How mobile is disrupting field services, operations, and logistics

Honeywell's Rohit Robinson argues that the greatest risks related to mobile tech are not adopting it soon enough.

By Thomas Wilk, Editor in Chief

The Plant Services Disruptive Technology series continues this month with collection of five interviews on how mobile technologies are reshaping the way that maintenance and reliability teams are doing their jobs. This story features Rohit Robinson, Director, Portfolio Innovation at Honeywell, on the disruptive impact that mobility is having on field services, operations, and logistics. Links to all five interviews are collected on this page.

PS: Where do you see mobile's influence for change as having been greatest to date?

RR: I think the largest one is in field services, operations, and logistics. Mobility is essentially turning those on its head. Everything from preparation, route management, information gathering, check lists and reporting, is morphing. Why carry paper forms, why bring paper manuals to perform field procedures, and then why spend the effort in filing paperwork? Mobility allows us to automate and digitally transform the field worker into a truly "connected" worker! The field is just a geographic location; mobility allows us to give them access to all systems, people and processes that are in the enterprise.

Mobility leverages a communication channel between a remote employee and the office. Data and information flow both ways on that channel – one is inside-out and the other is outside-in. As mobile devices are being used to capture field data like meter readings, inspection rounds, etc., the ability to send this information back to enterprise is an outside-in use case. Moreover, mobile devices can now send audio and video, so how about sending the vibration noise to a subject matter expert across the globe and getting their opinion if you need to perform maintenance now or defer it?

You see, most plant supervisors and executives are responsible for the safety and uptime of their facilities. Yet, they are not in a control room looking at plant information – in fact, most are up and about whether in meetings or visiting customers. One of our recently released products, Honeywell Pulse™ is a good example of an inside-out use case that allows these users to setup certain key alerts on their process information, such that, should a breach occur, they will get a notification on their smart phone. Not only are they informed in real-time, but the collaboration feature in the app allows them to interact with their staff in a Twitter-like feed, figure out who has taken ownership to bring the problem to a resolution, and essentially manage the incident from anytime, anywhere – all through their smartphone.

PS: What are the risks?

RR: As with any emerging technology, there is a risk/reward profile. The number one risk identified, obviously, has to do with cyber security. There is no cyber without security! As mobile devices proliferate the corporate environment, the potential of a threat does increase. However, mobile security is a well understood and managed area and with the right policies and enforcement of those policies, the rewards usually outweigh the risks.

Then there are softer risks like the risk of not embracing this mega-trend. How likely are you to attract the next generation of workers if your field tools are paper based? Why do we use mobile apps at home but the moment we enter an office environment, we need to switch to a laptop? We are already seeing RFIs where mobility is being explicitly called out. Our guess is that over time, these would start showing up as a must-have.

So, certainly, if you want to stay competitive with the rest of the companies around you, then mobility has to be a corporate strategy – not a tactical nice-to-have. Our mobility survey shows that about 40% of the companies do not have a strategy around mobility. I think they need to be worried about what the other 60% are up to!

Read more interviews from "Going mobile: Advice from the experts"

How mobile won the plant floor
Zebra's Jim Hilton talks about how mobility and production processes are redefining each other.

Free your data and uptime will follow
Fluke's John Neeley explains how mobile innovations are enabling reliability-centered maintenance.

Secure peer-to-peer data sharing on the plant floor
Rockwell Automation's Kyle Reissner introduces Project Stanton, which will turn mobile devices into smart nodes.

Mobility is a standing expectation in plants
Schneider Electric's Saadi Kermani says to get a mobile plan in place to help become more agile as a business.

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