Panasonic Toughbook's Enterprise Mobile Technology was the first big UK event of the field service calendar and it set the bar high for the rest of the year writes Kris Oldland...
Deep in the heart of the English country side lies the St Georges complex, home to aspiring dreams of the English football association, and given the fervour that surrounds the English national team every time a major footballing tournament comes around, such dreams of aspiration and success are reflective of an entire nation’s subconscious.
Such auspicious surroundings then were an ideal location for an event that had aspirational themes of it’s own. Namely the continuing evolution and improvement of how we operate our field service divisions, how we streamline our efficiency and establish ever greater levels excellence in our service delivery.
And as with modern sport, including the beautiful game, the alignment of technology with forward-looking strategy is a core part of how we take these steps forward. And technology was of course at the heart of the Enterprise Mobile Technology conference (admittedly the clue was in the name!)
With a number of new advances being revealed both by host Panasonic and a number of their key partners including the likes of Brother, NetMotion and Microsoft, the day certainly met it’s objectives.
Such auspicious surroundings then were an ideal location for an event that had aspirational themes of it’s own. Namely the continuing evolution and improvement of how we operate our field service divisions
The day began with a brief introduction from Kevin Tristram, General Manager, UK & Ireland Panasonic Computer Product Solutions before we moved to an excellent look at ‘smarter technologies for a connected mobile workforce” presented by Russel Young-Husband, Sales Director Panasonic Computer Product Solutions, which nicely set the tone of the day, giving us insight into the technology our hosts were developing and how it can improve our workflows, without ever feeling like a hard sales pitch.
Given the backdrop, and the many reminders of great moments in English Footballing history that adorned the walls throughout the impressive complex, there was perhaps a definite hint of fate’s irony in the fact that the closing session of the morning was presented by Welshman Jon Tucker, European Product Marketing Manager, Panasonic Computer Product Solutions.
However, obligatory rugby jokes aside, today was about collaboration not rivalries and this very much came to the fore in what proved to be a highly interactive opening session, cleverly enabled by some of the mobile technology being showcased later on throughout the day.
Tucker posed a series of questions to the audience based around some strong industry research from a number of sources and with each table having a FZ-G1 on the table quick polls were taken from the audience to see if the consensus in the room match the wider research findings.
What was particularly interesting was that throughout the session we kept seeing the audience responses matching quite closely with the wider research adding validity to the trends being highlighted in a very tangible way.
It was a good start to what would prove to be an excellent day.
In the first break of the day there was the requisite buzz amongst the delegates that can so often signify how an event will pan out.
Yet this was not down to chance.
For a start this is that was not Panasonic’s first rodeo when it comes to putting such an event together, but this isn’t only evident in the slick presentations and great execution, it is at events like this that real relationships can be formed and much of the conversation was of people reconnecting.
There were clearly many such relationships both between Panasonic and their customers, but also between the delegates themselves, who despite coming from wide and disparate disciplines, face similar challenges in managing their relative mobile workforces.
With opportunities for such peer-to-peer networking somewhat more restricted in field service compared to other business sectors (largely due to the horizontal nature of the sector itself) the chance to resume conversations and compare notes at such events is often taken up with gusto when presented.
Indeed the conversations continued right through the break and back into the next session, which featured David Rodger, Commercial Lead, Windows Business Group, Microsoft UK Unfortunately, we are unable to tell you much about this session as there was a no media policy in place so we an say is that it possibly interesting and probably was about holograms and that Microsoft 10 is hopefully going to be more of an XP than a Vista.
It is an ironic fact of how business works, that often the people we would most like to here from as leaders in there field are often simply too busy doing what it is they do (and what it is that we want to here about) to find the time to write a presentation about it for our benefit. The panel debate format allows us to benefit from hearing from such folks and the panel here certainly didn’t disappoint.
The conversation was open, honest and insightful with a number of key learning’s being presented from the panel and as with any session of this format we left with not only a number of answers, but also with a number of new questions
Indeed again the conversations across lunch were vibrant fuelled by the morning sessions, with ideas generated from the panel were being bounced around and exchanged.
