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24 September 2015

Is a field engineer ever actually offline?

A field engineer without a mobile or internet connection in 2015 is a bit like someone going on road trip without a sat nav. You know you could probably manage without it, but in reality you can’t imagine how.

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For those who haven’t lived through the paper era, you must know that before the introduction of applications and mobile devices, the life of a field engineer was a lot more complicated. In the mornings the technicians were given paper work orders, and after the completion of a job they had to complete a form (perhaps including comments). This work order was then sent back to the office by fax, or it may even have been submitted in person.

When the first app came on the market, it made the life of the field engineers a little simpler. At the start of their working day they could simply log in at home or at the office to retrieve and print out work orders. At the end of the day, the details were entered into the system and everything was synchronised. This system was already an improvement but it was still convoluted and error-prone.

It’s been a few years since mobile devices such as smartphones and  tablets have made their appearance. These devices have rapidly been adopted with great enthusiasm and our day-to-day lives cannot be imagined without them. As I mentioned in a previous blog, a field engineer doesn’t only have access to electronic work orders anywhere and anytime, but he can now also access other relevant information such as the service history and available materials. Work orders can also be completed within the app.

In fact, online and offline applications often still exist alongside each other for field engineers. Someone temporarily without a connection can work in the offline mode. This differentiation stems from the period when an internet connection certainly couldn’t be taken for granted. If you have no 3G or WiFi where you are working, then you can still access the work order offline. Once you are online again, the data is amended and synchronised automatically.

But what I am wondering whether these offline applications are really still needed in 2015. How often does it actually still happen that a field engineer finds himself somewhere without a connection? In fact, isn’t there WiFi, 3G or even 4G everywhere now even in the most remote parts Is having an offline option still relevant?  

After all there are disadvantages to having an offline version both for the field engineer and the application’s supplier. Offline means more limitations in functionalities and having access to current (online) data is always better than having to synchronise later.

Now I don’t want to suggest that the offline applications should be phased out, but I really am just  curious as to how often it still happens that a field engineer finds himself somewhere without a connection.

Nico van Dijk
Product Manager Maintenance Management