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United Utilities, the UK’s largest listed water company, is using VMware's AirWatch mobile device management platform to provide staff with access to vital business applications while on the move.

Field workers - who account for approximately half of United Utilities' 6,500 employees - need to regularly interact with workforce management and scheduling systems when on call.

In order to enable this, United Utilities has begun a pilot mobility project with an initial rollout of around 1,000 handsets. This will increase to approximately 4,000 when the project is complete. 

“What we have been trying to do with the AirWatch deployment is to give our field workforce access to our backend applications so that they can have more relevant information and in a more timely manner,” said Mike Cashin, United Utilities' IT operations manager.

"It gives them more mobility and it also allows them to pick up work schedules in more geographically diverse locations.

He added: "The aim is to make them more connected and allow them access to those backend applications on a more regular basis.”

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Cashin said that mobile devices are also used for safety reasons, with workers called out to jobs in remote locations.

“It is not just the work scheduling, it is also about safety and well-being while they are out and about on their own,” he explained.

“If someone gets a call at two o'clock in the morning that a pumping station has failed or something like that, it is something that we need fixing but we have to make sure that people are safe when they are doing it.”

While the IT team had provided field workers with mobile computing devices in the past, these had been a lot more limited in their capabilities.

“There were some laptop users. Toughbooks were our main vehicle for mobile working but they were quite restrictive and 3G was always an issue for us,” Cashin said.

The IT team consulted with workers on which device to invest in, deciding on the Samsung Galaxy S5.

"We engaed the field workforce to make that decision," Cashin said. "To get the buy in from the field engineers themselves we gave them a lot of input into that device choice. But obviously the mobile device market moves on very quickly so we are looking at replacement devices already."

As well as increasing the pilot project, which began three months ago, there are now plans in place to extend the mobility project to its more employees. 

“As well as the workforce management application we have also started rolling out a corporate device," Cashin said. "The device is personally-enabled people so will be able to use it as their general phone as well as their work phone. The AirWatch MDM allows us to segregate out the corporate data from the personal data."

He added: “We will, at some stage, retrofit the engineers' phones to be personally-enabled as well, as at the moment they are locked down to be just corporate devices.”

Read next: Eight of the best mobile device management tools: Best MDM software for IT pros