Smart walkie-talkies are enabling the next wave of infocomms technology to reach mobile workers.
According to App Annie, a mobile and data analytics company, Singaporeans have, on average, 115 apps installed on their phones and use 46 of these—the highest in all the markets it surveyed for its State of Mobile in 2019 report. Clearly apps are an integral part of our digital society for both work and play.
Hence, an increasing number of companies in various industries such as hospitality, transportation, logistics, and construction, are integrating business apps and traditional stand-alone walkie-talkies into an app on their employees’ smartphones. Instead of laptops, companies in the industrial sector now issue rugged smartphones with digital apps to field workers to replace walkie-talkies and paperwork.
This trend in the enterprise tech space is enabling the next wave of infocomms technology to reach mobile workers. These field workers such as drivers and technicians make up 60 per cent of the workforce in Asia. As education and work becomes more white-collared, they need information, communication, and collaborative digital tools to get their work done. It is more important for workers in Singapore to adapt to technology than in other countries as there is a much higher tendency for companies here to replace labour with machines than in Malaysia, for instance, where manpower costs are low.
As such, managers in companies such as Singtel, Capella Hotels, and Certis Cisco are implementing company owned smartphones as their tool of choice. The company smartphones are installed with business applications to replace paperwork and walkie-talkies. One such application is Singapore’s first walkie-talkie app VoicePing, developed by local communications company Smart Walkie. VoicePing can be installed on all smartphones to transform them into nationwide walkie-talkies. This helps to consolidate previously separate devices of walkie-talkies, phones, and laptops so that workers can rely on an all-in-one device to manage their daily tasks more effectively.
For example in the hospitality industry, traditionally, the housekeeping department uses walkie-talkies to broad-cast jobs to individual workers. Each cleaning round is accompanied by a paper form to be filled in after the task. With the implementation of company smartphones, employees can now enjoy all the benefits of a mobile phone while still having a walkie-talkie via the app for group broadcasts. They can also easily check on their property management system via a housekeeping app all on one device. Workers carry less equipment and the risk of losing items as they moved around is reduced. In other industries, features like GPS location-tracking,
in-app document submission protocols, and the ability to use the smartphone’s camera to snap work proofs are also valuable to company-specific workflow.
However, managers have three main concerns in implementing smartphones within their companies:
- Reliability and maintenance costs of smartphones;
- Installing and updating enterprise applications;
- Controlling smartphone usage and costs; and
- Ensuring ease of use for worker adoption.
Reliability and Maintenance Costs of Phones
Just as company laptops are issued for office workers on their first day of work, industrial companies now do the same for smartphones. Smart Walkie has enhanced a louder, sturdier Android-based smartphone that can be paired with their VoicePing walkie-talkie app and is better built for rough environments that field workers are often in. The ruggedness of these phones reduce the cost of
maintenance that is usually incurred over the two years operating lifespan of normal smartphones.
Installing and Updating Enterprise Applications
As these companies have employees working remotely around Singapore, it is not easy to reach out to all employees simultaneously. Managers have to consider how to install and keep apps updated remotely. They might also need different access control for managerial and working level. Mobile device management software such as Talkie Lock can solve this dilemma. Talkie Lock works by replacing the device home screen with a kiosk mode. Only allowed app folders are visible to users. The company administration can remote update allowed apps via their management dashboard, thus saving the physical effort of retrieving the smartphones from employees.
Controlling Smartphone Usage and Costs
With the ability to lock the smartphone and apps, employers no longer have to worry about the company-owned devices being used for non-work related matters. This results in controlled data usage and hence, costs. It also ensures attention at work. Talkie Lock enables detection on any possible attempts for unauthorised use of the device, such as SIM card removal.
For companies with many mobile field workers, such as those in transportation and logistics, employers often worry about their whereabouts. Talkie Lock is able to show real-time location as well as the location history of all registered devices for a specified period of time. Location information is useful for updating customers on delivery or assigning jobs to the nearest worker.
Ensuring Ease of Use for Worker Adoption
For companies that have used traditional walkie-talkies in their workflow, they expect ease of use as their workers are accustomed to how walkie-talkies operate. As such, Smart Walkie also has customised Android smartphones that come with louder speakers and dedicated PTT buttons to make the operation as similar as possible. Most smartphones are in the 60db-80db range which means you can only hear your message if you hold the phone next to your ear or if you are in a quiet indoor environment. For professional outdoor use, workers need 100dB loudness to ensure that they hear the messages. Other than additional protection against water and falls, these rugged smart walkie-talkies also have powerful speakers to ensure workers can easily communicate in an outdoor environment.
Singapore's Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that Singapore companies must respond quickly to the changing business environment while also taking innovation and technology seriously. “At the same time, Singapore must ensure that workers are not left behind amid the rapidly changing environment,” added Mr Heng. With new innovations such as walkie-talkie apps and devices to replace older communications methods across various industries, it is important for these industries to adopt technology wholeheartedly to stay ahead of the trend.
Copyright © 2019 Singapore Institute of Management