A short hour later, the delegates were separated into four groups as we moved into the smaller breakout sessions. I mentioned earlier the dreaded death by PowerPoint scenario and often it is at such a point in a day that the risk of this raises its head. I always find that an early start, some intensive early sessions and a full stomach are natural enemies of attention when it comes to sitting through presentation after presentation.
Thankfully, the event organisers were of the same mind-set and so put together a great mix of approaches to the afternoon sessions.
The first of which was a look at some of the latest technology to come from Panasonic.
Whilst this session could of potentially have strayed worryingly into sales pitch territory, thankfully the hands on approach delivered Tom Szwed, Customer Relationship Manager, Panasonic Computer Product Solutions didn’t ever have the feel of a straight marketing push, instead the underlying vibe of the session was more akin to earnest excitement, and genuine pride in the technology on show.
With the announcement of Panasonic’s latest rugged laptop the CF-54 having been made just a few weeks earlier this took pride of place within the session although much of the thinking of the new launch seems to apply to Panasonic’s approach to product development moving forward.
The CF-54 boasts a wide range of customisable options which makes it an interesting proposition for a number of industry verticals, but it’s thinner, sleeker profile has much of the look of a consumer device despite the device being certified as ‘semi-rugged’.
Powered by a fifth generation Intel Core i5 vPro processor and running Windows 8.1 Pro or Windows 7, with the option of an upgrade to Windows 10 upon availability, the CF-54 delivers an impressive computing power compared to similar products yet.has also been put through vigorous test, which Swzed guided us through to achieve it’s semi-rugged certification.
As well as being able to survive a fair share of drops and bumps, the CF-54 is also capable of operating between temperatures as low as -10C to 50C, is dust and water plus boasts additional spill protection, which now covers both the screen and the keyboard.
However, if the CF-54 was the central product in this session, it was the yet to be released and as yet unnamed prototype device that generated the most buzz.
This device was what could potentially be the world’s first rugged detachable, and straightaway it’s potential application within the field was being discussed. As those attending the session got their hands on this initial prototype, which at first glance looked like a standard rugged notebook but whose screen could be detached to be a fully operational tablet in it’s own right the application of such a device was clear.
“They [the engineer] would just take the tablet into the customers, but then could slot it into the keyboard as soon as they are writing up their reports” commented one fellow attendee.
Indeed, the idea of a rugged detachable makes a huge amount of sense. Detachables are not anything particularly new and surely we will see a number of similar devices appear on the market in the not too distant future.
However, there is a definite advantage in being the first to deliver such a device, and on the evidence available here it would seem Panasonic, with a working prototype that is close to a final iteration, may well be able to gain that advantage and further grow what is an impressive market share within the rugged space.
There is a definite advantage in being the first to deliver such a device, and on the evidence available here it would seem Panasonic, with a working prototype that is close to a final iteration, may well be able to gain that advantage
We were led into a room that was dominated by a huge snakes and ladders-esque board.
Split into teams our challenge was to navigate our way from start to finish with challenges such as dropped devices, drained batteries or working in the rain barring the way. With half of the teams being allocated a Toughpad and the other half being allocated a ‘consumer device’ Perhaps unsurprisingly (and despite strenuous denial of any underhand rigging) the game was comfortably won by a team brandishing a Toughpad.
However, whilst there may have been a less than subtle message around the benefit of rugged vs. consumer when it comes to total cost of ownership it was delivered in what was a genuinely enjoyable format.
The next session we returned towards convention with a presentation from event partner NetMotion Again the session had the potential to stray into dangerous territory. There is only one thing worse than death by PowerPoint, that is death by PowerPoint whilst being sold at.
I’ll admit to having some trepidation as energetic American Erik Helms, VP Strategic Partners & International Sales, NetMotion Wireless, began his presentation. Being a reserved Brit, with an upper lip so stiff it may have passed away without me noticing, my natural defences tend to get raised when confronted by American presenters.
They are just so excitable, so enthusiastic and so damn friendly that I can’t help but think ‘what’s the catch’.
So admittedly Helms already had a significant hurdle to overcome. Yet he not only managed to win me over, he did it with style and panache.
