Smartphones have become an essential tool for efficient field service operations and just like any work tool, they need to be properly managed and maintained.
When you’re controlling a team of mobile workers who rely on their devices to access job information, it’s essential that you’re able to manage how they access that data.
Without proper management, data limits can be breached and costly penalties incurred. Even ‘unlimited’ mobile data plans will typically include contract small-print which punishes heavy usage.
Fortunately, it’s something that can be easily brought under control.
This guide provides some effective strategies for managing data usage within a mobile workforce and answers some of the most common questions we get asked.
How to control mobile workers' data usage:
- Take remote control
- Limit background data
- Separate personal/business
- Set data limit
- Turn off auto updates
- Stop streaming video
- Download map data
- Promote best practices
Take remote control
The most effective way to control data usage is to use a system which provides your organisation with central management over each device that’s being used by mobile workers.
A quality digital management system will feature integrated technology such as SOTI MobiControl. This provides the ability to remotely monitor and manage data usage on any number of devices.
It allows a business to choose exactly which apps and features are accessible to users, minimising the risks of employees using phones for non-work related purposes.
With devices able to be monitored across a workforce, it also allows data management performance to be monitored, helping to identify data ‘hotspots’ and areas where improvements can be made.
Limit background data
One of the problems with controlling data is the Swiss Army knife qualities of a smartphone - it has the ability to do so many different things.
But many of these bells and whistles rely on constant background data checks, something which will quietly chew away at a data plan.
This includes everything from weather and news apps to social media and email accounts. Anything that’s not needed for work should be stripped away.
An added bonus of minimising apps and services which require background data checks is that it will also significantly extend the battery life of a phone. A win-win for mobile workers.
Divide personal and business
The task of data management starts to get complicated when work devices are being used for a mixture of business and personal uses.
The simplest way to keep these two worlds separate is to supply fieldworkers with a dedicated work device which is only used for business purposes.
Another option is the use of smartphones which allow two SIM cards, allowing personal and work related data usage to be kept completely separate.
Set a data limit
The Android operating system provides a range of tools to help manage and monitor data. These are available via:
>Choose ‘Settings’ menu
>Select ‘Data Usage’
>Select ‘Wireless & Networks’.
One of the most powerful features here is the ability to set a data limit which prevents the phone from breaching any kind of restriction that’s set by a contract.
You can access this via:
>Choose ‘Mobile data usage’
>Select ‘Set data limit’
When the device hits this limit, it will block any further access to mobile data - until the setting is disabled. This doesn’t affect access to data via WiFi.
This menu also allows you to set a ‘warning’ limit for an on-screen notification, allowing users to be alerted when a data limit is approaching.
Turn off auto updates
Making sure that phone apps are set to only update when a WiFi connection is available is a simple change that can make a huge difference to data usage.
With the size of app updates often being in excess of 40mb, this can take big chunks out of a monthly data allocation.
This option can be set via:
>Choose ‘Play Store’
>Select ‘Auto-update apps’
>Select ‘Over Wi-Fi only’ option
Once this is set apps will still get updated, the device will just wait until it’s within WiFi range before it starts downloading.
Stop streaming video
A typical monthly limit for a consumer data plan is 1gb. With effective data management, that could easily be enough for mobile work purposes…unless they’re using streaming videos.
Watching a streamed video would gobble up that entire month's worth of data in a couple of hours.
Unless it’s for a specific work purpose or restricted to when phones have a WiFi connection, it’s advisable to prevent any kind of video streaming.
This includes changing the settings on any social media style apps or services to disable the video ‘autoplay’ feature.
Download map data
One of the most powerful features of a smartphone for a mobile worker is something that doesn’t actually require a data connection...GPS.
The GPS information comes directly from a satellite, allowing it to work without the need for any kind of online connection. The only data a navigational app typically requires is for updating visual map information.
This means that employees can download that map data via WiFi before setting off on a job. This offline navigation feature is something that’s easily done using Google maps.
The only limit on how much map data can be stored locally is the amount of memory on a phone.
Promote best practices
It’s only relatively recently that smartphones have become such a powerful tool for mobile workers, so it’s understandable that there’s still something of a learning curve - for both employers and employees.
Companies need to make sure that mobile workers are fully aware of the need to properly manage their data usage and should provide help and guidance on how to achieve this.
Many companies these days have data management policies which provide workers with clear guidelines on how they should and shouldn’t be accessing and managing data.
An effective policy which promotes best practices and establishes working norms can significantly reduce the amount of data that’s used within an organisation.
Mobile workforce data management FAQ
Q: Are ‘unlimited’ data plans really unlimited?
Well, it depends. There are a number of providers that do offer deals that are technically unlimited - there’s no limit on how much data can be used.
But this is slightly misleading. These plans will reduce the speed of data connections when certain limits have been breached - severely ‘throttling’ the service.
While this doesn’t stop devices from receiving data, it will significantly reduce performance. Depending on how fieldworkers are using their devices, this could make them unusable.
Something else to consider is that data plans are often sold as part of a general ‘unlimited’ package. While this means that calls and texts will be unlimited, it typically doesn’t apply to the data plan.
Q: How much data should be allocated for mobile workers?
This is going to depend on the way that your organisation uses mobile technology and the specific field service activities involved.
But to provide some ballpark figures, a 2018 study by Ofcom found that the average amount of data used per month in the UK is 1.9GB.
This figure, however, is based on normal consumer usage. With effective data management and dedicated work devices, the needs of a fieldworker should be significantly lower.
But the most effective way to identify the specific data requirements for your field service operation is to do some testing.
By choosing the ‘Mobile Data Usage’ option on an Android device, you can check exactly how much data a device is using during a typical day.
Q: What are the biggest data ‘hogs’?
The ‘greediest’ gobblers of data tend to be apps or services that involve video/audio streaming or that use a social media style ‘feed’ with data being constantly updated.
Social media sites which combine both of these elements, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are particularly heavy data users.
Here are some typical data usage rates for comparison:
- Download a document: 2MB
- One hour web browsing: 10 - 20MB
- One hour on Facebook: 20MB
- One hour streaming audio: 150MB
- One hour streaming HD video: 2GB
What have we learned?
Mobile workers can eat up a lot of data while they're out on the road, but with an understanding of how mobile data works and some protocols in place, data management is something that’s easily attainable.