This company is the operator of the power distribution network for Ireland’s electric utilities. It provides services to all electricity customers and all generators and suppliers of electricity in the Republic of Ireland. When it went looking for a new mobile applications platform, the need was urgent. A critical system used by field service technicians relied on hardware and software that was at the end of life. Yet rather than modernize just that one app, the company was determined to find a long-term solution that would work for all its mobile needs.
“As one of the leading utilities in Ireland, servicing more than two million customers, we needed a mobile solution that our field technicians could rely on to help streamline work orders and improve overall efficiency,” says the network’s mobile program manager. “We turned to HCL and the HCL Volt MX platform to help mobilize our field services because data is very important in our industry and the solution offered the data synchronization accuracy and timeliness we needed.”
The company’s immediate need was to upgrade a mobile application used by field technicians who install and maintain metering assets, which includes activities such as new connections, meter exchanges and reconnections.
The original mobile application, created years ago, was designed for rugged and industrial hand-held devices. Over time, the manufacturer stopped making these devices and the operating system was no longer supported.
This time, the company was determined to choose a mobile platform with a long future ahead of it — ideally not tied to any one device or operating system. They saw an opportunity to use standard consumer technologies — using off-the-shelf mobile phones, where practical, while reserving the option to use ruggedized devices in combination with a standard mobile OS in other cases.
The HCL Volt MX platform supported the plan to make apps portable across all mobile device types, allowing the company to select which device to target for different needs. They took comfort in knowing that there was a potential option to recompile an app originally targeted at one mobile operating system and deploy it on another.
After a thorough review, they chose HCL Volt MX because it was the best fit for the company’s current and future mobile requirements. More than updating the basic mobile technology, the company was able to deliver a more performant solution that provided greater efficiencies for its field workforce.
The New App in Action
For the new app, the network broke away from using an industrial hand-held device, instead picking the latest iPhone version and protecting it in a sturdy case. The app acts as a mobile front end that gives field technicians live access to SAP IS-U which is the company’s work management system. Once work orders are entered in SAP IS-U, they are prioritized and assigned using a schedule optimization system. Workers see their first few assignments of the day when they sign onto the app. As the day progresses, the scheduling system continues to reoptimize assignments and dispatch work orders to field technicians.
For every work order, the technicians must collect data. They scan bar codes on the meters, using the phone’s camera for new connections and meter exchanges. Technicians can update the meter location coordinates if required, record the installation data including recording the current meter reads, and confirm the work carried out on-site. When their work is done, they can log it as complete or record a recommended follow-up.
For this company it was critical that the mobile app fit with existing enterprise applications, rather than requiring it to rework or compromise existing enterprise architecture. HCL Volt MX’s integration with SAP is a strength of the Volt Foundry architecture, so the company felt confident that HCL Volt MX could meet its enterprise integration needs.
In addition, the data synchronization architecture met the requirement that the app be able to function offline, when a network connection was not available. The app also uses the LDAP directory services standard to allow users to sign in with their standard corporate credentials to enforce consistent enterprise security.
The app supports 83 types of work orders and each work order type was subjected to extensive testing. The software development process was helped along by initial prototyping in Volt Visualizer, which allowed business users to agree on the desired look and feel for the app. This was followed by coding of the app logic in Volt Studio.
Building on Success with More Mobile Apps to Come
With its app, about 300 field service technicians retired bulky handsets in favor of a smart phone and a much faster, more modern app. The app integrates with Apple Maps to provide a map view of work order locations. If the precise location of a meter has not been recorded, a technician can add the GPS coordinates to make it easier to locate next time. Technicians can work offline, however once online, all data gathered in the field is automatically replicated to SAP IS-U. The speed of that data sync is one of the improvements field technicians appreciate the most.
“With the old hand-held devices, a technician initiated the synchronization process manually, and it would take 5 to 6 minutes to complete. During that time, the devices could not be used for anything else,” says the network’s mobile program manager. “With the new app, synchronization takes a second or two, and the process runs in the background.
Even when the device is out of network range, data is saved and automatically transmitted when triggered again by the user, provided a connection is available. That’s a massive performance improvement from a user perspective.”
A key success factor was involving employee users at every stage of the process. The project worked very closely with users involving them in user workshops and seeking feedback on what they wanted to see in the new app. Users were also involved in field trials to assess the device type and cover. In addition, local implementation teams were set up to ensure users had a local point of contact to keep them fully informed, answer questions, and support users on the ground. Training events were run nationally and delivered and supported by the local implementation team and project resources.
With this success, the company is setting up a mobile program to oversee the implementation of a suite of enterprise mobile apps for field technicians which include:
Field timesheets integrating to SAP HR
SAP asset inspection and maintenance work orders
Planned switching and fault events integrating to an Oracle outage management system
Looking ahead, the company plans to continue to work closely with the HCL Volt MX platform to meet their strategic objectives and transform their mobile experience
With the old hand-held devices, a technician initiated the synchronization process manually, and it would take 5 to 6 minutes to complete. During that time, the devices could not be used for anything else. With the new mobile app, synchronization takes a second or two, and the process runs in the background. That’s a massive performance improvement from a user perspective.
— Network’s mobile program manager
About the Company
This company is the operator of the power distribution network for Ireland’s electric utilities. It provides services to all electricity customers and all generators and suppliers of electricity in the Republic of Ireland.