The NetMotion product whilst having a number of functionalities and layers is relatively straightforward. It just makes online stuff better, much better in fact.
All of this was outlined by Helms, with the assistance of his two colleagues Lee Johnson, Global Field and Channel Marketing Director, NetMotion Wireless and Chris McKie VP Regional Salesw EMEA, NetMotion Wireless, through one of the best 30-minute presentations I’ve sat through in a long time.
Helms based his presentation around one user comment that the system ‘just worked like magic’ and played on this with a magician theme that quoted some of the great classic magicians, bringing an excellent sense of theatre to the session – with a great use of props including some beautifully lo-fi home made faraday cages made of aluminium foil.
It was also the first time I’ve ever seen someone use a machete as part of their presentation, well in field service at least.
However, Helms didn’t just rely on gimmicks to promote his product. What was truly impressive was the technology he was showcasing which sat at the heart of each section of his presentation.
Similarly, Helms himself was by no means just there for his admittedly very good presentation skills. As the session came to an end a number of questions were fielded and name was able to give knowledgeable answers throughout. For the second time in an hour I found myself leaving a presentation I had expected to be a straight sales pitch, genuinely interested in what I had seen, and with the way it had been delivered.
It was in the final break-out session however, run by John Harris, General Manager- Engineering, Panasonic Computer Product Solutions, which had not only peaked my interest but was also perhaps the most effective in communicating why field service companies should seriously consider spending their money with Panasonic – yet there was no sales pitch here.
In fact it was a forward look at products in development with Harris providing some insight into some hands on testing he himself had undertaken.
We were given a detailed overview of smart watches Harris had trialled including the Intel and Samsung offerings and a fascinating glimpse of a wearable vest that Harris was actually wearing during the presentation which monitored heart rate. One simple application of which Harris outlined could be linking the sensors to the engine of commercial vehicles – the implication of this of course having added resonance in the wake of a recent tragedy in Scotland where a bus driver suffered a heart attack at the wheel causing an accident with multiple fatalities.
As well as also showcasing some impressive technology around digital signature capture and processing the potential benefits of such applications there was the show stopping demonstration of a 3D camera, which was able to measure, the full dimensions of a real-life box accurate to within a few millimetres.
The technology on display was certainly impressive and Harris was an assured and clearly knowledgeable speaker, however what was perhaps the most impressive aspect of this session was the two-way dialogue.
There were a number of requests and suggestions made throughout the session, which largely due to Harris’ relaxed style felt more like an open forum than presentation, including one attendee pointing out that the Panasonic camera’s his organisation (a broadcast company) required standard SD cards for storage, yet the Toughbook’s they used had no option for incorporating this format.
It was an obvious issue which whilst certainly not insurmountable would impede and slowdown the workflow for their remote operators. However, as the explanation was outlined to Harris, he not only quickly grasped the issue but also promised to look into the issue and see how this could be fixed in future product iterations.
Admittedly, many presenters in most organisations would say something similar, at least paying lip service to the request.
However, there seemed an earnestness about Harris which when aligned with his role and seniority made me genuinely believe that he will actually look into each of the requests made.
Observant readers may have noticed that is the second time I have used the word earnest and this was perhaps the biggest surprise and also the most powerful argument for why a company should opt to work with IT giant.
Very simply I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised by just how accessible the senior management at Panasonic were. There was a true willingness to engage with and listen to their customers throughout the day, and this was exemplified by Harris’ session.
After one final coffee break it was time for my own keynote presentation. Which was of course excellent but modesty prevents me from saying much more other than we covered a lot of the topics regular field service news readers will be familiar with as we looked at what tools the field engineer of 2020 may be using, including NFC, 3D Printing, IoT and Wearables.
However, whilst it was a privilege and a pleasure to share my thoughts with the audience, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to have a number of really great conversations around my presentation over a beer or two in the drinks reception that followed, today was Panasonic’s day, and they had delivered an excellent event, with an excellent mix of thought-provoking content, delivered in a clever and engaging mix of sessions.
As the first main event of the year in field service, the bar has been set nice and high. Lets hope the rest of the calendar meets the same standards.