How frontline work is evolving with remote technology

Female frontline worker uses Getac remote technology

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In the face of the pandemic, frontline and field technicians were forced to adapt to the changing environment by integrating remote technology to meet shifting service and customer demands, writes Frank Baldrighi, business development manager, Australia and New Zealand, Getac.

In 2022, key measures adopted during the pandemic have helped make the frontline more remote and flexible, yet more connected. There is optimism that the energy industry will continue to evolve post-pandemic. Rugged mobile devices play a key role in supporting workers in fields traditionally less familiar with digitisation.

As mobile technology advances, the focus has shifted from back-end to frontline technicians. This is a welcome change as frontline workers are now more efficient than ever before. The results include better communication between managers, peers, and subject matter experts, faster return on investment (ROI) in technology solutions, and higher customer satisfaction.

New connectivity technologies, such as 5G, Li-Fi, and the Internet of Things (IoT), require frontline workers to be more switched on in the technology department. With these positive changes, there comes a new set of challenges. Pandemic-related staff shortages have been an issue across many industries; however, frontline organisations are also finding many experienced field service technicians are retiring, resulting in a younger, less experienced workforce. These changes have three major effects on technology spending with the focus now on security, reliability, and volume.

Security has become a major focus as ransomware and cyberattacks continue to infiltrate the energy industry. Keeping devices and sensitive data secure are some of the main concerns of IT managers in the sector. 

There is a significant increase in security risks when employees take their work devices home. It is best practice to use an encrypted virtual private network (VPN) on an employee’s home Wi-Fi network. It is also encouraged that employees have a newer Wi-Fi-6 router with WPA-3 encryption, with the same on any work devices using that network. Multifactor authentication (MFA) is also worth considering. MFA requires users to successfully progress through multiple methods of identity verification to access the secured data.

Due to the nature of the work, frontline and field technicians need their devices to withstand more wear and tear than most industries. They are often dropped, shaken, or exposed to the elements. Replacing the traditional consumer or commercial off-the-shelf device with more rugged computing devices is the solution. 

Another digital transformation challenge is the increased reliance on cloud data storage and edge computing. Devices are now required to stay on and perform for longer than they used to. This requires longer and more reliable battery life. 

Furthermore, without the need to bring these devices into the office, problem resolution has become increasingly difficult. If an issue occurs, it may be days or weeks before the device is passed on to IT departments. A possible solution would be to have modular field technology, so essential parts, like a battery or storage drive, can be repaired or replaced without tools. This would result in minimal interruption of operations. 

With field equipment less likely to be returned to the office at the end of each day, device sharing has also become impractical, making individually issuing devices the new normal. Organisations are allocating a higher volume to cover the same number of employees. The volume is further increased when field service organisations follow the lead of their more deskbound counterparts and start offering more choices and additions when it comes to key devices such as mobile or laptop computers. 

Remote technology is evolving to improve all frontline industries, but it’s often a delicate balance. Multiple simultaneous incidents or emergencies are becoming harder to handle, with news about such incidents travelling faster than ever. This makes improved pre-emptive IoT sensor monitoring necessary.

However, when deploying more sensors, the chance of irregularities and false alarms in the data are increased. It is vital for energy organisations to receive sufficient detailed data to know what requires immediate attention and what can wait. Edge computing and the use of drones and robots as first responders can provide this. 

Not only have pandemic measures led to fieldwork becoming less tethered, they have also led to field tasks, historically performed by pairs or teams, being carried out by individuals. Remote cameras and communications have helped improve the productivity of fieldworkers and meant that frontline personnel could receive assistance and guidance, in real time, from anywhere in the world. This is increasingly helpful in training workers who are less experienced. Like many digital improvements, the use of remote guidance and monitoring is unlikely to subside post-pandemic. 

With the right rugged mobile devices in place, digitalised fieldwork can help energy organisations improve efficiencies, lower costs, and leverage new technologies for significant organisational benefit. 

Contact Getac for more information.

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