Getting Started with Tablet Computers in the Field

Chelsey chest pack
In action in the field

Why would anyone want to consider taking a tablet computer outside in harsh environments where it might get damaged?

For us and half dozen of our colleagues, we decided to use the Apple iPad for fieldwork early in 2011 because we expected to improve both our productivity and access to information. In this article, and the ones that follow, we would like to share our experience with you so that you can “get off on the right foot” with using tablet computers for fieldwork.

So that you have context for our comments, we thought we should describe our work environment.  Our colleagues and us are Forestry Professionals who work on the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada. The climate here in the winter is moderately wet with occasional snow and temperatures that typically don’t go below about -5 C°. Summer is usually dry and warm – 25° to 35° Celsius. Our typical temperatures are for the most part close to the operating temperatures specified by Apple (0 to 35° C).  The biggest challenge our electronic equipment faces is moisture.

Wet iPad
A wet iPad? Oh no!

When we purchased seven iPads early in 2011, we expected that we would have at least one fail in the first six months and a couple more before the year was out. We were pleased that at the end of the first year all of the tablets were still functioning.

Even more surprising is that all of them are still operational today – more than two years after the original purchase! This is even more surprising when you consider that most of us just used a Ziploc Freezer Bag for protection from moisture. This was not because were trying to save money on a waterproof case but was out of necessity – there were just not many cases to choose from two years ago.

Now that you know a tablet computer can survive the rigors of field use, you will likely have to demonstrate the business case before being able to purchase any devices.  As a consultant, we have frequently been called upon by clients to help them develop a business case for the use of these devices. For most professionals that work in the field regularly a ten to fifteen minute demonstration of some of the core applications is all it takes to demonstrate a solid business case.

We can remember the owner of a contracting business saying to me after a five-minute demonstration,

“I’ll put a tablet in every truck.  All I have to do is stop the crew from getting lost one time and I will pay for it”.

However, the challenge is convincing the IT manager and Accountant that tablet computers are a worthwhile investment. You will have some work on your hands to demonstrate the business case – especially if you do not have a tablet computer to use.

In the next article, we will describe how to go about developing the business case to implement the use of tablet computers for field staff.

Let us know if you have any questions or comments.

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