Magazine Article | December 19, 2013

If You're In Field Service, Don't Bring Your Own Device — Yet

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Sumair Dutta, chief customer officer, The Service Council,,

There are a variety of benefits to a BYOD (bring your own device) strategy, but many field service organizations aren’t biting. Here’s why.

It’s the year 2014. Field engineers (or technicians) are buzzing around in flying cars, looking at holographic renderings of serviceable equipment, leveraging 3-D printers to build service parts, and using their own mobile devices to look for new service information. Except, there’s one fallacy in that scenario. They don’t have their own mobile devices — they use one provided to them by their organization as per the protocols and demands of the organizations’ IT group.

Despite the vast amount of noise around BYOD and the impact of consumerization, most organizations are still mandating that their field service technicians use employer-provided mobile devices for service work. And it doesn’t seem like a large proportion of organizations are looking to change in the near future.

There has been a shift towards the adoption of BYOD in field service, but that shift has been quite gradual. In our 2013 field service research, more than 300 respondents revealed that only 35 percent are allowing their field agents to bring their own devices to accomplish field service tasks. Twenty-three percent of those in that group are following a true BYOD policy where the employee gets to pick any device. The remaining 12 percent allow their employees to select from an approved list of devices. For the 35 percent that do support BYOD, the reasons to do so are threefold:

  • First, to empower a third-party workforce wherein the cost of providing them with new devices and subsequently managing those devices is high
  • Second, to raise workforce engagement in order to allow workers to use the device that they are most comfortable with
  • Third, to reduce the overall device cost footprint (and subsequent reliance on IT)

For these adopting organizations, the primary benefits have in fact come in the form of higher worker engagement scores, shorter training times, and lower overall device costs, in alignment with the three primary reasons to embrace BYOD outlined above. Fifty-two percent have also seen an increase in worker engagement, which in turn boosts productivity. Forty-two percent have seen a reduction in training times tied to the ability of technicians to be up and running on the devices that they own and love. Nearly 40 percent have experienced a reduction in total device costs tied to the purchase and support of field devices.

Despite BYOD Benefits, Adoption In Field Service Is Limited
Despite these benefits, the naysayers still reign, as 65 percent have yet to accept the BYOD philosophy. BYOD isn’t a new or unfamiliar phenomenon for these organizations, as 57 percent allow other employees to leverage their personal devices. However, in field service, the use of personal devices is strictly restricted primarily due to IT standards, security fears, and the perceived cost of managing and securing a wide range of employee devices. More than 60 percent of these organizations state that their IT department protocols prohibit the use of personal devices in field service tied to security and device management concerns. Security concerns are tied to device or network compromise, as well as the unwanted use of devices. Think games, poker, and other unmentionable reasons. For these organizations, the money spent and resources required to deploy, provision, install applications on, and support multiple device types are onerous, therefore leading to an employer-mandated device strategy.

The tide is turning though, albeit gradually. Of those who have rejected BYOD, 32 percent indicate that they see their organizations supporting the BYOD philosophy in the next three years. These organizations are in a waitand- see mode as they continue to track the market to truly gauge the success of other initiatives and to get a better grasp of the associated IT and security challenges. For the rest, only time will tell if they will become more accepting of the use of personal devices for field service work. They might be driven to do so in the near future with the growing acceptance of cloud or Web-based field service applications that can be accessed by any device, regardless of type. More so, changing demographics in the field service workforce may play a greater role. This doesn’t only tie to the device preferences of the next generation of field workers, but is also related to the growing interest in the use of a part-time or contingent workforce for field service labor. The empowerment of these workers might be best served via a BYOD strategy, thereby reducing the time and investment needed to equip them with the required mobile applications.