Life through a lens - how wearable tech is sharpening the focus on field service app development strategies

Jun 12, 2014 • FeaturesFuture of FIeld ServiceFuture TechWearable DevicesFeed Henry

2014 has been deemed the "year of the wearables" and field service is one industry that could profit greatly if the potential advancements being discussed in such devices could come become a reality, in this exclusive feature, Conor O'Neill, Director of Product Management at Irish mobile application platform provider, FeedHenry takes a closer look...

While Google Glass may have been dismissed as a fad a couple of years ago, it offers obvious benefits for field service efficiency and lone worker safety. A report into mobile workers' device preferences, undertaken by Aruba Networks, surveyed 5,000 people worldwide and found that a fifth want to be provided with wearable technology within the next five years.

Augmented reality on wearable glasses allows workers to make better and quicker use of business information. This offers organisations an opportunity to reduce costs, by allowing employees in the field to report back to base and get relevant information while they are still on site, thereby reducing, or eliminating the need for a repeat call out. Field service engineers can also be more productive by gathering visual information and feeding this back to head office, while leaving their hands free to complete the tasks they are engaged in.

Adoption of wearable tech is still niche. IDC anticipates only 111.8 million wearable tech units worldwide by 2018. However, BYOD adoption of wearable devices and major players offering supporting apps could rapidly accelerate market adoption. For example, Wear is a developer pack to aid the creation of apps for wearable devices including the Pebble Smartwatch; Samsung Gear; the Myo gesture controlled armband and Google Glass

Organisations that are adopting a Mobile-First strategy tend to be led by their users on device selection and app design. Innovation is often driven by field service engineers, the people on the ground who undertake tasks on a daily basis. These organisations tend to take an open an agile approach to their mobile app development.

Mobile-first organisations are willing to transform processes and involve frontline workers in order to completely re-invent the user experience and help them to be more productive. For example, Severn Trent Water recently announced its intention to trial Google Glass so that lone workers can protect their eyes, receive information and provide live feedback on their health and safety status, while leaving their hands free to complete the work. However, initiatives like this require support from the top. Executive sponsorship will improve the traction of wearable tech.

Adoption of any mobile technology involves risk because, by necessity, it allows employees to carry company data beyond the traditional enterprise perimeter. Robust user authentication and authorisation are essential, but keep your focus on enabling users. Your security measures should be invisible and respect the user experience. The key is to secure corporate information rather than restrict the use of apps.

CIOs need to be prepared for wearable devices to come into their organisations and to put the relevant security policies and controls in place.

From our point of view, the devices that employees select are less important than the information that they process and that involves managing the lifecycle of the apps end to end.

When organisations use an end-to-end mobile application platform (MAP) to support their mobile app strategy, field service employees gain the freedom to select the right devices to suit their roles, whether they are handheld or wearable, without sacrificing any app functionality. This is because MAPs securely link enterprise back end systems with mobile apps that can support multiple OS and various device form factors. Meanwhile, enterprises gain the ability to plan their mobile app strategies to support current and future devices, without having to redevelop code for every new batch of devices.