Bristol Water has started equipping its field workers with Panasonic CS-19 laptops, in the latest stage of an ongoing overhaul of its offsite workforce that is the biggest IT project in its history.
The aim of the implementation, which uses GE Energy’s Field Force Automation platform, is to speed up the relay of information from field workers to the firm’s central SAP ERP system and Microsoft Exchange email server, allowing more accurate information in the firm’s control centre and call centre, according to Matthew Stephenson, the company’s project manager.
“Previously we had to print out job cards, order forms and directions for our field workers, but now we’ll be able to just send the information to their mobile PCs and save a lot of time,” he saicd.
The technology went live for half of its field workers including home-visit sales staff in late January, after they attend training courses, and Bristol Water has also switched on the mobile workforce management platform into which the devices feed data. The second half, comprising pipe maintenance workers, will go live in June.
At a cost of £2m and following the overhaul start in summer 2006, Bristol Water expected the move to pay off ‘in the next four to five years’, Stephenson said. He said the software was “as close to off-the-shelf as we could get”, with the ability to configure settings.
Major efficiency gains would contribute to this figure, he explained. A computer scheduling system will assign drivers jobs that are on average 10% closer together, so each driver can do more jobs per day and cover fewer miles between jobs.
The company is also set to become more efficient storing important data more quickly on its key central systems. With the new technology, field workers will be able to input data onto the company’s database instantly, as opposed to filling out paper forms.
Stephenson said: “In the worst case scenario it was taking up to a week for data to get onto our systems, with paper forms sitting in people’s in-trays. Now the updates will be immediate.”
The company’s internal IT management team is controlling the project, while system integrator Serco provides the IT engineers and is installing the mobile devices in workers’ vans. Aspective, the software vendor supplying the platform, is controlling the rest of the project and has tailored some configurations to Bristol Water’s needs.
Bristol Water hoped to expand the use of the platform and move its business further away from paper-based processes, explained Stephenson. After June the company will start plans to label its 30,000 annual water quality samples and its field tools with barcodes, so that when they are moved their location can be entered automatically onto the system. It will also add an interface enabling independent maintenance contractors to log details of work on the central database.