Mobile platforms – informative or intrusive?

People seem to hold two schools of thought regarding mobile technology in the workplace. Engineers and technicians within process companies and utilities view the proliferation of handheld devices as either informative or intrusive. Which is it? Many PDAs, smartphones, and other wireless devices are running operating systems such as Microsoft Windows Mobile, which has evolved from an emerging...

11/01/2006


People seem to hold two schools of thought regarding mobile technology in the workplace. Engineers and technicians within process companies and utilities view the proliferation of handheld devices as either informative or intrusive. Which is it?

Many PDAs, smartphones, and other wireless devices are running operating systems such as Microsoft Windows Mobile, which has evolved from an emerging technology to mainstream use. Ten years ago, the concept of handheld devices as an extension of the laptop was novel, and those devices focused primarily on email.

Now, desktop-level stability has extended to wireless platforms, and it is easy to use these devices, particularly if there is an existing infrastructure such as Web browsers and business key performance indicators (KPIs.)

The critical difference is the ability of today's mobile devices to get the right information to the right people at the right time. It's not an issue of burdening employees with 24/7 access. It's about getting time-sensitive, business-critical data to the responsible individual or individuals.

Better not more

The goal is to make better decisions, not more decisions. We're not talking about the intrusive social expectation that you will respond to e-mail as soon as it comes in. We're talking about extending line-of-business applications to the people who need them most, and letting them use that information for decision support on their timeline.

Would you rather find out that your plant has issues before they start to escalate, or at 8 a.m. the next morning? This is the key difference between the social burden of email and the critical necessity of having access to your information appropriate to your role. When problems arise in business or operations, real-time data is not intrusive, but welcome and needed.

Efficiency goals

You have the choice as an individual to be the one who needs to know right now, or the one who can wait to address a particular problem. The choice is made viable when an organization and its management have a policy in place spelling out who is responsible for what actions and when. That policy needs to convey the all-important message that mobile technology is not a Machiavellian method of squeezing more work out of employees. Rather, the goal of the mobile technology is to help them be more efficient. The underlying message to employees is: Eliminate that extra trip to the office, when you can handle the issue from wherever you are. Use that extra 60 or 90 minutes to increase your quality time outside of the office, away from the plant.

This is part of the trend in technology—a “people-ready software” approach—that says the application should reflect how people want to work, instead of the other way around. The software is there to help people do their jobs; it is becoming easier and easier to use, and the applications all look familiar and work together.

Non-intrusive

So while the objection to certain mobile devices and technology is a fair one, the perspective changes when we look at the environment of the manufacturing floor. Emergency response teams benefit from having the right information sent to the right people at the right time, allowing them to respond before a problem has escalated out of control.

When used as an extension of line-of-business applications, mobile platforms improve critical response to real-time business issues. They are not about socially intrusive response expectations.

Michael Saucier, Transpara Corp., Pleasanton, CA, www.transpara.com


More about the company
Transpara makes Visual KPI, Web-browser-based business intelligence software that provides the process and utility industries with real-time asset and operating data on hand-held and desktop computers.





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