Field Service News talk to Conor O’Neill from Red Hat Mobile about how they’ve seen the light - and it’s modular...
It’s been some 18 months since Red Hat purchased exciting Irish mobile platform developer Feed Henry. About a year earlier still Feed Henry had just released their first ever fully dedicated Field Workforce Management mobile solution.
Then for a while things seemed to go a bit quiet from the former Feed Henry team as they transitioned from exciting small start-up to part of one of giants of enterprise computing, at the forefront of the open source movement that is such a hot bed of innovation.
Indeed, we were just beginning to approach the point in time where were fearing that the original Feed Henry team’s focus on field service - which had yielded some impressive early customer success stories including a major European rail infrastructure provider, had either been swallowed up by Red Hat’s focus on the bigger pie of generic Enterprise Mobility, or that the team themselves had got lost somewhere in the belly of the enterprise beast never to be seen again - as sadly happens all too often in the technology space.
As such it was with much interest and anticipation that Field Service News headed out to meet up again with Conor O’Neill, former Director of Product Management with Feed Henry and now Product Manager with RedHat Mobile to discuss their latest offering for field service.
And whilst the job title may be different, O’Neill’s relaxed manner, coupled with an infectious enthusiasm for his work remained unchanged from the last time we had the pleasure of his company.
We’re not building an app. That’s whats very interesting about this.”
“We’re not building an app. That’s whats very interesting about this.” he asserts as we begin discussing the new Red Hat Workforce Management (WFM) modules.
“Two and a half years ago we built what we hoped would be a solution that would somehow address all of the requirements of all of the customers everywhere and would just take a little bit of tweaking depending on each individual requirement – we were completely wrong and so we took a step back and started looking at all of the consulting projects we’d been doing, building very custom apps for customers who needed this type of field workforce application.”
“What we saw was yes every app is unique and every customer’s requirements were unique, but the individual things that they needed often had lots of commonalities.”
“So we started last June and said lets not build an app, lets not build a solution, lets build a set of modules where each module addresses each of these points and then build out from there.” he added
“The Red Hat platform gives us tons of stuff out of the box – working offline, forms for drag and drop development, actual app development itself , app building, app distribution. The platform already gives us those, which allowed us to focus on what companies in field service need.”
One of the key things about RedHat is their commitment to open architecture
“So we now have this set of modules, and we are in no way saying this is a complete set of modules - this is our first set and they are open source so if the customer doesn’t like them they can change them, they can improve them they can push improvements back to us - they can create new ones and share them with the community.”
Of course, as mentioned in the introduction one of the key things about RedHat is their commitment to open architecture. O’Neill explains that the wider open source community, including partners and customers, is likely to be a strong generator of new features and functionality found in the commercialised product.
Such an approach also will inevitably lead easier integration into other systems and this is a major USP of the Red Hat mobile WFM modules.
“What we don’t expect people to do is change what they have, which is unlike a lot of traditional mobile platforms and point solutions out there. We work with you and with your existing tools.” O’Neill explains.
“We are NodeJS based which is our integration layer and it is supremely good at connecting to disparate systems, we can take the data no matter what format it is, no matter how old it is, no matter how slow it is, and turn it into something a mobile device can actually consume easily and then fire that over the air to lots of different devices.”
As well as easier implementation,an additional benefit of such easy integration is the reduction of pressure on legacy systems as once integrated you can reduce them one component at a time, taking advantage of strangler application pattern - something which also sits well with the modular approach RedHat believe is the key to WFM in the future.
But is the modular approach proving to be successful in the real world?
“We had a great example of one of our customers who have taken our modules and within two months have built their own MVP [minimum viable product] for exactly what they want to do,” O’Neill revealed.
If you want something that works really well for your organisation the work has to be put in to put it together exactly the way that you want it
So are the Red Hat WFM modules capable of delivering solutions truly tailored to individual organisations?
“It’s unique to everybody” O’Neill explains “but if you want something that works really well for your organisation the work has to be put in to put it together exactly the way that you want it,” he warns.
“We’ll never claim that in a week you can somehow magic up an app. Lets work out your business requirements and then lets pull together what you need,” he adds.
Sounds good, however, it also seems like an approach that may be reliant upon having a crack team of savvy developers on board which many be prohibitive for some smaller field service organisations.
So are the Red Hat WFM modules aimed specifically at enterprise level field service organisations?
We worked with one of the largest insurance companies in the world but again a local division trying to create a very specific mobile app for a very specific slice of their workforce
“Similarly, we worked with one of the largest insurance companies in the world but again a local division trying to create a very specific mobile app for a very specific slice of their workforce, again a tiny group in a much larger organisation and it delivered a massive result for them, 100% paper replacement, they had an entire flow that was all paper based and every single person in that division is now using this digital workflow.”
“Because it’s open source anyone, even a one-man band can come along and take those modules and go off and build their own solution,” he added.