Mobile technology gaining acceptance, momentum among managers


By Erica LeBorgne, Syclo

March 1, 2004 — As managers consider spending in 2004, an emerging best practice is the use of mobile technology and handheld devices to increase productivity, improve workflow and gain more out of existing investments.

Survey says

An October 2003 survey of EL&P readers (sponsored by mobile application developer Syclo and conducted by independent research firm the Litchfield Group) shows mobile technology has an increasing presence in utilities companies and is gaining acceptance as a viable solution to increase worker productivity.

While over half of the respondents said their companies have already implemented or plan on implementing mobile technology in the next 12-18 months, a surprising 40 percent did not have foreseeable plans to incorporate mobile into their daily operations.

[Editor’s note: Of the 1,021 invitations sent to EL&P readers for this survey, there were 124 respondents.]

This dichotomy in implementation plans may come as a result of different perceptions of the value of mobile technology. The survey asked respondents to best describe their opinion of handheld computers and how they might help streamline their operations.

While 47 percent believed handheld computers could help increase productivity, 14 percent of respondents believed they could be helpful but the workforce probably wouldn’t use them, and 24 percent had never considered handhelds as a productivity tool.

“This is a dramatic improvement from two years ago when companies were mainly skeptical of mobile because of their fear that end users wouldn’t accept change,” said Mark Curatolo, Syclo vice president of marketing.

“Yet there still seems to be misconceptions about the value of mobile. Handheld devices today have increased productivity for hundreds of companies worldwide. Mobile technology offers organizations the ability to dramatically improve data capture, workflow and knowledge worker performance.”

While opinions on the value of mobile differ, respondents agree on many of the challenges and most pressing issues affecting their operations. The top two concerns most important to management included doing more with the same or less resources (68 percent) and the concern that aging assets and systems put companies at risk for unacceptable downtime (54 percent).

Balancing operational costs with efficiency has been a long-standing goal of EL&P’s readers’ companies, and mobile technology plays an increasingly important role in helping meet the challenges of tighter budgets, smaller workforces and aging assets.

According to the survey, the top three factors affecting operations success were budget constraints (55 percent), including limits on overtime, insufficient technician workforce (31 percent) and poor scheduling of work and job requests (29 percent). Again, the solution for such issues can be found within mobile technology.

The goods on mobile

Mobile deployments have consistently resulted in significant increases in productivity and gains in operational efficiencies. By using handhelds to replace paper work orders organizations gain in actual “wrench time” from technicians. Syclo customers report that technicians spend an average 43 minutes at the end of each shift completing paperwork.

By eliminating paperwork, this time is gained in productivity. Using handheld devices, technicians can easily record progress as they work, and the result is more timely and accurate data populating the critical enterprise asset management (EAM) systems.

In addition to the productivity gains, mobile helps improve data populating backend EAM systems. Consider that many of EL&P’s readers’ companies have invested significant resources to implement EAM systems to better track and manage the maintenance and reliability of assets.

Yet, these systems are underutilized because of a gap that exists between technicians and those administrators who have regular access to the valuable information locked away in these systems. Mobile technology bridges this information gap and ensures that information being inputted into the EAM system is timely and accurate.

Not only do technicians in the field benefit from access to information, such as asset repair history, to improve their work performance, managers also benefit from the ability to plan, schedule and generate reports for compliance and regulatory groups.

Seventy-four percent of survey respondents said collecting and reporting performance data (e .g. repairs, service calls, preventive maintenance, etc) for compliance purposes was either important or very important to their organization. This is another clear example of how mobile can help prevent costly fines and increase overall efficiency.

Finally, by enabling greater visibility into actual asset performance, mobile technology is aiding EL&P’s readers’ companies that want to implement predictive maintenance or reliability-based asset management programs. Suddenly, it becomes clear what a critical role mobile can play in helping organizations keep assets reliable and provide better service levels. Rather than requiring that companies throw out their old IT systems, mobile can help organizations better leverage their investments and just improve on workflow processes.

By equipping technicians with handheld devices that interact directly with work management systems, companies achieve significant, measurable benefits. More work orders are completed in less time, first-time fix rates increase, overall asset touches increase and the ability to generate timely reports for compliance helps reduce or eliminate fines.

These results are reflected in the satisfaction of those companies that have already deployed mobile. When asked how satisfied they were with their deployment of handheld computers, not one respondent said they were disappointed with mobile.

LeBorgne is the communications manager for Syclo in Barrington, Ill. She holds a degree in journalism and has written numerous articles about wireless and mobile technology over the last five years. She was previously a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Inquiries and comments may be sent to pr@syclo.com.

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