Build a system; the requirements change; build a new system – it’s a depressing cycle for essential industries, and a particularly common one where mobile deployments are concerned. But why is it that essential industries find their mobile projects so susceptible to the challenges of change?
I think there are three main reasons. First, the mobile market is, and always has been, a zone of constant change. You have new devices with new features and capabilities, new platforms and new apps appearing on almost a weekly basis, and today’s dominant vendor can quickly be overtaken by the next new thing.
Second, the operational aspects of field-work in essential industries change too. Although the broader, generic processes – for example, meter installations – tend to stay reasonably stable, the specific details – for example, the individual steps required to install different types of smart meter – may change considerably in response to industry change and, in relatively short periods of time.
Third, political situations and business requirements change. For instance, Ofgem’s recent regulatory overhaul, RIIO, has far-reaching implications for the way energy companies make infrastructure investments. Complying with RIIO will require new key performance indicators, which in turn will require new types of data to be collected and monitored out in the field; asset condition and health for example.
These three types of change can make mobile projects a nightmare to plan and design, especially when the objective is to deploy a solution that will last a full regulatory cycle of five-years plus.
But what are the options? A traditional approach to solution design would be to look at current needs, capture requirements and make a best guess at what the most likely future developments will be, and build a system based on this ‘snapshot’. However, projects undertaken on this basis can prove extremely fragile when unforeseen changes occur, often requiring significant or repeated re-coding.
A better plan is to embrace the fact that change is inevitable by building flexibility into the mobile solution itself. One way to accomplish this is to use what we call ‘mobile process orchestration’. In practice, this means that the processes field engineers need to follow can be built up on a step-by-step basis and altered easily when requirements change.
Say, for example, a company issues its engineers with camera-phones so that they can take before-and-after pictures when they perform an asset maintenance job. Instead of re-coding the entire process from scratch, our mobile process orchestration engine simply enables a ‘take photograph’ step to be inserted at appropriate points in the existing process.
No costly re-coding, minimal risky changes to back-end systems, and no worries about trying to design a future-proof system to start with: when you’re planning your mobile strategy, ensure that change takes a central role and that mobile processes can be adapted.