EDITOR'S NOTE: The next series of executive interviews will be delayed one month as to report on the happenings at an industry event in a timely manner.
SAN ANTONIO, TX — Field service and mobility focused executives, managers, and directors converged on San Antonio's Riverwalk Jan. 22-24, 2007 to attend PCSC's (aka Panasonic Toughbook) third annual Thought Leadership Forum (TLF). The forum included current and future PCSC customers, approximately 20 of PCSC's strategic partners, and Integrated Solutions magazine, the sole media sponsor of the event. Here are some of the event's highlights:
Gartner analyst Leslie Fiering, VP of mobile computing, presented high-level trends in mobile computing, though nothing should be too surprising to those working with rugged laptops and tablets. She said the key barriers of the past for tablet adoption, including OS support, compatible software, hardware design, and price, are going away, making tablets a more feasible rugged form factor for enterprises. She predicted tablet computers, particularly with form-driven applications, to be the way forward in mobile computing. However, in the presentation, only about 15% of the 200 to 250 people in attendance noted that they were using tablets in their enterprises.
Rugged tablets and notebooks are being used in all areas of field service, from utilities to manufacturers to service companies. I was able to speak with and/or hear presentations from GE Appliance, Brinks Home Security, Sullivan Schein Dental, and Spectra Energy. These companies have all taken the concept of mobile work via laptops and tablets much further than simply replacing paper processes with technology; they've added automated scheduling/routing, dispatch enhancement, and improved field worker capabilities (e.g. increased diagnostics due to more processing power on the Toughbooks). Look for stories on these companies in upcoming issues of Integrated Solutions.
One of the most valuable components of the three-day conference is the chance for users to meet with PCSC President Rance Poehler to hear what Panasonic is planning for 2007, as well as provide feedback on problems/concerns with hardware and/or service. I sat in on one of these sessions last year, which included about half of the attendees; this year, there were several sessions with smaller groups (about 40 people), enabling more one-on-one discussions. The discussion I sat in on included representatives from Southern California Gas, Duke Energy, Cox Communications, Verizon, and Boeing. It really was an intriguing model, providing users with the opportunity to report problems straight to the "horse's mouth," so to speak. And to Poehler's credit, he seemed personally distraught that a customer experienced problems. He asked follow-up upon follow-up question to fully understand the problem, and with a bevy of engineers and the VP of operations at the PCSC service center, many questions were answered. If they weren't, Poehler promised to get to the bottom of the matter.
In addition to soliciting feedback, Poehler also reported on goings-on at PCSC. Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, Panasonic's parent company, spends approximately $6 billion annually on research and development, much of which influences the development of Panasonic Toughbooks. PCSC will continue its focus on core manufacturing and create additions to its testing and engineering facilities. These additions will help to improve antenna tuning, and enable PCSC to achieve 1 million-unit production in 2008. Poehler also presented a product roadmap, which I am not at liberty to discuss yet — but keep your eyes open for some improved wireless capabilities, as well as some exciting form factor developments.