What Looks Right on Paper May Not Translate into a Win

Taking your car onto a race track for High Performance Driving Education is a blast. Many clubs sponsor HPDE events, including some of the marque auto brands such as Porsche, Audi and the BMW Car Club of America. The popularity of these events is growing as they allow you to explore the limits of your car and driving prowess, while improving your skills on a closed circuit.

Most drivers at HPDEs use street cars, whether they are older cars, vintage cars, or late model cars – everything from older Volvo wagons to brand new Porsche 911s. These and some track-only cars will converge on the circuit in a typical weekend. Given this range of models, it’s no surprise that horsepower ratings, tires and suspension set-ups vary greatly, offering uniquely individual experiences for each car.

People’s first instinct is to assume that horsepower dominates. In fact, by far the most common question I get is “How fast did you go?” While the ability to hit triple digits and then some on the straights is exciting, the fun and the real test are in the turns. That’s why a 400 HP BMW M5 has a chance to track down and pass a 562 HP Ferrari 458 – it can and has been done. (Well I did it just once, but it’s something to remember, especially since it was on Circuit of the Americas.) Rather than horsepower, handling, better tires and driving a better line made the difference.

Given that one of my hobbies is tracking my car at HPDEs, I am often asked which car is the fastest on the track. But there really isn’t a single, simple answer to that question.

One of my friends has a 20-year old 240 HP BMW M3. He has the car track-prepped, but hasn’t modified the engine. He is an excellent driver and regularly passes 560 HP Porsche 911s. That said, most other drivers in his car wouldn’t have nearly the same result. There are so many variables to consider when assessing a car’s capabilities: From power to tires, suspension and weight, and most importantly the driver. Environmental factors matter too: Is it dry or raining? Is it hot or cold? Does the track have a lot of tight turns, or are the straights more important?

And while I could go on all day about the science behind racing, my ultimate intention is to demonstrate its very real parallels between HPDE and field service...

When evaluating, upgrading and deploying any type of mobility solution, the device’s ability to deal with the elements, the reliability of network connectivity, and the capabilities to run your software all factor into which framework is “right” for the race you’re running.

The mobile tablet – your “car” – can only go as fast as your software – the “driver” – will push it, regardless of how “fully loaded” it may seem on paper. Basic specs never tell the full story. If you ask me, the driver is the single most important influence on any vehicle’s performance potential – whether that vehicle is a 240 HP BMW M3 on the track or a 12” fully rugged, fully featured tablet PC in the hands of a utility lineman.

That’s why our stance at Xplore is that there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to field service mobility. It’s also why my colleagues and I can’t emphasize enough that mobility investments must suit the workflows and the workers’ daily flow first and foremost. The tablet can’t just “look good” on paper or it’ll never be sufficient enough to fully replace pen and paper processes. Too many other companies stress buzzwords, or say “this is the most popular tablet,” rather than working to match the right equipment to the workflow and software.

If you want to maximize output from your mobile “vehicles” during extreme “race against the clock” circumstances, you must be sure to:

  1. Choose a “vehicle” – a race prepped, umm, I mean a rugged tablet PC is always my recommendation – that can be easily configured to the task at hand without requiring frequent device replacement. After all, performance is often determined by how well the software handles the workflow.
  2. Evaluate the tablet’s ability to withstand wear and tear brilliantly. For the utility sector, this means a fully rugged, fully connected mobile tablet PC that won’t be blinded by direct sun or stall out if it lands in a puddle or gets caught in a rainstorm. It should be able to keep running the daily race even if it takes a 5 foot tumble to the ground or bumps a wall, and it should be able to dust off a little – well, dust.
  3. Keep the engines running for the long haul. Just like it’s inconvenient to find a gas station every few hundred miles, it’s inconvenient for workers to have to restart a device to refuel its batteries. Hot swappable battery options are a must for utility field use.
  4. Ensure the “driver” is comfortable handling both the tablet and the software. This means training and support from the first day he or she powers up the tablet.
  5. Test and configure, then test again and reconfigure, everything from the software to screen brightness to the data input tools and even the mounting accessories. Field any and all input from your drivers to your IT “pit teams” because – as I said before – those drivers, your employee end-users, are THE greatest influence on performance and the key factor in delivering ROI gains.

What questions do you have?