by Eamon Murphy
Eamon Murphy of AMT-SYBEX surveys the current state of mobile and the future of field data capture in asset-intensive industries.
Working with clients in asset-intensive industries such as utilities and transport infrastructure, we see companies dealing with the same problems and pressures arising year after year. Managing complex infrastructures and extensive networks of assets is an extremely challenging proposition, especially when investment is limited and the goal is always to do more with less.
Most companies are investigating how new technologies can help them take control of asset data and work smarter. Analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) are currently grabbing the biggest headlines, but there’s a third area that is still attracting a lot of investment: mobile.
While parts of the industry have used mobile solutions of one sort or another for years, there is still a sense that the large vendors haven’t really cracked mobile asset management. For example, according to a recent survey by Gartner, respondents rated mobility as the worst of the critical capabilities provided by their enterprise asset management (EAM) systems.
This is a big problem, because without an effective mobile platform for asset data capture, larger initiatives around analytics are likely to fail. Without high-quality, up-to-date information from the field, it is impossible to create workable predictive maintenance plans, respond to critical issues, or prioritise work efficiently.
Some industry observers are backing IoT to solve the problem—but although IoT solutions can be used to complement mobile data capture by fieldworkers, they will never replace the role of skilled inspection and maintenance teams who can “see” the unmeasurable and exceptional/unplanned aspects of the infrastructure. Moreover, it will take many years to fully instrument our nationwide asset networks with IoT sensors, so for now, mobile data capture is the only viable option.
Finding a better way
If the big EAM vendors aren’t delivering on mobility, what are the other options? There are specialist mobility vendors who offer either packaged solutions or mobile application development platforms that can theoretically be integrated with an EAM system to mobilise work. However, few of them directly support asset management, work order and work execution processes, making implementation and integration complex and ineffective.
That’s why we developed Fieldreach—a mobile platform specifically designed for mobile work management and asset management processes in the field. Its intelligent scripting capabilities make it easy to create new processes and support different work and business models, and it empowers fieldworkers to access and analyse current and historical asset information at any time. Moreover, it’s an independent solution that is not tied to any single EAM platform, and it can be readily integrated with leading solutions such as Ellipse, IBM Maximo and SAP. Unlike other mobile platforms, we put the asset at the centre of everything we do in Fieldreach, so it’s an ideal solution for any asset-intensive business.
Over the past few years, our userbase for Fieldreach has expanded significantly, and the solution has been thoroughly proven at scale. Today, Fieldreach is running on 50,000 devices across five continents, and helps our clients manage millions of jobs per year—in fact, it handles 100,000 jobs per week for Network Rail alone.
Listening to the market
As the needs of the industry evolve, Fieldreach is evolving too. While we’re continuing to build out and enhance its core capabilities, we’re also aligning the roadmap to our clients’ ambitions around real-time access to information—whether that means analytics, IoT technologies, or improvements in capturing data.
For example, we’re working on dashboards that give clients real-time insight into the teams who are out in the field and what they are working on. This will enable the operations centre to make smarter decisions about allocating new jobs and prioritising urgent work—helping to ensure compliance with service-level agreements, meet deadlines and hit targets.
We’ve also noticed that more and more of our customers are using third-party contractors to carry out key maintenance and other work activities. That means their mobile platform must have the flexibility to expand and extend beyond traditional in-house use cases. Fieldreach supports this by enabling contractors to allocate, dispatch and manage assigned work to their own field teams using their own mobile devices, while ensuring that the customer can monitor their activities and assure the quality of the results.
Looking to the future
Another big milestone we’ve been working on for Fieldreach is around integration. We already have many successful projects where Fieldreach is integrated with core EAM systems, but as the trend in IT is to move away from monolithic systems and towards microservices, we recognised the need to take the next step. As a result, we’ve built a new service layer (or in technical terms, an API) that makes it easy both to push data into Fieldreach and, more importantly, get data out again.
The service layer makes it much easier for third-party systems and services to interact with Fieldreach and turn the asset data we capture into new kinds of business value. This is a key part of our strategy for the product, as we look not only to extend our partnership with the big EAM vendors, but also to work more closely with other partners, such as systems integrators and independent software vendors.
We’re excited about the innovative projects on the horizon, where Fieldreach will serve as the key mobility component in a network of EAM, analytics and IoT services—making it quicker and easier to develop new business applications and processes, and to deliver value to the business.
To learn more about the current milestones and future roadmap for Fieldreach and discuss how we can bring better asset-focused mobile solutions to your business, please reach out to us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.