organisations – do you see this as a major threat to your business.?
ID: BYOD in field service will likely hit a serious issue - consumer devices are simply not able to take the knocks that happen every day out in the field. This then causes lost productivity, employee dissatisfaction and of course, presents the IT department with a host of OS’s to support. Field service is one of the key industries where it will make far more sense to issue standardized pieces of equipment with training on how they should be handled to maximise the ROI.
FSN: What is the most exciting/unusual application of ruggedised devices you have seen?
ID: In terms of demands on us as a supplier of the actual tablets, the use of tablets for field based drug testing by Cambridge Cognition sticks out. Likewise the use of the tablets for live audio mixing at concerts or remote controlling drone aircraft for surveys are all far removed from the usual applications associated with ruggedised devices.
FSN: With the rise in computational power of tablet devices do you think we are seeing the final days of the laptop?
ID: Though the increases in computing power do play a role, I think the greater factor that is leading to drops in laptop sales is far more simple - tablets are easier to use and a lot more intuitive. They correspond much more to the mobile phones that we all own and as such people are very in tune with how to work a tablet - even down to the software available for them. We are definitely seeing a swing away from rugged laptops towards rugged tablets for field service applications.
FSN: What is the biggest trend in devices that you are seeing come to the market currently?
ID: Right now the top demands are usually around usability features - improvements in input, display and battery life are all helping the multi-use capability for organisations and users. Rugged Tablet PCs combine the performance of a laptop with the mobility of a rugged PDA – reducing the number of devices a user needs to carry and the IT Department’s number of devices and operating systems they need to support. Aside from this, the regular demands are actually about enhancing the workflow by mobilizing the software and apps as opposed to just the hardware.
FSN: What do you think the next big technological advancement in mobile computing will be?
ID: That is the exciting thing about technology! It is constantly evolving, the next great thing always around the corner. Trends we’ve seen include more intuitive, more intelligent interacting with the mobile device such as voice and touch input. There is obviously a great deal of competition for improvements to operating systems and another area we are seeing big developments in is around increased security of data.
The idea of technology is to simplify lives/work, not make them more complex so contactless technologies such as RFID, NFC and Zigbee are becoming more main stream as ways of collecting and interacting with data. There are a lot of concurrent changes happening right now and any one of these could yield substantial opportunities. However I think the dominant force right now is customer feedback into mobile apps and the emergence of professional, enterprise mobility.
FSN: You also offer a range of in vehicle solutions… driver safety is a major concern for the field service industry currently, do you think dashboard mounted devices can potentially distract a driver and cause accidents?
ID: This is actually solved pretty quickly and easily - screen blanking technology exists to ensure that a driver cannot be distracted by a docked unit while the vehicle is moving. Likewise the technology is clever enough that should the same mounted device be needed to be operated by a front passenger and is swung away from the driver, full access to the device can be obtained maximising ‘appropriate’ productivity whilst mobile. These are critical concerns as safety will always trump productivity. At present we are seeing a lot of innovation in this area coming from the Field Service and EMS sectors specifically and we have learnt a great deal so far.
FSN: You personally have been involved in this industry for about a decade – what is the biggest difference between when you started in the industry and today?
ID: When I first started, enterprise customers would gladly spend several thousands of pounds per device for then, leading edge technology capable of and designed to do single and often simple, but important tasks. Adoption by users though was challenging. Limited computer skills amongst users meant the technology was reluctantly used in many cases, and required significant investment in training as part of the overall project.
Today devices can do so many things and have so many technologies built in to them that you might think there would be greater reluctance to overcome, but probably the biggest difference now compared to 10 years ago is the rapid adoption of the technology by the users. Personal IT knowledge honed from using technology at home or in their smartphone on a daily basis not only helps them embrace the technology changes their employers are adopting but they are continually pushing their employers to adopt new technologies to improve efficiencies and productivity like never before.
FSN: You have worked with a number of leading hardware providers to the field service industries, including Motorala, Intermec, Honeywell. What was it that drew you to Motion Computing and what sets them apart from their competitors?
ID: Traditionally, the technology I had been involved with prior to joining Motion was very application specific. With the adoption of Tablet technology in the consumer space and the desire for organisations to do more with a mobile device, the opportunity in this ‘new’ wave of point of activity computing was a huge attraction for me. I say ‘new’, but for nearly 13 years Motion has been leading the development in computing for users who were standing or walking, so I was confident they had something good going on! The piece that really made sense to me though was the range of peripherals that Motion brings to the table to specifically suit the Enterprise Field user’s workflow.
To use one of my colleague’s phrases, “it’s not all about the tablet”, and that is where Motion excels. From a hardware perspective, charging, mounting, carrying and storing mobile devices is key to user adoption, and corporate responsibility for the vehicle based mobile user is an ever increasing requirement that Motion has really stepped up to. Providing complete hardware solutions that truly offer point of activity computing sets Motion apart.