Devices used in fieldwork should tolerate hits but the most important thing is the user experience. Kauko Oy, an equipment and systems supplier specializing in hardware and software solutions customized for demanding field conditions, implements service design to find out what the user needs.
By Markku Rimpiläinen
Fieldworkers working in the supply chain use increasingly different mobile terminal devices. Data is processed by means of tablets and laptops, and at the same time information is relayed to mobile workers.
“Knowledge work is carried out in very challenging circumstances. It sets a high standard for the qualities of the appliances, applications, user interface, and connections,” emphasizes Heli Segercrantz, Customer Solutions Director of Kauko Oy.
“The acquisition of a functioning equipment is not a simple task. First, you have to consider the combination formed by devices, users, and the business,” Segercrantz advises.
“At the procurement stage, you should define as precisely as possible what is expected from mobile devices, what kind of business benefits are desired, and how it can be achieved. Another very important starting point is to take into account the needs of the actual users of the devices.”
Segercrantz emphasizes the importance of excellence in user experience.
“If the user, for example, taps the device with his gloves on, the user interface should be very simple. The buttons should be large and the progress very straight forward. Different systems must be put together into a simple user interface from which the user finds them quickly and surely.”
Also, the connections have to be very reliable and work smoothly without breaks.
“The daily tasks of the supply chain workers may take place in a warehouse and outdoors. Sometimes the device is connected to the docking station of a car or a forklift truck. The VPN connection should work at all the times regardless of the changing location. The user gets frustrated if the device has to be constantly re-started,” says Kyösti Ollila, the Product Solutions Director of Kauko Oy.
Kauko implements the methods of service design in deciphering the users’ needs.
“The users may share their wishes. They can try out the devices and software and give feedback. They are guided and challenged. This will ensure the functioning of the user interface and ergonomics. When the work is performed well, the users will get exactly what they need, and they also understand why the procurement is made,” Segercrantz says.
“We will do everything to make the user accept the device. With such a method the process will also lead to business benefits.”
The service designers can also help in the re-planning of the work itself.
“We will consider how to design the work of the user in such a way that the business goals can be best achieved.”
The service designers of Kauko Oy are doing their job in a real operational environment.
“The IT decision-maker may be located quite far from the operational activity. When the designers participate in the operational environment, they will get important ideas and feedback from the users. When we get this process running fully as a whole, the productivity of the worker will also significantly increase,” Ollila says.
Nowadays, the amount of mobile devices workers carry with them is substantial.
“Many field workers still have a phone, tablet, and a laptop. It’s not very effective,” Ollila says.
The trend is now going towards multi-functional devices.
“Now people are interested in hybrid devices. The more you can do with a single device, the better. Best suited for a variety of uses is for example a small palmtop with an integrated GPS, a speech feature, and a bar code reader.”
“The customers are also interested in the operating reliability, life cycle management, durability, and changeable batteries.”
Kauko deliberately sells devices from only one manufacturer.
“By focusing on a single supplier, we can customize the features of the devices. For instance, the display can be made considerably brighter or dimmer than usual. Interfaces and other connected appliances can be added to the devices flexibly as required.”
Kauko’s devices are rugged, with so-called hardened terminals.
“A field device should withstand blows and function in all the circumstances where the work takes place. A tablet designed to office environment is rarely the best option when going to a construction site,” Ollila says.
Mobile knowledge work is becoming increasingly common. The amount of needs and users increases all the time. Often the devices are acquired for the tasks that are critical for business operation.
“No company can guide its activities on the basis of historical data anymore. All businesses should gather real-time data that is in usable format in order to guide and predict operations,” Segercrantz says.
The largest user groups have traditionally been in maintenance work, installations, warehousing, logistics, and authority. Lately, mobile devices have also been acquired for mobile workers in social and health services – now the needed information is constantly at hand for the nurse at house calls.
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