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How BYOD Is Changing Field Service

Posted by Hormazd Romer
real time secure file access - even in the field

Much of the discussion about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies focuses on employee productivity and IT security. This makes sense: BYOD is certainly delivering on its promise to increase productivity, while also creating some challenging problems in the area of IT security and compliance.  

What most discussions about BYOD overlook is the potential for BYOD to transform the practice of field service. Field service work is still enterprise IT, but it doesn’t take place on a corporate campus, in a regional office, airport terminal or local Starbucks. Instead, it occurs in a work yard, an oil rig, at the top of a utility pole or at a railroad transfer station. These are probably not the use cases most people think of when they think of a mobile workforce.

But field service technicians are decidedly mobile workers. And they have been mobile for decades. Because field service work is inherently mobile, BYOD should be a natural fit. In fact, 62% of top-performing field service organizations have adopted a BYOD policy.

Field Service News identified eight trends that will impact field service in 2015. We have highlighted six of those trends as they pertain to the benefits of a BYOD-enabled field service workforce.

  • Mobility as a Game-Changer
    Given the nature of field service, mobile computing has the capability to be a game- changer for the industry. To be successful field service organizations will need to have effective solutions for mobile workers, meaning an architecture that provides workers with the content and services they need to do their jobs, while simultaneously enforcing security and compliance policies, as needed. Content here includes everything from repair guides to parts lists to instructional videos—all available now on BYOD smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
  • An Evolving Workforce
    Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce, making up about a third of all workers. Their use of and reliance on mobile devices is well known. In fact, forty-five percent of Millennials use their mobile devices for work, compared to 18% for older workers. As field service organizations hire more Millennials, we can expect these organizations to develop and support a working environment that suits the habits of these mobile enthusiasts.
  • Enhanced Network Reliability
    If workers are going to rely on their BYOD devices for work, then they are going to need reliable access to cloud services, content repositories, and other network resources to support those devices. IT organizations will need to make sure all of these network services are in place and operational 24/7, but not at the expense of enterprise security and compliance requirements. (Of course, if field service technicians end up working remotely in an area without Wi-Fi access, they should still be able to access the secure content they need on their mobile devices.)
  • Robust and Flexible Platforms
    The IT infrastructure supporting the field service organization should include feature-rich, on demand, flexible content platforms that provide mobile-ready access to critical data through interfaces that work across all kinds of devices—from smartphones to tablets to laptops to special gear being carried by field service technicians. If critical content is distributed across disparate data repositories, the complexity of accessing those repositories will need to be hidden from users. Working under tight deadlines, field service technicians need content and services to be readily available. In the field, complexity creates work, multiples opportunities for error, and leads to longer Mean Times to Resolution (MTTR). Robust and flexible platforms should make remote work easier, faster, and more effective.
  • Greater Integration
    Integration includes making full use of the data and sensors available from mobile devices, including location data, audio data, photos, and videos. It also means connecting BYOD devices with the content platforms and other critical services in the enterprise’s IT infrastructure. Connecting to different Enterprise Content Management (ECM) platforms such as SharePoint can be difficult on a mobile device, especially on a device as small as a smartphone. Integration can by and large alleviate this complexity and even eliminate the need for a separate, cumbersome VPN connection.
  • Increased focus on security
    Field service technicians are collecting and dispensing data, and much of that data is confidential. Consider a technician troubleshooting a VoIP network. The network traffic being analyzed is full of confidential data—everything from a CEO’s conversations with the board to sales people sharing price and product release data. Or consider a technician repairing a medical imaging system that contains Personal Health Information (PHI) for patients. It’s essential that confidential content encountered in the field is stored and transmitted securely. All access to and distribution of that confidential content should also be logged and audited.

There’s another BYOD trend worth adding to this list: the increasing power and sophistication of BYOD devices themselves. The latest smartphones and tablets are remarkably fast. Many feature 64-bit architectures and include 64 GB or more of storage. All iPads now include cameras with a resolution of 5 MP or better, making it practical for technicians in the field to take photos. And special-purpose, rugged devices such as the Xplore XSLATE B10 provides field-read platforms for running Windows applications and accessing close services.

Introducing the Accellion Field Service Mobile Reference App

To help field service organizations take full advantage of BYOD devices for optimizing operations, Accellion has recently introduced a Field Operations Mobile Reference App. This app, which is available as a free download from the kiteworks Developer Portal, is built using the APIs and Mobile SDKs of kiteworks, Accellion’s secure content platform.

The reference app demonstrates how developers can use kiteworks to build custom secure mobile applications to support field service teams. The reference app enables field service technicians to manage work orders, view relevant documents, and securely file reports and status updates remotely on a mobile device. Of course, the app can be extended to provide additional functionality as well.

Developers may customize the app for their own business processes and get a head start or build new solutions for their field service organization.  The reference app includes full source code and working examples. A key feature of the kiteworks SDKs used in the app is a secure mobile container that ensures the protection of sensitive and critical content on mobile devices. To learn more about kiteworks developer package capabilities and reference apps, please visit the kiteworks Developer Package page.

To learn more about kiteworks and how it benefits field service organizations, please contact us.