BT has been deploying Windows 8-based Panasonic Toughbook devices among its engineers, in order to help them work more quickly and more efficiently out in the field.
Speaking at a Windows 8 press event in London last week, BT consultant Peter Scott said that the vast majority of BT employees have computers running Windows 7, but quite a large selection of the field engineering community was still running Windows XP.
The devices were old and fairly slow, and it was not uncommon for engineers to wait 10 minutes before they could actually do what they needed to do on the device, according to Scott.
“From a pure productivity perspective that wasn't great for us, and we wanted to give those guys and girls the right tools to get the job done,” he said.
BT decided to run a series of “hot houses”, whereby the engineers were presented with a wide range of devices – from iPads to Android tablets, to traditional clamshell laptops, to slates without a keyboard and convertible devices – and asked them to choose.
The engineers said they wanted a device that booted up quickly, that was easy to log onto securely, that worked in in tablet mode and that had a range of connectivity options, including Ethernet, WiFi and 3G/4G.
The engineers opted for convertible Toughbook devices from Panasonic, which sit like normal clamshell laptops but also swivel round for use as a tablet.
The Toughbook have all the ports they need for connecting into customers' broadband networks and, because they run Windows 8, the engineers can run all of the applications they previously ran on their XP environments.
“It's quite neat and it's got quite a nice handle on it, so when you're out and about it's very easy to carry,” said Scott.
BT began the project in September 2011, as part of Microsoft's First Wave early adoption programme, and now has about 4,500 deployed in the field.
“If you see one of our vans go past in the street there's about a one in four chance that that guy is using one of these Windows 8 devices in order to get the job done,” said Scott.
Scott said that when engineers are issued with a new device they are called in for a short training course, where they configure up applications and get a crash course in how to use Windows 8.
“There's about 5 or 6 things that they need to be shown about Windows 8 so they know how to navigate it. But once they've done that, we've not seen back from those guys any complaints around it being difficult to use or anything like that,” he said.
“They'd like us to have more Windows 8 modern apps that are clean and simple, and that's one of the exciting things that we've got going forward. But we can run the old ones, and we can migrate them across to the new ones – we don't create a big brick wall that they have to climb over before they can do anything.
“It's really a nice way for us to be able to take the old stuff with us while we go into this new world and then move stuff across.”
Since beginning the programme, BT has developed its own Window 8 app based on the news service that the company runs as part of its internal Intranet. Users can drill through stories as they would on a traditional website, but many employees are too busy to look at the Intranet during the day.
The Windows 8 app displays the 5 latest news stories as a rotating Windows 8 tile on employee's desktops, and users can flick from one story to the next using touch actions.
“It's a nice app to read the stories offline, but what's particularly interesting is that it took a number of hours to write that application. It didn't take days and days with an army of developers or anything like that. It literally took us a number of hours.”
BT's intranet is built on Sharepoint, so the app can transfer data in a secure way using SSL and the integrated authentication that comes as part of the Windows platform.
“It's a great platform for us to be able to deliver these types of applications really quickly at low cost, but delivering that app experience of simple touch-based clean applications that do just what you want, rather than big monolithic applications,” said Scott.
Using the Windows 8 Toughbooks, engineers can now boot up their devices in about 60 seconds rather then 10 minutes. Scott concluded that, in terms of allowing the staff to get on with their jobs without IT getting in the way, Windows 8 is a significant improvement.