Deliver An Enhanced Workplace Mobility Experience

Ryan Spurr

Today, it’s not enough to simply purchase mobile devices. Organizations need to fully consider how these devices will connect; how their workload will be prioritized compared to other resources; and how to deliver an excellent experience for employees executing the critical work your business depends upon. Is your IT department ready for today’s modern workforce productivity solutions in manufacturing?

Delivering a great experience is more essential and more complicated than ever. Was it the network, device, security, application, SaaS, or patching that caused an issue? Or was there something else in the environment—like signal interference—that might have contributed to the problem? Whatever the case, your IT staff have a challenging role trying to identify a root cause easily and quickly—never mind implementing a solution and improving the reliability and experience for end-user devices.

The good news is that networking manufacturers are partnering with device manufacturers to jointly address many of the challenges facing both end users and IT professionals. Those improvements aim to simplify the task of troubleshooting proactively and reactively, while also improving the general end-user experience.

How Partnerships Impact Workplace Mobility Experience

Seamless Roaming: Unless your facility is 10,000 square feet, consider the different job roles and how employees will use mobile devices in factories, warehouses, and the entire facility. Some use cases are stationary, meaning they will connect to a single wireless source and rarely deviate. However, suppose you have supervisory and engineering roles, line side material stockers, facilities, or other roles that require employees to travel to different ends of the facility. In this case, chances are they will hop from one access point to another. While not all mobile applications require a durable connection, some will impact the experience, productivity, or quality of the end-user experience.

For this reason, manufacturers should understand the roaming lag that occurs when devices transition between traditional access points. If you’re experiencing these sorts of challenges or upgrading to next-generation wireless, you’ll need to understand the features that simplify device handoff from access point to access point—also known as adaptive 802.11r. These features allow devices to roam between access points without requiring full authentication, reducing lag, or minimizing impact to the mobile experience.

Another option for high-demand use cases is private cellular. This can provide coverage across a facility and ensure corporate ownership of traffic and security, while enabling you to segment traditional Wi-Fi use cases to those that demand a seamless experience.

Carrier to Wi-Fi Handoffs: This topic was covered in more detail in one of my recent blogs, but it’s relevant to the role of corporate networking and mobile device experience. Delivering a great device experience over the corporate network is essential, but so is considering how employees transition from 4G/5G carrier services outdoors into your facilities. Today’s networks can integrate with carriers and provide seamless transitions from cellular to corporate Wi-Fi.

Quality of Service: A wide range of mobility devices offers the ability to deliver voice, video, and high-quality streaming content to end users. These use cases might include workers communicating with their team or supervisors, or troubleshooting problems with remote experts. Whatever the situation, these use cases compete with other network traffic and congest RF environments. Identifying the types of devices and communications—and prioritizing that traffic higher—will ensure that communication critical to people and processes gets the necessary attention it needs. This can be accomplished with the network, but many end-user device makers have already worked with network makers to simplify these tasks and deliver the best experience.

Evolving Tools to Proactively and Reactively Solve Issues
Delivering a great experience to employees is always the goal, but it isn’t always easy for IT teams to determine the root cause and mitigate problems with complex tech stacks. It’s typically a drawn-out process that requires many tests and resources—further delaying resolution and frustrating employees. Partnerships are also aiming their sights on helping technical staff by arming them with new tools to help better manage the overall experience.

Heatmapping and Intelligence: Leverage your network and mobility to provide information about facility utilization, occupancy, behaviors, and other insights. Organizations can quickly utilize tools like heatmaps to identify common issues, including end-user proximity to access points, weak coverage compared to mobile demand in a specific area, and even track a mix of personal and corporate devices flowing in the environment to make future adjustments or investments. Be sure to explore these new toolsets to aid in the everyday role of optimizing user experience.

Security: Another experience factor is ease of use. Nothing frustrates employees more than when their devices cannot connect to the network. While this may be a mere nuisance for most, it could be significant if the team is trying to connect a new machine, IoT sensors, or another wireless production device in a factory or warehouse. With zero trust and device profiling, organizations can make it easier to identify specific kinds of devices.

For example, the warehouse depends on a range of bar code scanners and RFID readers. Teams often hold backup devices that have never been connected or remain off the network for extended periods, until they need to replace a broken unit. With profiling, IT can quickly identify an approved device—let’s say a Zebra or Honeywell bar code scanner—quickly provision and connect the device, and allow impacted employees to get back to work.

This also helps IT and security ensure a zero-trust profile, while quickly authorizing approved devices, delivering a more productive work experience, and simplifying low-value network tasks that can distract an already stressed IT staff.

Troubleshooting: The most helpful evolution is application-level visibility, integrated packet inspection, and location context. Bringing disparate troubleshooting tasks into a single management pane allows IT to quickly identify contributing factors, speeding the team to root cause and corrective action. And that’s good for business!

Think about how many times IT teams fought over which department was the culprit. It’s security. It’s applications. It’s the network. It’s a policy change. Business leaders and employees don’t have patience, nor care who is at fault—they want the problem to be rectified and get back to work. Tools that streamline the troubleshooting process are invaluable, quickly align and aim teams to execute mitigation actions, and ultimately improve how IT delivers reliable and responsive services to the business.

Looking to Improve Your Mobility Experience?

With the explosion of a wide range of modern end-user devices driving next-generation productivity, ensure that your manufacturing departments are delivered a great experience and achieve outstanding performance by optimizing their processes. This starts with the right mix of technologies and partnerships. If your business is experiencing issues or exploring ways to improve workplace experience, productivity, and troubleshooting, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology, available services, and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Ryan Spurr is the Director of Manufacturing Strategy at Connection with 20+ years of experience in manufacturing, information technology, and portfolio leadership. He leads the Connection Manufacturing Practice, go-to-market strategy, client engagement, and advisory services focusing on operational technology (OT) and information technology that make manufacturers more digitally excellent.