Making the Switch: Using Technology in the Field

Technology in the Field

In recent years, utility companies have been integrating digital data collection and task management systems into their field operations. What this means for workers in the field is that they handle various forms of technology and electronic devices such as iPads or tablets throughout their work day. These methods of data collection and task management are more efficient than pencil-and-paper methods, however, field conditions can be unpredictable and may present challenges for workers in the field. 

Fortunately, there are many simple tips and tricks that can be implemented to mitigate these challenges. This blog provides a field-worker’s point of view of common issues and solutions that can make the integration and utilization of digital data collection and task management systems in the field more convenient and efficient.  

Challenges in the Field and Mitigation Tactics

As stated earlier, there are a variety of challenges associated with handling technology in the field. In fact, bad weather, lack of cell service, and poor tablet or iPad battery life can all impact field workers’ ability to operate the various technologies and devices used in the field for data collection. 

Device Maintenance

Consistent iPad or tablet maintenance is very important. Maintenance for devices can include updating applications, inspecting device battery health, repairing the screens of devices that may be damaged, and communicating with field workers about if they encounter any technology issues throughout their work day. 

Slow device response time in the field can be a huge hindrance to productivity, especially if workers are stuck waiting for pages to load or having to tap on the screens multiple times due to poor response to touch. Issues like these can easily be remedied by keeping devices up-to-date. 

Additionally, it is no secret that charging cables can go bad suddenly, so companies should also make sure charging cables for devices are readily available and in working order and should allow workers to expense the cost of replacement charging cables. 

Cellular Data Connection

Utility field work can sometimes take place in remote areas where cell service is weak. This can reduce the ability of field workers to operate applications that are reliant upon constant cellular data connections. 

These issues can be prevented by making sure applications can be operated offline. While applications that can operate offline may take up more storage space on devices, it is of great benefit to companies and workers in the field to be able to continue collecting data and performing other duties if technology issues or lack of service occurs unexpectedly. 

Some utility work requires the collection and transmission of live data to track projects in real-time. It is important to make sure that the devices used in the field have enough data to use for these purposes, and you may also want to consider selecting a carrier with a good range of connection for the work area. 

Protection Against Weather 

Weather is quite unpredictable, and depending on the type of job being performed, the show must go on. Snow, rain, and extreme cold or hot temperatures can all influence the ability of an electronic device to perform and can also affect a worker’s ability to operate it. 

Precipitation can be a major irritation when operating an electronic device in the field, as rain and snow inevitably result in water collecting on the screen. This can prevent workers from being able to type data into the surveys. Screen protectors that prevent water from contacting the screen are quite helpful, especially if the case can prevent water from getting under the screen protector. Protective cases like these can also prevent water damage to devices.

It is well known that cold temperatures can reduce the battery life of various technologies. If a field assignment is to take place in freezing weather that will expose an iPad or tablet to the cold for extended periods of time, it is important to keep charging cables in work vehicles or have workers carry portable chargers. Workers should try and keep their devices as warm as possible, and simple actions such as tucking it into their coat to keep it warm can make a difference. 

In hot weather, many devices will automatically shut down when they overheat. Waiting for a device to cool down and start back up again can be a major work disruption. It is a good idea to keep devices in the shade whenever possible and allow them to cool down in work vehicles if available. 

Damage Prevention

Depending on the work being performed, devices like iPads and tablets can be vulnerable to being dropped or struck by objects or tools. This can result in broken screens and other types of damage that may make them inoperable and ultimately cost the company money to replace them, as well as loss of time, and possibly even the loss of data if it has not yet been saved.

Adequate protective cases for devices in the field is an absolute necessity. It is a good idea to find shatterproof cases that have clips or straps that can go around workers’ hands to keep them more secure and prevent such accidents. Office managers should inspect the structural integrity of these cases on a regular basis to make sure they will provide the protection needed to preserve the health of the device. 

Crew members should also be directed to not multitask, that is, not operate a device while simultaneously performing another task. Doing this increases the risk of an incident occurring that may result in not only harm to the device being used, but the worker as well. A designated crew member should take charge of data collection while others perform the hands-on tasks applicable to the job being performed. 

In Summary

Make the switch to digital data collection and digital project management with OpSource. Our software is built with a field-first approach, keeping you in mind. Contact us today to learn more about how our software is the right choice for your operations.

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