Tablet devices boost field service efficiency
Electricity distributor and retailer Ergon Energy has launched a major field operations automation project, with the first phase seeing the rollout of 500 Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 rugged tablets into a wide array of varying vehicle types and configurations. The Toughpads had to meet strict selection criteria to ensure they were fit for purpose in the harsh environments that workers face on a daily basis.
A Queensland Government-owned corporation, Ergon supplies electricity to around 700,000 homes and businesses across nearly 97% of the state. For many years, it has conducted its field operations through manually intensive paper-based methods. Work was distributed through a process involving many people, which culminated in work dockets being printed out at depots around the state and then handed over to the field crews.
The field crews then travelled to grid locations to fix faults and captured new information from the site on paper. Once the work was completed, paper records were returned to the depot staff to be updated in the central system. The process was time-consuming and, because it was paper-based with multiple people involved, it was easy for information to be lost or recorded incorrectly.
Jason Ledbury, program director for field force automation, Ergon Energy, said, “We as an energy provider have a responsibility of providing the most efficient services to the community. We also realised there is going to be much more competition in the retail electricity market driving more customer service work, and with our old processes it would have been difficult for us to scale up without requiring more resources. Therefore, we identified the need to revamp our processes by empowering our workforce with technology.”
Ledbury said that the new Toughpads - coupled with an extensive systems integration solution and enhanced processes - are already saving Ergon workers up to as much as 45 minutes on the job per day.
A critical factor for Ergon was that the Toughpad needed to be safely and securely mounted in a wide array of field vehicles. In collaboration with partners Data#3 and Advanced Mobile IT (AMIT), Ergon’s technology provider, SPARQ Solutions, worked closely with Ergon field crews to develop a mounting solution for each vehicle configuration that would meet strict government safety standards.
The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 is made specifically for harsh environments such as those the Ergon field crews face daily. It is designed to endure high temperatures, drops and knocks, thick dust and heavy rain.
For a business, the ability to use enterprise-ready software is as important as the hardware itself. Data#3 supported Ergon by managing the software implementation and delivery with ready-to-go Windows 7 and Ergon’s own mobility solution, ABB Service Suite. Ergon has re-engineered its processes, removing multiple handling and resulting in better prioritisation and allocation of work.
Using the devices’ 3G/4G mobile connectivity module, the field crews are now able to access information that was previously only available in the office or through a library of paper manuals held in their vehicles. Additionally, access to live data, emails, intranet and internet also assists in improving the flow of information to and from the field.
“We have noticed an increased efficiency through optimised processes and are now in a position to cope with a greater volume of work. We will continue to roll out new work types using the Toughpad FZ-G1,” said Ledbury.
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