The introduction of the iPhone and, more recently, the iPad, has created a lot of buzz and excitement, often spilling over to less than relevant business activities. These new shiny objects are so distracting, that many neglect to ask (and answer) some fundamental questions such as: "What business problem does the new device solve?"; "Is it the optimal platform for a solution to the problem?"
Recently, a major software company briefed me on a new application to author and distribute technical information such as detailed service information and work instructions to maintain complex equipment. Examples cited in this presentation included military helicopters and medical imaging equipments. The company highlighted the availability of an iPad version and was very proud to point out that one of their potential buyers is going to demonstrate it at an upcoming board meeting.
Those of us that have been in research, development and implementation of systems designed to assist technicians in maintaining complex systems know that the challenge is in creating effective task-specific content for a service technician, not the lack of a delivery platform. Besides, the notion of an army technician using an iPad to look up helicopter repair information in the battlefield or even the repair depot does not seem quite right; a Panasonic Toughbook seems much more appropriate for such harsh environment.
A more practical and realistic application of a mobile device in servicing complex equipment is the Maintenance iPhone GE presented at the Farnborough air show. This iPhone app focuses on providing mobile workforce access to information such as engine configuration, operating data, and repair status. Still the question of content vs. presentation and delivery remains as relevant. We recently published a report that discusses the important attributes of quality service information: Information Delivered as a Service Improves Quality, Reduces Costs.
The iPad is no doubt a very cool device; however, being uncool is not a business issue worth addressing. The mere fact that a software application runs on the iPad does not automatically make it better or more relevant to the business. In fact, as we mentioned earlier, iPad may be the wrong delivery platform for service information. Still, cool devices can help drive awareness to and better solutions to important business problems. While iPad may not be the optimal device to deliver service information in most maintenance environments, the excitement over highly capable mobile devices, and, yes, even boardroom presentations, will hopefully draw attention to this critical issues and drive improvement in service information content and delivery.