Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mobile Expert Interview Series - Jane and Keelin Glendon of HotButtons

I had the pleasure of interviewing two mobile experts this week, Jane Glendon and her daughter Keelin Glendon. Jane founded her mobile software application company, HotButton Solutions, http://www.hotbuttonsolutions.com/index.html, in Calgary, Alberta in 2000. HotButton Solutions focuses on mobile field data collection applications for the oil and gas industry. The focus is deep, as in deep mud and snow.

Jane and Keelin have a lot of great stories to tell about selling and supporting mobile applications in the wilderness. I learned that moose gather on the roads to lick the salt, bears like to scratch their backs on oil well heads and a rugged handheld computer screen only survives 4 whacks with a hammer and nail to break. I also learned that northern Canadian oil workers have been known to express their dislike for new technologies by throwing ruggedized handheld computers into a moving compressor fan (it still worked), and that clever oil workers customize mobile applications to keep track of animals and game they see along the road in preparation for hunting season. One particular oil well inspector developed a golf course along his oil well inspection run/path. This is the kind of work for me!

HotButton sales calls often require taking an airplane to a remote northern airstrip and renting a 4x4, or driving 9 hours through the wilderness to train oil patch workers on mobile applications. Keelin, who does much of the onsite training and sales calls in the cold northern oil patches of Canada considers mud, snow, seasons and storms before booking her travel. Before driving to some locations on remote one-way roads, Keelin must radio ahead to warn oil tankers coming down the mountain.

Jobsites have buildings with names like the doghouse, compressor shack, dehydration building and field office. These buildings have been known to collect bullet holes during hunting seasons. Stray dogs are known to make oil camps and field offices home and co-habit alongside the local bears that are given pet names by the workers.

The mobile application users are oil patch workers that have a wide variety of responsibilities and support many different business processes all on one rugged handheld computer. The same worker is responsible for a variety of tasks like the following:

  • Checking pressure gauges and documenting the readings
  • PVR – production volume reports
  • Conditional assessments
  • Rust inspections
  • Leak inspections
  • Safety and environmental compliance inspections
  • Maintenance inspections of equipment, machines, buildings, pipelines and vehicles
  • Site inspections (brush, grass, trees, etc.)
  • Work orders

The working conditions are often cold, dark, wild, isolated and surrounded by flammable fuels. Keelin brings rubber boots along on her visits. There are more moose than people and IS - Intrinsically Safe ruggedized handhelds are required. These are devices developed to function safely around flammable environments. That means no mobile phone capabilities. I guess mobile phones can ignite fuels… I learn something new every day. For the most part the ruggedized handheld computers are docked in the job shack to synchronize the collected data with the home office.

How do they know when the weather is too cold for the handheld computers to function? When the oil patch worker freezes.

One example of the importance of having real time data visibility is a recent incident where the oil production volumes reported to the central office did not match the delivered oil volumes. The central office activated an alert and the oil patch workers were ordered to look for an oil leak. One of the field workers quickly checked his handheld and found the missing oil volume sitting on a tanker that was preparing to depart. The alert was canceled and everyone went back to work.

HotButton's mobile data collection software application is called HotLeap and includes a Universal Data Translator, Staging database, Bullseye and OrgAdmin. Jane has even received a patent for her technology. It is designed to work with Windows Mobile and Windows CE devices.

One mobile client application can support dozens of different oil field applications and business processes from one common menu on the mobile handheld. These mobile data collection applications most often sync to multiple database applications in the back office. There is deep vertical expertise and experience built into these oil patch applications that is relevant in both Canada and in the USA.

Jane's next step, as a mobile software entrepreneur, is to find a larger software company that can help them go global through a partnership or possibly by acquiring them. She says her global oil company customers love their mobile applications but prefer a vendor with a global presence and more resources than HotButtons has today.

This article is the first in a series of interviews with mobile industry experts. If you have a mobile expert or unusual character that you would recommend for an interview please contact me.

The next article in this series is called Nokia's John Choate. He works in the mobile Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality programs at Nokia. Yes, it is as interesting as it sounds...stay tuned.