Better Safety via Smartphones & Tablets?

android2In the propane industry productivity gains and improved customer service are frequently touted benefits of new mobile connected devices — but can increased safety be yet another important benefit?

Many propane companies have been moving to optimize their operations, reduce costs, improve customer service, and maximize their driver and technician productivity via mobile applications. Some of these same propane companies are reporting that even more interesting, is that the software applications on their smartphones and tablets not only help individuals do their jobs better, but they also increase the safety of their mobile workforce. There is however some confusion as to which device is better in the propane delivery and service industry, that is which device, the tablet or the smartphone contributes more to the success of your mobile workforce?

There are a lot of devices to choose from, go online to any cellular provider or walk down to your Best Buy (or its equivalent) and you will have 35 different smartphones and 25 different tablets to choose from all in different sizes, shapes and tech capabilities with a maze of different service plans. Next figuring which software will work with your Bobtails and understand propane leak checks, parts/fittings, and the other nuances of the industry can be a major hurdle.There is no doubt that, choosing the best device and software combo that provides the right productivity enhancements and boosts employee safety can be a complex process.

Smartphone, Tablet or Phablet? (Selecting TheAppropriate Mobile Device)
In short, shoppers vote with their feet and all the votes are going to Android and Apple devices (sorry Windows but you have been relegated to the office – not the field). Next simply look at which device will give you the most options in terms of device manufacturers… Here Android wins with 9 different major technology manufacturers with names everyone knows like Samsung, Sony, Motorola, LG, HTC, Nokia and the list goes on. The point here is you get the world’s best manufacturers and lots of them so you are not tied to one manufacturer who could have supply issues or other challenges down the road (sorry Apple you are out). There are other technical reasons why Apple is out like they don’t allow for wireless control of meter registers, etc but suffice to say they don’t pass muster in the Propane space but then again neither do $5 Latte’s and manicured nails.
So now that the field is narrowed down to the 7 of the 8 top smartphone/tablet manufacturers in the world there are still 50+ different options to choose from. Regardless of device (smartphone or tablet), users generally report the same user experience with the software interface, with the main tangible difference being the size of the device. The smartphone is ideal for apps that enable mobile workers to clock in and out of assignments, track mileage, get details on each new job, and fill out forms when working in the field. Smartphones also allow companies to combine the cell phone of yesterday with the “in cab computer” of yesterday so they only need to manage one device per person rather than two…this is a “plus” that many a technology manager have reported was a major boon to them. Tablets provide minor flexibility benefits to smartphones as having 2 devices per employee affords the table to stick to the truck and can reduce some confusion for the dispatcher. Some are reporting that the Phablet (extra-large smartphone) is the ideal blend of Tablet and Smartphone for field workers as it is essentially a small tablet that fits into their pocket and acts like a smartphone but with a larger screen… this may be the best of both worlds. Surprisingly the overall cellular bill for data connectivity swings toward the smartphone.   Another key aspect is durability. You want to select a device that has the right level of durability for your workers’ environment and in most expert tests smartphones fitted with today’s off the shelf rugged cases do far more than the cases built for tablets and even more than yesterday’s old single function “ruggedized” devices. Bottom line…. The new breed of extra-large smartphones with 6 in screens do the best things that both tablets and smartphones have been known for so you get a 2 for 1 win.

How this new world of “Mobility” Impacts Employee Safety
While the leading propane companies implement new smartphone/tablet based technology that allows them to maximize their mobile workforce (drivers, techs and sales reps) to make their operations and staff more efficient, there is a somewhat lesser known, but equally important benefit: the ability to better protect the mobile workforce. Regardless of whether the choice is made for a smartphone or a tablet, there are a number of ways mobility helps keep workers safe:

  • You can dispatch new work to them with ALL the details without ever calling them so they can focus on driving safely and you don’t have to play phone tag all day with your outside employee workforce
  • They can “map it” with one click and get multiple routes depicting accidents, flooded routes and traffic snarls so they not only get the fastest route but the safest without having to type in the entire address.
  • You can find employees instantly. GPS technology is embedded in today’s GPS-enabled smartphones allow managers to make sure that employees are where they’re supposed to be and all work is progressing as planned.
  • You can follow job progress. Logging job start and stop times lets workers inform office personnel when they arrive and depart a location automatically, providing insight into work progress and assurances as to a workers safety.
  • You can be alerted to potential problems. Immediate visual alert indicators notify managers and office staff of field staff work progress and potential safety issues. Alerts can be triggered by specific information, such its taking too long for a driver or tech to complete a job or its taking too long for them to get from one job to another. If these employees are in a potentially dangerous situation unable to start or finish their jobs on time, managers will be able to check on the workers’ welfare before it’s too late.

So, while many of the benefits of today’s new mobile propane workforce management solutions are well-known, organizations should also understand they can leverage this technology to improve employee safety and protect the company from liabilities. The information from in-field operations serves a key purpose: alleviating worker safety concerns so that managers and employees can focus on what they do best — improving customer service and growing sales. Choosing the best handset type (smartphone, tablet or phablet) may vary from company to company, but regardless of choice, you will know that you are helping your team operate more safely and more productive every day.

Tags: Breaking Energy, Samsung, Sony, Motorola, LG, HTC, Nokia,GPS technology,Butane, Cost Reductions, Efficiency, Fuel Delivery, Heating Oil, Logistics, Propane

billstompBill Stomp is vice president of business development for Digital Dispatcher. He can be reached at