Cool Tools: Mobile Communications
Published: August 2012
Today’s wireless communications technologies have changed the way people do business, even for organizations that install and service building security, alarm and control systems.
Installer and maintenance personnel use wireless devices to stay in touch and exchange information with the home office and vendors, and a wireless communications network can continually monitor a building’s alarm and control systems and instantly diagnose problems.
As early cellular phones and service became more dependable, contracting companies began using them to communicate with field personnel, a tremendous step forward in managing crews on job sites.
Rapid advances in technology available today make that communications “breakthrough” seem primitive. Smartphones, many with push-to-talk capability for instant communication, can connect to the Internet, send and receive email and text messages, and take photos and videos. Compact tablet computers also connect to the Internet and allow instant change of plans and documents between the field and office.
Wireless communications begin with the network, said Michael Schaefer, executive director, Verizon Wireless national SMB marketing (www.verizonwireless.com).
“It is the 3G or 4G LTE network that makes a wireless system work,” he said. “The network supports the mobile devices that fill a user’s needs. The network always is the starting point of a wireless communications system, and as a user grows, more bandwidth is necessary.”
Next, Schaefer said, are the physical products: the wireless phones, smartphones, push-to-talk devices and tablets.
“On top of the devices are the applications that bring to life the functions that provide the customer with the needed tools to bring people together to talk, exchange information by texting and emails, take photos and real-time videos, provide GPS information, and much more. Over the past couple of years, the applications base has become increasingly important,” he said.
CTIA—The Wireless Association estimates there are currently more than 1.5 million apps.
Evolving technologies can make it a challenge for a company to select the devices and applications for a mobile communications system that fit its specific needs. Carriers want to help.
Verizon’s sales organization has an industry-specific focus with construction an important segment, said Abdul Abdullah, director, transportation solutions and marketing, Verizon Enterprise Solutions.
“They have the knowledge to help business owners navigate to the solutions they need that will integrate with an existing system. We don’t just sell smartphones but also work with enterprise customers to provide a network that will serve their businesses now and for the years ahead,” he said.
In addition to basic voice communications, Abdullah said smartphones are used for messaging and push-to-talk. Useful applications for construction organizations include personnel dispatch, GPS with audible turn-by-turn directions, mobile time carding, radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking, and signature capture to confirm receipt of materials. Devices can take credit card payments, accept signatures, and immediately integrate transactions with cost-management solutions.
Abdullah cited Verizon’s new Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot.
“Drop it at a mobile field office, and up to 10 Wi-Fi-enabled devices have blazing-fast Internet connectivity,” he said.
All these capabilities add up to more efficiently managed field operations for integrated systems contractors, electrical contractors and about any other construction specialty, helping to increase productivity and profitability.
Mobile field service automation can have a tremendous effect on a company’s bottom line as stated in an independent study prepared by the Aberdeen Group and cited in a recent white paper by FieldAware (www.fieldaware.com), which offers field-service applications for small to medium-sized organizations.
The study reported that effectively used mobile field-service automation could increase worker productivity by 27 percent, customer satisfaction by 19 percent, service revenues by 13 percent, and overall profitability by 17 percent.
“A key reason companies can achieve these types of results is that deploying mobile service solutions allows field workers to more effectively interact with back-office systems and easily share critical data on customers, jobs, assets and inventories with the entire service team,” according to the FieldAware white paper, “Advantages of True Mobility In Field Service Applications.” “Basically, it is a process that digitizes the service workflow to eliminate the need for paper work-orders, significantly streamlines the scheduling process, dramatically increases field staff productivity and captures new revenue-generating opportunities by using very affordable automation technology.”
The white paper states that, with native apps now available, cloud-based field-service management can operate smartphones and tablets at a fraction of the cost of legacy systems. They are lower cost because they eliminate the need for proprietary software and hardware, enabling every member of a service team to share information over the Internet. This streamlines the field service management process using iOS or Android mobile devices.
How would a contractor implement such devices? For that, we looked at Commonwealth Electric Co. of the Midwest. It has installed security, alarm and control systems for many years and recently began actively marketing commercial security systems and installation and maintenance services.
Clinton Stoffer, Commonwealth’s security specialist based in the company’s Omaha office, said wireless networks are essential for these modern building systems.
“Whether commercial or residential, our customers like being able control their security and automation systems with their smartphones from wherever they are,” he said. “We design the capability of remote wireless access into all of our systems.”
Stoffer said today’s security and control systems are integrated, so each element can communicate with the others, operating seamlessly within the network.“For example, card access systems have been in use for years with cards having information and a photo of each employee. But ‘borrowing’ cards has become a common practice. Integrating the video surveillance and access control enables the customer to recognize when a card is used by someone other than the person it was issued to,” Stoffer said.
Wireless communications enables Commonwealth to remotely access systems at client locations, Stoffer said.
“It allows us to proactively maintain the systems,” he said. “Service technicians can access systems from their smartphones and perform diagnostics without actually going on-site.”
Commonwealth Electric has implemented a wireless communication system throughout the company, employing smartphones, push-to-talk phones, basic wireless phones, and tablet computers.
“Wireless communications allows management and key personnel in the field to remain in contact every second of the day,” said Nick Cole, manager of construction services. “We believe this is critical to our success as a company.”
GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at email@example.com.