Who really maintains the processes at your wells or central facilities? Is it your SCADA Administrator? Production Engineer? Asset Manager? If you answered yes to any of the above, then you should guess again. This person is away from the safety of an office or cubicle. They have dirt on their hands, mud on their boots — they brave the elements. This person is on-site, with their eyes, ears — and from my experience — nose to the ground. This unsung hero is your field operator.
With a growing majority of operators in the field now owning a smartphone (company issued or not), the prospect of achieving maximum well production 24/7 is no longer a figment of your business unit’s imagination. This dynamic device has the ability to check email, receive push notifications, record pictures and video, automate data based on location, and (gasp) make phone calls. The list goes on and on. We can all agree that the smartphone is a veritable swiss army knife, and just like an H2S sensor, they have it on them at all times.
In this post, I will cover a handful of capabilities to think about when coming up with your minimum viable product (MVP).
For operator’s, having the information they need at all times is crucial to their performance and the bottom line, so why make it hard to access? Let’s take a look at two problems and their solutions.
- Problem: Pulling up information on the fly can be like pulling teeth. If the operator is presented with a bad connection, which is often the case in the field, they must drive somewhere until they have one. In my experience, these operators know where the dead zones are and will wait to enter information until they have adequate coverage.
- Solution: We would ensure the app automatically caches data whenever there is a connection and pull the data only if there was something new for the operator to see. This would be a quick roll out administered via a push notification telling the operator an update is an available for download. Baking this in from day one would be preferred assuming this feature is a part of your MVP.
- Problem: Operators carry laptop computers with spinning hard drives. Seeing as most of the wells are located close to unkept back roads, the environment is also dirty and dusty. Commonly, the laptop is in the way if it’s not hooked up to a stand, so they are getting thrown and pushed around a lot. This isn’t a hypothetical but a reality. What should come as a surprise to exactly no one, is that the hard drives in these computers fail at a high rate, which increases IT’s overhead.
- Solution: One solution would be a tablet. They have no moving parts (hard drive failure is a thing of the past), and coupled with a sturdy case, they can weather the elements and take a beating. Depending on how you structure your lease agreement, the cost savings potential could be huge.
So you have rolled out a handful of iPads to an asset/region. You have an operator new to the asset entirely and they need to know their route for the day. Often times, these wells and the corresponding routes are split up over large distances and the back roads can be hard to find on a map.
Welcome to the wonders of GPS with turn-by-turn directions.
Say this newbie has reached their first well, and based on a SCADA alert (via push notification), he knows water is ready to be hauled off. Due to age, all of the tanks look the same with no distinguishable markings — now would be a good time to explore the possibilities of augmented reality. For example, simply hold up the tablet (or phone), and with some existing lat-long coordinates coded into your app (working with the GPS sensor), the operator can now see which tank is holds the water and which is the oil. Very cool.
This new guy may need some help diagnosing a well that has been shut-in, sharing his location with another co-worker nearby is easily done with the tap of a button. On a related note, there is a feature called geo-fencing that can be implemented. This feature does exactly as it sounds, which is setting a virtual perimeter around a real world area. With this implemented, a field advisor can monitor the location of this operator and send a push notification each time a well is reached.
Simplified User Experience (UX)
Up until this point, I’ve largely discussed the merits of a smart phone/tablet from a hardware perspective. The topic of a strong user experience is nothing new, but an absolute necessity if you want your app to be adopted in the field. I’ll touch on a few points from a high level.
I have found that there is a changing of the guard happening across all assets. The more mature, set-in-their-ways operator is on their way out, making room for an increasingly more tech savvy bunch. So with any app administered by corporate, special consideration should be taken into account as to the needs of your operators. As you will soon find during ground floor discussions about your project, having an app that they want to use could easily be a KPI that determines the success or failure of a project. It should be noted that you can also monitor the analytics and track the user engagement across an app. Creating an app that has been thoroughly researched with an intuitive UX should be at the top of your list during the development of your MVP.
In this post, I focused on enabling operators in the field as they are largely unsupported with all of these new advances in technology and there is a real need for having them armed with the best tools. During the course of this post I discussed:
- Connection and hardware issues with laptops in the field
- Augmented Reality
- Intuitive UX
What should come to mind now are a host of questions. For example:
- So how can a smart phone/tablet be leveraged to fit my business objectives?
- Android or iOS?
- What features introduced in iOS7 can we take advantage of?
- How will these devices tie into my existing mobile strategy?
- We do not have an existing mobile strategy, can you assist us in developing one?
- What are the benefits of the extra screen real estate a tablet provides?
- How will an app integrate with my legacy systems?
- What about device security?
- With the new iPhone 5s, can we leverage the fingerprint scanner?
- What should I know about Samsung For Enterprise (SAFE)?
- How do you conduct your UX research?
- Can ChaiOne answer all of the above?
The answer to the last question is ‘yes’. Your next step is getting in touch with us via phone or through email so that we can start having a discussion. We would love to talk to you.