This new column analyses the contribution that technology can give to a lean implementation. Oliver Sturrock, CTO at mobility solutions provider SCHAD, explains how the arrival of HTML5 can help mobility move to the next level.

The hype around BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – is everywhere and rapidly changing the way technology is purchased, managed and procured. According to a survey by ZDNet/TechRepublic, over 60% of companies either already offer BYOD to their employees or plan to do so by the end of the year.

The definition of BYOD varies from workers simply accessing work-related emails on personal smartphones or tablets to organisations subsidising the cost of their workers’ own mobile devices, in return for them using these devices during their working day to access business applications and data. The reason why attitudes towards BYOD are so favourable amongst workers is because using the latest technology has become something of a status symbol. We have all quickly become discerning consumers of personal technology.

The rapid pace at which consumer mobile technology continues to advance means workers expect to be using the same up-to-the-minute devices whilst they are at work as they do during leisure time. This has created another important trend, the so-called “consumerisation of IT”. It refers to the tendency for employees to have more advanced technology to manage their personal lives than might be available for use within the workplace. In practice, tight economic pressures mean hardware purchasing cycles cannot keep ahead of the latest mobile device launches and this has helped to change attitudes towards using one’s own personal devices in the workplace.

Consumerisation of IT is therefore fuelling demand amongst workers for BYOD policies. We argue this switch to BYOD is akin to lean IT, since companies can save significantly on hardware ownership costs because they no longer have to buy the hardware or maintain it. However, this creates another issue – whether BYOD is actually applicable for industrial environments in the first place. This has been widely debated and many have argued that a highly automated manufacturing environment – a car assembly line for instance – is unlikely to offer BYOD because their workforces are unlikely to be early adopters of the latest mobile devices.

Our direct experience as mobile application specialists for the industrial sector suggests this is a false perception, especially with the recent arrival of HTML5. In fact, key features within HTML5 make mobile working – and mobile EAM (mobile enterprise asset management) in particular – very attractive, due to capability it offers for disconnected working and the huge scale of many production environments.

How is technology accelerating BYOD within industrial environments?

Additional advances in application development technology – specifically in the form of HTML5 – have made BYOD a viable IT strategy in the short to medium term. HTML5 is a ubiquitous technology that allows software developers to create a single application, which really can run on any device and support offline working. Using it can make BYOD more than the latest IT buzzword: a cost effective option for any business wishing to introduce mobile working across the organisation.

Before HTML5, mobile applications would have been developed specifically for use on a particular device using the so-called “native applications”. So, for example, a company that had adopted traditional rugged devices built its mobile applications using C++. If they wanted to introduce Android or Blackberry devices, the same application would have to be re-built using Java. Adding an iPhone into the mix meant more development in Objective C and so on. Re-purposing an application to adapt it to a larger tablet format, like an iPad, required yet more work.

Working in this way is costly and slow. As soon as an organisation wants to introduce any flexibility over which hardware devices its workers can use, it needs to significantly increase software development resources to render a single application compatible with additional hardware devices. This can take months, which is why before HTML5 the concept of BYOD was mostly unviable.

Support for remote working

The ability for HTML5 to support so called “disconnected working” offers another specific benefit for automation users, especially in the context of mobile EAM. Engineers may experience extended periods within the working day when they need to continue working whilst disconnected from the main EAM system.

Consider a plant maintenance engineer working remotely and required to complete an inspection route across a series of geographically dispersed treatment plants. For remote workers, this capability within HTML5 offers multiple benefits, particularly for planned maintenance activities. In this context, the user downloads their task sheet at the start of the day and then works in real time on the inspection route and offline when breaks in coverage occur. As the day progresses and the engineer roams in and out of coverage during the inspection route, data captured is stored locally on the device and seamlessly synchronised without any action required by the user.

Today, every worker is much more than an engineer or technician responsible for asset maintenance. They are consumers after a day’s work, reading the news on an iPad, Skyping with friends on Android devices and communicating through Twitter and Facebook. Being surrounded by such technology sets an expectation for the introduction of convenient, large scale mobility in the workplace too. It is only a matter of time before the advent of HTML5 will make BYOD and the widespread adoption of mobile EAM solutions a reality.