Planning is Important, Reacting to Reality is Critical

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Famously espoused by German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke, it speaks to the importance of reacting to reality. Now, I am a big proponent of planning, and we plan our development efforts here at Xplore in great detail. But the reason to plan well is not to prevent later changes, but to manage them to a few, key changes.

Utilities are great at planning. They have to be considering their huge infrastructure investments, required maintenance protocols, and technician support. But utilities must plan to support their field workers with the right mobile technology. Their businesses, and therefore their workers, reach far and beyond the traditional office environment. That means that the computing infrastructure supporting their workers must be as adept at adapting as the workers themselves. Businesses of all sizes must invest in not only mobile technology, but the right mobile technology for their particular operational tempo and daily tasks.

And for utilities in particular, as I mentioned in a recent article in The Utility Source, the ultimate goal is to get the right technician sent to the right location with the right tools – the first time. Today’s technicians deliver their value when they are in the field, and they need to have a truly mobile platform that allows them to simplify both planned and unplanned fieldwork, whether that work is an inspection, repair or maintenance workflow. They also need to be able to streamline safety audits and meet compliance requirements, extend the lifecycle of assets and improve customer service, and even have a solution that allows them to integrate inventory management and asset tracking from a single device no matter where they are working.

Planning to support all of the above and actually getting the mobile workflow right can be different things however.

One customer of ours in particular – a very large Canadian utility provider – is a perfect case in point. They have it all: Tough climate, demanding workload, city and rural customers and infrastructure. Yet, they have figured out how to help their workers handle it all and become more productive through a multi-faceted mobile deployment that relied on feedback from the field technicians alone – not dictated by the plan – to perfect and protect their technology investment.

Let me explain:

This customer initially sought a mobile solution that would allow them to replace all of their paper processes in the field without interrupting existing workflows and without creating a major learning curve within their metering group. The good news is that they accomplished that goal and saved $1M on paper alone after transitioning all of the 90,000 work orders, inspection reports, etc. completed annually (on 180,000 pages of paper at least) to their mobile platform. However, it took them two years to get there. Here’s why….

With mobile devices, there’s no question that technicians are more efficient. That’s assuming the mobile device are rugged enough to survive in the field (remember those tough climates I mentioned earlier) and reliable enough to keep workers online at both city and rural job sites. After all, utilities can’t be expected to keep the power, water, Internet, etc. online if they can’t keep their own workers online first.

But, simply equipping field service workers with rugged devices is only half the effort when deploying mobile technologies. If they don’t have the right workflows, or the workflows aren’t working right on the mobile device, then you haven’t yet achieved a truly mobile solution. So our customer moved to the adaptation phase when they found their technicians regularly returning to the office even though world-class mobile tools had been deployed.

Our customer started asking every single tech: “Why did you come back to the office?” What they learned was that specific modules were missing from the initial deployment. They literally adjusted their mobile solution over and over again for two years to address every issue that would bring a tech back from the field, eventually adapting the solution enough that workers no longer had a reason to return to the office at all. They understood that if they didn’t get it right, then the mobile platform would prove no more valuable than the PC sitting in the office or the portable computer sitting in the vehicle.

If utilities remember nothing else when they invest in mobile technologies, whether it’s the first deployment or the third, it’s that feedback from the field is the best way to determine mobile ROI and protect mobile workforce productivity for years to come. Be willing to adapt your workflows as many times as it takes, and find devices, software and accessories that will support those adaptations without requiring replacement every single time.

What questions do you have?