Apps in the Age of Specialization

Industry // September 25, 2018

By Senior Technology Consultant Nathan Jones

Last summer, I finally had an opportunity to climb Crestone Peak in southern Colorado after having my eye on it for several years. After a grueling day hiking on the trail and a successful summit, I was able to catch a ride the last half mile to my car with a friendly stranger. The road down from the peak was extremely rough and the slow going gave us plenty of opportunities for idle chit-chat. Eventually, we came around to the traditional “So what do you do?” part of the conversation. It turned out that he was a career veterinarian on the verge of retirement.

He said that one of the reasons he was considering retirement was that he found it very difficult to stay away from his practice for more than a couple of days at a time. Whenever he left, an emergency inevitably popped up that required his immediate attention. It wasn’t that the other veterinarians at his practice weren’t talented — in fact, it was quite the opposite. He said the other veterinarians were extremely talented in one specific area.

He seemed to be the last one at his office that had been educated as a generalist. Underneath his good-natured bellyaching about “kids these days”, he held his fellow veterinarians in high esteem and relied on their specialist knowledge as much as they relied on his generalist capabilities.

For the rest of the day I pondered the substance of our conversation and came to the realization that we now live in a world of specialists. Universities are producing highly specialized graduates and industry as a whole has shifted to highly specialized career paths. If you’re reading this, you most likely are part of the Utility Vegetation Management (UVM) sector, which in itself is a specialized offshoot of the larger field of arboriculture. Likewise, the software being used for UVM has also become specialized, needing to deliver more than typical tree inventory and forestry software.

The chances are that you also have a smartphone within arms’ reach as you read this. Pick it up for a moment, unlock it and scroll through it. What you’re probably seeing is a collection of apps that you have tailored to make your life simpler and easier. The apps serve very specific purposes. No offense to the PC I’m typing this article on right now, but PC is the aging veterinarian on the brink of retirement. It’s always been there, is capable of doing the heavy lifting and is a monument to doing things the way they have always been done.

Conversely, the iOS platform is the group of specialists that work together to make up a high performing team. Apps allow the iOS platform to excel in ways that a traditional computer system simply can’t — all while being a mobile package that has honed usability to a razor-sharp point.

The app-based approach to computing is revolutionizing the world as we know it, which includes the UVM sector. There is an ever-growing spectrum of vegetation concerns for today’s utility vegetation manager. Apps have the capability to lighten the load when it comes to collecting data in the field.  Storm work, inventory, new construction, customer requests, cycle maintenance, special projects—all require huge amounts of data to be collected in the field by multiple users at once.

The simple phrase “data collection,” however, represents a highly complex and crucial step of the process. Not only is it necessary to have potentially hundreds of users all on the same page at the same time, there also needs to be standardized and easily adaptable forms, sensible workflows, quick data synching and offline functional capabilities on inexpensive and easily ruggedized hardware. Apps allow you to run an efficient data collection operation without being bogged down with running an entire Windows-based system on a field unit.

Before you start to think I’m writing a hit piece on behalf of the iOS lobby, let me add one more thing.  Where the magic truly happens, in my opinion, with UVM software is when the field capabilities of an iOS system are combined with the horsepower of a PC in the office. Earlier I referenced the sheer magnitude of the data being collected in the field for a typical UVM operation; if the iOS system is collecting the data and the PC is analyzing and reporting on the data, it’s a match made in workflow heaven.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Instead, it can be a situation where the software provider is taking advantage of the strengths of both the iOS platform and a typical Windows platform to deliver a highly capable and functional system that fits the needs of the utility. And, just like the aging veterinarian with the staff of specialists, we might just save a few geckos and hamsters along the way.

Terra Spectrum Technologies Technology Consultant Nathan Jones wrote an article titled “Apps in the Age of Specialization.” The article was published in the 2018 September/October issue of the Utility Arborist Newsline.