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The iPad as a field service device? Someone’s got their head in the cloud

December 3, 2010 1 comment

Last week saw what was claimed to be the first announcement of a cloud computing field service application to run on an iPad – the massively hyped tablet computer from Apple.

In fact the announcement represents a convergence of hype as cloud computing has almost as many advocates as there are software companies. Cloud is a generic term for computing applications and data that are accessed over the internet and which aimed to change the rules of the IT game. The iPad was to be its trusty foot soldier and missionary.

I am not a great fan of Apple but then neither am I a fan of PC brands either – to me they are just tools to do a job. But could the popularity of the iPad help the cloud get a better foothold in business spaces like field service? The question really revolves around whether the iPad is a suitable field service device. ServiceMax is a partner of salesforce.com, the cumulonimbus of the concept, and it reckons the iPad is a natural choice “with its touch screen capabilities, portability and easy app installation”.

Other observers are less convinced: “Considering the price point, fragility, and limited ability to upgrade hardware to conform to new software demands, the iPad would not be sufficient to serve as a primary device for field applications,” said one expert. Another was more direct: “An iPad wouldn’t stand a chance in most field service scenarios.”

Of course there are different degrees of field service device stress. Some environments are like working in an office where the biggest risk is have coffee dropped in it. In others the device will need to deal with the rough and tumble suffered by all the other kit in the back of an engineer’s van travelling from site to site while other environments are significantly more hostile – oil rigs, transmission antennas or frankly anything outdoors in the current climate. The iPad may be made to be portable but it is not truly ruggedised.

So, if the iPad is a horses for courses device, what of the cloud in general – does it have a future in field service? One of its appealing qualities is that it liberates an organisation of many of the difficulties and restrictions of running its own IT infrastructure; effectively allowing the corporate department to be bypassed by not having to seek their approval or dip into CapEx.

This can appear very attractive. There is a long running grumble about the service department being at the rump end of any corporate IT investment or innovation. Other attractions are the lower operational costs because the software and servers are run by the expert provider (although you’ll still need your iPad or other terminals), the solution should be easily scalable (up or down) and the applications and data will be available over any internet connection.

A word of warning though – look closely to see if any solution you assess does what it says on the tin. Computing companies love to jump on any passing bandwagon and if there’s any hint of an internet or remote application in the company’s system and suddenly the marketing department declare “it’s cloud”.  As a sage opined: “The cloud can look very attractive in the sky but when it comes down to earth it’s just fog.”

Blog first appeared on ServiceManagement365.com

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