BT engineers have traditionally used a combination of Windows-based clamshell devices for reporting customer issues and for jobs in the field, but all that changed recently thanks to a call from the very top of the business.
One of the firm’s key strategic objectives was to equip its people with the latest IT, but before doing that that it carried out a survey and a trial to see what technology would fit best with engineer needs.
Having surveyed around 7,000 engineers and conducted trials on all form factors from smartphones and tablets to PCs, the clear and perhaps surprising winner was Panasonic’s Toughbook convertible tablet.
“In this [Toughbook] range, we opted for the convertible design for the first time and there were three reasons for this. They were convertible and yet robust, so they could take a battering, and then there was Windows 8 becoming available and the benefits of leveraging the touchscreen [on the OS] for tablet use.
“The third factor was that the touchscreen lent itself quite well to certain capabilities, like taking photos and capturing signatures.”
Convertibles and iPhones
While a big deployment, BT supports a mixed environment when it comes to mobile devices. For example, it has also deployed 4,000 iPhone 4S's and plans to double that figure by the end of March.
But what the firm has been struck by, in regard to the new Toughbooks, is how they are already transforming the working lives of its engineers.
“The main benefits [we’ve seen] were productivity, speed of work and spare time," says Norton. "Engineers were charging [the tablets] overnight and finding that it would be good for the whole day.
“There was an engagement benefit too. We had a really great response from engineers, who were delighted that we were investing in them.”
Since then, engineers have been using these devices on everything from checking in at the start of their working day to picking up jobs, inputting data or getting satellite navigation to job locations.
And it seems like most engineers are not only getting a handle on using Microsoft’s new operating system pretty quickly, they’re also enjoying using the touchscreen too.
“Most of the people receiving the devices were using XP or Vista so they were actually stepping ahead a couple of operating systems,” said Norton.
“There was a big worry about how they’d cope [with Windows 8] but we had a good response which shows that Microsoft has done a good job with Windows 8 usability.”
“And the touchscreen is actually more ergonomic for engineers. For example, if they’re checking broadband speeds throughout the day in the van, by the road or in a home, the traditional clamshell doesn’t cut it.”
Moving ahead with new mobile apps
Going forward BT hopes to compliment these device roll-outs by launching a suite of mobile apps to simplify workflow and improve productivity. One of the new apps is expected to make for better note taking.
Current apps include the ‘fast test’ app for checking speeds, the ‘My Jobs’ app for collection jobs and ‘Approve It’ for taking photographs, but Norton said that more applications will be coming to both iOS and Windows 8 over the next year.