Have tablet, will travel

engineering careers  Have tablet, will travel

Going mobile has never been easier. Even so, pitfalls await the unwary, Microsoft’s Colin Masson tells IT Contributing Editor Malcolm Wheatley.

These days, it’s a ‘Mobile first, Cloud first’ world. And for manufacturers, two important things stem from this, stresses Colin Masson, Microsoft’s global industry director for manufacturing and distribution.

First, an increasing amount of employees’ interaction with enterprise systems is carried out while away from their deskbound computers. And second, the ready ability to link mobile devices to enterprise systems is re-writing the rules of where those enterprise systems can reach, and which groups of employees can leverage their power.

“The workforce are used to mobile devices, and have come to expect them,” he sums up. “If they can access Facebook and e-mail from anywhere, why not enterprise systems?”

But make no mistake, points out Masson: cloud technology is central to this mobile deployment, offering a way to blend—say—Microsoft Office applications with enterprise systems, such as Microsoft Dynamics AX and CRM that can run on devices, and the mobile device management systems that this ‘Mobile first, Cloud first’ world demands.

So what, specifically, should manufacturers be doing to take advantage of this brave new world?

Masson offers three thoughts for manufacturers to ponder. “First, enterprise software needs to be reimagined for the mobile workforce,” he stresses. What does this mean? For a start, manufacturers are no longer tied to a single desktop or mobile device operating system. Microsoft’s Office applications, for instance, are now available for Android devices, Apple iOS devices, and of course Windows devices. Once, that would have been unthinkable.

Enterprise workflow and experiences also have to be reconceived: not only do Microsoft Dynamics AX and Microsoft Dynamics CRM provide new role-based productivity applications for the major mobile platforms, but also rich development tools for manufacturers to build their own applications.

“Second, Microsoft is in the services business every bit as much as it is in the product business—so we can help you manage this ‘Mobile first, Cloud first’ world, managing devices, keeping them secure, and making them more productive,” he adds. “And that’s whether the devices are Microsoft devices, or non-Microsoft devices — and whether the devices are company-owned, or owned by individual employees.”

“And third,” he urges, “Don’t make the mistake of putting the wrong devices into manufacturing environments: consumer-grade devices often lack the ruggedness, battery endurance, processing power, connectivity and extensibility of built-for-manufacturing devices—which, by the way, don’t have to be expensive.”

Indeed, he points out, the combination of Microsoft’s own line of mobile devices and those of its hardware partner ecosystem has resulted in a wide range of sturdy purpose-designed devices for the factory floor. Panasonic’s ToughPhones, ToughPads, and ToughBooks, for instance, are designed for life in the toughest of manufacturing environments.

Generally capable of lasting a full day or shift on a single charge, such devices need to have the extensibility and connectivity to be operated in environments where users might be wearing gloves, or wanting to connect—wirelessly—to peripherals such as barcode scanners or factoryfloor printers.

Even better, he adds, manufacturers don’t have to develop custom applications for each device: universal Windows applications run across all these form factors—phones, 6” phablets, tablets, desktops, 80-inch All-in-Ones, and even the Xbox One.

In short, sums up Masson, manufacturing is going mobile—but doing so with devices that have been purpose-designed for manufacturing, and which are fully linked with enterprise systems, keeping employees productive on the shop floor, in the office, and in front of customers.