Utility mobilises maintenance crews

As part of a $3.5 million project to improve response times to scheduled and emergency repairs, the Water Corporation in Western Australia will start implementing a mobile computing system next month.

The field service solution for mobile workers will be rolled out to more than 300 workers at some 50 city and remote sites. Project team leader Don Ward said the solution will allow maintenance crews to resolve emergencies, dispatch solutions and provide feedback more effectively, particularly in distant locations.

Ward is expecting a significant boost to productivity. "Crews can immediately access technical information and complete tasks during their first call, improving efficiency at remote locations, because field workers will have access to Geospatial Information System (GIS) data, truck inventory, and technical and customer information from laptops and handhelds."

At the completion of a work order, Ward said, the status is relayed back to the dispatcher and the information sent to the corporation's SAP system to maintain more accurate ERP data. The dispatchers will also be updated on progress in the field.

Ward said it will replace an in-house application that has been used on PDAs by about 40 staff during the past couple of years.

Deloitte and Telispark provided the system which gives the 115 Perth-based field staff online access with GPRS while some crews in rural areas will have wireless coverage via a Wide Area Network (WAN) and update enterprise systems through a cradle synch arrangement.

Ward said it was a "long-winded tender process" that took 12 months with the choice narrowed down to four consortia including IBM and Retriever, Logica and Advantex and IBM GSA and Yambay.

"We weren't just looking for a vendor but someone able to assist in the actual implementation," he said.

Ward selected the solution for a number of reasons; it was easy to configure, had plenty of functionality and could be integrated into SAP.

"We are making a few changes to our SAP plant maintenance module to meet an expected 300,000 work orders per year," he said.

About 15 staff are in the internal project team and Ward said the corporation will also leverage resources from its IT service provider, CSC, which maintains IT infrastructure.

Security is also being addressed as part of the project as Ward expects a few PDAs to be lost or stolen over time and has ensured data is encrypted.

The Water Corporation has more than 2500 employees serving 1.7 million people in an area of 2.5 million square kilometres.

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