Utilities and Mobile Workforces

Written by Integrated Skills

May 26, 2015

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Route Optimisation

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Mobile applications are allowing companies to work seamlessly and effectively. A far cry from the old days of paper manifests and job sheets. But not all organisations have everything set-up for mobile working… even in 2015. Utility companies are leading exponents of mobile working (though interestingly not route optimisation and route planning) and below are some key principles and features of mobile working in their sector, and one challenge they still are not winning.

Lack of information or lack of communication of information?

One of the most significant challenges to the utility industry is the lack of data that is both real-time and shareable due to (still) patchy mobile signals. Although 4g is here all operatives working in remotest Wales and highlands of Scotland know they will have to work offline and await downloads of technical documents when in signal range. 4g roll-out will (should) reduce these black spots but it won’t eradicate them.

How Mobile Applications Benefit Utilities Operations

Many utilities today can complete certain operations far more quickly, thanks to mobile applications that allow them to assess and report asset damage in real-time, as well as decide on the best starting points for restoration of service. For utility crews, these mobile applications reveal the extent of damage and area of the outage, along with offering them the opportunity to decide quickly on where to begin troubleshooting.

Fast Information Flow

The effectiveness of the mobile workforce is directly related to the speed at which accurate information flows. Today, a fast flow of information is critical in order to get the job done. Field based operatives can create a record of conditions and tasks as they come across them, then, share this knowledge across a network to be disseminated when required.

In the utility sector a team member can access past repair information instantly enabling them to become more efficient in planning and executing their tasks. As the repair progresses to its finish the entire process can be recorded digitally for future access by another worker needing information in future.

Work Order Retrieval

Yet another benefit of the mobile application to the utility industry is the ability to retrieve work orders without the need to manually collect them by having to return to the office. This allows crews to spend more time in the field working on issues, and less time driving back and forth for information about the next task. For those at dispatch, the real-time digital delivery of tasks allows them to see which crews are working where, and assign crews who are near to an outage.

Remote Data Recording

The ability of an application to hold data entered while in the field can be very valuable to the crew who is located in a remote area that doesn’t offer a network connection. Instead of submitting data twice or manually recording it, the information is simply held on the application until a connection becomes available, after which data is uploaded automatically to the network.

More Efficient Handling of Emergencies

During an emergency where quick decisions are crucial, data allows teams always to know what is happening. Many applications are allowing workers to communicate in real time with headquarters and other agencies, allowing for instant collaboration and faster exchange of data.
Of course, the quality of the app being used by crews and headquarters alike is vital. Having to learn more than one application can slow things down considerably. An app must also be easy to use as well as intuitive so that all a crew member has to do is click a point on the map to add or change information. One key to gauging the effectiveness of an app is to determine whether it takes longer to use the app than to write information on paper.

One challenging area for Utilities

Utilities are notoriously poor at working seamlessly with their contract partners often failing to provide an overarching IT architecture that enables data to be timely and accurately shared from contracted field operative to utility ERP systems. “Not our problem” (meaning ‘not our financial responsibility’) is the mantra which creates a ‘data divide’ leading to inefficiencies in the flow of business data. A more holistic approach is required that does not sacrifice efficiency at the expense of IT infrastructure investment.

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